REVIEW: “Voltron—Collection One: Blue Lion” DVD

Voltron, Defender of the Universe—Collection One: Blue Lion (DVD)

Some of the things that entertained me as a child still entertain me now. The Film Frontier, after all, primarily covers Star Trek, Superman, and Star Wars. I loved those franchises back then, and have pretty much kept up with them ever since.

Returning to a once-entertaining movie or series without watching it for many years can sometimes be a jarring reality-check, though. As the old saying goes, “You can’t go home again.” Some things are best left to the fond memories of childhood. What can I say, Knight Rider, Miami Vice, and The A-Team seemed like top-notch entertainment at the time.

Voltron hit big when I was in fourth grade, elementary school. I had already discovered Star Blazers by this time by accidentally waking up extremely early one Saturday morning. I remember being awed by its realism. It was an animated series that felt live-action. Getting up early each Saturday to watch Star Blazers soon became my routine.

Voltron came along as a weekday, afternoon series. At first, I thought the show was somehow linked to Star Blazers because the animation style was similar. I quickly became hooked on this as well. And how could I not? It featured five lion spaceships that formed a “robot” warrior, Voltron.

I may have been a member of the school playground’s Masters of the Universe fan club, but I was president of the Voltron fan club. Though I remember disliking the diminutive Pidge, pilot of Green Lion, for the most part Voltron wasn’t dumbed down for kids. Yes, there were the “space mice” and (eventually) their mouse version of Voltron, but those were just minor distractions in an otherwise great series.

When the Vehicle Force replaced the Lion Force for a season, I found it harder to keep watching. What was once cool had become mundane. When the Lion Force finally returned, the airings moved to a time when I was still in school. We didn’t have a VCR for another few years, so I mourned that timeslot change. For me, Voltron was gone.

Voltron, Defender of the Universe—Collection One: Blue Lion compiles the first fifteen episodes on three DVDs. Twenty years or so later, I wondered if the magic would still be there. Or would Voltron go the way of the talking Trans-Am?

If you’re willing to throw out continuity guffaws (likely due to the series’ unique origins), Voltron actually holds up pretty well. Putting everything else aside, a robot gladiator formed by five lion spaceships is still a cool concept.

As many cartoons do, Voltron often fell into a predictable formula:

1.) Zarkon complains that Voltron is still a thorn in his side
2.) Haggar creates “the most powerful robeast ever” and sends it to Arus
3.) One of the five Voltron pilots is separated from the others
4.) Four of the five lions battle the robeast unsuccessfully
5.) The fifth lion finally shows up and they form Voltron
6.) Voltron battles the robeast to a draw with various weaponry
7.) Voltron finally forms blazing sword and destroys the robeast

Once I noticed the formula as a kid, the show lost a little something for me. As an adult, I was worried that the episodes would be that much harder to watch.

Collection One, anyway, doesn’t fall into the above formula often. That’s not to say it doesn’t happen, but it’s not every single episode. That must’ve been later in the series.

Five space explorers (Keith, Sven, Lance, Hunk, and Pidge) are captured by the forces of evil dictator King Zarkon and taken to Planet Doom. They manage to escape to Planet Arus, where they meet the beautiful Princess Allura—the last survivor of Arus’ royal family after devastating attacks by Zarkon. Allura is a take action sort of princess, along the lines of Leia from Star Wars. She’s not one to sit safely in her castle and let others do all the work.

The five explorers become the new pilots of the legendary Voltron. When Sven is severely injured, Allura joins the team to replace him as pilot of Blue Lion. These early episodes feature various campaigns by Zarkon’s space fleet commander, Yurak, to conquer Arus.

By the end of the collection, Yurak has failed time and again. To make up for this, he agrees to be turned into the most powerful robeast ever in order to defeat Voltron. Zarkon’s son, Prince Lotor, takes over the fleet and begins a new campaign. As this collection draws to a close, Lotor’s obsession to destroy Voltron is outweighed only by his obsession to enslave Princess Allura.

Special features include two versions of the unaired Voltron pilot. Note, this is the pilot for the Americanized version, not the original Japanese episodes. The pilot features scenes from several of the early episodes. All of the music, some pieces of animation, and snippets of dialogue are different. I found the pilot hard to sit through, especially twice. The aired versions were much better.

There’s also a documentary about the making of the American version of Voltron. Though it is not an extremely well-made documentary, I still found it interesting mostly because I’ve never seen a behind-the-scenes look at Voltron before. It reveals that the Lion Force came about by accident.

World Events ordered two Japanese anime series for American adaptation, Armored Fleet Dairugger XV (what we know as the Vehicle Force) and Light Speed Electric God Albegas (what would have become the Gladiator Force). A third series, Hundred Beast King Golion (what we know as The Lion Force), was shipped accidentally. When World Events saw Golion’s potential, they secured the rights to it as well and launched it first.

An amateurish documentary examines Voltron‘s restoration for DVD. If you can get past the horrible narration, it is worth watching to see how the episodes were “painstakingly restored.” You hear that phrase a lot, but it seems to be true here.

The restorers went back to the original Japanese masters, rather than the Americanized ones, because they were in better condition. Once the masters were restored, each episode had to be individually re-edited to match the American versions—which are significantly different (on the visual side, for instance, religious references, violence, and sexuality were toned down or eliminated). This was a frame-by-frame process. I don’t envy the folks that had to do this.

The results are spectacular, though, and well worth a look by other old-time Voltron fans.

Episodes: 8 (out of 10)
Video Quality: 10
Audio Quality: 10
Bonus Features: 5
Overall Experience: 7
Recommended: To Voltron fans. You have to watch at least one set, and these are among the best episodes.