Friday, March 28, 2014

Them! (1954)

File:Them02.jpgI had intended to review this film a while ago, notably when I did a series of monster movie reviews that included stuff such as The Giant Claw, The Giant Behemoth, and The Crater Lake Monster, but, through circumstances beyond my control, I had to wait until now to do so (it's probably for the better since this movie is far too good to be lumped in with those). In any case, this is one of the many monster flicks that I first learned of through Fantastic Dinosaurs of the Movies. It still perplexes me as to why the trailers for movies like this, Tarantula, and Earth vs. The Spider were featured in a compilation with that title. I understand the presence of the aforementioned Giant Behemoth and Crater Lake Monster, as well as flicks like Gorgo, Reptilicus, and several of the Godzilla movies, but movies about giant insects and arachnids? Doesn't quite add up does it? They tried to pass these monsters off as "semi-dinosaurs" but even as a kid, I didn't buy that. Anyway, like a good 90% of the films whose trailers were shown in that compilation, I was determined to see Them! at some point. In fact, having read a Crestwood House book on the 1957 flick The Deadly Mantis (which, oddly enough, was not featured in said compilation), and because the trailer never specified what the monsters were, or at least, I didn't hear it if they did, I thought that maybe this movie was related to that one. Obviously, mantises and ants are two very different types of insects but, that was the way my confused, young mind worked. I'm not quite sure when I first saw Them! I'm pretty sure that it may have been one Saturday morning when I was eleven or twelve years old, on a channel such as TCM or AMC. I remember that day very well because my cousin was coming over to spend the night with me and, while I was eager to go with my dad to pick him up, I wanted to finish the film because I was enthralled with it. I think what happened was my dad went to get my cousin while I stayed home and watched it, with my cousin coming in right in the middle of the climax in the sewer system beneath Los Angeles. While my cousin wasn't a fan of old 50's monster flicks like I was (although we both shared a love for Godzilla), even he had to admit that what little of the movie he saw was quite good. I saw Them! on TV a few more times after that, most notably on AMC while we were on vacation in Florida one summer, but it wasn't until 2002 when I was fourteen that I finally purchased the movie on VHS, which I had been wanting to do with every monster movie I saw or heard of (still do, in a way).

Upon purchasing it on VHS, re-watching it, and ultimately reading up on it, as I often do with every movie that I see because of my curiosity, it didn't take long for me to learn that Them! stood out amongst all of the other giant monster movies of that time because of how critically lauded it was. Typically, those types films aren't well regarded amongst mainstream film critics who aren't hardcore fans of the genre and, honestly, I can understand why. While most of them are entertaining for how cheesy and ridiculous they are, especially stuff like The Giant Claw and The Beginning of the End, they can hardly be called good movies and, therefore, won't appeal to critics who are looking for genuinely well made and technically competent pieces of cinema. Them!, however, is the exception to the rule. Thanks to a combination of talented filmmakers and actors and a well-written, sophisticated script that takes things seriously, what could have been just another ridiculous monster flick came out as an extremely well-done, suspenseful, and at times, downright creepy, sci-fi thriller. Granted, a reason for why this film could be considered superior to its peers is simply because, save for the previous year's The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, the explosion of giant monster movies hadn't happened yet and, therefore, the cheap way to do it hadn't come about. It doesn't matter, though, because Them! is such a great flick that, even if it had been released during the height of the 50's monster movie craze, it's unlikely that it would have been lost in the crowd. It's a film that truly deserves its reputation as a classic in my opinion and hopefully in this review, I will get across why I feel that way.

One day in the deserts of New Mexico, police officers Ben Peterson and Ed Blackburn follow a report of a young girl wandering around the desert by herself and while the lead at first seems fruitless, they soon come across her. When they pick her up, they discover that the little girl is in shock and unable to talk or respond to any stimuli. Following another report of an abandoned car and trailer nearby, the officers investigate to discover that, not only is the little girl from there but that the trailer has been torn apart, with the sides having been pulled out instead of pushed in. The only clues are a strange animal track found at the scene and the fact that the only thing taken was some sugar. A strange, whistling sound is also heard traveling across the desert by the crime scene investigators but it's dismissed as having simply been the wind. Later on, Peterson and Blackburn visit a store owned by an old man nicknamed "Gramps" in order to see if he knows anything, only for them to discover that the store has been destroyed in the same way, that sugar was taken from there as well, and that Gramps has been killed, with the barrel of his Winchester rifle bent in half. Peterson leaves to report the vandalism and to check on the little girl while Blackburn stays behind to guard the store until the CSI men arrive. It's not too long until he hears the same strange sound that was heard before and, when he goes out to investigate, fires several shots before the source of the noise attacks. With the mysterious deaths and destruction of property, the strange clues, and the discovery that the car and trailer belonged to an FBI agent, Peterson's superiors send word to FBI Headquarters, who send down agent Robert Graham to help with the investigation. After a plaster cast of the mysterious print found near the trailer is sent to the Department of Agriculture in Washington, two scientists, Dr. Harold Medford and his daughter Pat, arrive to investigate as well. Although they seem to know the answer to what's going on, they refuse to tell Peterson and Graham until they are absolutely sure... which doesn't take long since, while investigating the site where the car and trailer were, they come face to face with the culprit: an enormous, irradiated ant created from the atomic tests conducted in the same area in 1945, one of a gigantic colony living out in the desert. Although, with the help of the Air Force, they are able to locate and destroy the nest, they discover that two new queen ants managed to hatch out and escape the nest before its destruction and are now going to establish new colonies elsewhere. Now, it's a race against time to find and destroy these new colonies before they can produce more queen ants, which will lead to a chain reaction ending in the extinction of the human race and the emergence of the giant ants as the planet's new dominant species.

Them! was directed by Gordon Douglas, a veteran director who started out as a bit-part actor when he was in his teens, notably working for Hal Roach Studios and appearing in three Our Gang shorts, a series that he would eventually become a director for. By the mid-1930's, Douglas had switched over to working as an assistant director, an occupation he filled on the Laurel and Hardy film Babes in Toyland and on several Our Gang shorts before he became the series' senior director for the next two years and filmed the incarnations of the gang that most are familiar with. When Hal Roach sold the Our Gang series to MGM in 1938, Douglas temporarily followed the series and directed two shorts there before deciding that working for such a large studio wasn't for him and then returned to Hal Roach Studios, where he directed a couple of more films with Laurel and Hardy (one of which only featured Hardy, though), a film that starred former Our Gang cast member Johnny Downs, and even a Nazi satire! When Roach turned his studio over to the army in order to produce training films for the troops (which was also going on at Disney at the time), Douglas moved on to RKO, where he directed entries in several of that studio's more popular series, including Dick Tracy, and then moved to Warner Bros. in 1950, where he would direct Them! as well as other notable films such as Charge at Feather River (a 3-D western), Sincerely Yours with Liberace, and three westerns starring Clint Walker. Throughout the 50's and 60's, Douglas directed a number of films for other studios and worked with a diverse group of people that included Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, Sidney Poitier, and Elvis Presley. His final film before his retirement from filmmaking was the 1977 Evel Knievel "bio-pic" (I put in quotation marks because I've heard it was actually quite exaggerated), Viva Knievel! Douglas died from cancer in 1993 at the age of 85. I've always found it a little disappointing that he didn't ever direct another science fiction or monster movie because, judging from Them!, he seems to have had quite a knack for it and knew how to create suspense as well as handle special effects.

One thing that makes Them! feel like a cut above the rest of its kin is the cast. While there are certainly recognizable genre faces to be found amongst the players, the four leads aren't made up of actors whom you typically associate with science fiction monster movies. You don't have the likes of Richard Carlson, John Agar, Richard Denning, or any of the other actors who often popped up in these types of pictures, which I think helps. For one, you know what to expect when you see any of those actors in these films and, for another, the presence of atypical players for this type of film, moreover those who look like regular people instead of really good-looking movie stars, helps ground it in a bit of reality. You can believe James Whitmore as a police officer, you can believe James Arness as a hard-working FBI agent, and you can certainly buy Edmund Gwenn as a knowledgeable scientist. Now, that's not to say that Whitmore and Arness are very deep in their respective roles of Sergeant Ben Peterson and agent Robert Graham but, nevertheless, they're very strong, likable actors whom you want to see succeed against the incredible menace they've found themselves battling. They're both dependable and honest, doing whatever they can in order to help the military track down and destroy the giant ants while, at the same time, keeping it a secret in order to avoid a nationwide panic. They're both sympathetic towards other people's plights, like how Peterson handles the little girl with the utmost care and with how delicately Graham talks to Mrs. Lodge, the woman who's lost her husband to the giant ants, to try to find out where her missing sons might be. They both have a sense of humor to them, such as when Graham says that he thinks he has a fever upon seeing Pat for the first time and when Peterson says that the reason an FBI agent is introduced in an apparent sugar theft is because, "He's got a sweet-tooth." And finally, they're not afraid to go in and face the danger themselves, with how they both bomb the first nest in New Mexico with cyanide gas, coming face to face with one of the ants while doing so, and battling the ants when another nest is discovered in the sewer system beneath Los Angeles. In fact, Peterson, while rescuing the two Lodge kids from the nest, is grabbed by one of the ants with its mandibles and is so badly injured from the attack that he ultimately dies. That's another thing I like about this film: it doesn't follow the usual formula of all the leads making it out alive. If this were any other monster movie of the times, Peterson would have survived and destroyed all of the ants along with everyone else but this one decided to take a chance and kill one of the leads (in this case, kill the actor who's billed in the credits as the star), a move that had to have been very ballsy at the time.

The best character in the film by far is the elderly and somewhat crotchety but brilliant Dr. Harold Medford, wonderfully played by Edmund Gwenn. He's the actor whom I feel lends Them! the most importance and gravitas due to his enormous stature, having won an Oscar for Miracle on 34th Street seven years earlier and worked with Alfred Hitchcock many times. He's just awesome as Medford. He functions as both a source of information and comic relief. It's obvious that he's very intelligent and knows his field of myrmecology very well, to the point where, even though he does find them fascinating and incredible, he instantly recognizes the huge threat that the giant ants pose and, rather than wanting to keep them alive and study them (which is in stark contrast to some scientists in these movies, particularly the character of Dr. Carrington in The Thing from Another World), makes it known to the military and American government that these monsters must be destroyed before it's too late. He's also wise enough to initially keep his theory from Peterson and Graham, despite their annoyance, and, when he begins working with higher authorities, stresses to them that the giant ants' existence must be kept hidden from the public in order to prevent the hysteria it would cause. The advantage of hiring an actor like Gwenn is that he's able to speak scientific jargon and not only make it sound like he knows what he's talking about but also make it sound real and truthful, that this isn't the same type of gobbly-goop that typically comes out of the mouths of scientists in these movies (although, to be fair, the stuff that he says is well-written and doesn't sound like overcomplicated technobabble in the slightest). And nobody can deliver lines of grave warning like Gwenn could. Just watch the end of the scene where they first see the ants and the end of the movie, where he gives a warning of what might come about from the other nuclear tests that have been conducted since 1945. But, as I said, Medford isn't without his funny moments. When he first meets Peterson and Graham and the former rather loudly asks him if he's Dr. Medford, to which he says, "Hmm? Yes, yes, yes, yes, no need to shout," and, when they arrive at the site of the car and trailer during a sandstorm, Medford has to be told by Peterson that it would be easier to see if he wore his goggles. The funniest moment, though, comes when they're searching for the ants' nest and Medford gets irritated with the proper procedure of talking to people over a headset, saying that it's ridiculous and that these rules aren't going to do any good. Peterson says, "Over and out," for him and Medford says, "Oh, now you're happy," before blowing his lips in disgust. How could you not love Medford after that? He's both brilliant and funny at the same times, even if the latter is unintentional on his part. That's what makes him easily one of the best scientist characters in any of the 50's monster flicks.

Another one of the key players who goes against what's normally to be expected of her in a film like this is Joan Weldon as Dr. Pat Medford, the daughter/assistant of the elderly Medford. While she's not the first female scientist to appear in a 50's science fiction film and she certainly wasn't the last either, she stands out from the crowd in that she's just as intelligent as her already brilliant father and, like Edmund Gwenn, comes across knowing what she's talking about instead of just saying a bunch of mumbo-jumbo to look smart. She gives the officials involved with the case a lot of useful information, such as telling them how one of the missing queen ants could have gotten aboard a ship, and later established a nest there, without being seen and what their methods are for finding the other ants. Moreover, Pat is not a screaming damsel in distress. The only time in the film when she needs to be rescued is when they first discover the giant ants, with the scout ant that they come across chasing after her. That's when she does the typical action of screaming, running, and falling, although fortunately, she gets right back up and gets away from the ant instead of just standing there and waiting for it to kill her. However, after that small scene, she never again needs to be saved; in fact, when Peterson and Graham prepare to investigate the New Mexico nest after having killed the colony with cyanide, she very forcefully insists that she go along, telling them that someone with scientific knowledge has to go and that her father is in no condition to do so. When Graham tries to get her to tell them what he and Peterson will have to look for, she says that there's no time for her to give him a quick course in insect biology and, "So, let's stop all the talking and get on with it." She also gets sort of short-tempered with the two of them when she tells them to use their flamethrowers to burn everything they've found in the queen's chamber and they hesitate, prompting her to very loudly order them to destroy everything again. Tough broad. She has an interesting relationship with her father in that she's his assistant and he often refers to her as, "Doctor," in a very formal, business-like sense. While there is affection between the two of them and she respects her father's knowledge, she does admit in one scene that she feels he shouldn't be involved with this due to his age but, since he's a scientist, this is not something he'll pass up. And finally, another thing I like about Pat is that she doesn't become the love interest for either one of the lead men, as is usual in these movies. You expect for her and Graham to get together since he's the more good-looking of the two and because there are some small moments between the two of them early on, not to mention how both Graham and Peterson are instantly attracted to her, but it never goes that way and proceeds with them simply being partners in their mission to find and destroy the giant ants, with the feeling that they'll more than likely go their separate ways at the end when the ants have all been dealt with. As you can tell, I really like Pat because she's not the typical type of female lead in these types of movies, which is something I get a little tired of, despite how much I really enjoy this subgenre.

The supporting characters of Them! are made up of an interesting batch of actors, some of which aren't recognizable to either casual fans or fans of the genre and some of which actually are, be they already established or before they became well-known. If you're a fan of Universal horror films, you should recognize Onslow Stevens, who played Dr. Edelman in House of Dracula, as Brig. Gen. Robert O'Brien of the Air Force, who is ordered to assist Dr. Medford and the others in locating and destroying the giant ants (actually, it took me a few watches to recognize Stevens since he looks and sounds quite different in this film, which perplexed me because you can clearly see his name in the opening credits, but, if you look at him closely, you will recognize him). He doesn't have much to do other than give Medford his cooperation and give orders to his men throughout the film, while at some points questioning the sometimes eccentric scientist's methods, but it's still nice to see him and plus, he gives a very well done and genuinely urgent-sounding warning to the people of Los Angeles when it's discovered that one of the missing queens has established a colony beneath the city. Sean McClory, who plays Maj. Kibbee, doesn't do or say much and simply does what's ordered of him, although he does comment on Medford's less than calm demeanor when the latter gets irritated at the rules of communicating over official airwaves at one point, which is memorable. There's also not much to say about Chris Drake as Ed Blackburn, Peterson's partner at the beginning of the film, since he dies so, but it's obvious that he and Peterson were pretty close given how torn up Peterson is over Blackburn's disappearance and possible death. And finally, while he's only in a couple of scenes, Don Shelton does make something of an impression as Fred Edwards, Peterson and Blackburn's captain. He comes across as very strong and forceful with how determined he is to cover every square inch of the desert in order to find who killed Blackburn, Gramps Johnson, and the others but also sympathetic, telling Peterson to stop blaming himself for what happened to Blackburn and suggests to him that he get some sleep before he wears himself out, especially since a possible major break in the case might pop up soon.

