Judge Ian Visser has just invented a new word: "Voltronic." Please use it responsibly.
A mighty robot…loved by good, feared by evil!
In a distant future, scientists on the planet Arus have created a giant robot named Voltron as the ultimate defense mechanism. Defense against what, you ask? Why, the evil King Zarkon, ruler of Planet Doom! Aided by his son Lotor and the evil witch Haggar, Zarkon has spread vicious armies across the galaxy, gathering slaves to be imprisoned on his home planet. Zarkon's domination of Arus has always been foiled by the presence of its robot defender, and he vowed to destroy both Voltron and the planet.
To this end, Zarkon's witch disguised herself as a goddess, and put a curse upon Voltron so that he was split into five robot lions. Scattered across Arus, Voltron was unable to re-form, and Zarkon has returned to punish the people of Arus unopposed. With Arus' cities smashed and its population enslaved, Zarkon appears to be unstoppable.
Luckily, five young pilots from the Galaxy Alliance (Keith, Lance, Sven, Hunk and Pidge) now journey to Arus in an attempt to discover the secret of Voltron. The five pilots also encounter Allura, princess of Arus, who has guarded the secret of Voltron until he could be reawakened for the forces of good. Each pilot is granted control over one of the robot lions, which can be again combined to form Voltron, Defender of the Universe.
Together the young heroes form Voltron Force, dedicating themselves to foiling Zarkon and keeping the galaxy safe for freedom and light.
Facts of the Case
Voltron has a long and varied history in both Japan and North America, and has made appearances in several different forms. In deference to those with a greater knowledge than my own about the history of the series, I have cribbed the following excerpt from the Voltron wikipedia.org entry:
"The first episodes were based on the 1981 series Hyakujuu-ou Golion (Hyakujûô Goraion, Hundred Beast King GoLion/FiveLion), and featured a team of five young pilots commanding five robot lions, which could be combined to form Voltron. Despite being the first of the two robots to appear on American television, the "GoLion" version of Voltron was regarded as "Voltron III" within the toyline because it was the last of the three series released in Japan."
Voltron has now come to DVD, and Media Blasters presents the first fifteen episodes of the series on a three-disc set. The episodes included are:
• "Space Explorers Captured"
• "The Lion Has New Claws"
• "The Witch Gets a Facelift"
Voltron—Defender of the Universe—Collection One is big, dumb, 1980s fun. There's no point reading too much into the series; it's a cartoon, after all. But what a cartoon! Action, explosions, evil witches, giant swords, huge robeasts, and cool teenager pilots who always manage to get away unscathed (more or less). It's easy to see why this series was popular at the time; it was a big, loud alternative to the more staid and innocent offerings of Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck.
The series is surprisingly mature for its audience, with evil characters doing really evil things. Remember how all those lasers were firing in G.I. Joe or The Transformers and yet nobody really got hurt? Not here! In the very first episode a swath of prisoners gets slaughtered by Zarkon's gladiator monster, and lie ripped up on a bloody arena floor. Wheeeee!
Cool or not, it would be unfair of me not to point out the many short-comings in Voltron—Defender of the Universe—Collection One. The initial few episodes in this set are very plot-heavy; it takes several episodes just to get Voltron up and running. Impatient viewers will be chomping at the bit to get the big guy to the screen.
Coupled with the pacing problems are some serious story issues; the writing often feels like it was imported wholesale from another cartoon and stitched together to suit the animation. Dialogue, much of which was re-written from the Japanese version of the show, suffers a similar fate on many occasions. The following is an example of the typical exchanges that pepper the show:
Keith: "Vultures may not be very attractive, but they gave us a hand and we should be grateful."
Sven: "I'll always think they're beautiful…"
Repetition is another issue in Voltron—Defender of the Universe—Collection One. There is only so much you can do with this kind of material, and the re-cycled plots are apparent after viewing a few the episodes back-to-back. In the course any particular episode, Zarkon will inevitably manage to sabotage Voltron Force, attack Arus with a huge robeast, and get defeated in the last five minutes of the episode by a re-formed Voltron. This kind of repetition is easy to overlook when you are ten years old, but it is much less endearing to an adult viewer.
I'm not an expert on cartoon video, but the image on Voltron—Defender of the Universe—Collection One looks very good for a series nearly twenty-five years old. The main problem is that the image actually shakes in many scenes, rattling up and down in a distracting manner. A few other minor problems (some graininess and dirt specks) are present, but are not distracting. Colors are bold, bright, and clear; fans of the show should be quite pleased with the work that has been done here.
The audio is the real treat on Voltron—Defender of the Universe—Collection One. Voltron was the first American television cartoon to be recorded in stereo, and Media Blasters has gifted viewers with a 2.0 Dolby Digital track, as well as a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix for surround sound. These tracks are aggressive and loud, with few defects or hiss.
Special features are limited on Voltron—Defender of the Universe—Collection One. Besides a "play all" feature that plays all the episodes on the disc straight through, the only other bonus is a collection of four trailers for other AnimeWorks animated series.
Note: I received a version of Voltron—Defender of the Universe—Collection One for review that came in the typical plastic DVD case and is sold particularly at Wal-Mart. There is different version of the set available at other retailers that includes additional special features and comes packaged in a metal tin.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Is there anyone who really likes this kind of thing as much as they did when they were a kid? Nostalgia is a tricky thing, and what we often believe was cool at one time can now seem dated and a little foolish (have you tried watching the Smurfs as an adult?) Casual fans of Voltron will want to consider carefully if what they remember of Voltron is enough to warrant buying a multi-disc series they haven't watched in twenty years.
Despite its failings in both plot and dialogue, Voltron remains one the most-beloved and popular cartoons of its era. Fans of the show can be glad the series is now available on DVD, and will find this set is up-to-par in the quality department.
Not guilty. The robot lions are set free to roam again!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Media Blasters
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