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Matchbox

1984 Matchbox Voltron toys

Toys play a major role in the Voltron franchise overall. Starting from two separate anime series based on toys by Popy, a former subsidiary of Bandai, the American adaption would also adopt the toy line and expand it further with different licensees.

Every major television series, with the exception of Voltron Force, would have their own toy line made by a specific licensee. Outside of toys aimed at young children, Voltron: Defender of the Universe, in particular, would have a numerous amount of merchandising and adult-aimed collectibles.

Background

Currently, the overall Voltron intellectual property is owned by World Events Productions. The original IP owners were Toei with the creation of both Beast King GoLion and Armored Fleet DaiRugger XV in 1981 and 1982 respectively. Due to Voltron's popularity, Toei has sold rights to the franchise to WEP with the last remaining Japanese rights sold around 2008. Classic Media (now DreamWorks Classics) handles the licensing for the franchise and thus oversees the licensing for the franchise’s toys and collectibles.

A license gives a third party company the right to make products using the IP owners’ branding and imagery with backup funds from official loans. A licensor can also “divide” a license for multiple toy companies. For example, Bandai would make products for collectors while Playmates would made children’s toys.

History

Pre-Voltron

Modelkit dairugger 500

1982 1/500 scale Dairugger model kit by Bandai

There are four Japanese series that were proposed to be made into the Voltron adaption. These series were Mirai Robo Daltanious, Beast GoLion, Armored Fleet DaiRugger XV, and Lightspeed Electroid Albegas. All of these series were produced by Toei and had their respective toy lines be produced by Bandai and its subsidiary Popy.

Popy had multiple toy lines in which the licensed character of each series would be in. This would include Popynica, Chogokin, Jumbo Machinder, and other smaller lines. Its parent company, Bandai, would also release model kits of the robots that the buyer would assemble themself. Daltanious and Golion's toys were also popular enough to be exported to North America under Bandai's American subsidiary in the Godaikin toy line. The line proved to be short lived but extremely influential to the future of robot toys.

The licensees of this period were:

  • Bandai
    • Popy
      • Victora
    • Godaikin

Voltron: Defender of the Universe

Voltron tab

A tab on one of the Voltron toys showing unused footage from Lightspeed Electroid Albegass intended to be made into the Voltron adaption

After the deregulation of children's television by Ronald Reagan, numerous TV series were made specifically to sell toys to children. In order to guarantee more sales, companies wanted to surpass the 65 episode threshold needed to have a show air daily on weekdays for three months straight. This was known as "syndication" in which a show would air on multiple channels and thus be more widely available.

What a few TV companies did was adapt Japanese series into English and import their respective toy lines. However, 52 episodes made a typical Japanese season. In order to get by this, WEP initially wanted to combine three different anime series into one larger American adaption to pass the 65 episode count and thus adopting a larger toy line.

Matchbox would be responsible for importing the toys from Bandai and tweaking their molds to bypass toy safety regulations. As so, features like the teeth and missiles were modified. DaiRugger, Albegas, and GoLion would be renamed Voltron I, II, and III respectively in an attempt to keep a more consistent toy line. Due to the high demand for Voltron toys, production was shifted to a factory in Taiwan and lead was found in the paint. Due to this incident, WEP ended their partnership with Matchbox and Bandai and gave Panosh Place the next license.

Panosh Place would focus on making an action figure toy line featuring the main pilots, and a few of the villains. To go along with the figures, they would create an all-plastic combining Voltron toy, and a play set of the Castle of Lions. The toy line was intended to expand by including more villains and even pilots from the Vehicle Team Voltron but were cancelled due to the company's closure.

LJN would take over as the next licensee and would focus on Voltron toys featuring motorized toys and even the earliest ones that would include lights and electronics. Like the above, LJN would also end their license due to their own closure.

The licensees of this period were:

Voltron: The Third Dimension

Stealthvoltrontoy

Trendmasters Stealth Voltron combining toy

After ten years of absence from television, Voltron: The Third Dimension would premier in 1998. Prior to the series being made, Toei launched a lawsuit against WEP over the creation of the series without their involvement. The case was settled with new agreements over the franchise.

Trendmasters would then be the sole licensee of this period. They would reissue the original Matchbox combining Voltron toy with several tweaks to the mold and different paint applications. They would also focus heavily on Voltron: The Third Dimension including a few combining toys and action figures for the pilots.