One character who is quite memorable despite her barely saying anything during the first third of the film where she's present is the little girl (Sandy Descher) who Peterson and Blackburn find wandering around the desert. This child looks as if she's gone through complete hell with how she's just wandering around the hot, brutal desert in complete shock, oblivious to everything around her and when you later see the horrific condition of the trailer that she was camping at along with the rest of her family, you can imagine the horror she went through when the giant ants attacked. Peterson finds a piece of her doll and a bit of her clothing inside of a small compartment, indicating that she hid there during the attack and that she probably heard or even saw the ants kill her parents and her sibling. Despite her catatonic state, one sound she does recognize is the eerie whistling noise that the ants make when they're communicating with each other and, unseen by Peterson and the medic who placed her in the back of the ambulance, she sits up in absolute terror upon hearing it and goes back into shock once the noise subsides. Dr. Medford brings her back into consciousness with the smell of formic acid but, given how she screams in terror upon recognizing the smell as that of the ants, it probably would have been better if she had remained in shock because now she remembers what happened, including the horrific fact that her family was killed. Very good, sympathetic performance from this little child actor. Another person whose life is shattered by the ants is Mrs. Lodge (Mary Ann Hokanson), whose husband was killed by the ants and whose two young sons disappeared and were later found trapped in the nest beneath Los Angeles. She's absolutely heartbreaking in the scene where Graham is talking to her in order to get an idea of where her husband might have taken their boys that morning when they were attacked. For one, she's not sure where her husband took the kids since they go different places every week and, for another, her trying to remember the places where Mr. Lodge did take them, which was so he could spend some time with them when he wasn't working, brings back memories of how happy they were, which makes her even more grief-stricken. It's a very sad scene and I like the tenderness that James Arness gets across here as he tries to get some information from Mrs. Lodge in a very delicate manner. Later on, Mrs. Lodge shows up at the site where the military is preparing to move in to find the nest so she can be there whenever news about her sons comes up. She agonizingly waits for any news, with her hopes perking up when Peterson reports hearing something in one of the tunnels, and happily cries when she hears that her boys have been found alive. At least she had something of a happy ending, unlike that poor little girl.

Fess Parker, who would later go on to be Davey Crockett on television (Walt Disney actually saw him in this movie and decided to cast him), has an early role here as Alan Crotty, a Texas pilot who's been put in a psychiatric hospital after he claims that he was forced to make an emergency landing after nearly colliding with "flying saucers" that he says were shaped like ants. Even though Parker only has one scene here, he's memorable due to his accent and the way he describes how everybody he tells his story to is incredulous about it, saying, "I get laughed at or clucked over or clucked over or laughed at," as well as how he himself describes the encounter he had with the ants, saying that it, "Like to scared out of my pants!" before apologizing to Pat for that remark. Speaking of which, he later asks Graham and the others if they could help him get out of the hospital because they wouldn't even give him a rope to hold his pants up with, which I always smirk at. Another actor whose performance is memorable despite his being in only one scene is Olin Howlin, who classic sci-fi fans will know as the old man who became the Blob's first victim in that film, as Jensen, an alcoholic whom Graham, Peterson, and Maj. Kibbee visit at the alcoholic ward in a hospital in the hopes that he may know something that will give them a clue as to where the ants are. Turns out they were lucky to talk to him because Jensen's been seeing the ants in a nearby man-made river and they later find out that they've made their nest in the storm drains and sewer systems beneath the city, but that's not what makes him memorable; what is, though, is how randomly he talks, how he bounces from one subject to another, a clear indication of how he's almost constantly plastered, and especially when he tells Maj. Kibbee that he'll join the army if they make him a sergeant in charge of the booze. After making that offer, he pulls the cover over his head and bounces up and down underneath it while singing, "Make me a sergeant in charge of the booze! Make me a sergeant in charge of the booze!" In fact, his scene ends with him going back to that and doing the same thing, now singing, "Make me a sergeant! Gimme the booze!" Fortunately, they've learned all that they needed to know from Jensen and are able to then leave, not that matters to Jensen since he keeps singing to the point where the patient in the bed next to him says, "Please! My nerves!" And finally, for you Star Trek fans, Leonard Nimoy has a brief appearance as a soldier who picks up the teletype message that tells of Crotty's story and he then comments that the biggest stories are told by Texans. You don't get a close look at his face and he's very young to boot but, if you pay attention, you will recognize him (I had to look very closely in order to realize it was him).

One of the most interesting and well-done aspects of Them! is that, like The Fly several years later, it starts out as an intriguing mystery and gradually becomes a science fiction film. It's a shame that most people who know of the film are privy to the fact that it's about giant ants because the mysterious aspects of the first third work most effectively when you don't know what's going on. Ben Peterson and Ed Blackburn find that little girl wandering around the desert in shock, they investigate the wreckage of the car and trailer where she was vacationing with her family, they discover that the sides of the trailer were pulled out rather than pushed in, no money was taken, just some sugar, there's a bloody handkerchief on the floor, indicating that something hideously violent happened, Peterson finds a pistol on the floor as well, suggesting that someone made a failed attempt at defending themselves, and the only real clue is an odd print that they find nearby. Really, really good stuff and it only gets better when the CSI guys come in and they're just as baffled about what happened as Peterson and Blackburn. I can't stress enough how well done the moment when we hear the ants' eerie communication noise for the first time as it echoes across the desert and, unbeknownst to Peterson and the medic, the little girl briefly comes out of her catatonic state upon hearing the sound and has a look of sheer fear on her face, while they look across the desert landscape, wondering what in God's name that sound is. Those shots of the landscape as we hear the sound are very eerie and help to drive home the idea that something very, very strange is going on. Another great scene is when Peterson and Blackburn find Gramps Johnson's store completely destroyed and in the same state as the car and trailer: the walls have been pulled out, the attackers were more interested in sugar rather than money, Gramps, as we later find out, managed to get off several shots with his rifle before the barrel was bent in half, the set up table and still-playing radio suggest that whatever happened occurred very suddenly (similar to the scattered dishes back at the trailer), and so on. Unlike the family at the trailer, however, Peterson and Blackburn finds Gramps' body lying in the cellar and we later find out that, in addition to a series of fatal injuries inflicted upon him, his body was filled with enough formic acid to kill 20 people. The look of the shattered store, with its overhead lights swaying back and forth, constantly casting shadows here and there, and the eerie sound of the howling wind outside add to what is already an effectively unsettling scene. And, of course, the scene ends with Blackburn staying behind to guard the store until CSI guys arrive, only for him to be killed off-screen by the yet to be revealed giant ants, whose presence is still suggested by their freakish whistling sounds.

The mystery becomes all the more intriguing when Dr. Medford and his daughter arrive after a plaster cast of the strange print found at the trailer is sent to the Department of Agriculture. It's obvious through their hushed, cryptic conversations, their odd questions and requests, such as where the first atomic bomb back in 1945 was detonated and that they should go to the drug store to buy some formic acid, and such that they have a very definite idea of what's happening but they refuse to tell Peterson and Robert Graham, and by extension, us, what it is until they're absolutely sure. The scene where Medford uses the fumes of formic acid to bring the little girl out of her catatonic state, prompting her to repeatedly scream, "Them!" and cower in the corner while doing so is your first real clue that whatever happened to her family was terrifying beyond comprehension and that the situation is more serious than just some simple unsolved murders and vandalisms. In the scene where they investigate the now vacant spot where the car and trailer were, we get more hints that something monstrous is happening, with Pat telling her father, "They'd turn carnivorous want for lack of a vegetable diet," Medford asking Peterson if there's been a report of an odd, cone-shaped structure recently formed out in the desert, and, when they find another oddly shaped print, Medford calculating that whatever made it was about 2 1/2 meters long and that "it" came from a certain direction. Peterson and Graham are now determined to make Medford tell them what exactly this "it" is and Medford assures them that he is not being coy with them by keeping his theory from them, going as far as to tell them that the mounting evidence suggests that, "Something incredible has happened in this desert, in which case none of us will dare risk revealing it because none of us can risk a nationwide panic." Graham's response of, "A panic?!" is exactly the same reaction that anybody would have, knowing that the stakes have been raised from a mysterious string of crimes to something much, much bigger. Right after that is when we get our first look at the giant ants and, even though this solitary scout is killed by Peterson and Graham, Medford tells them that this was only one of an enormous colony living somewhere in the desert, a colony that must be destroyed as soon as possible. That scene ends on an especially eerie note, with the sounds of more ants somewhere out in the desert, obscured by the strong sandstorm that's happening at the time, and, as the sounds of both the unseen monsters and the howling winds fill the air, Medford gives a very chilling bit of dialogue: "We may be witnesses to a biblical prophecy come true. 'And there shall be destruction and darkness come upon creation, and the beasts shall reign over the Earth.'"

And with that, the feel of the movie shifts from a strange mystery into a full-blown science fiction monster movie with apocalyptic overtones. We're first told just how serious the situation is when it's discovered that two newborn queen ants escaped from the nest along with some winged males in order to establish new colonies elsewhere and that there's no telling how far these enormous ants are capable of flying to do so. Graham comments, "And I thought today was the end of it," to which Medford responds, "No. We haven't seen the end of them. We've only had a close view of the beginning of what may be the end of us." We're given an even clearer idea of how desperate it is when Medford gives a group of government officials in Washington a lesson in the life cycle and behavior of ants, ending it by telling them that not only are ants the only creatures on Earth besides man that instigate wars but that, "Even the most minute of them have an instinct and talent for industry, social organization, and savagery that makes man look feeble by comparison." Transplant that mindset to entire nests of these enormous mutations and you have a better understanding of what a threat they are to mankind. Medford sums it up to the officials by informing them that they must, "Consider this problem and, I hope, solve it. Because unless you solve it, unless these queens are located and destroyed before they've established thriving colonies and can produce heaven alone knows how many more queen ants, man, as the dominant species of life on Earth, will probably be extinct within..." he looks at another scientist and finishes with, "a year, doctor?" Said scientist then forlornly nods his head to that question. As a result of that, you can understand why the spare no expense in trying to find the queen ants and also why they're all determined to keep it a secret from the public. As Peterson himself says when he tells the officials that his superiors aren't aware of the ants' existence, the panic that would occur if the general public knew that entire nests of these monsters were somewhere out there would be unbelievable and, when they're forced to finally reveal it when it's discovered that a new colony has been established beneath Los Angeles, General O'Brien, in his public address, is sure to make everyone clear about how this isn't something to take lightly by first telling them that the city is under martial law and then about the actual situation: "The New Mexico colony was destroyed but two queen ants escaped. One has been accounted for and destroyed, the other has not yet been found but is now known to have established a nest somewhere in the storm drains beneath the streets of Los Angeles. It is not known how long this nest has been established or how many of these lethal monsters have hatched: maybe a few, maybe thousands. But if new queen ants have escaped this nest, other American cities even now may be in danger. These creatures are extremely dangerous. They have already killed a number of persons. Stay in your homes. I repeat, stay in your homes. Your safety, the safety of the entire city, depends upon your full cooperation during this crisis." You can just imagine what it would be like if you suddenly saw this broadcast appear over your local airwaves and the terror what would wash over you as a result. It's very palpable.

I always like movies like this that take place in isolated, expansive areas such as the Antarctic or, in this case, the desert. Science fiction films of the 1950's made good use of the eerie, loneliness of the desert in order to tell their stories, most notably in Jack Arnold's films It Came from Outer Space and Tarantula, as well as The Monolith Monsters, which Arnold wrote. However, I think Them! tops them all in terms of sheer atmosphere. Just the feeling that the little girl's family and Gramps Johnson were attacked literally out in the middle of nowhere, where there was nobody that could help them is a very scary thought to me. Even during the daytime, the desert is a creepy place with how expansive and empty it is, creating a feeling that you are completely alone. Those shots of the desert when you can hear the sounds of the ants communicating with each other are extremely effective in creeping you out and the same goes for the sound of the howling wind during the frequent sandstorms. That scene where Peterson and Blackburn investigate the wreckage of Gramps' store as the wind continuously howls outside and, as a result, moves the overhanging lamps back and forth, casting shadows here and there, is the definition of atmosphere. And that previously mentioned scene where, after killing the first ant that they come across, they all hear the sounds of more of them echo across the desert along with the sound of the wind, as Medford gives his speech about how this could be a prophecy from the Bible come true, is just bone-chilling. In addition to the empty expanses of the desert, the film also makes good use of narrow, claustrophobic tunnels, be they in the New Mexico ant nest or during the climax in the storm drains of Los Angeles. That's another thing that gets to me, the idea of having to battle something like these monsters in cramped spaces where you have little to no hope of escaping, although, ironically, the only person to actually be killed in the film as a result is Ben Peterson and he came very close to getting away (I'm not counting the soldier who got injured when a bit of a tunnel's ceiling caved in on him). One type of claustrophobia that isn't dwelt upon but is something that I can't stop thinking about has to do with the small scene where we learn that one of the queen ants created a nest aboard a ship. You want to talk about having nowhere to escape to. Those poor guys didn't have a chance against those ants when they were stuck with them on a ship in the middle of the ocean. Okay, you do learn that a couple of survivors were picked up but, nevertheless, that's a pretty scary situation to be trapped in to me.

The special effects used to bring the giant ants to life in this film are also unique for the time. Typically, giant monsters were conceived by one of several ways back then: stop-motion, guys in suits, or normal-sized puppets or real animals that are matted in to look gigantic. Instead of using any of those techniques, the special effects artists for Them! created full-sized ant models that they could operate off-camera and, while this would become much more commonplace in the following years, it was almost unheard of back then. The only instances similar to this that I can think of were in the original King Kong when they used a full-sized model of Kong for some shots as well as full-sized hands for when he was holding Fay Wray, with similar techniques being used in Son of Kong and other related movies, but I'm pretty sure that Them! was the first movie to use this technique for the film's entirety. These special effects, which were nominated for an Oscar, help in making this film more believable than most monster movies of this era because it's clear that the actors are really interacting with and are on the set with these enormous ants rather than being matted in with them later, which could very easily become quite noticeable back then, even with the biggest budgets and the best technicians. True, the models are not capable of moving very fast, which could make you wonder how these things are able to kill so many people, but when you take into account their sheer numbers and that a lot of the attacks take place in confined areas, be they at the trailer with that family trapped inside, unable to escape, Gramps Johnson unable to do much to get away when the ants attack his store, particularly when you take into account how old he was, or during the climax in Los Angeles' sewer system, it doesn't take long for their lethality to become apparent. Plus, in addition to actually seeing them, the simple idea of these creatures foraging for victims mainly at night since, according to Dr. Medford, they don't like the heat of the desert, and coming back to areas that they've already visited, which is proven by their finding more prints and by the death of Ed Blackburn at the store, is unsettling enough as it is. For that matter, I get even more creeped out when Jensen tells them that he's been seeing the ants at night near the storm drains of Los Angeles. With their being able to go out looking for food at night near such a large city, there's no telling how many people they killed besides the confirmed death of Mr. Lodge, especially when you take into account that it's not known exactly how long that nest has been beneath the city.

