Inside Pulse 12

Book Review: Voltron: From Days of Long Ago: A Thirtieth Anniversary Celebration

Voltron: From Days of Long Ago: A Thirtieth Anniversary Celebration
Publisher: Perfect Square
Cost: $29.99 ($10.49 Kindle)
Page Count: 151
Release Date: 10/28/2014
Get it Here: Amazon.com

Although I do prefer Robotech and Transformers, I do really love Voltron. I still remember its debut on Philly 57 in September of 1984 (I was 7) and watching this horde of vehicles combine into a giant robot with a blazing sword, cutting down an equally large genetic monstrosity. It was pretty awesome, and my friends and I were hooked from episode one. About a month later, the original Voltron was displaced by Voltron III aka Lion Voltron. Although at first, many of us were disappointed that this switch had been made, this was quickly displaced by an almost equal love for the five team lion bot that also became a giant Robeast killing machine. For a few months/years, the Vehicle Voltron remained far more popular in the City of Brotherly Love (at least with the kids I knew. I mean, I was 7-9 when Voltron aired. The kids I knew from various schools could have just been a giant anomaly.) even though WEP’s marketing machine ended up focusing primarily on the lion version. *I* liked them both. If it was a transforming robot cartoon, I watched it – even Go-Bots. Thirty years later though, Lion Voltron is all you see when Voltron is brought up by WEP and its licensors, which is a definite shame to Voltron I fans. Still, it could be worse – you could have been one of those kids who purchased all the Voltron II toys and never got to see your preferred version animated. I’m just happy Voltron has survived this long, and I can’t deny that when I hear that familiar song or the phrase, “From Days of Long Ago…” the Lion Voltron is the first one that pops into my head.

Here we are thirty years later and Perfect Square press has released Voltron: From Days of Long Ago: A Thirtieth Anniversary Celebration. As a long time Voltron and WEP fan (I even have the metal Saber Rider figures. How many people can claim that?), I was really excited for this book. As a folklorist and pop culture historian, I was hoping for a complete episode guide for both animated series. I wanted the new generation of Voltron fans who have only see the Voltron Force cartoon (with its… interesting take on continuity. This show is Beast Machines level of love it or loathe it with fans.) to learn about the first two Voltrons (Although Lion Voltron did come first continuity wise, but hey, it’s Voltron III now and forever when you’re old). I was hoping they’d explain all the different continuities. After all, Haggar turned good in The Fleet of Doom, so how was she back to being evil in The Third Dimension and Voltron Force? I was hoping for cast and crew interviews and a really in-depth look at how Voltron came to be. Well, unfortunately, all of the things I really wanted to see in a Voltron retrospective simply didn’t happen. They are not in this book, so do not go looking for them. So I can’t deny I was pretty disappointed with this book, as it was 95% Voltron III and barely touched on the actual history of the product line in favor of trying more to combine all the different continuities into one (which is NEVER a good idea, as G.I. Joe, Transformer, He-Man and fans of other many time rebooted toy lines can tell you) with a heavy focus on the Voltron Force cartoon over even the original GoLion series. Couple this with a lot of really big blatant errors even a casual Voltron fan will catch, and this is far less a celebration of all things Voltron and far more a very odd way of looking at Voltron III. That said, if you only care about the first and last Lion Voltron animated series (and nothing else), you’ll probably be somewhat pleased with this book and how much time is spent on the most trivial of details (a discussion of Dynatherm for example, which was awesome!) on down. Let’s take a pretty in-depth look at this book and what it does right and wrong to see if you are the type of Voltron fan this product is geared towards.

Voltron: From Days of Long Ago: A Thirtieth Anniversary Celebration is divided into three sections. Part 1 is “The Story,” Part 2 is “The Legend” and Part 3 is a graphic novel epilogue. The first two parts of the book have multiple chapters, so let’s get into each one of those further.

