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Title:
  Voltron Defenders of the Universe vol 1 - Blue Lion

UK Distributor:  Manga Entertainment

BBFC Certificate:  U

Suggested Retail Price (SRP):  29.99

Episodes:  1-15 (of 52)

Audio Options:  English 2.0

Subtitles:  None

Reviewer:  Rich (Webmaster)

 

People may be doing a bit of a double take with this one, as it isn't the first time Voltron has received a UK DVD release.  As you may or may not remember, a single DVD volume was released by Anchor Bay a couple of years back and then all was quiet on the Voltron front.

But now it's back thanks to Manga Entertainment, and as an unashamed retro anime fan I was looking forward to checking it out.  The series is set in a future where the evil forces of King Zarkon terrorise the galaxy, standing against him is the Galaxy Alliance, which represents all of the 'good' planets opposed to his tyranny.  Foremost amongst their forces are the Space Explorers, an elite team of five men who are dispatched to the planet Arus after Zarkon attacked it.  However, they are surprised to find some of Zarkon's forces still there and they are captured by their mortal enemy.  Trapped on Zarkon's home world - the brilliantly named Planet Doom - our heroes stage a daring escape back to Arus, but Zarkon is not about to let his prize captives slip through his grasp and sends his full force after them.  With Zarkon's armies returning to the already devastated world things look grim for our heroes, but thankfully there's five super robots conveniently lying dormant on the planet.  With the right pilots these robots can be resurrected and combined to form the ultimate robot warrior - Voltron!  Faster than you can say 'Power Rangers' our heroes Keith, Lance, Hunk, Sven and Pidge become the Voltron Force and each pilots one of the five robot lions against Zarkon.  However, Zarkon isn't going to be beaten that easily, and his underling Haggar creates a series of monstrous 'Robeasts' to battle them.  With giant robots and an entire army facing them can five men and one legendary robot really stand a chance?
 

Voltron is the kind of good old fashioned entertainment you really don't get any more.  Like most 'sentai' (superhero team) shows like Power Rangers and Battle of the Planets we have five colour-coded heroes that fall into the usual archetypal groups.  There's the leader (Keith), the maverick (Lance), the loner (Sven), the powerhouse (Hunk) and the kid (Pidge), each piloting a robot in the fight against evil!  It's proper old-guard sci-fi, with evil monsters, cheesy overlords and loads of big robots and futuristic machinery.  On the surface it's like He-Man crossed with Power Rangers, with the heroic Voltron Force facing a new monster-of-the-week every episode.  Each time they can

do little to the enemy until they combine their robots into the almighty Voltron and have a proper rumble.  There's even a Princess in it who, despite getting a more active role as the series progresses, still has a tendency to faint when faced with danger.  It's predictable and shallow, or so it seems.

The thing is as you watch more of it there's a little bit more depth to it than it first appears.  Whilst every episode predictably ends with the 'villain gets turned into giant Robeast, heroes form Voltron and beat it' scenario, there's still a bit of character development going on and some interesting subplots.  It may be very predictable for the most part but there are some unexpected events, such as a major character getting written out just a handful of episodes in, and one of the main villains taking a fancy to planet Arus' leader Princess Allura.  There's also some interesting ideas and storylines as the series continues, particularly an episode where the Voltron Force are betrayed by a runaway slave.  The slave's motivations for her actions are quite well handled, but despite the emotional side that is occasionally shown the series' major drawback is twofold - firstly each episode ends up pretty much exactly the same and secondly the edits are occasionally a bit too obvious.
 

Like many sci-fi anime series adapted for the Western market there are cuts for violence, whether scenes of slaves being whipped or people dying in the many battles that occur.  The series is even at pains to point out that enemy soldiers are robots so they can be killed without any moral impact.  Generally I'm not too bothered by minor edits like this as long as it's done well, but in Voltron it often is pretty obvious when something is removed.  This makes it seem quite amateurish and detracts from the impact of some of the darker scenes and storylines.  Annoying though this is, it's
still not as frustrating as the grinding repetitiveness and familiarity you'll feel whilst

watching pretty much any episode.  Nearly every episode has the same ending, so often an interesting premise or story is completely undermined by the knowledge that it's going to end up with a giant monster turning up for Voltron to fight (and beat).  Also, many of the stories you will have seen before in other kids cartoons, how many times have you seen a villain disguise themselves as a a good character in order to catch the heroes off guard?  Or a good person being manipulated by a villain and forced to betray the heroes?  There are a few surprises to be had, but the thing is they are exactly that - a few.

Voltron is a product of its time, and it shows.  The animation does not stand up well when compared to the computer generated crispness modern viewers will be familiar with, although the design - particularly of the robots and vehicles - is generally very good.  It's very similar to Power Rangers in the fact that every episode ends up with a Voltron vs. giant monster fight, and like that show it can be surprisingly addictive and entertaining.  It's predictable and occasionally cheesy (the Space Mice in particular) but it's also great fun, especially the inexplicably Scandinavian Sven (why's he Norwegian when everyone else is American?).  To be fair Voltron will not appeal much to a younger modern audience, things have moved on and it looks and feels dated, but for an older audience who grew up with the likes of He-Man, Robotech and Ulysses 31 there's plenty of enjoyment to be had.  If old-guard sci-fi or mecha action floats your boat then you will find a lot to like here, but if you missed out on the '80's you're probably better off checking out Gundam Seed.

Extras

Voltron vol 1 comes in a nice embossed steelbook case and features a surprising amount of extras for an old series.  There are decent character profiles, trailers, production sketches and old archive footage of a news article about the series and a short video showing the merchandise released for it.  Not bad.

Ratings

Feature:   Extras:
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