I think the actual look and behavior of the ants is effective in getting across how potentially dangerous entire colonies of these things could be. They're big, hairy, and ugly, with these wicked-looking mandibles that are strong enough to tear buildings apart just by pulling at the sides and can easily crush a person unlucky enough to be caught in them, long, hairy antennae that, like normal ants, allow them to sense everything around them, and stingers at the end of their abdomens that can pump a lethal amount of formic acid into you, so much so that the ants themselves wreak of the stuff (you only get a good look at one of the stingers when the first giant ant is killed but, like the mandibles, it's clearly not something you'd want to get stuck with). Their eyes range in design from being rather dull-colored to looking much lighter and more aware of their surroundings, the latter of which is shown in that image in the previous paragraph and is the freakier of the two in my opinion. And let's not forget the eerie sounds that they constantly make. It sounds like a combination between a whistle and a screech and it has a pulsating quality to it as well as a loud, chortling chirp that you constantly hear in the midst of the call (can you believe that the sounds were actually nothing more than the calls of tree-frogs, with a couple of species mixed together to make it sound even stranger?) In addition the first giant ant that they encounter lets out a guttural death cry when it's gunned down by Peterson, a sound that I think they should have used a couple of more times because that was bloodcurdling as well. When Peterson, Graham, and Pat investigate the destroyed New Mexico nest, you see that, like their smaller relatives, the giant ants are able to construct impressive labyrinths of tunnels using nothing more than dirt and their own saliva which can go down hundreds of feet into the Earth and contain various rooms such as food chambers, water traps to prevent drowning during the rainy season, and a chamber where the queen can lay her eggs. Speaking of which, we also learn that, as a result of their mutated genetic makeup, the ants are able to bypass the typical insect life cycle that involves larvae and pupae and, instead, can hatch right out of their eggs as fully formed ants.

This film doesn't completely shy away from the death and carnage that the ants cause either. Not only do we see the emotional toll that their attacks have on people such as the traumatized little girl and the grief-stricken Mrs. Lodge but we also hear about as well as see just how nasty the aftermaths of these creatures' attacks can get. It's not uncommon for monster films of the time to tell you how badly mutilated someone was or to see a doctor give autopsy reports but this film feels like it has a bit more of an impact to it in that respect, with our being told that the ants tore off one of Mr. Lodge's arms and yet, he still managed to drive a fair distance before crashing, as well as the autopsy report on Gramps Johnson which tells us that, in addition to his body being filled with an enormous amount of formic acid, his neck and back were broken, his chest was crushed, and his skull was fractured. When Peterson and Blackburn investigate the destroyed trailer at the beginning of the film, Peterson discovers a handkerchief that's covered in blood. Of course, it's a black and white film so the graphicness of it isn't really felt, but still, the idea of seeing blood in a 50's film is rather shocking. That's nothing, however, compared to what you see when they first discover the New Mexico ant colony. As they fly over the entrance, an ant crawls out to have a look and we immediately see that he has a freaking ribcage in his mandibles! Moreover, when he drops the ribcage, it falls down the side of the mound and we see that there's a small boneyard there, with skulls and other bones, prompting Pat to gravely tell Graham, "We've found your missing persons." Before we fade to the next scene, we get a close shot of a gun holster, indicating that Ed Blackburn's remains are amongst them. Yes, I'm well aware that it's not probable that enormous ants like these would be able to pick the bones clean like normal ones due to their size but you know they weren't going to show bones with flesh on them back then and besides, these picked clean bones are more than enough to get the point across.

I could be wrong but I'm pretty sure that Them! was the first film in which the monsters were created as a result of atomic tests. The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms the previous year had something of a link to it in that the monster in that film was released from his imprisonment in ice by a nuclear test but that's where it ends. The radiation didn't mutate or influence the beast in any way. However, the giant ants here could quite possibly be the first in a long line of animals that were ballooned into enormous, marauding monsters by man's obsession with nuclear weapons. In fact, this film's very ending seems to predict the myriad of films that would come in its wake, with Graham asking, "If these monsters got started by the first atomic bomb in 1945, what about all the others that have been exploded since then?" and Medford ending the film with the warning that, "When man entered the atomic age, he opened the door to a new world. What we'll eventually find in that new world, no one can predict." As a result of that, you could almost say that all of these films take place in the same universe; in fact, I personally like to think that Them! takes place in the same universe as the Godzilla series, what with the original Godzilla being released in Japan the same year as this film and the film's ending feeling like it's building up to something even more horrific. It's just me but I like to think of it as working out with Godzilla's first appearance later that year being a confirmation of Medford's warning and that the world learns that these giant ants were only a prelude to something all the more threatening to mankind. I'm sure no one else thinks this and feels that there are flaws in that theory that I'm not seeing but, hey, I can dream, can't I?

One interesting tidbit about the film is that it was initially intended to be much gimmickier than it ended up being. When the film was first green-lit, Warner Bros. wanted the film to be in both 3-D and color but, when the 3-D cameras they were planning on using malfunctioned during tests, that idea was scrapped and so was the color in order to keep costs down. Interestingly enough, some of the elements from the original plan for the film is retained in the final version, most notably the bright red and blue title as well as the fact that said title comes right at the screen and that there are some shots where the flamethrowers used during the battles with the ants are fired directly at the camera (I don't know how they kept from destroying the camera while filming that), as you would see in a 3-D picture. Incidentally, after the 3-D and color plans for the movie were dropped, Warner Bros. decided to compensate by having it be shot in widescreen, as had been the case with The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, which had been a big hit for the studio the previous year; however, the widescreen idea was dropped too, again due to money issues. These changes made little difference since, not only is Them! a superb film without these extrapolations, but it was also Warner Bros.' highest grossing film of that year, so they had no need to "gild the lilly" so to speak.

There's no shortage of exciting and suspenseful sequences to be found here. After the opening where you have the discovery of the little girl and the investigation of the wrecked trailer and general, as well as the off-screen death of Ed Blackburn at the end of the latter scene, the next major scene, aside from the last one with the little girl, is when we see one of the giant ants for the first time. While Peterson, Graham, and Dr. Medford talk near where the car and trailer were, Pat goes off to search for more evidence and, upon finding another track, she and the men hear the sound of the ants calling to each other. As Pat looks around, wondering what that strange sound is, one of the ants peeks its head over the small hill Pat is crouching beneath and, upon catching sight of her, increases the volume of its shrieking. Pat screams and runs from the enormous insect but momentarily falls and the ant immediately gives chase. The men, having heard her screams, run for the site, where Pat has gotten back on her feet and away from the ant, which Peterson and Graham fire upon. Medford informs them to shoot the antennae and, after Peterson manages to shoot one of them off with his pistol, he runs back to his police car to get a machine gun while Graham shoots at and eventually scores a hit on the ant's other antenna. Now unable to function, the ant is no match for Peterson, who arrives back on the scene with his machine gun and pumps the monster full of lead, prompting it to give off a guttural death cry as it collapses. This leads into Medford finally informing Peterson and Graham of his theory, telling them that this ant is one of many such enormous mutations caused by lingering radiation from the first atomic test in 1945 and that they must locate and destroy the nest as quickly as possible.

The scene where they attack and then investigate the ant nest after they've discovered it begins with Peterson and Maj. Kibbee using bazookas filled with napalm to ignite the surface area above the nest so as to keep the ants contained within it so they can later kill them all with cyanide gas bombs. After shooting four napalm-filled rockets at the top of the nest, Peterson and Graham, dressed in radiation suits, walk to the top of the still-burning entrance to throw the cyanide gas into the bowels of the nest. Just when they're about to do so, an ant appears below them but, as Graham later tells Medford, he's more interested in escaping rather than attacking them. Peterson and Graham immediately bomb him with cyanide, eventually causing him to drop back down into the nest as they continue doing so. Later on, with the surface of the nest cooled off and the nest apparently saturated enough with cyanide to kill all of the ants, Peterson, Graham, and Pat descend into the nest to make sure that all of the ants are indeed dead, being forced to use climbing gear in order to make it down the deep and steep drop-offs that make up the nest's structure. They see a lot of dead ants as they venture down the dark tunnels, which are also "foggy" with the poison gas, but there's one moment where several ants who were not killed by the gas because their tunnel caved in burst out of the wall and attack. Peterson and Graham are able to make short work of them with their weapons and the continue onward, eventually coming upon the queen's chamber, which is full of un-hatched eggs (you can actually see the unborn ants moving inside the eggs when light is shined on them) and two empty ones that once contained two queen ants. After Pat takes pictures of the chamber, Peterson and Graham burn everything inside it with their flamethrowers before they head back to the surface.

After the short scene where you see the crew of this ship getting slaughtered by some ants who hatched aboard it, the next major sequence of the film is the climax where the military heads into the storm drains beneath Los Angeles once it's discovered that the other missing queen ant has established a colony there. Intending to find out whether the two missing Lodge kids are still alive as well as if any other queens have escaped, the military moves in. After several minutes of driving through the tunnels without finding anything, Peterson hears something in a nearby pipe and crawls through it in order to see. After the soldier accompanying him orders for some construction lights in this unfinished part of the system to be turned on, Peterson discovers that the Lodge boys are indeed alive but they're currently trapped in a small area by two ants. Peterson tells the soldier that the place has the same smell of formic acid as that of the nest in New Mexico, indicating that he's found the center of the nest, and tells him to call in for reinforcements. As the troops converge on the target area, Peterson manages to get through the pipe and blasts the two ants threatening the boys with his flamethrower without harming the kids. He then proceeds to help the boys get into the pipe to safety but doesn't realize that another ant is approaching until it's almost on top of them. While Peterson manages to save the boys, the ant grabs him with its mandibles and roughly throttles him back and forth. Graham and the other soldiers arrive and kill the ant but it's too late for Peterson, who dies from his injuries after telling Graham that the boys are okay. Afterward, the soldiers fight an explosive battle with more ants, using their guns and grenade launchers to kill and drive the ants back. After the firefight continues for several minutes, Gen. O'Brien and Dr. Medford arrive to tell them to stop using explosives since it could possibly cause a cave-in that would block off the nest. Graham and the soldiers then press on, but one of the soldiers is injured when a bit of the ceiling collapses on him and is forced to be taken back. Another ant attacks and even though the soldiers manage to kill it, a small cave-in does happen and it momentarily traps Graham on the other side with more ants. Graham is able to hold them off as best as he can but is almost overwhelmed before his comrades are able to dig through and give him the support he needs. After killing some more ants, Graham and the soldiers reach the queen's chamber, where they come across some newly hatched queens. After waiting for Medford to arrive and confirm that this is what they're after, O'Brien gives the order for the queens to be destroyed and the soldiers then proceed to incinerate them with the flamethrowers, ending the film on a high.

The film's music score, composed by veteran Polish composer Bronislau Kaper, works extremely well for the film, as all good film scores should. Save for some touching sentimental music that plays during the scene where Graham talks to the distraught Mrs. Lodge, the score is made up entirely of music that's meant to either creep out or enthrall you. The theme for the opening credits, which begins with a low crash of piano keys before moving on to a high-pitched, urgent section before ending with a quiet sound before the film officially begins sets the mood perfectly and the same goes for the quiet, slightly eerie music that plays when Peterson and Blackburn investigate the trailer after picking up the little girl, the loud, horrific music during the scene where the smell of formic acid snaps the little girl out of her catatonic state and she screams, "Them!", the music that plays during the build-up to the scene with the ants attacking the crew of the ship, which then turns horrific during that actual scene, and the urgent, threatening music that plays after Los Angeles is placed under martial law and the military moves into the storm drains beneath the city to destroy the nest. It also goes without saying that the music for the action sequences when they're attacking the surface of the New Mexico nest and when the soldiers battle the ants in the Los Angeles storm drains does its job in making those sequences as thrilling and exciting as they possibly can be. What I really like about this score is that it knows when to be loud and bombastic and when it needs to be either soft and subtle or completely silent. The subtle music that plays when Peterson and Blackburn investigate the wrecked trailer, when Peterson leaves Blackburn behind to guard Gramps Johnson's general store, and when Alan Crotty tells Graham, Pat, and Maj. Kibbee about his experience with the "flying saucers," works very, very well for those scenes but, scenes such as when Peterson and Blackburn look around the trashed general store and when they first encounter the giant ants at the site where the car and trailer were wouldn't have worked so well if they had any music over them at all. Those are much more effectively eerie when the music is non-existent. And finally, I like the final bit of score at the end when Medford warns that there's no telling what the other nuclear tests that have been conducted since the first one in 1945 will bring about. It starts off soft and creepy and, as the movie ends, it swells into a loud finale that is somewhat triumphant but also does have a feeling to it that suggests that, as Medford says, this might have only been the beginning of what man will eventually have to face.

File:Themtitle.jpgThem! is truly a classic of not only 50's science fiction but of science fiction in general. It's one of those movies where I honestly can't find a single thing wrong with it. The cast, especially Edmund Gwenn, does a great job, the film is suspenseful, thrilling, and thoroughly entertaining throughout its 92-minute running time, the locations of the desert and, later on, the storm drains beneath Los Angeles are put to good use, the special effects used to bring the giant ants to life are done very well considering the times and the ants themselves are often quite threatening, the film is something of a ground-breaker in that it could be the first film where the monsters are created by radiation, and the music score fits the film to a T. My only complaint is that, despite the fact that is as highly lauded as it is, it feels as though the film doesn't get talked about nowadays as much as it should. Maybe that's just me but I can't shake the feeling that it kind of gets overlooked nowadays by the general public, probably because of people who refuse to watch old films just because they're black and white, which is a shallow way of thinking that I simply don't get. Bottom line, if you're a fan of monster movies and you've never seen Them!, you owe it to yourself to give it a watch. It's highly unlikely that you'll be disappointed.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Stuff I Grew Up With/Anime Corner: Voltron: Defender of the Universe (1984-1985)

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. I just had to start this review off in that way. This is another one of those odd things that didn't truly become part of my life until much later in my childhood and yet, at the same time, I had some semblance of awareness of it from as far back as I can remember. This came from two sources: one was a battered toy of Voltron that somehow ended up at my grandmother's house (don't ask me how it got there; my grandmother had a lot of toys and videos at her house that, for all intents and purposes, shouldn't have been there but somehow were) and the other came in the form of several VHS's at my local video rental store. Although I never rented them, the latter were what really made an impression on me, especially the cover art of one, which showed Voltron in the stance he always took when wielding his Blazing Sword. I thought he looked rather striking and intimidating, particularly with the snarling head of the Green Lion that comprised his left arm being aimed right towards the edge of the box. The toy, of course, also got my attention but, as I said, it was very battered and I didn't play with it much as a result, although my young mind was able to figure out that this figure was the same thing that I saw on those VHS covers. But, since I never watched the show at that age (and, consequently, never learned its name; I never paid attention to the title on those VHS's), it wasn't something that I thought about much as I got older, although it did certainly stick in the back of my mind due to Voltron's iconic design, as well as a brief glimpse of the show that I saw one day at someone's house. It was only a fleeting look at it and it was during a part that was more than a little freaky for a child, so I certainly didn't stick around to observe it more, but that did stay in the back of my mind for a long time. I truly became acquainted with Voltron when it started playing on Cartoon Network's weekday afternoon, action cartoon block Toonami in 1997, along with ThunderCats, a half-hour block of random Hanna-Barbera stuff like Space Ghost, Birdman, and others, as well as the 1940's Superman cartoons, and The Real Adventures of Johnny Quest. Obviously, I instantly recognized it as what I had seen on those VHS covers as well as what that toy was and, truth be told, while I was initially reluctant to watch it or any of the other shows that Toonami played saved for the stuff I was familiar with, like the Hanna-Barbera cartoons and The Real Adventures of Johnny Quest (as a kid, I was very adverse to new shows), I eventually did somehow end up doing so.

