Despite debuting more than 30 years ago, Voltron has remained a cultural touchstone in pop culture. After all, a giant, sword-wielding mech composed of lion robots never goes out of style. As a result, the franchise continues to earn fans every day. Whether you were in front of the TV that day in 1984 when Voltron: Defender of the Universe, or you joined the fandom with the debut of Netflix's Voltron: Legendary Defender, there is one aspect that connects all fans: a love of a radical giant space robot. But that doesn't mean Voltron doesn't have some skeletons in his closet.
From overlooked CGI sequels to despised tie-ins, the Voltron franchise has seen it all. But with Legendary Defender earning rave reviews and garnering a following of dedicated fans, Voltron has managed to weather the years and survive to find a whole new generation of cartoon fans. But Voltron has seen plenty of bumps and scrapes throughout the years, and we're sure the powers-that-be would prefer these little hiccups were forgotten by the fans. So join CBR as we take a look at every iteration of the legendary Defender of the Universe and bring you the deep, dark secrets of the franchise!
Anime has given birth to plenty of monstrous mechs over the years. Since the format originated the term "giant robot," creators have constantly upped the ridiculous robots bar, leading to mechs getting bigger and bigger as the years went on. But when it comes to the biggest robots in the animated world, there aren't many bots that can hold a candle to Voltron.
According to statistics published in tie-in data books, Voltron clocks in at a staggering 100 meters tall. This makes the towering titan larger than the Statue of Liberty, and puts the mech in the upper tiers of the largest giant robots to ever grace anime, beating out the likes of Mazinger Z, Big O, and pretty much every incarnation of Gundam ever. Whoever said size doesn't matter clearly never met Voltron.
While many facets of life divide us, there is one fact that we can all agree on: space lion robots are awesome. Acting as an extension of the dedicated pilots, the Voltron team has saved the universe with their lions more than once. But according to the anime Voltron was adapted from, the pilots might not deserve all the credit. In fact, those lions might actually be alive.
In Beast King Golion lore, the titular robot was an arrogant robot that had protected the universe by itself for a time. Eventually, the robot grew cocky and challenged the Goddess of the Universe to battle, but lost and was subsequently torn apart into five individual mechs. As the series progressed, the pilots of the lions would learn of Golion's tragic past, and would discover the sentience of their mechs.
If you grew up with Voltron, you'll likely remember Sven, the goofy-named Norwegian pilot of the Blue Lion. As a member of Voltron, Sven fought the forces of evil and protected the universe. But Sven wasn't always Sven; in fact, the character fans know as Sven is actually two characters mushed into one!
The story goes like this: in Beast King Golion, the anime Voltron was adapted from, the Blue Lion was piloted by a character named Shirogane. Since piloting giant robot space lions can be a dangerous gig, Shirogane would die in combat in episode 6. Takashi's younger brother, Ryou, would subsequently become the new pilot of the Blue Lion. As the brothers were identical, World Events Productions, the animation studio responsible for producing Voltron, decided to write out the death and just make the two characters the same person, leading to the creation of Sven.
When Voltron hit screens in 1984, the show became an overnight sensation, cementing itself as one of the most popular properties among children. But Voltron wasn't the only show on television following the adventures of giant transforming robots; in fact, The Transformers proved to be Voltron's biggest rival, with the two shows regularly battling it out for ratings supremacy. But while these two shows fought tooth and nail with each other, one of these shows' biggest stars had no problem aiding the enemy.
Voice actor Peter Cullen is most famous for lending his pipes to Transformers, voicing main character Optimus Prime. But while Cullen was busy ordering the Autobots to roll out, he pulled double duty, providing both the opening narration to Voltron: Defender Of The Universe and voicing the likes of Coran and King Alfor. Despite the bitter rivalry between Voltron and Transformers behind the scenes, Cullen continued to lend his voice to both shows without issue.
