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Voltron

Trendmasters
by yo go re

When Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers debuted on August 28, 1993, an entire generation of children were instantly enraptured. Bright, colorful robots beating the ever-livin' crap out of giant space monsters? It was like nothing they'd ever seen before.

Of course, the only reason that it was like nothing they'd ever seen before was that they were too young - those of us who could remember when the Karate Kid was cool instantly recognized the Power Rangers as a second-rate Voltron knockoff.

(A first-rate Voltron knockoff, of course, being Vehicle Voltron. Remember, just because it's official, doesn't mean it doesn't suck.)

From days of long ago, from uncharted regions of the universe, comes a legend; the legend of Voltron, Defender of the Universe, a mighty robot, loved by good, feared by evil. As Voltron's legend grew, peace settled across the galaxy. On Planet Earth, a Galaxy Alliance was formed. Together with the good planets of the solar system, they maintained peace throughout the universe, until a new horrible menace threatened the galaxy. Voltron was needed once more. This is the story of the super force of space explorers, specially trained and sent by the Alliance to bring back Voltron, Defender of the Universe!

Voltron, the real Voltron, was a team of five heroes on the planet Arus. Voltron was designed to protect Arus from invasion, but the evil King Zarkon found a way to magically neutralize the giant robot. Years later, a team of explorers sent by the Galaxy Alliance arrived on Arus, seeking the secret of Voltron. Recovering the five Robot Lions, the explorers proved themselves worthy of becoming the new Voltron Force.

Voltron was never the most popular '80s property, but he was near the top. He-Man, GI Joe and Transformers were the kings of the cartoon/toy hill, and everyone else was just fighting for their scraps. Fortunately, if you're going to fight, you could do worse than to have a giant crushinator on your side.

Voltron actually combined the appeal of the big three: he had the extraterrestrial setting of He-Man, the military aspects and distinctive characters of GI Joe and, of course, the giant robots of Transformers. That's a pretty good formula for success, which is probably why the big V remains more popular than things like the Inhumanoids or Visionaries - the guys behind Voltron knew the right elements to poach. Pick the right ones and you get Voltron; pick the wrong ones and you get Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors.

Like it says in my profile, I always wanted Voltron as a kid. As Matt over at X-E said, "getting the Voltron lion set was the kid equivalent of getting a brand new Ferrari. The implications and rise in your social status afterwards were nothing short of amazing." I, sadly, never got one. That's a personal shortcoming that finally got rectified a few years ago, thanks to the fine folks at Trendmasters.

The heart of the Voltron team is obviously the black lion, which sat on a tower in front of the Castle of Lions. It was piloted by Keith, who, for no clear reason, wore the red jumpsuit. Shouldn't it have been, oh, I don't know, black? Anyway, he was the team leader, and the token handsome brooding guy. Plus, he had a thing for the princess. Considering that most '80s cartoon females were chaste cockteases, it probably explains why he was such a grump.

The red lion forms Voltron's right arm and is piloted by sarcastic hot-head Lance. Befitting that, the lion chills in a cave in the heart of an active volcano. Despite his very "boy band" name, Lance was sort of the Voltron Force's second in command, quite often arguing with Keith. I think that's why he got the lion that lived in the volcano: it'd be very easy for an "accident" to happen on the way in, dropping Lance into fiery, fiery lava.

Following that logic, they probably kept the yellow lion in a cave in the desert in the hopes that Hunk would sweat off some of those Yellow Lion jelly rolls wearing a full-body jumpsuit in the blistering heat. Hunk was the team's strong guy, and gave the children in your neighborhood a reason to invite the fat kid out to play with them. It's a good thing Hunk hung with the good guys, or his brutish ways and lust for violence might have been seen as a character flaw instead of an endearing trait.

The green lion, which formed Voltron's left arm and was piloted by boy genius Pidge, spent its downtime sitting in a hollow tree in an Arusian forest. Probably writing bad poetry and crying to itself about all the squirrels it killed loaping throgh the old growth whenever there was an emergency. Pansyass lion. Pidge, in addition to being a bit of a prankster and befriending the show's answer to Ewoks, Space Mice, was also the twin brother of one of the guys who ran vehicle Voltron. Give you one guess who their parents were more proud of.

Stationed in the Castle of Lions' moat was the blue lion, the only cat to have two pilots. First and forgettably was Sven, a charcter so lame they killed him off. Okay, no, he was just "badly injured," but he was "badly injured" in the same way that Duke was "in a coma" at the end of GI Joe: The Movie - i.e., dead as a post, but safely sanitized for '80s tv. Yay. Sven didn't really stick around long enough to get a personality, instead doomed to the same broad ethnic stereotyping that named the Norwegian cartoon guy "Sven" in the first place. He wore a black jumpsuit, further confusing the team's color coding.

After Sven was "badly injured," his place in Voltron's right leg was filled by Princess Allura, the show's attempt at equality/sex symbol. Not only did Keith pine after her, but the evil Prince Lotor was paddling his little blue robeast at the thought of her, too - half his attacks were just attempts to get her attention. After her parents died in Zarkon's attack, Allura lived alone in their decimated castle, her only friends the Space Mice. Judging by that, she should be a seething stew of psychoses, instead of a well-adjusted adult. Still, she's girly enough to wear a pink jumpsuit and faint readily, so there you go.

The lions come in three sizes: the red and green lions are the smallest, followed by blue and yellow, and finally the huge black lion. Trendmasters made these guys well, giving us plenty of articulation. All of their legs have three points each, and their tails move. Black, blue and yellow also move at the neck and jaw. Very nice.

The figures are all-plastic, rather than the big heavy die-cast Voltron of the '80s. The lions are all painted with just the right tones to recreate the classic look - it would have been easy to pick the wrong yellow and throw the entire thing into confusion. The "metal" parts are just gray paint, rather than being vac-metallized; you don't have to worry about the color flaking off.

Like the Power Rangers, the Voltron Force would always try to face their enemies in a sequence: hand-to-hand when possible, then as individual lions. When both of those had failed, they'd link up the lions and form the big guy.

Ready to assemble! Activate interlocks! Dyna-therms connected. Infra-cells up; mega-thrusters are go! Form feet and legs; form arms and body; and I'll form the head!

No one ever explained why the five lions were kept in such remote locations. In an emergency, you want everything easy to find - it's not like fire companies keep their hoses and ladders in different buildings on opposite sides of town, after all. Maybe it was so that they had a greater area of coverage; if there was something happening in the desert, there was already a lion there. But if that was the case, why did Voltron always form in front of the castle? Most of his battles were in space, so why not keep the lions there? It couldn't have been any harder to get the pilots into the upper stratosphere than it was to rocket them around the planet in underground tubes. Craziness, I tells ya!

In his combined form, this Voltron stands 7½" tall to the little dealies on his head, but his big red wings go a bit higher. Articulation is limited: though the red and green lions are sculpted to look like elbow joints, they're just solid plastic, so big daddy V moves only at the shoulders and hips, not even enough to qualify as an action figure. For a bit of play feature, you can press a button on his arms to have his fists fly off, just like in the show. The set also included chromed versions of Voltron's sword and shield, but since he doesn't have any elbows, he looks goofy holding them.

This may not be the best Voltron figure ever, but it's certainly near the top. It looks better than most of the original '80s versions, and it's much cheaper, too. Unless you're willing to spend $150 on Toynami's Masterpiece Edition Voltron, this is an ideal version of an '80s mainstay.

-- 02/17/05


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