Even though I didn't know that the term for it was anime, I instantly recognized Voltron as such when I watched it due to my first tastes of anime when I was a really young kid, which were G-Force (one of the incarnations of Gatchaman) and Speed Racer and also because anime simply has a very distinctive look to it that's unmistakable. Also, like those previous shows (well, mostly Speed Racer; I never got into G-Force hardcore), when I watched a few episodes of it, I instantly became a fan and very ardent viewer of it. It, along with ThunderCats, which I also became a big fan of due to watching it on Toonami, was something that I really looked forward to every afternoon after I got home from school. Obviously, the thing I looked forward to every episode was Voltron but I also enjoyed the characters themselves as well. Even my dad, who isn't a fan of animation by any means, kind of got into it whenever he would sit down and watch it with me. It was a release that I really needed since, when it first started airing in 1997, the elementary school that was I going to then wasn't a good school at all. Those four years that it played on Toonami was the time when I was into it the most hardcore that I possibly could have. After 2000, though, Toonami stopped airing it and, as time passed, I moved on from it and, like I did for most of my mid-childhood, didn't think about it that much. When I was going to college in 2006, I had to get up at the crack of dawn and as a result, I did see a couple of early morning showings of it on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim but, I was under so much pressure at that time that I didn't give it a second thought except to think to myself, "Oh, yeah, I remember when I used to watch that. Cool." Years later, though, after my tenure at college had ended (I dropped out, in case you're wondering), I started getting nostalgic and began revisiting a lot of the stuff from my childhood online, most notably Speed Racer, which I eventually reviewed on here, as well as some other animes that I watched back then. After I finished watching the entirety of Speed Racer, Voltron was the next obvious place to go and so, I tracked it down as well. When I watched it, though, I was rather taken aback by one simple fact that I was not cognizant of when I was a kid: it aged very, very poorly. Speed Racer is very dated too but that show had enough charm and energy for me to look past its flaws and get into it the same way that I did when I was a child. While there certainly is some charm and nostalgia attributed to Voltron, it was impossible for me to not notice the myriad of problems that it has and, upon re-watching it for this review, said problems stood out even more to my critical eye. In this review, that is the general opinion that I hope to convey, that while Voltron is still something that I hold close to my heart due to its nostalgic charm, its translation and editing issues stick out like the sorest of sore thumbs and make it more than a little hard to take seriously or not make fun of.

The main plot of Voltron, as spelled out in the first few episodes, is as follows: five space explorers, Keith, Lance, Hunk, Pidge, and Sven, are sent by Galaxy Garrison on Earth to the distant planet of Arus, only to arrive when it's under attack by the forces of the evil King Zarkon, a tyrannical interstellar ruler who has enslaved the people of many, many planets. The explorers attempt to help the people of Arus but are unable to do much and are eventually captured by Zarkon's forces themselves and taken to Planet Doom, where they are to be forced to battle, and no doubt be killed by, one of Zarkon's many monsters, which are known as robeasts. The resourceful explorers, however, manage to escape their cell and make their way to one of Zarkon's slave ships, which they use to escape Planet Doom. Damaged by Zarkon's pursuing forces, the explorers manage to make it back to and crash-land on Planet Arus, where they make their way to the fabled Castle of Lions in the hopes of finding the secret of the legendary robot, Voltron, who was separated into five robot lions some time before by Zarkon's evil witch, Haggar. After meeting the castle diplomat, Coran, and the lovely Princess Allura, the five explorers are indeed put into service as the Voltron Force and, while it takes them a while, and a near tragic defeat by Zarkon's forces, to find the keys to all five robot lions that are necessary to come together and form Voltron, they eventually resurrect the gigantic robot warrior and manage to drive back Zarkon's forces in several battles. However, their elation at doing so is short-lived when Sven, the pilot of the Blue Lion, is badly injured during an attack by Haggar and one of her robeasts and is sent to a nearby planet for medical attention. Even though they're able to defeat another one of Zarkon's robeasts without Voltron, the force realize that they're very vulnerable with no pilot for the Blue Lion... that is until Princess Allura herself, despite the opposition from Coran and her recently arrived nanny, takes it upon herself to fly the lion. From there onward, the formula of the series involves the Voltron Force dealing with attacks by Zarkon's forces, most notably his robeasts, with the aid of their powerful robot and with the added subplot of Zarkon's son, Prince Lotor, who eventually becomes their main antagonist, lusting for Allura and doing everything that he can to take her.

Ted Koplar
The creation of Voltron as we now know it was the result of the re-editing and combining of two unrelated anime series, which wasn't all that uncommon a practice back then (RoboTech was a show compiled from three different series). People who worked for World Events Productions, most notably the company president, Ted Koplar, attended an international programming convention in France where they were shown footage of several anime series that they felt would appeal to an American audience, albeit after some tweaking and retooling. They struck a deal with the Japanese production company, Toei, behind these shows but, when they asked for samples of the shows they wished to view, Toei accidentally sent them one show that was not what they asked for. The show they intended to view was called Mirai Robo Daltanius but, instead, they were sent Beast King GoLion, due to a mix-up concerning the similarities between the two shows. However, this turned out to be a very happy accident since WEP liked GoLion much more than Daltanius and decided to adapt them instead. In other words, the most well-known incarnation of Voltron was created purely by accident! I mentioned the word "incarnation" because, while the GoLion version of Voltron is the one most are familiar with, there was a lesser known, second iteration aired after that one finished its run, which is now often referred to as either Vehicle Force Voltron or Vehicle Voltron in order to distinguish it from the more popular one. Created from the anime Armored Fleet Dairugger XV, this Voltron series took place in the same universe as the GoLion one and featured another giant robot that's constructed to defend the Galaxy Alliance from another evil force since the GoLion Voltron is too far away to be of any assistance. There were plans for yet another iteration of Voltron that was to be created from another anime series but, since Vehicle Voltron was nowhere near as popular as the GoLion one when it aired, that was scrapped and instead, WEP joined up with Toei to produce all new episodes of the GoLion Voltron specifically for the American audience. I bring this up because I want to make it clear that I am aware that there is another iteration of Voltron besides the one I'm the most familiar with but also that this review will only be about the classic Voltron: Defender of the Universe, both the episodes that were created from Beast King GoLion and the ones that were created specifically for America. In fact, I haven't seen Vehicle Voltron at all at this point, although I do plan to do so and review that one day down the road. You'll also probably see a review of the Fleet of Doom movie that featured both incarnations of Voltron some time in the future but, for now, I'm going to concentrate solely on the iteration that I and most other people are familiar with.

The director for the series was Franklin Cofod, a guy who was no stranger to American-translated anime before he became involved with Voltron, seeing as how he worked in the editorial department on Battle of the Planets (another English iteration of Gatchaman) and, right before Voltron, had been a director on a little known TV series called The Adventures of the Little Prince. Not only would he go on to direct the Fleet of Doom movie a couple of years but he would also work on another anime translation, Saber Rider and the Star Sheriffs, and serve as an editor, production manager, and producer on other shows and TV movies like Mr. Bogus, Widget, the World Watcher, Bubsy, and Denver, the Last Dinosaur. I've never heard of any of that stuff (although, I do very vaguely recall the latter) so you can look it up for yourself if you're curious about it.

I like how, with the show's heroes, you get a since that they're more than just teammates, that they're true friends who will always be loyal to each other, no matter their rank on the team or position in their personal life. Keith (voiced by Neil Ross), the leader, is pretty typical of the commanders you'd see in shows like this at the time: very skilled at what he does, energetic, and talks in a loud, heroic voice that fits with the concept of the leader of a team like this. His voice is what I find the most distinguishing about him. Even when they're not in battle or there's no emergency, his tone rarely changes even though the volume does. He's always talking in that energized, heroic leader type of voice, which you can't help but smile at since, again, it's very typical of heroes in action cartoons meant for kids around that time. As far as being a leader to his team goes, Keith is quite good at rallying them together and giving them instructions as to how best to attack their opponents, although you often wish during those battles that he would stop attempting to take down whatever robeast they're fighting at a given time with the lions (because that hardly ever works) and just give the order to form Voltron already, which they do 99.9% of the time. And, since he's by far the best-looking member of the team (that mullet he has is kick-ass!), as well as simply the most logical choice, fans like to think of him as a love interest for Princess Allura. While there is a hint of some attraction between the two and the tiniest possibility that each thinks of the other as more than just a teammate, it doesn't go anywhere at all. This is just not that kind of anime.

Lance (voiced by Michael Bell), the pilot of the Red Lion, is the most impulsive, quick-tempered, and sarcastic member of the team. While not an asshole by any means (most of the time, anyway), he is quite a hot-head, is always the first member of the team to make his feelings about something known or to challenge an enemy, and is the only one who sometimes questions Keith's directives (they almost got into a fight one time). To his credit, though, he never loses his cool out of malice and his feelings about something are either typically correct or how anyone else, including his more calm and collective teammates, would feel as well. And despite his temper, he's also capable of being very heroic in his own right, like in one episode where he traveled to another planet by himself in order to find a cure for an illness that had taken hold of Princess Allura as well as other times when he's saved his fellow teammates, most notably Allura, from danger during battles. Speaking of which, even though fans often like to think of Keith as being the most logical significant other for Allura, Lance is the one who is kissed by her the most throughout the series as thanks for helping her and saving her life, even when he didn't really do anything that significant to help her. Granted, it's the same scene recycled many times (a staple of this series, as we'll see) with new dialogue put in to differentiate it but still, it makes you wonder if Allura truly has her eye on Lance instead of Keith (I don't think she kissed him once during the entire show!) And like I said, Lance can also be quite a sarcastic smart-ass, like during the first episode when he shoots down a suggestion by Sven that they should rush the guards being telling him, "Real clever, Sven. Ought to be good for a million laughs" or, when he's trying to get the cure for Allura's illness in that one episode and the natives of the planet tell him that no one can take the flowers needed without permission, he responds by saying, "Then give me permission,"; plus, he just generally teases others when he gets the chance. His quips aren't always the most clever or creative but they do help to give him something distinctive, although there was one time where he made a not so nice comment about Hunk while the guy was being down on himself that was going a little too far. Still, though, Lance is hardly an unlikable character and, in the end, is just as heroic as his fellow team members.

Probably my least favorite member of the Voltron Force is Pidge (voiced by Neil Ross), the youngest member and the pilot of the Green Lion. I don't hate him, mind you, but I'm not exactly looking forward to when he appears onscreen during an episode either. Let's just get this out of the way right now: his voice is annoying as hell. I don't know if Neil Ross was able to do that voice himself (which is impressive if he did) or if it was altered in post-production but either way, that helium-affected sound that Pidge gives off really grates on my nerves. I don't know why they couldn't have just found a child voice actor or have a female voice actor do it (which is quite common) because the voice they came up with does not sound like a kid at all and for a while, made me wonder if Pidge is actually supposed to be a kid or if he's a midget. It is clear when you pay attention to the show and read official information on it that Pidge is a kid but then, I have to wonder how in the world a kid got to be a space explorer and later was made part of the Voltron Force. I know he's really smart, a skilled pilot, and quite acrobatic as well (the image of him over the ending credits has him doing a handstand on top of the Green Lion) but I still wonder how he was allowed to become a member of an elite force like the space explorers at such a young age in the first place. Not only do the snippets we get of his background during the show not tell us anything but it's so badly written and changes from episode to episode (one of the show's many problems) that it's downright confusing. Moreover, I've heard that they made one of the pilots of Vehicle Voltron Pidge's twin brother, so it seems like in the future, your age doesn't matter, only your skills and technical knowhow. I know that with a show like this, I shouldn't be concerning myself with such details but it still baffles me. And like I said, even though he's my least favorite member, I don't hate Pidge at all. Like the others, he's a very talented pilot, is quite helpful during their battles with Zarkon's forces, especially with his smarts (I wish the original source material didn't give him such a stereotypical pair of coke-bottle glasses, though), and so on. He also becomes quite close with the Space Mice who inhabit the Castle of Lions and are friends with Princess Allura, going so far as to help them develop a fighting force. Not a dispensable member of the force at all; I just wish his voice wasn't so bizarre and irritating!

At the opposite end of the spectrum, we have my personal favorite member, Hunk (voiced by Lennie Weinrib), who pilots the Yellow Lion. I just love this guy for the big teddy bear that he is. As imposing as he is due to his large size, he's actually a real softy underneath it all, especially when it comes to kids and small animals like puppies. While he may not be the brightest member of the team and can be a little lazy (an early episode has him sleeping through an alarm, deciding that if it's a glitch in the system, he'll just wait and fix it tomorrow) he's very dependable and always willing to do the right thing. It's obvious that he cares about the team, particularly in one episode where, during a grueling training exercise, he messes up several times and breaks down crying, feeling that he's ruining the team and holding them back. The others, of course, let him know that it's fine (except for Lance, who's being rather dickish in this instance) but he continues to put himself down,  commenting that he's expendable, which, of course, he isn't, at one point in the ensuing battle. He gets over that feeling pretty quickly, though. Most importantly, Hunk just seems like the member that I'd want to hang out with the most. He does have a bit of a hot-headed nature to him (though not as much as Lance does), especially when it comes to the injustice caused by Zarkon (he proposed bringing the fight straight to Planet Doom at one point), but for the most part, he's the most laid back team member and just seems like somebody whose company you'd enjoy. Oddly enough, the other team members make constant jokes about Hunk's appetite, which he himself proves is quite large since he always has food on the brain, as well as the fact that he can be lazy but, at the same time, whenever you see him with his shirt off, you can tell that a lot of his mass is made up of muscle. In any case, I don't have much else to say about Hunk other than he's the very definition of a gentle giant and somebody who would undoubtedly become your best buddy.