Any Voltron fan worth their salt can rattle off the Lions as easily as they can recall the names of their family members: Black Lion, Red Lion, Blue Lion, Yellow Lion, and Green Lion. Since debuting in 1984, the Voltron Lions have seen plenty of pilots of both sexes hop into the driver's seat to defend the universe. But until the debut of Voltron: Legendary Defender, one odd consistency had persisted across the Voltron franchise: a woman had never driven the Green Lion.
Yes, across the two original series, the godawful CGI continuation, and the pseduo-sequel, the various Lions had seen many different pilots, but the Green Lion had remained something of a sausage party. This streak was finally broken with Voltron: Legendary Defender, as Pidge, the diminutive female science whiz, was made the pilot of the Green Lion. Even in a universe with giant space lions, outdated ideas about gender can be pervasive.
Cartoons in the 1980s were notoriously scrutinized by various public bodies, who watched the shows like hawks for any whiff of controversy. To appease censors and watchdog groups, action cartoons of the '80s took great strides to avoid death. As a result, every foe Voltron tussled with was called a "robot," and was shown exploding when defeated in battle. Only problem is that these foes definitely weren't robots, and they met much grislier ends in the original anime.
In Beast King Golion, the enemies Voltron battled were definitely of the flesh-and-blood variety. Instead of exploding, bad guys were dismembered, sliced apart, and generally hacked to pieces by Voltron's Blazing Sword, with plenty of accompanying blood. As this level of violence wouldn't fly in the States, the animation company opted to use the same explosion footage for defeated foes every episode, allowing the show to avoid controversy.
Shiro, the pilot of the Blue Lion, got the short end of the stick when Beast King Golion came to America as Voltron: Defender of the Universe, losing his original Japanese name, Shiro, for a more mild-mannered Norwegian one. But when Voltron: Legendary Defender hit the airwaves, fans found a crucial name change had been made in an attempt to right a wrong that had transpired more than 30 years ago.
When Dreamworks Animation was preparing for Legendary Defender, the decision was made to drop "Sven" and revert the black-clad Voltron member back to his OG name, Shiro. As a fun call-back to the Norwegian roots of the pilot, the Paladins would encounter a Swedish-accented copy of Shiro named "Sven" in an alternate reality during a memorable episode of Legendary Defender.
Voltron: Legendary Defender has become a cult sensation, amassing a loyal following of dedicated fans. While fans all tend to have their favorite characters, Keith remains one of the show's most popular. A headstrong loner that has piloted both the Red and Black Lions, Keith has earned fans thanks to his never-say-die attitude and his rebellious ways. But the Keith fans know and love was almost drastically different, according to co-showrunner Lauren Montgomery.
In an interview, Montgomery revealed that Keith underwent several redesigns during the character creation process of the show. According to the animator, Keith was at one time envisioned as sporting full blown fangs and rocking a mop of white hair, which the character would have constantly dyed a variety of colors. This character design was ultimately dropped, and the studio opted for the Keith design fans know and love today.
Cartoon fans are an obsessive sort. They tend to comb through episodes religiously, dissecting plot points and discussing character relationships with fellow fans. With the growth of websites such as Tumblr, the concept of "fan names" have become an essential part of cartoon fandom, leading to mash-up names for couples (looking at you, Klance fans) and goofy character nicknames. Such was the case with Shiro, who gained a fan name that Dreamworks Animation grew to love so much that it became a part of official canon.
As the oldest member of Team Voltron, Shiro tends to act as something of a fatherly figure for the group. As a result, fans nicknamed Shiro "Space Dad." The nickname stuck, and Dreamworks Animation took a shine to the title. In a tie-in databook for Voltron: Legendary Defender, Shiro was given the official nickname of "Space Dad," thus making a silly Tumblr nickname canon.
Hey, mix-ups happen. We're all human. Who among us can say they haven't accidentally grabbed the wrong item when rushing out the door? It's happened to the best of us. It's thanks to one such mix-up that we ended up with the Voltron we know and love today.
