by Alan Kistler
Back in the 1980s, kids had a few cartoon heroes who they knew could taken on any enemy, no matter how powerful. There was "He-Man." There were the "Transformers." There was the "G.I. Joe" team. And there was "Voltron," “defender of the universe.”
Inspired by the Japanese anime series Beast King GoLion, “Voltron: Defender of the Universe” takes place sometime in the future. Humanity is spread out among the stars, forming the Galaxy Alliance. The story focused on a group of space explorers: Lance, Pidge, Hunk, Sven and their leader Keith. While out in space they are captured by the evil King Zarkon, an alien tyrant from Planet Doom who, along with his son Prince Lotor, wishes to conquer the universe. Eventually the heroes escape to the beautiful planet Arus, where they befriend Princess Allura, whose father died in battle against Zarkon.
Allura helps the heroes find five robot lions that had been used by past defenders of Arus. Each robot lion serves as a personal spaceship; when all five operators activate the correct sequence, the lion-ships merge into Voltron, a giant robot warrior. So begins a series of adventures in which our heroes, now named the Voltron Force, constantly defend Arus and other planets against Zarkon’s forces, including giant cyborgs known as “Robeasts.”
"Voltron: Defender of the Universe" is a show that combines a futuristic, sci-fi environment with classic fantasy elements. Zarkon not only relies on science but also the dark magic of his witch Haggar, who helps create the Robeasts.
Unlike the bloodless "G.I. Joe," "Voltron" never shied away from violence. After only a few adventures, Sven is critically injured and cannot continue as part of the Voltron force. To everyone’s surprise, Princess Allura steps up to become the new blue lion pilot, leaping into battle whenever the rest of the Voltron Force are called to action.
Of course, “Voltron: Defender of the Universe” is not all dark magic and injured heroes. The heroes often wind up in comical situations, especially with jokesters Pidge and Hunk. Several times the Force is even aided by the sentient and adorably cute “space mice” who inhabited Allura’s castle.
In the second season, the show was re-imagined as “Vehicle Voltron”, inspired by the Japanese cartoon “Kikou Kantai Dairugger XV.” This reboot series focuses on a group of explorers on the frontier of the galaxy looking for new worlds to colonize. After becoming targets of the evil villain Drule, these explorers must find a way to defend themselves since planet Arus is too far away for Voltron to be called. Instead, these heroes make do with their own Voltron, created when 15 different land, sea and air vehicles merge together to form one giant robot.
"Vehicle Voltron" was not as popular as the original lion-themed warrior, and many fans resented seeing their heroes replaced with seeming "Transformers" rip-offs. In 1998, the CGI series “Voltron The Third Dimension” came out, continuing the storyline of the original cartoon series with Prince Lotor, now a disfigured cyborg, as the new primary antagonist. The new look was jarring for some, but many old fans rejoiced at seeing the original Voltron Force back on screen again.
The original Voltron Force and their robot lions have stayed alive in the hearts of many fans, through comic books and occasional parodies on shows such as “Robot Chicken.” With recent renewed interest in other 80s cartoons such as "G.I. Joe" and "Transformers," it seems only fitting that Voltron be given a chance too. Sure, we’ve now seen big robots fight each other a few times now, wouldn’t it be cool to see giant robots piloted by humans in an environment that seems like a strange combination of "Star Wars" and "Lord of the Rings"? Of course it would!