“A mighty robot, loved by good, feared by evil.” Once again, Voltron’s legend will grow!
Earlier this month, The Hollywood Reporter announced that Rawson Marshall Thurber, the writer-director behind Netflix’s Red Target as well as Skyscraper and Central Intelligence has signed on to direct a live-action adaptation of Voltron.
To say this is a long time coming is an understatement. Over the 35+ years since the cartoon ended, there have been several attempts to bring the Americanized Anime to the big screen. The show itself, like many such creations of late 70’s and early 80’s children’s television, was a re-edited version of a Japanese anime series. Or, in the case of Voltron—two different series.
Hyaku Jūō Goraion, or “The King of Hundred Beasts GoLion” was set in 1999, after World War III. Thermonuclear war has destroyed Earth and it is now part of the Galra Empire. But thousands of years earlier, GoLion, a sentient robot, faced off against the goddess of the universe, who defeated and then divided the bot into five smaller mechanical beasts. Long story short, the deposed Princess Fala recruits five refugee explorers from Earth to pilot the creatures – and eventually reunite the epic GoLion.
The show’s 52 episodes did not get watched much in Japan, so Toei Animation sold it off, part and parcel, to World Events Productions (WEP), who heavily re-edited the show to appeal to American audiences and pass the censors.
GoLion became Voltron – the first version. The reworked episodes aired in fits and starts between September and December 1984, and included some footage from another anime project acquired from Toei.
Kikō Kantai Dairagā Fifutīn, or “Armored Fleet Dairugger XV” was another short-lived Japanese anime series that originally aired the year after GoLion. It takes place on an Earth not destroyed by thermonuclear war, but instead a prosperous planet, sending explorers on a Star Trek-like quest to map the galaxy. They also encounter an evil empire, and to defend themselves (and eventually liberate the Galveston Empire), they come up with a plan to take 15 vehicles and form them into a super-mecha that can fight for them.
Despite having zero similarities outside of the design of the Mecha, pieces of the 56 episodes of Dairugger were slipped into Voltron. Meanwhile, the rest of Dairugger was re-edited even heavier, transforming it (so to speak) into Vehicle Voltron episodes. These were at first interspersed with Lion episodes, then took over completely from December to the end of the first series run in February 1985.
A third giant robot anime series, Kōsoku Denjin Arubegasu, aka, Lightspeed Electroid Albegas, which predates GoLion almost became the third variation on Voltron—three robots who combine to form the super-mecha. Although work was begun on what would have been called Voltron II, the difference in the stellar ratings for the Lions episodes versus the Vehicle episodes convinced WEP to dump Albegas.
Instead, World Events Productions rushed original episodes into production, capping off the now completely bastardized story of Lion Force Voltron in 20 episodes in October and November 1985. A three-issue limited series comic – a licensed tie-in – also came out in 85.
In 1986, “Fleet of Doom,” a TV movie was released where both Voltrons teamed up to defeat the Emperor. After the success of Transformers: Beast Wars – itself heavily influenced by Voltron – WEP tried to launch a new Voltron series – The Third Dimension – in a partnership with Vudu, Netflix and Xbox 360, but only got 26 episodes out before a legal battle between Toei and WEP stalled production.
Meanwhile, Devil’s Due Publishing released a well-written five-issue limited series comic, which then launched into an ongoing series that petered out in issue 11 due to rapidly declining sales.
After announcing a potential live-action film in 2007, more legal troubles forced a stalemate – despite having a script and producers on board. Both New Regency and Relativity Media negotiated at one point or another to assist with the creation of the film, until everything sputtered out.
From the dust from that near cooperation, arose a new series from Nickelodeon’s Nicktoons – Voltron Force – five new cadets learning to work together with their lion mechas and each other, against Prince Lotor once again. The show was supposed to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the original Voltron, along with tie-in video game properties and another comic series. And another rumor of a live-action film developing.
Despite a cliffhanger ending, where Castle Doom itself becomes a RoboBeast, all but defeating the Lion Force, budget issues shut down a second season. The comics, now from Dynamite Entertainment, lasted only 12 issues, although they followed it up with two additional limited series in 2012, and 2015.
Released to both Playstation 3 and Xbox 360, the Voltron video game garnered praise for fan service, but middling reviews for gameplay. Slow sales followed the reviews and the game was never relaunched, updated or redeveloped.
And still no movie.
Despite the apparent limited appeal the giant robot received over the previous 30 years, Netflix announced in 2016 that they were bringing a new original animated Voltron series to the streamer, produced by Dreamworks Animation.
In fact, they were so confident and committed, they ordered 76 episodes. It sounds weird to call an 8-season show a limited series, but in truth, that’s how it was designed. The 76 episodes were stretched over two years and despite some issues with fans and representation, was mostly praised. It was nominated for and won several animation and voice acting awards and remains one of the high points of the Voltron saga.
A real-time PvP strategy game titled Voltron: Cubes of Olkarion was released on Steam after winning the 2018 Universal GameDev Challenge. It disappeared briefly at the end of 2019, but returned to the platform during the pandemic.
The Thurber Vision
There’s little information so far on what aspects, if any, of the various iterations of Voltron Rawson Marshall Thurber will be focused on. We know he has penned the script with Ellen Shanman, a TV writer and voice actress. They’re supported by the folks at Disney-connected Mandeville Films. And apparently, Warner Bros, Universal and Amazon are currently in a bidding war for the property.
As much as I personally would like to see a live-action Voltron realized on the big screen, the property has had more than its fair share of misfires and disappointments over the years. And, honestly, I could be feeding off just as much nostalgia as we often accuse the movie studios of falling prey to.
But much like my love for King Arthur, I can’t help but always seek out hope. In this case, I look to uncharted regions of the universe, for the legend of Voltron, Defender of the Universe.
Select episodes of the original 1980’s Voltron can be streamed on Amazon Prime Video. Voltron Force can be streamed on Tubi, and of course, all 76 episodes of Voltron: Legendary Defender are still available on Netflix.
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This post was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.
Image Credit: Netflix.