The member of the team whom I feel the most sorry for in more ways than one is Sven (voiced by Michael Bell), the Norwegian space explorer who is the initial pilot of the Blue Lion. Despite the fact that you always see him during the show's opening title sequence (when I first started watching the series, I was confused as to who he was since Allura was the pilot of the Blue Lion), Sven ends up being a small part of the series as a whole and only really gets to come into his own during the latter episodes of the original GoLion episodes and the America-specific episodes that came afterward. You do know that, like his fellow teammates, he's very skilled at what he does, making him a formidable combat pilot and a great navigator. He's by far the most calm and introspective member of the team, usually speaking only when he had something important to say. I personally get the feeling that he's as wise as he is skilled from his stoic nature, especially given how he's able to use his other senses to get through Haggar's trickery and lunge at her during the small scuffle he has with her at one point and, as the series goes on, you learn that he's much more emotional than he originally let on. It's also clear that he's a really good human being too, much like the other members of the force. There are two reasons for why I said I feel bad for Sven. One is the more obvious. Despite being introduced as such, he barely gets to pilot the Blue Lion and contribute much before he's seriously injured during the aforementioned fight with Haggar, which forces him to leave Planet Arus for medical treatment. As if that's not bad enough, you later learn that the planet Sven was sent to recover was later attacked by Zarkon's forces and he was sent back to Planet Doom. He did manage to escape the slave ship that brought him to the planet but he was forced to become a hermit and live in the caves to avoid being captured again, witnessing the atrocities inflicted upon the other slaves by Zarkon and being driven to the edge of madness as a result. You also find out that his defeat by Haggar crushed his self-worth, making feel as if he'd failed the Voltron Force and that it got to the point where, in the episode where he's reintroduced, he didn't even want to contact them for help out of shame. Fortunately for Sven, he meets up with Allura's cousin, Princess Romelle, on Doom and this leads him to a better future. She manages to heal his wounded spirit and, after the two of them help Voltron win a very difficult battle, Sven decides to live with Romelle on her home planet, eventually developing romantic feelings for her. He continues to prove himself to be a valuable ally to the Voltron Force, even engaging Lotor in hand-to-hand combat and, as a result, ending his brief tenure as king of Planet Doom at the very end of the original episodes, so I guess I shouldn't feel too bad for him; still, at the same, I can't help it because of all the crap he's had to endure.

The other reason I feel sympathy for Sven is because of how the show itself seems to just toss him aside in order for Allura to become a member of the Voltron Force. You may see him at the beginning of each episode during the opening sequence but, even at the very beginning of the show before she was introduced, Allura was shown as a member of the Voltron Force during the closing credits instead of Sven. After they win their first major victory against Zarkon's forces with the aid of Voltron and they're showing a montage of the pilots standing atop of their lions, it's still Allura on the Blue Lion and, also in these early episodes, if you look closely during the constantly reused footage of the pilots jumping down into the underground crafts that lead them to the lions' locations, you can sometimes see Allura plop down into one of them instead of Sven. And finally, despite how sad everyone is when he's initially injured and sent away to recover, Sven is virtually forgotten about once Allura joins the team until he's reintroduced in that aforementioned episode where he's discovered living in the caverns beneath Planet Doom. Keith tells Sven that they've missed him and while I'm sure they privately did, you sure wouldn't know it due to how he was hardly ever mentioned after he left the force. As I've said, once Sven is reintroduced, he does get into come into his own and we finally feel like we get to know him (which is good because I like his character) but, I still wish that he had gotten to be an actual member of the Voltron Force longer than just the first few episodes, instead of being rather unceremoniously tossed aside not only by the story but by the show itself.

The departure of Sven makes way for Princess Allura (voiced by B.J. Ward), the young, beautiful ruler of Planet Arus, to take over as pilot of the Blue Lion. I will say right off the bat that I do very much like Allura as a character because there is a lot to like. She's a very kind and popular ruler and loves her planet and people immensely. She does everything that she can to help her people have a happy existence, despite the constant attacks by Zarkon, such as bringing food to starving villagers or finding homes for kids who were orphaned by the attacks. Most importantly, though, she's not content with simply being a benevolent ruler for Arus but is also determined to actually help defend it, which is why she becomes part of the Voltron Force. Although Coran and Nanny tell her that being part of the force is not becoming for a princess and that it's too dangerous, Allura is undeterred and feels that, as the heir to her late father's throne, she must do everything she can to ensure her people's safety and happiness. She makes some mistakes when she first becomes part of the force, like taking the Blue Lion out when she has no idea how to pilot it (actually, that was before she became a member), taking the Black Lion without permission from Keith, even if it was for a good cause, and the errors she makes when she's first learning how to pilot and fight with her lion, but you have to admire the extremely noble reason she has for doing this. Moreover, despite her position as ruler of the planet, when she's working with the Voltron Force, she allows Keith to retain his position as leader and doesn't question his authority, save for that aforementioned mistake she made of taking the Black Lion without his permission (she does eventually get to fly it, though). And finally, I just like the voice that B.J. Ward uses for Allura. It's very soft and soothing, suitable for a princess, and it radiates the kindness, good heart, and, when push comes to shove, determination of the character.

But, while Allura does have many good points, there are some aspects to her character that do make me cringe. Some have accused her of being whiny or that she's a screaming, damsel in distress but I don't really agree with that. There are some moments where she can be a bit childish but I've never found her to be grating or overly whiny in those instances and while she does often need to be rescued during battles, I just chock it up to her not being an experienced pilot like the others. And as for her screaming, I think you'd scream too if you were in a combat ship that just got blasted and is now threatening to crash with you in it. Let's not forget that Allura does often fight back, both while piloting the Blue Lion and when she's not. Hell, before she became part of the Voltron Force, there was a moment where she used one of the castle's laser turrets to help Voltron defeat a particularly tough robeast, even though she was in danger of being fried by the firefight and the second season, she even kicks a little bit of ass in hand to hand combat. Damsel in distress? I think not. No, one aspect of Allura that I do kind of groan about is how naïve and easily fooled she is. She's very easily taken in by the tricks and traps that Zarkon and Haggar come up with to endanger the Voltron Force, especially whenever Haggar uses her magic. Granted, Haggar's magic is tricky and all but, even when the other members of the force come up with good reasons that they should be cautious about a certain situation, such as one time when they suspected that Allura's visiting aunt was actually Haggar in disguise (which it was), Allura still doesn't believe them. One especially frustrating instance of this happened in an episode where Haggar made Allura hallucinate that this white lion was actually the spirit of her father. Even after the lion was revealed to be nothing more than a tool of Haggar and it turned into a robeast, Allura still believed the hallucinations it threw at her, notably when the monster's tentacle-like mane grabbed the Blue Lion and Allura saw a vision of her mother appear on top of it, prompting her to say, "Mother, let me go." Even Keith got agitated with her at that point and said, "Princess, will you get it into your head? That's not your father or your mother. It's Haggar's witchcraft." So, that's the most frustrating aspect of her character, how easy it is to fool her and make her believe something that is obviously not true. She's also naïve when it comes to stuff like romance but since that's not a major focus of this show, I'm not going to dwell on it.

Please, no masturbating to these
images, at least not on my blog.
Before we move on, one other thing about Allura that I find interesting is the fact that, even though the producers eliminated instances of violence from the original Beast King GoLion in order to make Voltron kid-friendly, they left in the blatant fanservice concerning the princess that the source material provided. An early episode has her excitedly running into the main control room wearing nothing but a towel, which happened as a result of her being in the middle of a bath when she heard that they received a message from a neighboring kingdom, which is very rare. And the guys didn't waste any time in making her realize the mistake she just made, although Nanny immediately admonished them for laughing at Allura. That, however, was merely a prelude to the much more infamous moment involving Allura. In one episode, the Voltron Force takes time off from their training in order to go swimming and Allura, being a full-fledged member by this point, joins them... wearing a very skimpy bikini. I guess since a lot of kids' shows and movies, especially back then, tend to have at least one sexy female character (Ariel, Jasmine, Princess Sally Acorn, etc.), this isn't that shocking but still, I have to wonder the reactions parents had when they watched this episode with their kids back in the day! It probably didn't get any less awkward when the bit came up where Allura, after taking high-dive into the lake from atop the Blue Lion, loses her top! You don't see her bare breasts or anything and she covers herself up with the water when she realizes what happened but, man, if you tried doing that nowadays, people probably wouldn't be so quiet about it (not to mention that since, right before she dives, you get a clear look at her butt-crack!) Princess Allura: ruler of Planet Arus, pilot of the Blue Lion, and the character who's been turning young boys into men since 1984.

In addition to the Voltron Force themselves, you also have their allies, including others who inhabit the Castle of Lions. Coran (voiced by Peter Cullen), the castle diplomat and advisor to Princess Allura, is a character whom I have mixed emotions about. On the one hand, he is extremely wise, advising both Allura and the Voltron Force on extremely important matters and also commands the crew of the castle's defense systems, doing whatever he can to help Voltron when the latter is in need of assistance in battle. But, on the other hand, he's a little too overprotective of Allura and, like Nanny, it takes him a while to accept the fact that she's now the Blue Lion's permanent pilot. In fact, there are many times where he tries to keep Allura from joining with the other members of the force, going so far as to tie her to a chair in her room in one instance! Does he not realize that Allura is the ruler of Arus, not him, and that she could very easily have him replaced for not doing what she says? Eventually, though, Coran does seem to accept the fact that Allura is going to continue piloting the Blue Lion no matter what and, at one point, admonishes Nanny for complaining that she shouldn't be out training with the guys, but still, that was a rather annoying aspect of his personality (in a latter episode, he does suggest flying the Blue Lion himself in place of Allura but that idea is nixed). Another annoying thing about him is that he's so damn negative. There are many times where he doesn't seem to have much faith in the Voltron Force or believe that they can defeat Zarkon and seems to expect the worst (Allura actually told him one time that he was too negative). In fact, the first time they tried to launch all five lions in order to form Voltron, Coran initially wouldn't allow them to do so, feeling that it was too dangerous for them to go out. Keith made a very good point when he told Coran that, with Zarkon attacking, nowhere on Arus was safe and they were then allowed to do so. That part right there really baffled me because it seemed like Coran was letting his negativity and lack of faith overrule his judgment. Shouldn't he think that it would be better to actually put up a defense, especially since they now had access to Voltron, rather than just sit around and wait to be blown up? Coran may be a wise advisor but sometimes, I just don't know about him.

As overprotective and inhibiting as Coran can be when it comes to Allura, he's got nothing on Nanny (voiced by B.J. Ward), Allura's caregiver. This woman is just a pain in the ass. She's always on Allura's back about her piloting the Blue Lion, not wanting her to do so because of how dangerous it is and also because she feels it's not something that a princess should do. On the one hand, you can tell that she does care for Allura a great deal and just wants to keep her safe but at the same time, it seems like she doesn't get that Allura is doing this because she wants to protect her people or that being a ruler, especially a female one, is about more than just being cultured and looking pretty. Moreover, Nanny not only seems to dislike Allura's piloting the Blue Lion but also the very fact that she spends so much time with the guys. Her relationship with the men did not get off to a good start at all and even after she learns that they're the Voltron Force, she continues to criticize them and give them a hard time, especially when it comes to Allura since she feels that they're not the type of people that a cultured, sophisticated woman of royal blood should be consorting with. Nanny and Coran really get angry when they find Allura taking judo lessons with the guys, going as far as to pick her up and drag her back to the castle and they especially flip out when they see her sunbathing in her bikini in that one episode, again feeling that those are activities are beneath her station as princess. It's more than just simple scolding, though. Nanny treats Allura as if she's a child, trying to make all of her decisions for her and, in fact, the first thing that she does to Allura when she arrives at the castle is spank her when she's determined to pilot the Blue Lion again after that disastrous first attempt. Like Coran, shouldn't Allura be able to put Nanny in her place and tell her to stop interfering? I know she has a soft spot for Nanny but, still, at some point, enough should be enough. Nanny is so irritating that it's small wonder that, in the original Beast King GoLion, they actually killed her off. It's too bad that WEP's stance against violence and death spared her life in the English adaptation.

You wouldn't think that mice would be very loyal allies to the Voltron Force but, surprisingly, the five space mice (for the most part, only four of them are seen) who inhabit the Castle of Lions and have been Allura's friends since she was a child have helped them on quite a few occasions. Typically, the mice are mischievous and do stuff that annoys most of the castle's inhabitants, except for Allura, like stealing cheese from the kitchen and so forth but they are helpful in that they've done stuff like alert them to danger, help them in dealing with small threats inside the castle, like in one episode where it was invaded by a bunch of evil mice created by Haggar, and, most importantly, they're the ones who, early on in the series, gave the force the missing key to the Black Lion. Granted, they were the reason why it was missing but still, after some persuasion from Allura (apparently, she can both talk to and understand the mice when they tell her something), they gave it back, allowing them to form Voltron for the first time. They became such good friends to the Voltron Force that they're eventually made honorary members, trained by Pidge to be their own minute fighting force, and are even given their own small aircraft called the Mouse Plane. The episode where their small resistance force is introduced is pretty funny, what with their run-ins with Haggar's demonic cat and such but they actually prove to be useful in the battle Voltron gets into at the end of the episode (Zarkon is particularly furious at Haggar when he learns that mice aided in their defeat) and they also play an important role in the battle on Planet Doom at the end of the original GoLion run. If you want to know the mice's names, though, good luck figuring out what they are because they tend to change from episode to episode (yet another issue with this show). They only thing really distinguishing about them is their size and colors: there are two large mice who are light blue and pinkish purple, two smaller light blue mice, and the fifth, smallest mouse (it's eventually revealed that these smaller mice are their young). That smallest mouse only starts showing up in the later, U.S.-specific episodes, probably because he either wasn't born yet or was too small to leave the nest before (the real reason, though, is because the creators didn't dream him up until then). The large light blue mouse, being the oldest male, sort of acts as the leader, especially when they form their own little fighting force, but by the end of that episode, the pink one gets so sick of being bossed around by him that she takes it upon herself to actually whack him on the head (I laughed like crazy when I saw that as a kid)! Whether you think the space mice are cute or just annoying, there's no denying that they are a distinctive part of this show.

And while he may have been killed in a previous attack by Zarkon, the spirit of King Alfor (voiced by Peter Cullen), former ruler of Arus and father of Allura, does appear every now and again to give his daughter and the Voltron Force advice whenever they desperately need it, usually when it comes to a problem that they're having with Voltron. Since he's the one who created Voltron, his knowledge about how the robot works is imperative when they're in a jam. Unfortunately, Alfor tends to give them advice in cryptic riddles which, as Lance puts it at one point, isn't very helpful when they're in deep trouble and don't have much time to figure out what he means, even though they always do. Also, Alfor is often a deus ex machina who just shows up and gets the Voltron Force out of trouble when they, and as a result, the audience, least expect it, which is really cheap. I must confess that whenever he does show up, I roll my eyes and just think to myself, "Oh, it figures that they wouldn't get out of this on their own." On the other hand, there was one instance where he gave Allura the absolute worst advice, telling her to flee the castle because of impending danger but, when she did so, she ended up running into Lotor! At first, I thought it was perhaps a trick by Haggar but there was no such revelation, so it seems like the good king really dropped the ball then. So, yes, not one of my favorite aspects of the show, King Alfor.