Chapter One is entitled “Mom and Pop Robot Shop,” and it is by far the best chapter in the book. It blows everything else away in terms of detail, history and knowledge of the subject matter. It’s not perfect, but it’s more in line with what I was hoping to see in this book. Chapter One talks about how World Events Productions went from a small Saint Louis based production company to a purveyor of some classic localized anime series. We get a discussion about how WEP decided to bring three different anime series to the states, and how it got Beast King GoLion instead of Mirai Robo Daltanious and just ran with it. There is a brief commentary on the localization, a look at the voice actors who made up the Voltron III cast and an overview of some Voltron trivia. It’s only fourteen pages long, a fraction of what should be here, and unfortunately so many, many things Voltron fans want to know were left out entirely. Why did WEP drop Voltron II entirely instead of releasing a few Matchbox toys? Why is there no discussion of the Vehicle Voltron cartoon and voice actors (it had far more characters), why there has only ever been an attempt to revive Voltron III, decisions about what was cut from the original Japanese version of the series and why, and so on. There’s no mention at all save that they had to do some, but why are there no actual details? Sure, hardcore Voltron fans know “Sven” dies in GoLion, but this huge change from the Japanese to US series is never acknowledged at all in the book. Voltron: The Third Dimension gets a measly paragraph, even though it was an Emmy-award winning series! This was a real opportunity to pick the minds of WEP for all sorts of historical information that Voltron fans would find fascinating… and the ball was dropped entirely. As good as Chapter One is compared to the rest of the book, it feels more like a press release than an actual researched and detailed history of the Voltron brand. So much potential and so little follow through. Unfortunately, this is a running theme in the book.

Chapter Two is “Toys,” and it’s a rather incomplete, and sometimes error filled, look at the many toys put out for the Voltron brand. This chapter is mainly pictures but it’s not very well done at all. Many of the toys shown are incomplete, such as missing their full weapon options. The Panosh Palace Voltron is transformed slightly incorrectly. Voltron II isn’t even shown fully! There’s just a single Black Gladiator robot. Blue and Red aren’t given a picture at all, and there’s no version of Voltron II in this section at all! Where there is supposed to be a picture of Stealth Voltron from Voltron: The Third Dimension is just a regular Voltron. A five second Google search or an editor actually familiar with the toyline would have caught this, as it looks so dramatically different from regular Voltron III. There’s no Voltrex (Dinosaur Voltron III) pictures at all (only a single one sentence mention in the entire book) and the pilots get next to no mention at all. There’s a Panosh Palace Pidge and Hunk and a Mattel Keith, but that’s it. You would think a retrospective on Voltron would actually showcase all the toys. Panosh Palace alone had a Skull Tank, Drule Fighter, figures of Robeasts, Zarkon, Haggar and Lotor and yet… none of these are even mentioned or warranted a picture. There’s not even any showcase of the different box art in this section. What the heck? It’s like the team behind the book just used someone’s out of the box piecemeal collection and took pictures of what they could find, with no real intent on showcasing the sheer amount of different toys that are actually out there. This was a huge disappointment for me because, once again, there was so much potential and it didn’t even seem like the team behind this chapter put in the bare minimum to give Voltron fans an actual comprehensive look at the toy lines that exist. Even a photo or two of the tactical miniatures game that was released a few years back would have been nice. As it stands, this chapter just feels lacking. It’s things like this that make the book lose a lot of credibility in my eyes. It’s so badly done, I can’t believe WEP actually signed off on this. I really wanted to love this book, especially this chapter, but oh man, this is a real slap in the face to people who were expected a true in-depth look at Voltron.

