Voltron

Fleet of DOOM!

Clearly, the Voltron cartoon series and the associated toys are a benchmark in my childhood, the first time that I ever felt I’d “discovered” something really cool, something that I hadn’t been told to like by commercials.  And as evidenced by the lengths I went to get the lion Voltron and the fact that I was one of a few people so fully vested in the cartoon that I also had the vehicle Voltron, I was one of those kids who watched the show religiously, even when both cartoons had cycled completely through and WPIX began re-airing the original lion stories.

But as Voltron fans, my second-grade friends and I were not fully satisfied by what we were seeing on television.  After a slew of lion stories , what seemed like an interminable amount of vehicle stories, and endless debates on which Voltron could win in a fight, we wanted a crossover.  I mean, He-Man and She-Ra could do it (and later on in the 1980s, G.I. Joe and The Transformers would do it) so why not the lion and vehicle Voltrons?

In 1986, we got our wish with an extra-long episode entitled Fleet of Doom, although I don’t know if most of my friends knew it.  I first learned about the crossover episode when my dad took me to Video Empire one day and my sister and I spent a few minutes combing through the children’s section looking for something other than the same five Disney cartoon tapes we’d rented since the day the store opened in 1984.  There, two shelves above my head, were two or three Voltron video boxes.  I jumped up and got them down, then studied the synopsis on the back of each (I have loved reading the back of videocassette/DVD boxes since I first stepped into a video store).  Two of them were shows I had already seen—the original five-parter and some of the episodes hat immediately followed—but the third was called “Fleet of Doom” and was about a team-up between both the lion and the vehicle Voltron.

I was sold.  I went home, watched it, and apparently remembered very little about it because when I watched it last week (thank you, Netflix) it really felt like I had never seen it before.  I mean, even with American Ninja, which I hadn’t seen in 25 years either, I at least had some flashbacks to when I originally watched it.  Fleet of Doom?  Nothing.  No memory of what it was about; honestly, I can see why.

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Cars and Trucks and Things That Go!

The vehicle Voltron, an also-ran in 1980s anime-based giant robots.

When the casual observer hears the word “Voltron,” he definitely thinks of the famous robot that was formed from five lions; however, those of us who watched the show religiously every afternoon know that “Voltron” can be either one of two robots: the famous lion robot and one made of many vehicles (and the truly hardcore know there was a third Voltron, but I’ll get to that later).

The vehicle Voltron snuck up on the country as quickly as the lion Voltron did.  One day, we were sitting down to watch the mighty Voltron fight King Zarkon and Prince Lotor and the next, there were a bunch of people we’d never seen and a completely different robot.  This one had fifteen characters to follow, all of whom made up a Voltron force that fought against the Drule empire.  It was kind of like a mash-up between Voltron and Robotech, and it would have made sense if it seemed like it had anything to do with the other series (like Robotech did — each series took place after the other), but there didn’t seem to be much of a connection except that both robots were named Voltron and the people who piloted the vehicles were cheap knock-offs of characters on the other show.

So the introduction of the vehicle Voltron after the lion Voltron never really actually ended seemed abrupt, like they were interrupting everything to push something else on me, or trying to Coy and Vance me.  I think that’s one of the reasons this one never caught on; the other was that with fifteen characters behind fifteen parts of Voltron, it was really hard to remember who was who.  Sure, there was a land, sea, and air team that altogether formed the mighty robot, but whereas I could recite the entire lion transformation scene and knew exactly who I wanted to be when we “played Voltron” on the playground, telling my friends that I wanted to be “Cliff” from the land team seemed really awkward.

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Go Lionbot Force! Wait … that doesn’t sound right.

The Matchbox-produced lion Voltron. According to the package, he's the "king of the space jungle."

In your childhood, I guess there are phenomena and there are milestones where toys are concerned.  And then there are flash in the pans, those toys that are insanely popular for most of a school year but get shoved to the back of a toy closet by the summer.  My first experience with a flash in the pan was Voltron.

 In a couple of weeks, I’ll talk about the cartoon series that spawned this particular toy, but it’s worth mentioning that I only know what voltron was because an early episode was on at my neighbor’s house one afternoon when I was in the second grade.  I didn’t know what the cartoon was, just that five robot lions that formed a much larger robot were pretty kickass.

 Soon after watching those first few episodes of the lion Voltron (the vehicle Voltron came later), my schoolmates and I were compoetely hooked.  We played Voltron just about every day and very often I was Keith or Lance and on at least a couple of occasions, my friend Lori wore her hair like Princess Allura.

Still, the tie-in toys alluded us, which was weird considering that every single cartoon we watched in those days was essentially a 30-minute toy commercial.  Even some of the movies—Star Wars, for instance—had a toy line.  But nobody, when those first few shows aired, owned a Voltron.  That’s probably because we never saw television commercials for Voltron toys.

In fact, I would not come across any toy related to Voltron for the better part of six months, when I would be at a local stationary store, Sayville Card and Gift (which may have been known as Unique Cards and Gifts at the time), browsing through the toys while my dad was two doors down buying Chinese food, and spotted something called “Lionbot.” 

But what was inside the “Lionbot” case was a die-cast metal Voltron lion.

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