A couple of characters who were once enemies of the Voltron Force but eventually become trusted allies are Princess Romelle and Prince Bandor of the planet Pollux which, in its introductory episode, is described as being Arus' evil doppelganger planet. I say that there were enemies at first but, while Bandor definitely had a hatred for Voltron and Planet Arus, Romelle (voiced by B.J. Ward) seemed to not care for the rift between the two planets... I think. In her first appearance, she looked excited about the prospect of her other brother being turned into a robeast to defeat Voltron but when we see her for the second time in that episode, she tells Bandor that, "War is nothing to be happy about," and that he shouldn't believe the promises that Lotor has made to him. Rather striking change of heart, right? From there on out, especially after she comes face to face with Allura (whom she looks exactly like, despite their being only cousins) for the first time, Romelle keeps up with that more noble attitude so I guess she was technically always a good person, despite the planet that she came from, but that first scene with her feels very out of place given how she is afterward (for that matter, the whole thing about her planet being Arus' evil twin is dropped after this episode as well, along with a lot of other plot points that we'll get into later). In any case, not only does Romelle look exactly like Allura (albeit with a lower voice) but she also has her same personality: good-hearted, caring, and willing to do whatever it takes to fight oppression. Unlike Allura, we don't get to see her ruling her planet as much since her father is still alive, at least during their introductory episode, and, after her first episode, she's held prisoner by Lotor for a long time but, from what we see of her, we can assume that she would be the same type of caring ruler that her cousin is. Even while she's held captive and tortured by Lotor, she remains faithful to the Voltron Force and refuses to help him defeat them in any way. Given her time as a slave, it's quite possible that Romelle hates Lotor even more so than Allura does, constantly calling him a monster and telling him that he has no redeeming qualities at all. At one point, when she's being held captive by Lotor aboard his ship and is being threatened in an attempt by Lotor to keep Bandor from attacking them, she's more than willing to let herself be sacrificed to keep Lotor from winning. But, most importantly, Romelle is the one who discovers Sven hiding in the caves beneath Planet Doom and her reassurance and faith in him is what frees him from his downtrodden, hopeless state of mind and makes him willing to help the Voltron Force while they're in the midst of a battle that they might lose. As Sven himself tells Keith after he and Romelle manage to help Voltron defeat the robeast he was fighting at that point, "She gave me back my life." And it probably won't surprise you to know that, in the episodes after that, we see the bond between Romelle and Sven grow even stronger to the point where they can be called an "unofficial" couple. So, in the end, she may have seemed to have been an enemy initially but Romelle proved that she's much more like Allura than just their physical similarities.

Unlike his sister, though, Prince Bandor (voiced by Neill Ross) was most definitely an enemy of the Voltron Force at first. He was really excited about the idea of his and Romelle's older brother being turned into a robeast that would be sent to defeat Voltron and, when the Voltron Force snuck into Castle Doom later on in that episode, Bandor was quick to try to fight and take them prisoner, even continuing to threaten them after he had been disarmed. And later on, when his brother-turned-robeast was unleashed to fight Voltron, Bandor cheered his brother on... that is, until Lotor, seeing that Voltron would probably win, attacked them both and then, after defeating his brother, took Romelle prisoner. From then on out, Bandor, who afterward became ruler of Pollux due to the "death" of his father (I'll explain later), swore alliance with the Voltron Force and vowed to defeat Zarkon and Lotor in any way that they could. With the forces of his planet at his disposal, Bandor became a very valuable ally to the Voltron Force, at one point doing everything that he could to help them when they were pinned to a deadly, black hole-like comet, first by changing the comet's orbit away from Arus and then trying to pry Voltron off of its surface (although that task eventually failed). And, of course, he did everything possible to free Romelle and, thanks to Sven, brother and sister were eventually reunited back on Planet Pollux. The only bad thing I have to say about Bandor is that, like Pidge, his voice can get really grating with how high-pitched and loud it is... and it doesn't seem like he can ever speak without yelling. It seemed like Neil Ross couldn't do any child voices without them being altered to sound weird and as unlike any young person as you can get (Bandor's voice is clearly Keith's, just altered to be much higher). His voice is not as irritating as Pidge's can be but still, whew...

And as for the high-ranking officials of Galaxy Garrison, which serves as the administrative center of the Galaxy Alliance, I don't have much to say about them since barely do anything of note throughout the series. They clearly support the Voltron Force and their cause to free Planet Arus from the threat of Zarkon's wrath but, because Arus is extremely far away from Earth and also because they've got their own problems in dealing with the heads of the Drule Empire who live closer to home, they usually can't do much more except sit around and discuss what the situation is. At several points in the show, though, they do give Coran the go ahead to help the Voltron Force when they're in trouble, although that said, they were reluctant to send anyone to help them when they were stuck on this black hole-like comet since they couldn't risk lowering their defenses and leaving vital areas such as their main power reserves unguarded (help did eventually come, although it wasn't at all effective in that situation). For the most part, though, the Galaxy Alliance gives full support to the Voltron Force, trusts them enough to send them out on missions, and one of the high-ranking officers went as far as to chastise and reprimand this one blowhard envoy who thought he knew better than them and ordered them to fight with really questionable tactics, including not using Voltron.

When it comes to the villains of Voltron, my favorite has to be none other than King Zarkon (voiced by Jack Angel) himself. Even though he's the series' big bad and the tyrannical ruler of Planet Doom whose ambition is to enslave the entire universe (that said, though, he also has superiors whom he must answer to), I find Zarkon to be a likable villain because of his sarcastic wit and sense of humor. It's really entertaining to hear him berate and insult those beneath him, even his own son, for their failures. The way he treats Lotor for his constant failures is especially funny, telling him stuff like, "Lotor, my beloved son, you're a nitwit," or, when Lotor tells him one time that he doesn't appreciate his talent, "Because you're a dummy and a failure." Moreover, it's also amusing how, after so many defeats at the hands of the Voltron Force, Zarkon starts to become skeptical of any plan that Lotor and Haggar (the latter of whom he once had a lot of confidence in) cook up. In one episode, Lotor informs Zarkon that he's had Haggar create a powerful windstorm on Arus and Zarkon's response is, "That news doesn't really excite me." One of my favorite verbal thrashings that Zarkon gives Lotor comes at the very beginning of one episode, where he tells him, "Can you and Haggar think of nothing to defeat that one little planet out there in space?" and when Lotor tells him of these Red Beret robots that Haggar has created, Zarkon sneers, "So, you've come up with another one of your marvelous inventions? What's so special about these red whatever robots?" Lotor then asks him to come to the arena to see said robots in action but his father responds, "I've been to the arena many times to see your robotic creations. They cavort about, spew flames, and make hideous sounds... they look evil but after they fight mighty Voltron, you can bring what's left home in a trashcan!" What I love about this is that, as we'll discuss later, this show gets extremely repetitive with the plots and monsters that Lotor and Haggar come up with to defeat the Voltron Force and so, when Zarkon is criticizing them the way he does, it's almost as if he's sort of breaking the fourth wall and noting how redundant the plots are becoming.

Of course, despite all of the verbal abuse he gives Lotor and Haggar for their failures, it's just as much Zarkon's fault that they can't capture Planet Arus since he doesn't just fire Lotor and Haggar and take the bull by the horns himself (he constantly tells Lotor that he's tired of his failures and yet, he never does relieve him of command). At one point, he tells Lotor that his constant failures are hurting their credibility with the other planets in the Drule Empire that Planet Doom is a part of but, if that's his concern, you have to wonder why he just doesn't do something about it himself instead of just sitting on his throne all day and complaining about the idiots that he's surrounded by. I doubt that doing that is what made him as powerful as he is and got him the numerous slaves and captive planets that he now has. Granted, you do hear in one episode that Zarkon is quite old and that his life has been prolonged far past normal but, at the same time, you see in an episode where Lotor challenges his father for his crown that Zarkon can still kick some ass when necessary so, again, why doesn't he just lead his attack forces and robeasts in capturing Arus himself? Maybe he's just become complacent in his old age and, at the same time, his ego is so big that he refuses to believe that any of these failures are his fault and so, he uses Lotor and Haggar as scapegoats. He does eventually come up with his own plan that's sure to crush Voltron and Arus (it actually would have worked were it not for the intervention of Sven) and, near the end of the original run, he leads an all-out attack on Planet Arus to destroy one of their most powerful weapons, as well as other schemes in the second season that he takes a more hands-on approach with, but those failures still don't keep him from giving Lotor a hard time, especially after Lotor is given the throne after Zarkon is deposed by the Drule Empire and forces him to pilot a robeast created in his image. Regardless of his weaknesses as a truly monstrous, tyrannical ruler, though, you still just have to love Zarkon for his sardonic wit and acid tongue, which are constantly aimed straight at Lotor.

YurakFor the first quarter of the series, the leader of Planet Doom's military forces is Yurak (voiced by Jack Angel), a commander who has clearly taken a lot of punishment during his career, as evidenced by his missing eye and cybernetic arm and torso. As Lotor would experience once he took over for him, no matter what he tried, Yurak was unable to capture Arus and destroy Voltron, earning a lot of scorn from Zarkon as well as the Planet Doom nobles, to the point where he was nearly banished from the planet. However, unlike Lotor, who would work closely with Haggar and use her various robeasts at every opportunity, Yurak didn't have much faith in the witch's magic and only reluctantly allowed her to assist him in his raids against Arus, mainly because Zarkon would force him into doing so. But, when Yurak was about to be banished from Planet Doom forever, he decided to take the ultimate leap of faith and allow both Haggar and Lotor to transform him into a robeast and allow him to battle the Voltron Force himself. Although Yurak did manage to give four of the lions a run for their money, it was all over once they came together and formed Voltron. In fact, Yurak's case is interesting in that his onscreen death is one of the few WEP didn't sidestep around when they edited the show from the Japanese original. His death isn't bloody, mind you, but, at the same time, he is definitively killed, which is a major rarity for this show.

Zarkon may be the show's big bad but the Voltron Force's true antagonist is his evil son, Prince Lotor (voiced by Lennie Weinrib). He doesn't show up until the series' fourteenth episode, where he replaces Yurak as the commander of Planet's Doom's military forces, but he quickly becomes the force's most persistent enemies. Like some of the show's other characters, Lotor gives me mixed feelings when it comes to the issue of his effectiveness. On the one hand, we do get a sense that he is much more ruthless and twisted than his father. While Zarkon is content to just sit on his throne and let his subordinates do his dirty work, Lotor isn't afraid to have blood on his hands. Not only is he always on the front lines whenever he attacks Planet Arus but he's also more than willing to fight someone in hand-to-hand combat, usually employing foul tactics as well as his own deadly skill in order to win. He takes a hands on approach in dealing with Planet Doom's slaves, doing God knows what to Princess Romelle at one point when he had her as a prisoner, and will hold someone or even a whole planet hostage in order to get what he wants. And, worst of all, it's obvious from his constant evil cackling that he gets pleasure in causing pain and misery in others. He'll even go as far as to kill his own men if they displease him in any way (those moments may be censored but you can tell what happened nevertheless). Even though those scenes are censored in this version, it's obvious when Lotor just mercilessly killed someone who failed him. There are two things that Lotor desires. One is his father's throne. You can tell that he has no love for his father whatsoever, feels that he's old and tired, and that he can be a greater (in other words, worse) ruler than he ever was. He not only challenges Zarkon to a fight for his crown at one point but goes as far as to make several attempts on Zarkon's life throughout the show, once trying to poison him and another time attempting to stab him with a "stun blade," the latter of which ends with him being imprisoned. In fact, he did acquire the throne near the end of the original episodes when the Drule Empire deposed Zarkon and he went as far as to force his father to pilot an enormous robeast built in his image, telling him that if he managed to defeat Voltron, he would be redeemed but, if he were destroyed, then that was simply his fate. Again, you know that Lotor would not give up his throne even if Zarkon did defeat Voltron, especially given how insanely power-hungry he becomes in those last episodes and, as I said, in the U.S.-specific season that came afterward where Zarkon reclaimed the throne, Lotor continued plotting to overthrow him.

The other thing that he desires most of all is Allura. When he first lays eyes on her in his introductory episode, he becomes captivated by her and later on, that captivation turns into a full-blown obsession. He first just wanted her to be part of his extensive harem (despite how evil he is, Lotor is apparently a real ladies' man and has lots of beautiful women all to himself) but after a while, that changes to him wanting her to rule the universe with him as his queen when he inherits his father's throne. He develops a similar, albeit not as strong, attraction to Princess Romelle due to her similarity to Allura, but he sends her to the Pit of Skulls when she refuses his advances, saying that he never really wanted her anyway (you can bet that he'd probably do something just as bad to Allura if he managed to get ahold of her but she still refused him). And that leads to some problems with Lotor's character. His obsession with Allura is one of the reasons why he constantly fouls things up. He constantly tries to both defeat Voltron and capture Allura, which often leaves an opening for his defeat. I know obsession is hard to get over but nevertheless, you'd think after so many defeats and verbal beatdowns by his father, Lotor would realize that Allura isn't worth it, that she will never love him in any way, and that he'd be better off just focusing on conquering Planet Arus. The very fact that he always fails whenever he tries to defeat Voltron is another thing that hurts Lotor's effectiveness as a villain. It seems like the guy just doesn't learn from his mistakes and keeps employing the same tactics of using Haggar's robeasts, which always end with the monsters getting sliced to pieces by Voltron. After a while, wouldn't you expect Lotor to tell Haggar that he's had enough with her robeasts and that he's going to come up with his own methods to defeat Voltron? (Due to his revolt against Zarkon later on, he does stop actively working with Haggar but you'd think he would have made that decision much earlier.) Every once in a while, he d employ a different method that, lo and behold, does almost work but, once those fail, he goes back to using the robeasts. So to sum Lotor up, in some ways he's a ruthless badass and, in other ways, he's a complete moron who makes the same mistakes again and again and yet, keeps on using the same tactics.