Chapter Three, “A Mighty Robot,” begins a look at the cartoon continuity. This chapter is exceptionally detailed and only suffers from two problems. The first is the aforementioned trying to shoehorn multiple Voltron III continuities together into one cohesive piece. Unfortunately, this ends up being Voltron Force = “Right” and everything else = “Wrong.” This is really not the way to broach such a subject, especially since it insinuates that this is the only continuity that matters. A best case scenario would have been to present all the different ones separately, perhaps with examples of how each one differs from the original. Alas, this wasn’t the approach taken, so the book suffers because of it. The second issue is that only Voltron III is brought up in this chapter. Of course, by now you have to expect that from this book, but still, it would have been nice to have all of Voltron looked at. Anyway, aside from those of you old fogies who will be annoyed by the Voltron Force bits, this is a decent chapter. You have an attempt to codify all the Voltron origin legends, a discussion of the various weapons and makeup of the giant robot, and an in-depth look at each of the five lions. Honestly, this is really well done in these respects, because in some ways it tries to be a technical manual for sci-fi cartoon robots, which is a very cute way of doing things.

Chapter Four is “A Super Force of Space Explorers,” and it’s a look at the Voltron III protagonists and their supporting cast. Again, I need to emphasize this is just the VIII cast, which is disappointing but in-line with the emphasis this book is trying to go with, so at least it’s concurrent in style content. Anyway, each pilot gets a full page listing, even the Voltron Force kids. There are some obvious errors in these pages, such as Pidge being listed as the youngest Space Explorer to graduate from the Galaxy Alliance Academy. His twin brother is actually completely ignored in the bio, even though he is a Voltron I pilot (there’s only ever a passing mention of him in this book, and not at all on the bio page). There’s also a focus on the personalities shown in Voltron Force rather than the original cartoon, which are somewhat different. Again, it’s disappointing to see one version of Voltron be treated as “correct canon,” especially when it is not the original one, but what can you do? This chapter finished up with brief essays on the Castle of Lions, Planet Argus, Coran, Nanny and the Space Mice. Again, what’s here is decent, but it could have been a LOT better in terms of depth, especially with multiple VIII series to cite specific personality examples and history from. This just wasn’t done.

Chapter Five is “The Universe,” although the chapter doesn’t actually talk about the WEP concepts of the Near Universe, Middle Universe and Far Universe. Instead, it only talks about five planets, and even then, the information provided is limited. Now, it’s not a surprise that it is limited, because planets are often just backdrops in the cartoon. However, what I would have liked to have seen in a planet guide is a look at all the places journeyed to in the different Voltron cartoons. Sure, in the original Voltron III series, it’s pretty much just Arus and Doom, but there were a few others that specific aliens of importance came from. The Third Dimension and Voltron Force had a bunch of planets they visited as well. Don’t even get me started on Vehicle Voltron, because man, that was the real world traveler of the bunch. Heck, some of those pilots weren’t even human! Again, so much lost potential thanks to very little detail or an attempt to go beyond the most minimal cursory information. This would have been a great place to talk about the history of Galaxy Garrison and/or the Galaxy Alliance.

Chapter Six is, “A New and Horrible Menace,” and as much as I keep saying this, this was another chapter that had so much potential and fell so short. This is perhaps the second best chapter after the very first one. You get a decent but incomplete look at the Drule Empire. King Zarkon and Lotor are the best in the chapter, and are very well done. There’s a set of five names of Key Drule figures in Voltron I, which is next to nothing, but still better than the Near Universe show has gotten in other chapters. Haggar’s piece has a lot of errors, primarily around how her time in the original WEP series ended – especially Fleet of Doom. There’s no attempt to try and resolve that series ending with any of the later Voltron III series’ here, which is odd considering what they did with other parts of Voltron III’s history. There’s a brief mention of Drule technology, but nothing as in-depth as we saw on Voltron or the lions themselves. Again, disappointing, because I would have loved to have seen the same level of detail applied here. Finally we get a section called “An Army of Robeasts.” It says, “Listed here are all known Robeast creations,” but in fact, it’s incomplete. Voltron: The Third Dimension seems to be missing entirely. Same with Robeasts from outside the cartoon, like those only in toy or comic form. A small point that, again, underscores the lack of quality and depth this book really should have had. At least this section does give all the classic Robeasts from the original VI and VIII series. Each Robeast gets a tiny section – about two dozen words and a listing of its name, weaponry, height and weight. Again, a little more detail (such as how Voltron defeated them or some interesting facts about the battle) would have gone a LONG way.

