Okay...Just What the Hell is "Voltron"?
With the success of Masters of the Universe cartoon and toyline, it opened the doors to other companies and studios looking to replicate that success. The issue was the number of shows needed for syndication, 65 episodes, took time to construct. With some exposure to some Japanese anime shows in the west, studios went looking for already made and packaged shows for import to the western market and some of these came with toylines already developed as well. Win-win for American studios. The St. Louis studio World Events Productions Limited founder saw a clip of Beast King GoLion at a local sci-fi convention (how many saw anime at the time) and he decided that this show that featured mecha could be a good vehicle for World Events Productions (WEP) to break into the production of TV shows. This super robot anime ran from 1981-1982 and was developed by the legendary Toei Animation studio that altered not only the anime industry but Japanese society. There are debates about the success or failure of Beast King GoLion, but it did get a toy release around the same time by a company called Popy....more on that later. The issue was that Beast King GoLion only ran for 52 episodes and WEP needed 65 for the American TV market for a daily cartoon.
What the Hell was "Beast King GoLion", "Armored Fleet DaiRugger XV" and "Lightspeed Electroid Albegas"?!
The Historical Context of Voltron: Defender of the Universe
Why is Voltron an Oddity of Military Sci-Fi?
The Most Successful and Iconic Element of the Series was a Mistake
the one with the lion”. That caused Toei to ship the masters of Beast King GoLion not Daltanious, and once opened, the staff at WEP realized that this was a happy accident because GoLion was superior to Daltanious. So impressed was the production staff at WEP that the proposed first series of Voltron was original to be Vehicle Force Voltron. This original plan was reflected in the roman numerals of the Matchbox imported toys. It is interesting to consider if Toei had indeed shipped the correct series to WEP, the story of GoLion and Voltron could be very different.
Only 2/3rd of the Original Show Concept was Aired
It has Become Fondly Remembered, Despite the Show being Bad...Very Bad
It has gotten Several Major Reboots
The Toys are Back in the Store
There was a Limited Comic Book Series in 1984
Voltron Did What ROBOTECH Could Not
The Voltron Toys....Oh God...the Toys!!
The Original Holy Grail: The 1981 Popy Chogokin Beast King GoLion GB-36 DX
The "Mysterious Stranger" Voltron: the Bandai Godaikn GoLion (#77070 1982-1984?)
The “Other Voltron”: 1982 Popy Chogokin DaiRugger XV GB-72 DX and GB-73 ST
The “Unseen Voltron”: 1983/1984(?) Popy Chogokin Albegas GC-04 DX and GC-03 ST
As mentioned above, the 3rd Voltron series, Gladiator, was canceled due to the hostile response of the second series, or Vehicle Voltron, and WEP commissioned more LionForce Voltron episodes to capitalize on the most successful element of the show. That meant that the Gladiator Voltron was completely unseen and all work abandoned on the series by WEP. Much like all of the Voltron toys released by Matchbox, they had Japanese roots. Lightspeed Electroid Albegas aired on Japanese TV in 1983-1984, and Popy was to release two robot toys to complement the series, but Popy was shuttered by Bandai, and it released the two toys for Albegas: GC-04 DX and GC-03 ST. Much like all of the previous robot toys, the DX was the most expensive and the most detailed with the three robots, while the ST was a static smaller toy aimed at an entry price. As to value, the original Popy GC-04 DX going for around $800-$1000, surprisingly.
The Matchbox Voltron I, II, and III Deluxe and Miniature Toys (1984-1986)
The Miniature line was drawn from the Popy 6inch line of lower-price point toys and allowed for access to Voltron by those that could not afford the expensive deluxe robots. With the power of the Matchbox name and distribution network, imported Japanese toys under the Voltron name were released across the United States. What separated the original Popy from the Matchbox toys was the lack of hand weapons (the King Sword), spring-firing weapons, and sharpened teeth of the Lions. These were all due to parent safety concerns and the death of a child from choking on a Battlestar Galactica spring-fired missile in the 1970s. With the popularity of the Matchbox Voltron toys caused Bandai to task factories in Taiwan to meet the demand. Unfortunately, harmful lead levels were found to be present in some of the Matchbox Voltron toys around 1985-1986, causing parent groups to apply pressure and Voltron toys were pulled and junked after a consumer health warning issued on November 12, 1986. This came at a bad time, as Voltron was successful on the small screen. It is believed that this 1986 lead warning triggered a crisis between Matchbox and WEP and that stopped the flow of imported Japanese toys to Matchbox. I personally believe that Matchbox was heavily invested in 1986 on bring ROBOTECH to the toy stores via most domestically produced ROBOTECH toyline...in some ways, by 1986, Voltron had run its course for Matchbox and they had moved on from Lions to Veritechs.