Haggar catFinally, you have Haggar (voiced by B.J. Ward), the evil and powerful witch who separated Voltron into the five robot lions and uses her magic to create the robeasts that Zarkon uses to try to defeat Voltron. She's also capable of casting spells on people that make them hallucinate, fall into deep sleeps, etc., and she can also disguise herself as allies of the Voltron Force in order to fool them. Although he begins to lose faith in her abilities after so many of her robeasts are defeated by Voltron, Haggar remains loyal to both Zarkon and Lotor, going as far as to help the former when he's made a serious mistake that he's sure to pay a heavy price for. It's also hinted that she is willing to help Lotor take the throne from his father, as long as he continues to employ her magic and give her special benefits, but, at the end of the original episodes when Lotor has become king and tells her that she's on her own, she betrays him and actually helps Voltron out of a trap that Lotor had him in (which doesn't make sense seeing as how, earlier, she wanted to destroy him after he wasted her Zarkon robeast; okay, she wanted to do it herself but still, that was idiotic on her part). In the U.S.-specific episodes that came afterward, Haggar tends to go back and forth from helping Zarkon to helping Lotor behind his father's back. I must say that I really like Haggar's design since it's not the typical design for a witch with a hooked nose, pointy hat, and such but that it's more demonic, with the green skin, warts, and glowing yellow eyes. Plus, B.J. Ward does a great job in giving her a memorable, cackling voice. Unfortunately, like Lotor, Haggar doesn't learn from her mistakes and continues to make robeasts that, despite any initial promise that they have, are eventually defeated by Voltron. Hell, there was even one instance where she created a duplicate of Voltron that actually managed to attack and damage him very effectively but, when a couple of his appendages separated, the duplicate couldn't sense them because Haggar didn't design him to fight the lions! Okay, now that's just a moment of pure dumbassery on her part. She knows that Voltron can separate since, again, she's the one who did that to him in the first place and yet, she forgets to account for that? No wonder her and Lotor's schemes keep screwing up! Haggar may be skilled in her magic but it's too bad that she apparently has a lot of brain farts when coming up with robeasts. And we can't leave without mentioning Haggar's blue cat, Cova (I only remember them mentioning his name once), nor should we dwell on him since he doesn't really do much except act as a spy for Haggar and terrorize the space mice whenever he gets a chance. He has managed to injure some of the main characters, including Sven, though, so that counts for something.

Kieth on Black LionBefore they form Voltron in each episode, the members of the Voltron Force must first deploy the five lions that eventually come together to make up his body and they typically attempt to defeat their enemies with them first. While the lions are all similar to each other, mainly due to their flight capabilities, the fact that each one is powered by an energy crystal located in the center of its body, that they all require keys in order to activate them, and have similar weapons, each one does have its own distinguishing features and I'm not just referring to their colors either. Their designs seem like they have an aesthetic to them rather than just being random and meant to simply look cool.  The most impressive lion in my opinion is the Black Lion, which makes up Voltron's torso. I really like his design. Not only is he the largest of the lions but he also has a lot of impressive aspects to his armor, such as that red plating with the Castle of Lions crest and cross on his chest, those yellow ears that, when he becomes Voltron, stick straight up and look almost like horns as a result, and those vertically-shaped wings on his back that are a distinguishing feature of Voltron himself. And, of course, Voltron's face is inside his mouth, which is revealed when the mouth opens as wide as it can at the end of the transformation sequence. The Black Lion also seems to have a bit of sentience to him seeing as how, at the end of the first episode, he guided down the slave ship that the space explorers stole from Planet Doom while he was still encased inside of the lion statue sitting atop the tower at the front of the castle. And while he shares a lot of weapons with the other lions, he does have some abilities all his own, such as being able to fire a beam of white energy from the cross in his chest and a plasma gun that materializes out of the bolt in his shoulder.

Since they make up Voltron's arms, the Green and Red Lions are the smallest of the lions, with the Green Lion being the smallest of them all, which is fitting given that his pilot is Pidge. He also has the most stream-lined and sleek body of all the lions and, along with the Red Lion, has the most ferocious-looking face, with his mouth always agape in a snarl. His most specific weapons are turret guns that can pop out of one or both shoulders and fire spiky projectiles at attackers. The Red Lion is a little bit bigger than the Green one and has more of a blocky structure to his body, which results in Voltron's arms not exactly matching up after he's formed as well as one arm facing to the front whereas the other is positioned off to the left. The Red Lion's specific weapon is very similar to the Green one's, only instead of two turret blasters, he can produce laser guns with three barrels on one or both shoulders. The guns' central barrel fires the lasers while the others fire missiles which, along with the weapons that are available to all the lions, makes the Red one quite a formidable foe. The Blue and Yellow Lions that make up Voltron's feet and legs are much more massive than the Green and Red ones, with bulkier body structures and stronger-built heads that are very adept at being Voltron's feet. In fact, the Blue Lion is the second largest lion and also has a lot of weapons that are specific to him. He has vertically-positioned turrets that he can form out of one or both shoulders, is able to spew a tidal wave of water out of his mouth, and he can fire his claws like missiles. And, unlike the other lions, the Blue Lion is capable of functioning very well in water. The Yellow Lion has the most unique details to his design in that he's the only one of the lions to have blue eyes and his large ears have black and red tape running through them. His main weapon of attack is the plasma cannon mounted on his back. I always thought that he looked like he was the toughest of the lions just based on the way his head looks and how bulky his body is.

As I've been saying, despite their specific weapons, the lions share a variety of others. They can all create a double-edged dagger in their mouths that cut through metal and can be used to stab and slash through their enemies and they also all have cannons that they can produce out of their shoulders, lasers that they can shoot from their tail-tips, and large variety of missiles that they can fire. Each lion's head can also detach from its body and fly by itself in case of an emergency. With all of these weapons, you'd think that the lions themselves would be enough to protect Planet Arus. Actually, no, they're not. The basic formula of each episode is that, whenever Zarkon's forces attack, the Voltron Forces deploy and, at first, attempt to defeat their enemies with the lions, which 99.9% of the time results in them getting their asses kicked and with no choice but to form Voltron. In fact, Lotor's plans of attack often involve trying to destroy the lions before they can merge or separating one from the rest to ensure that there's no way they can do so; in other words, it's a well-known fact that the lions are actually quite weak and the bad guys are constantly trying to exploit that Achilles Heel. It sucks that the lions, despite how cool they look, are so useless against the robeasts and battle cruisers that Zarkon attacks them with but, I guess if they were too strong, you'd almost never see Voltron, which would hurt the show's popularity with children. Still, the show's original creators could have had the lions win at least a few battles by themselves, which would have helped make them seem less useless. In fact, the episode where Sven is injured and sent away for medical attention, forcing the lions to fight a robeast without the aid of Voltron, is the only one I can think of where they were able to succeed without the robot warrior and that was actually a pretty good, albeit brief, fight since they had to use strategy to defeat the monster instead of relying on Voltron's near invincibility. Given how repetitive this show would become with that formula of them having to form Voltron after getting thrashed, it really makes you wish that there had been more battles like that where the pilots had to use their brains in order to win. Again, I know the real reason why they used Voltron all the time but still, it wouldn't have hurt to mix it up a little every once in a while.

Before we move on to Voltron himself, I want to address one little detail that's always bugged me ever since I was a kid. It sort of annoys me how, except for Pidge, no one's uniform matches with the color of the lion they pilot. I give Hunk some slack since the orange color of his uniform, while not exact, is close enough to his Yellow Lion but the colors of the other pilots' uniforms have always aggravated in how they don't match their lions: Keith's uniform is red, even though he pilots the Black Lion, Allura's is pink but her lion is the Blue one, and Lance flies the Red Lion but his suit is blue! Does that not feel a little off to anyone else? I guess they gave Keith the red uniform since they felt that red was the most suitable color for the leader to wear (which, going by the color logic, would have meant that Sven would have been the one flying the Black Lion during his brief amount of time on the team) but, I don't think it would have been too much of a big deal for his suit to be black like his lion. Heck, after Sven left the team, Keith could have easily taken his black suit since they're roughly the same size and given his red suit to Lance. That was the one that always bugged me the most, that Lance piloted the Red Lion while wearing a blue uniform. It gets to me even more when you see him riding through the lava in the volcano where his lion is stationed while wearing that suit, which is why I put an image of it here. There's no reason at all why he shouldn't have been the pilot of the Blue Lion (there is one episode where he does when the princess is unable, which was refreshing to see) but, since the princess was going to take Sven's place on the team, they must have felt that it would work best if she piloted the lion that's the second most massive next to the Black one. If that's the case, I don't see any reason why she couldn't have a blue uniform that's made for a woman. Just because she's a woman doesn't mean that her uniform had to be pink. And before you say that it wouldn't work for them to have a blue woman's uniform, then how did she find a pink one intended for a woman if, one, there's no Pink Lion (try to imagine that), and two, they never intended for a woman, let alone the princess, to be a member of the Voltron Force? See how that logic doesn't hold any water whatsoever? It's just a trivial nitpick but, every time I see pilots whose uniform colors don't match the colors of the lions they pilot, it's only natural for me to think, "This just doesn't feel right."

At least once in just about every episode (that is, after they resurrect him), you see the sequence of the lions coming together to form Voltron. Keith typically starts it by saying, "Ready to form Voltron," or, "Let's form Voltron," and then, while making the preparations, says, "Activate interlock. Dyna-therms connected. Infra-cells up. Mega-thrusters are go!" All five pilots, in a kaleidoscope shot, then usually say, "Let's go, Voltron Force!" or simply, "Voltron" as we then see the lions fly up in formation. The Black Lion prepares to form the body of Voltron by losing his front legs and tail (I guess they're pulled inside his body) and his vertically-positioned red wings flail outwards. Meanwhile, the other lions' limbs fold up into their bodies as the prepare to become Voltron's arms and legs. When everything's ready, the bodies of the Blue and Yellow Lions straighten up at a right angle in proportion to their heads in order to form Voltron's feet and legs while the Green and Red Lions connect to either side of the Black one's body to create the arms. After that's done, the Blue and Yellow Lions fuse themselves to the back legs of the Black one in order to complete the formation of Voltron's legs. All this time, Keith is going through the checklist, saying, "Form feet and legs! Form arms and body (later changed to, 'Form arms and torso!')," before topping it off by saying, "And I'll form the head!" right before the Black Lion's ears perk up to become horn-like and he opens his mouth to reveal Voltron's face (a face that, I might add, seems to change its expression depending upon the circumstances and even, at one point, moved its lips along with Keith giving a command). That's when Voltron flies down and goes into his battle stance, clanging his arms together and having the lion faces of his arms and legs roar at the screen before posing off to the right. Every once in a while, they use a different formation sequence where you see the back of the Black Lion as he prepares to become the body and then, you see the other lions attach themselves to the body in one shot before getting a full-on close-up of Voltron's head as it emerges from the Black Lion's mouth, but the one I just described is what you usually see whenever Voltron makes his entrance. By the way, there have been a couple of moments in the show where Allura has flown the Black Lion while forming Voltron and yet, Keith is the one who still spouts off the checklist. She did get to say, "And I'll form the head this time," and, in a later episode, "Form Blazing Sword!" even though was still in the Blue Lion and, somehow, manage to form the sword, but still, it's like, "Keith, stop hogging the commands. Let her do it since she's flying the Black Lion!" In any case, I don't know how anyone could not like Voltron's design. That is such a cool, iconic look for the hero of a cartoon and is the epitome of how cool it was to be a kid in that general time period, even if, like me, you never saw an episode of the show until much later.

While the lions hardly ever stand much of a chance whenever they face Zarkon's robeasts, Voltron is just the opposite. He's so freaking powerful that, when he comes into play, it's a sure thing that the bad guys are shit out of luck. Every once in a while, Voltron does face a robeast or some other challenge that really damages or even comes very close to defeating him but, for the most part, his appearance means another failure for the bad guys. I guess you could say that, like the spirit of King Alfor, Voltron is a deus ex machina too but, at least Voltron is something that you know they do rely on in order to battle Zarkon, while King Alfor often just comes out of nowhere and either fixes everything for them or leads them down the right path instead of having them figure out for themselves, which makes him feel more intrusive. In any case, Voltron has a plethora of weapons to use against his enemies, from laser eye-beams to flamethrowers called Lion Torches that are built into the heads of his limbs, proton missiles that also fire from the heads of his limbs, a powerful Electro-Force Cross that comes out of the cross that's branded on the crest on his torso, an electro-saber that he forms by attaching together two parts that spring up from his shoulders (it's basically a giant form of the dagger weapons that the lions can form in their mouths), a Frisbee-like weapon with sharp points around its edge, and, although rarely used, turrets in the tips of his "horns" that fire a multitude of needle-like projectiles as well as ice-beams. He also two devastating weapons that he often uses as finishing moves. One is where he fires the lion heads of his appendages as missiles that can rip right through an enemy. The other, and the most commonly used, is his powerful Blazing Sword. Whenever you hear Keith yell, "Form Blazing Sword!" you can almost guarantee that the battle is at its end. Voltron puts his "hands" together with a loud clang and then pulls them apart to reveal the sword's glowing blade before taking his trademark battle stance where he holds the sword up into the sky with his right arm and has the head of his left arm snarl off to the right (I must confess that when I was a kid, I imitated that quite a bit whenever I was playing), a pose that you see either from the front or the back (mostly the front). After he's formed it, Voltron then takes his Blazing Sword and slices up his enemy, either once and then waiting for it to explode or doing it several times before the enemy blows. Either way, the battles just about always end with the robeast going up in a literal blaze of glory, with Voltron having scored another victory while the bad guys are forced to retreat. There have been some robeasts who have managed to avoid being slain by the Blazing Sword and continue fighting Voltron but, for the most part, that weapon is the last thing they see before being turned into scrap.

Planet Arus also has another means of defense in the form of the Castle of Lions itself. In fact, like the lions and Voltron, the castle goes through its own transformation during the first few episodes of the show. When you first see it, it looks like a traditional old castle that you'd see in fairy tales and, in fact, is quite mysterious looking with how it's surrounded by mist when the space explorers first find it. It has an even more eerie feel to it when they go inside and it's completely dark due to the attacks it's suffered from Zarkon's forces, with the only light source being candles held by Coran. Needless to say, you wouldn't think that the castle would be capable of defending anything given its old-fashioned design and how it's been badly damaged by the attacks from Zarkon. But, when the space explorers are taken into the castle's bowels by Coran and Allura, you see that there is a lot of advanced technology hidden within the place, with the master control room that Coran uses to monitor everything going on, the launch room for the lions that's found underneath the control room, and an elevator that leads down into the castle's basement area, which contains the royal tomb where King Alfor's spirit resides. The latter is also where, in the fifth episode, Allura and Coran are directed to a button by King Alfor that, when pressed, turns the castle from a classical-looking keep to a modern, shiny metal fortress whose highly advanced technology is apparent from the outset and also has an assortment of defenses, which Allura herself shows off from the get-go by using an outside laser turret to help Voltron deal with the robeast he's currently battling. From there on out, the castle becomes a very dependable means of defense, with its impressive arsenal of laser turrets and missiles, all of which are overseen by Coran in the control room, in addition to the fact that it's the headquarters of the Voltron Force and enables them to quickly reach their lions whenever trouble brews. And, as demonstrated near the end of the episodes adapted from GoLion, the castle can even become a spaceship when the need arises, with the members of the Voltron Force being about as shocked as you probably are when Coran reveals this! This spaceship proves valuable in helping Voltron in the final of the original episodes when Lotor has the giant robot caught in a deadly trap.