Chapter Seven is “Voltron Was Needed Once More.” For those of you Voltron I/Vehicle Voltron fans, here is the bone Perfect Square has thrown to you. It’s only nine pages long, but at least they are acknowledging Vehicle Voltron for the first real time in the book. You’re given a brief overview of the three teams whose vehicles form Voltron and names of the pilots, but that’s about it. There’s no character details, which is a shame, because there are some connections between the VI and VIII pilots, such as Keith having a love/hate relationship with Jeff in Fleet of Doom. There’s not even a mention of the alien races that are on the VI Voltron Force. This would have been nice to see. What is good about this chapter is the attempt at explaining Voltron tech here and how the Galaxy Alliance reverse engineered Voltron to make Voltron I. I especially liked the discussion on the different power sources. You also get a brief look at Voltron I’s weaponry. Again, like everything else about this book, this chapter really could have gone far more in-depth, and for those who only know the Lion version of Voltron, this chapter will feel especially lacking because there’s no real substance. Honestly, the book should have used this chapter to sell people on Vehicle Voltron to see if they can drum up some more streaming or DVD sales, or even if there is interest in a re-release (or brand new) toys from this line. Instead, the chapter just feels kind of like a tacked on, “Oh this Voltron came first but we only care about the lions” sort of thing. As I said in the beginning, I liked both Voltrons equally, but I also know a LOT of Vehicle Voltron fans that will really be put out with how “their” Voltron is treated in this book. Again, it could be worse. There are Voltron II fans that are out there, and they really get treated as third rate in this book.

The final chapter is an epilogue, and really, it’s more setting the stage for the future of the Voltron Force animated continuity. It’s done by the Voltron Force graphic novel team, and like much of that series, it’s going to be something you really love or really hate. It’s extremely dark, filled with a character having their eye ripped out by Haggar’s cat and the corpse of Lotor floating around (it somehow comes back to life. When in doubt say it was Haggar.). There’s also a member of the Voltron Force turning to evil and joining up with the Drule. It’s an interesting read, but I would have rather seen these pages go towards the things I actually wanted to see in this book, such as episode guides, interviews and a far more in-depth look at the Voltron brand than what was presented here. Also, I don’t think the team behind this book knows what an Epilogue is. An Epilogue is, “a piece of writing at the end of a work of literature, usually used to bring closure to the work.” This is more a set up for a new chapter in the Voltron Force graphic novels, similar to how The X-Files, Buffy and Angel have gotten a new season via comic books. Not the best way to end the book, but considering it suffers from so many other problems, at least you get an interesting set up for what the future holds if you’re a fan of the Voltron Force cartoon.

God, I feel really bad typing this, but I really, REALLY wanted to like Voltron: From Days of Long Ago: A Thirtieth Anniversary Celebration. I was so excited for it, and the preview pages on Amazon.com had me planning to purchase this outright if Perfect Square hadn’t offered me a review copy. Had I actually spent money on this, I probably would have been pissed. Instead I’m just highly disappointed by what is here. There was so much potential in this book, with so many things and aspects of the Voltron brand to cover, and instead it was just one missed opportunity after another. I really hate saying this, but the book felt like a bare minimum production, writing wise (material wise, the book is well crafted and quite pretty), and even though I’m a casual Voltron fan, I found several errors and honestly know that this book deserved to be far better than what is actually on these pages. Hell, I know people that could have whipped up better chapters in just a few hours with only a modicum of research. No, Voltron: From Days of Long Ago: A Thirtieth Anniversary Celebration feels more like a combination of fan-fic and someone’s Angelfire or Geocities website from the 90s rather than a real hard and informative look at the history of Voltron in all its aspects. There are parts of the book that are decent, but that’s as good as the book ever gets. Compared to books like The Transformers Vault or Designers & Dragons, this book just really pales by comparison. It never actually rises to the occasion or the quality treatment the subject material deserves. Instead, much like Voltron II, this book merely serves as an annoying memory of what might have/could have been.