Voltron: Defender of the Universe is the 1984-1985 half-hour animated series produced by World Events Productions (aka WEP) that introduced Voltron to the world. Though the Lion Force incarnation is far more well-known, the series as originally broadcast consisted of episodes featuring both the Lion Force and Voltron Vehicle Force.
The series' content is actually translated and edited from two Japanese anime series, Beast King Golion (Lion Force episodes) and Armored Fleet Dairugger XV (Vehicle Force episodes). The Japanese source material endured much editing in the conversion to its American incarnation. Besides making changes to unify the two originally unrelated series into a common universe, edits were made to comply with US children's television standards which prohibited scenes of death, religious references, and gratuitous violence. In addition, further edits removed any cultural indicators of the show's Japanese origin, as WEP thought this would hinder American children's' reception of the show.
Origin of the Series
WEP staffers, including Ted Koplar, WEP President, attended an international programming convention in Caan, France, where they saw footage of some Japanese anime series that they thought, once translated and localized, could appeal to a North American audience.
A tentative deal was struck for WEP to examine 3 series: Daltanius, Albegas, and Armored Fleet Dairugger XV. The Japanese production company, however, accidentally sent Beast King Golion instead of Daltanius. Upon viewing GoLion, Ted Koplar, president of WEP, decided that it had the most promise.
Having chosen the Japanese source material, WEP's plan was to create syndication package consisting of three Voltron incarnations:
- Voltron I, of the Near Universe, from Dairugger (commonly referred to as the Vehicle Force)
- Voltron II, of the Middle Universe, from Albegas (aka Gladiator Force)
- Voltron III, of the Far Universe, from GoLion (aka Lion Force)
Though the Japanese source series were all unrelated, creative editing and writing would portray all Voltron incarnations as coexisting within the same universe. Distributed as a single show, when the episodes of one Voltron incarnation were exhausted, the next would begin. This allowed Voltron to be marketed as a single show with a minimum of repeats over a year.
The pilot episode was presented at the NAB conference in spring 1984, to positive reception.
On Sept 10, 1984, Voltron III premiered to the world, reaching 65% of US households and was a surprise success.
After exhausting the run of Lion Force episodes, the series changed to Voltron I, the Vehicle Force. It was not as well-received, and plans to translate Voltron II were scrapped.
In transforming the original Japanese series to Voltron, scenes depicting death, religious symbology (e.g. crosses), sex, and violence were cut out. According to Marc Handler, story editor, "anything that we knew a broadcaster would cut, we had to cut,", noting that the WEP staffers did not have personal objections with the removed content; they just had to satisfy broadcasters.
When scenes of death could not be cut, for instance, during large battles or when prominent characters were killed, dialog would give an alternate explanation of events. Enemy soldiers were described as "robot warriors", thus sidestepping concerns when they were destroyed. Mortally-wounded characters would be reported to be recovering in the infirmary, though they would never be seen on-screen again.
The other major category of edits was of those intended to remove all traces of Voltron's Japanese origin. WEP thought the series would have a better chance of success if American children to never suspect that Voltron was anything other than American-produced. This meant the removal of scenes that depicted Japanese text, chopsticks, anime-style facial expressions and word balloons, and other Japanese cultural indicators.
Voice Acting, Music and Sound Effects
Voltron was notable at the time for using a SAG cast and doing ensemble recording. According to Franklin Cofod, director, using a SAG voice cast was "virtually unheard of" at the time for children's programming.
Furthermore, Voltron was the second show to be produced in 2-channel stereo (after NBC's The Tonight Show). When Voltron went into production, the FCC was still in the process of approving the format for stereo broadcasting, and WEP anticipated this by mixing Voltron in stereo and including that fact in the marketing of the show.
The music score for Voltron was original to the US version; it did not use music from the Japanese sources.
The Lion Voltron and the Vehicle Voltron fought two different enemies in the Japanese versions, but in the American edits, they tried to link them both together.
List of edits to eliminate scenes of death
From claiming the soldiers and ships were actually robots, to eliminating all scenes with blood, to making up nonsense about alternate dimensions, etc. everything was done to eliminate death from Voltron, to appease American censors at that time.
(Everything in this section)
- 1981-83 TV Tokyo in Japan (GoLion from 1981-82, Dairugger from 1982-83)
- 1984-86 Aired in U.S. first-run syndication
- 1989-96 USA Network
- 1997-2000 Cartoon Network (Toonami)
- 1997-98 First-run syndication(The New Adventures of Voltron)
- 1998-00 First-run syndication (Voltron: The Third Dimension)
- 2006- Cartoon Network (Adult Swim) (Tuesdays - Saturdays at 5:30 A.M.)
- 2008- Boomerang (Monday - Friday at 10:30 P.M. Eastern Time)
- 2008- XBOX Live
- 2009- Playstation Network (U.S. only)