Interestingly enough, Trendmasters also released "Voltrex" which would be a robot combined from five different dinosaurs by the time the series was cancelled. There were also prototypes of a "Dracotron" toy.

Toynami

For the next ten years after the end of Trendmasters, Toynami be the sole licensee for Voltron toys and collectibles. Originally, WEP intended to create another Voltron TV series in 2005 with Kickstart Productions but for unknown reasons it would never happen. During this time is when there would only by products aimed at older collectors.

Their most notable work would be the 20th anniversary Masterpiece Voltron. It would be the first combining Voltron toy aimed solely at adult collectors and would have its die-cast content be its main selling point. For the 25th anniversary, they would recycle the mold in all plastic with no engineering changes.

Cancelled Voltron Force toy line

Cancelled vf toys

Protoypes for Voltron Force toys shown at SDCC 2011

By 2010, Toynami's license ended leaving it to be up for bid among other companies. There were two known companies that bid on the Voltron toy license: Bandai and Mattel. Bandai has expressed interest in adding Golion to its acclaimed Soul of Chogokin line aimed at high-end collectors. However, Mattel ended up having the license and would work on their Matty Collector line.

This period of time would also be infamous due to a number of cancellations and legal issues coinciding with the live-action movie also being delayed due to legal interference among different film companies. Collectors would be told of Miracle Production through an affiliate of the company. Miracle Production was given the license to make a masterpiece-like Vehicle Voltron toy but would lose their license before finally creating it. Despite the loss of their license, Miracle Production would continue developing the toy with Mattel as the current licensee attempting to block its sales in North America.

Beyond the now unlicensed Vehicle Voltron toy, other IP infringing products would also imitate the likeness of Voltron properties to aim at high-end collectors (see below). While Mattel was finishing their Matty Collector line, Toynami would release Jumbo Machinder-like toys under the "Beast King GoLion" and "Armored Fleet DaiRugger XV" names instead of the American "Voltron" label.

Mattel would also show prototypes for Voltron Force toys as a tie-in to the TV series. However, they were cancelled due to Mattel ending its Voltron license after only two years as a result of the live-action movie being unreleased. Beyond that, Voltron Force was also cancelled after its first season despite it intending to continue after the cliffhanger of the final episode.

Toynami would regain the license and re-released the masterpiece mold with additional LEDs and a display base. The mold would be almost ten years with no major engineering fixes. Miracle Productions would also release their Vehicle Voltron toy as fast as possible at the expense of quality control issues. Due to its lost license, the Vehicle Voltron toy falls under the category of an IP infringing item.

The licensees of this period were:

Voltron: Legendary Defender

Chogokindamashii golion

GX-71 Golion

DreamWorks bought Classic Media, the company responsible for handling the Voltron license, in 2012 and gained access to its library. DreamWorks would then work on Voltron: Legendary Defender starting 2014 along with animation studio Studio Mir. During the time, Funko would also release smaller novelty vinyl toys for collectors under its POP and Hikari Vinyl lines.

2016 brought in a huge change to the franchise overall. Sideshow Toys would create a high-end statue of an extremely stylized Voltron with a price tag of $1250. Bandai would announce that, after years of development, Golion would officially enter its Soul of Chogokin line and became one of the most coveted entries in the line. Shortly after the announcement of Bandai returning to the Voltron franchise as a business partner after more than 30 years, Voltron: Legendary Defender was announced with Playmates Toys as its primary licensee.

The arrival of two new major licensees for the franchise also showed signs of Toynami's license with the Voltron franchise ending as well. Their final Voltron collectible is a 16 inch all-plastic combining toy of a stylized Voltron that was released at the end of 2016.

A fan-made design of a Voltron Lego set won contest and is set to be released soon.

The licensees of this period are:

IP infringing toys

Due to the nature of toys paying a key role in the Voltron franchise, toy companies would attempt to profit off of the likeness of the Voltron property without the proper acquisition of a license from the IP owners.

External Links

VE Voltron toys and collectibles
Current License-Holders BandaiPlaymates Toys
Past License-Holders FunkoLJNMatchboxMattelMiracle ProductionPanosh PlaceToynamiTrendmasters
Related articles ChogokinDream EXIP infringing itemsKatsushi MurakamiMerchandise

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