The story goes like this: World Events Productions was originally set to adapt the anime Mirai Robo Daltanious, which chronicled the adventures of a giant robot that could merge with a giant robot lion and fight evil. Problem is, when World Events Productions requested the tapes from anime company Toei Animation, the company accidentally grabbed a VHS copy of Beast King Golion and shipped it to the states. By the time Toei had realized their mistake, World Events had already fallen in love with Golion and opted to adapt this show instead.
As you might have gleaned from previous entries, Voltron: Defender of the Universe was not born and bred in the good old US of A. In fact, Voltron was a complete reworking of an obscure anime. Like many animation companies in the '80s, World Event Productions looked to Japan for its next big hit. Like Robotech and Starblazers, World Event Productions wanted to take an anime, strip it for parts, and refashion it into a brand new show for American audiences.
The anime the studio landed on was Beast King Golion which, while filled to the brim with giant robots and space battles, also featured ample violence, tackled controversial subjects such as slavery, and concerned Earth being annihilated by World War III. Thus, with heavy retooling, Beast King Golion became Voltron, and the rest is history.
As the saying goes, you have to strike while the iron is hot. Thus, when Voltron rocketed to popularity in the '80s, World Events Productions was eager to keep the momentum going. With Voltron: Defender Of The Universe holding the coveted top spot in ratings among children, a plan was devised: roll out a second Voltron show, and watch the money pile up. This forced WEP to seek out a new anime to adapt for the second iteration of Voltron.
Known as Armored Fleet Dairugger XV in Japan, the show was rechristened Voltron Vehicle Force when brought to America. The show followed three teams (the Aqua Fighters, the Turbo Terrain Fighters, and the Strato Fighters) who, when called upon, could combine the 15 vehicles that made up these teams to form Voltron. Problem is, with so many characters and a less-than-interesting mech, kids weren't interested, and the show was quickly axed.
Despite the unmitigated disaster that was Voltron Vehicle Force, World Event Productions were optimistic about the future of the Voltron franchise. While this optimism would prove to be misdirected, this didn't stop the studio from making plans for a third Voltron series.
Known internally as Voltron Gladiator Force, the planned series would have adopted the awesomely named anime Lightspeed ElectroGod Albegas. The studio had the plot of the series outlined, with the show following three humanoid robots named Alpha, Beta, and Gamma that lived in a mountain base and could come together to form Voltron. Ultimately, World Event Productions realized that the demand for a third Voltron series just wasn't there, and the series was nixed. But even a full-blown cancellation couldn't kill Voltron Gladiator Force...
Traditionally, killing a series before it even makes it to air would ensure that all related tie-ins would meet the same fate. But somehow, despite the swift end Voltron Gladiator Force met, the series somehow managed to stealthily slip into your local toy store.
Despite Voltron Gladiator Force being D.O.A., World Events Productions still held the American rights to Lightspeed ElectroGod Albegas. Wanting to see some sort of return on their investment, the decision was made to make a toy of the aborted Voltron. Matchbox ultimately released a toy of the mech, with the packaging identifying the toy as "Voltron II." Subsequently "Lion Force Voltron" would be dubbed "Voltron I" and "Vehicle Force Voltron" would become "Voltron II," making this Voltron a part of official cannon, despite never even making it onto TV.
For some fans, a show is simply a means to an end for finding your One True Pairing. The OTP, as its better known, is a fan-created term for characters that should be in a relationship together. One particularly committed fan was so devoted to his OTP that he actually went so far as to blackmail Dreamworks Animation for the chance to make his Voltron: Legendary Defender pairing canon.
While Dreamworks Animation is the overarching studio responsible for Legendary Defender, Studio Mir handles the actual animation duties for the cartoon. When a superfan was given a tour of the Studio Mir offices, pictures were snapped of sketches pertaining to future seasons. When the pictures appeared on Tumblr, Dreamworks cracked down, ordering any pictures to be removed. But user "Klance14" held firm, stating he would only remove the pictures if "Klance," the fan name for KeithxLance, was made canon. Dreamworks refused to comply and the whole situation eventually blew over, but talk about commitment to a ship!