Second Chances: The 1984-1985 Panosh Place Lion Voltron Toyline
With the lead discovery in the Matchbox Voltron robot toys that came from Bandai/Popy outsourcing the production to Taiwan to met high demand, Matchbox canceled the contact with Bandai around 1986. However, with Voltron airing across the United States and experiencing success, it could have been bad for WEP not having toys in the stores to capitalize on the TV show. While the Matchbox toys were dead, WEP still had the all plastic line complete with action figures by Panosh Place. In the strange and most interesting history of Voltron toys, the Panosh Place 1985 line is one of the most interesting. Unlike the imported Bandai/Popy robot lines drawn from GoLion, DaiRugger, and Albegas; Panosh Place was going to pattern their Voltron line after the American model with figures, vehicles, and playsets.
Third Time’s the Charm…? LJN 1986 Motorized Toyline
Those of us that lived through the 1980s know the name of LJN. From their Advanced D&D figure line to the truly disturbed DUNE 1984 toyline, to their motorized cars, and of course, their video games for the NES…LJN is one of the most infamous toy companies and their soiled hands touched the Voltron toy license after Panosh Place filed for bankruptcy. In 1986, the worst Voltron: Defender of the Universe toys were released by LJN that were motorized “battle riser” and wheeled along with the single tallest Voltron toy: the 24inch motorized Giant Commander Voltron that was based around the Popy Golion Jumbo Machinder model. Some reports say that LJN released this in 1984…which I find odd and out of place with the timeline, but it is likely the copyright date for when WEP registered the trademark for “Voltron” not when it was released.
The Popy Chogokin Beast King GoLion Rises Again! The Trendmasters Voltron 1997 Re-Re-Release
The 2012 Mattycollector 23inch Voltron
The Anniversary editions of Voltron by Toynami: the V1, V2, and the V3
Bandai Tamashii Nations GX-71 "Voltron: Defender of the Universe" Soul of Chogokin (2017)
LEGO Voltron?! Fuck Yeah!
My Own History with Voltron
There are many of my generation that loved the original Lion Team Voltron series and it was as transformative for them as ROBOTECH was for me as back in the mid-1980's. I only recently learned by watching Michael French of Retroblasting and it made me think about my own history with Voltron. When Voltron was being aired in North America, I was living just outside of Tulsa, Oklahoma and deeply involved in all things ROBOTECH. If the Lions Voltron had aired in my market than it is likely that I would have given a try since I was such a feverish fan of anime and mecha. My exposure to Voltron came via the toy adverts on TV, in comics, toy catalogs, and even the toys themselves at my local stores. While I recognized that this lion mecha-based TV series was anime, I did know enough about it to invest in the toys due to it being the Pre-Internet Dark Ages and limited allowance. I did indeed see the Matchbox mecha, the more well-rounded Panosh Place toyline, and even the terrible limited series released by Charlton Comics via their Modern imprint. I bought the first issue of Modern comics Voltron series due to my curiosity and I was rewarded with even more questions and a new dismissive attitude towards Voltron. To me at the time, Voltron was a cheap, bad concept anime that was butchered in the West and not worth my time or energy. While I've done more research, I've never invested the time into watching the American reworked series or the original Japanese GoLion anime. This has had a direct impact on the frequency that Voltron appears on FWS. Speaking of my general lack of knowledge about Voltron, I did not know until November of 2017 that there was more than one Voltron series or that it was a combination of three separate anime series, much in the same vein as ROBOTECH.
Next Time on FWS...