You can't talk about Voltron without mentioning the myriad of robeasts that Haggar has come up with to try to defeat the powerful robot. I'm not going to talk about every single one of them since, one, it would go on forever, and two, some of them are so easily defeated by Voltron that they're not even worth the time. I can say, however, that the designs of some of these things are quite creative and look very menacing. Actually, there seems to be a gradual transition in the nature of the robeasts throughout the show because, at first, they seem to be living, flesh and blood creatures with cybernetic aspects to their bodies. We do know from Yurak's transformation as well as that of Prince Avok, Romelle and Bandor's brother, and a creature that's from a race known as Sand People that normal creatures can be transformed into robeasts by Haggar's magic and scientific knowhow. However, as the show goes on, the robeasts begin looking less like enormous, powerful living creatures and more like typical giant robots and battle-cruisers, with some of them even having pilots. When I was a kid, I was put off by this change because I thought the concept of robeasts being living monsters created by Haggar's magic, or even being made from normal creatures, was much cooler than just typical giant fighting machines and I still think that, even though some of these latter robeasts do look nice and manage to give Voltron a run for his money. And that's another thing: the inconsistency with how tough the robeasts are. While Voltron was able to easily destroy the first robeast he faced, which kicked the asses of the lions when they faced him, the one that came after that was much more of a threat to him and could have easily defeated him if Allura hadn't intervened with the use of one of the castle's laser turrets. You'd think that Haggar would have seen how close that robeast came to succeeding and decided to build on that for her future creations but, instead, we get a long line of robeasts whom Voltron is able to slice into mincemeat with little to no trouble, with only a few managing to be a real threat. It's small wonder that they never managed to conquer Planet Arus. But, in any case, let's take a look at some of the robeasts that I think are actually cool for one reason or another.

Nipplecannotz2ClawbeastI really like the design of the first robeast that the Voltron Force ever faces, with his evil red eyes, nasty mouth filled with sharp teeth, big, bat-like ears and wings on his back, and all of the cybernetic attachments to his body like those sharp daggers sticking out of his chest, the belt around his waist, and the cuffs on his wrists. The lions manage to hold their own with this robeast for a little bit but he quickly overwhelms them and sends them crashing to the ground, knocking everyone unconscious. That episode ends on a cliffhanger with the robeast laughing evilly as he looks down on the incapacitated lions and I was always frustrated as a kid because I never got to see the episode after that where they formed Voltron for the first time and, needless to say, kicked that robeast's ass. The second robeast that Voltron faced was a big, bulky Cyclops guy, with enormous muscles and lots of spikes adorning his body as well as two cannon turrets protruding out of his chest. As I said, he proves to be quite a dangerous opponent for Voltron, with his ability to produce two blades from his back, extend spikes from other sections of his body such as his thighs and feet, and fire missiles not only from the turrets on his chest but also from his belt. Even when Voltron produces his Blazing Sword, the robeast still isn't fazed and not only manages to dodge the sword but knocks it out of Voltron's hand at one point. Like I said earlier, were it not Allura, this robeast may have defeated Voltron because he was ultimately trying to destroy his circuits, which would have rendered him helpless. Even though this next robeast was easily defeated by Voltron, I find him to be fascinating because he was apparently a human whom Haggar mutated into a robeast, which is hard to believe due to how un-humanlike he is, with a body that looks more like an insect than a human, a pointed face with one huge eye, long claws, and an enormous mace that he uses as his main weapon. I couldn't believe it when the guy's sister, who was working with Zarkon to sabotage the Castle of Lions since he promised freedom to her, her brother, and the other slaves if she did so, said that thing was her brother when he arrived because, again, the thing doesn't look remotely human. It's weird because other people and creatures that were turned into robeasts over the course of the series managed to keep a hint of their original form, so it makes you wonder what went wrong with this guy. In any case, while this robeast does manage to damage the Blue Lion during the initial part of their fight, he's easily cut down by Voltron.

Yurak barely changed at all when he was transformed into a robeast, mainly just growing some longer ears and have two cybernetic arms instead of one. And unlike other normal creatures who were turned into these monsters, Yurak didn't lose all sense of himself and managed to retain his personality, going so far as to thrash the Voltron Force purely out of retaliation for all of the humiliation they had given him previously. He did manage to give the lions a lot of punishment, with his arm cannons, hooks and chains that spring out of his torso, and lasers that he can fire from the tips of his ears, but once Keith, who had been separated from the group due to a hand-to-hand fight he had with Lotor, rejoined the group and they formed Voltron, Yurak was doomed, as Voltron literally clipped his ears before slicing him right down the middle with the Blazing Sword, resulting in his body exploding. Another robeast whom I remember simply due to his design was the Lion Tamer Robeast who battled the Voltron Force when Princess Allura, as punishment for wearing that bikini while they were swimming, was locked in her room at the castle, preventing them from forming Voltron the better half of the fight. Again, this robeast's design was absolutely bizarre, with one large red eye in his head as well as a bunch of other, similar markings scattered along his body. Like Yurak did when he became a robeast, this monster did manage to throw the lions around quite a bit with his special, lion tamer-inspired powers and weapons, notably whips that would extend out of the tops of his wrists, but, yet again, he was easily slain once Voltron was formed. Avok, the brother of Princess Romelle and Prince Bandor, volunteered to be turned into a robeast in one episode and he became by far the most human-looking of any of them. He basically just looks like an enormous, purplish blue man wearing a kilt, cape, helmet, and boots but, despite his rather mundane look, he proved to be a little bit bigger than Voltron and, had Lotor not got impatient and decided to destroy both of them, Avok may have actually defeated the robot since he was quite capable of holding his own against him in hand-to-hand combat. A robeast that was basically just a robot like Voltron was the red (originally green), bird-like robeast piloted by a smug and egotistical alien pilot known as Karp. This machine was built mainly for speed instead of power and with it, Karp not only managed to wreak a lot of havoc on Planet Arus with it but he was also able outmaneuver and attack Voltron very badly, to the point where it was only through chance that he was able to defeat him. The robeast that Voltron faced in the two-part episode involving a clone of Coran's long-lost son was another one that came very close to defeating Voltron, able to block his Blazing Sword with the shields on his arms and almost managed to saw him to bits with the buzz-saws he could produce from his body. But, once again, Lotor's insistence to finish Voltron off as quickly as possible blew the robeast's to destroy him and ended up with him getting blown to bits instead (Voltron got blown apart too but the lions were able to reform eventually). And last but not least, you have the robeast built in his image that Zarkon uses to battle Voltron near the end of the series' original run. As with a select few other robeasts, Zarkon manages to really damage Voltron and even cuts the Blazing Sword... but then, King Alfor's spirit suddenly appears and tells Allura how to repair the sword and defeat Zarkon, which is what happens (you see why I'm not a big fan of Alfor?) Zarkon, of course, manages to eject from the robeast's body, ending a rather disappointing fight, in my opinion. It should have been epic to have the big bad of the show in control of his own robeast and finally able to battle Voltron himself but, instead, King Alfor once again had to solve everything for them nice and neatly when they are on the ropes, really hurting the fight's impact.

Haggar also came up with some other robeasts and plans of attack that took a much stealthier approach, often as a way to divert the Voltron Force's attention in some way before unleashing one of the typical gigantic robeasts on Arus. One episode featured a handsome prince named Bokar who saves Princess Allura when she gets into trouble during a grueling training regiment and, having earned everyone's trust (everyone except for Lance), is considered to be a new permanent pilot for the Blue Lion, seeing as how this was directly after the episode where Allura joined the team and Coran and Nanny still weren't enthusiastic about that idea. Bokar, however, is revealed to actually be a robeast in disguise and, having gotten inside the castle, attempts to eliminate the Voltron Force by planting deadly snakes here and there. Although Allura initially writes off Lance's suspicions about Bokar as nothing but jealousy (truth be told, that is one of the reasons why he's not impressed with him), the prince is soon revealed for the monster that he is when he takes Allura hostage inside of the Blue Lion and later, after the princess is saved, reverts back to his cobra-like robeast form, where he's dispatched by Voltron. The very next episode featured a young girl named Twila who appears to have been a slave who escaped from Planet Doom and earns the sympathy of Hunk but the other members of the force, especially Keith, aren't so sure. Those suspicions prove to be correct when Twila is shown to be a spy sent by Zarkon, who has promised freedom for her, her brother-turned-robeast, and the other slaves if she sabotages the Castle of Lions, making it easy for her brother to destroy Arus and Voltron. Apparently, Haggar also has her under her control, giving her supernatural powers that allow her to sabotage the castle much more easily (either that or she was naturally psychic; it's never made clear which). As I said earlier, her brother is easily cut down by Voltron and Twila, according to Coran, is sent back to her home planet afterward. Haggar has also come up with plans to deal with Allura herself, once sending a bunch of poisonous flowers down to Arus that renders many, including Allura, extremely ill, and another time where she cast a spell on the princess that made it look as if she were dead when, in reality, she was in a deep sleep, which Lotor was hoping to use as a means to take her back to Planet Doom for himself. Haggar also created a castle resembling that told of in an old legend on Arus and, when Pidge and several other children journeyed inside in the hopes of finding the fabled treasure, Haggar sprung her trap and held the kids upside down inside one of the castle's bells, prompting the rest of the Voltron Force to come to the rescue (a lot of them got trapped as well and it was up to Keith to save them). Another plan involved tiny robeasts that looked like normal tadpoles but, after some kids, including Pidge, took some of them home as pets, they transformed into monstrous, three-eyed frogs that wreaked havoc with their ability to burn and melt through anything. Those tiny robeasts were only a distraction for the main, gigantic robeast of that episode to surprise and attack Voltron. That plan was similar to an earlier one where they used a bunch of evil alien mice to infiltrate the castle and cripple its defenses, including the launch area leading to the lions, by chewing on the wires and electrical circuits. As you might expect, the space mice of the castle really came in handy in helping the Voltron Force destroy these little intruders. And finally, you have the clone of Coran's long lost son, Garrett, who, like Prince Bokar before him, managed to gain the trust of the Voltron Force and, again, was allowed to fly the Blue Lion. He was able to temporarily incapacitate Coran and take control of the castle, leading the Voltron Force on a wild goose chase when enemy spacecraft were detected nearby and, in the process, making them vulnerable to one of the deadliest robeasts they ever faced. Like I said before, that plan almost worked but Lotor was too impatient to destroy Voltron and had the robeast be blasted along with him with a powerful laser cannon. Garrett himself was eventually injured in a firefight that ensued between him and the Voltron Force once they had defeated the robeast and was imprisoned off-screen.

In an attempt to create a firm connection between this show and the Vehicle Voltron iteration, there are some occasional moments here where WEP spliced in footage from Armored Fleet Dairugger XV. This mainly occurs late in the series when the Drule Empire starts to feel that Zarkon is causing more trouble than he's worth and we see the meetings between the officials as they try to decide whether they should take the throne from him or not. You see them the most during the last episodes adapted from Beast King GoLion, where they ultimately make the decision to get rid of Zarkon and allow Lotor to take the throne, even letting him punish his father in any way he wishes. Of course, once things start going downhill for Planet Doom during that final battle, they begin to regret that decision. The very last of the original episodes ends with footage of some of the main characters from Vehicle Voltron, most notably Pidge's brother Chip, when it's undecided whether or not the Galaxy Alliance will send the Voltron Force somewhere else on another assignment now that Zarkon and Lotor have been temporarily taken down. And there are bits of dialogue during the sporadic Galaxy Garrison scenes where the members occasionally discuss sending help to the Voltron Force but they're unable to due to their own battles with the Drule Empire, which eludes to the events of Vehicle Voltron. It is interesting how WEP tried to connect these two shows and make it feel like they are taking place in the same universe.

When it comes to the art design and animation of the show, Voltron is half and half in my opinion. On the plus side, I think the layouts and backgrounds are very well done and nice to look at. The planets featured in the series all look interesting and are well-conceived, with Arus being a lush, peaceful planet that has the Castle of Lions overlooking the countryside where the inhabitants live in moderate villages amongst the forests (it's said that Arus used to have larger cities but they were completely leveled by Zarkon's attacks), while Planet Doom is a barren, creepy-looking place with Zarkon's dark castle (think of it as the polar opposite of the technologically advanced form that the Castle of Lions takes on in very early in the series) looming over a landscape where slaves are forced to work while walking amongst hundreds of bones strewn across the ground and have to deal with enormous, vulture-like birds that wait for one of them to drop dead. Speaking of the castles, the insides of both of them are quite detailed, with the Castle of Lions having the main control room, the lounge area, Allura's bedroom, the small rooms where the members of the Voltron Force sleep, the large dining room, the launch area that takes the pilots to the lions, and the basement area where the royal crypt is located, and Castle Doom having Zarkon's throne room, Haggar's nearby laboratory, and the Roman-style arena where the inhabitants of Planet Doom watch battles involving the robeasts. While we don't see it much in the show, Galaxy Garrison, the home of the Galaxy Alliance that sent the space explorers to Arus in the first place, is a bustling, futuristic city with a lot of buildings and skyways that are designed in a way that is typical of what comes to mind when you think about Earth cities in the distant future. And the episode that takes place on Pidge's home planet Balto does a good job in getting across the image of a planet that has gone through absolute hell and has been devastated beyond all help. Not only is the art direction very good but the same goes for the character designs. The humans, for the most part, look like real, good-looking people (emphasis on, "for the most part," which I'll elaborate on shortly) and the alien creatures, especially the robeasts, often have some very creative looks to them as well, which I went into earlier. And, as I've said, the designs of the lions and Voltron himself are just awesome and downright iconic.

Unfortunately, I don't think I can give the same amount of praise to the actual animation. I shouldn't be too hard on it, seeing as how anime, for the most part, isn't known for having animation that can rival that of something like Disney (unless it's a film produced by Studio Ghibli), and also because I've seen animes that have worse animation than Voltron but, nevertheless, it is pretty lackluster. While it looks okay in some instances, for the most part it's rather stiff and not the best animation one could ask for. The animation of Voltron himself, the lions, the robeasts, and the spaceships sometimes look really impressive, especially during battle sequences, but for the most part, there's not much to write home about in this aspect. And going back to the character designs for a moment, while they do look good for the most part, the details of the designs tend to vary from episode to episode so much that, in some instances, they don't exactly look like themselves (notice how pointed Lotor's chin is sometimes). While this is certainly not uncommon when it comes to animated series in general, it's rather noticeable here and can be a little bit distracting, particularly since there are some times where Allura looks kind of ugly, mainly due to her nose looking a bit bigger than it should. I saw some images of her looking rather bizarre at one point before I started re-watching the show and I actually thought it was someone else wearing her clothes! And there are many, many instances where a person's clothes will change in-between shots, which is another common mistake in animation. The animation for this show is pretty simple and often flawed for the most part and it's actually made to look even worse by some of the awkward editing that WEP had to do in order to get around the violence from the original GoLion, which we'll talk about now.

Even though Voltron was aired in syndication, which allowed other animes such as RoboTech to be shown without much censorship, WEP decided that, in order to best market the show towards kids, they would have to do a lot of editing in order to get around the violence and fairly dark tone of the original Beast King GoLion. Even if you've never seen the original version of this series, there are many ways you can spot the edits if you know what you're looking for. The most obvious is when there's a sudden cut in scenes where someone is being threatened with or charged at with a weapon or if you see them get shot but you don't see the aftermath. These typically happen in scenes where Lotor becomes frustrated with the failures of his men and pulls his laser sword out on them. Even with the sudden cuts where you don't see the outcome, you're still shown enough to where you can guess what happened which, in some ways, is even more disturbing than had they actually shown it. If you do see some people get shot but it's written off as them either having been stunned, knocked out, or that they were actually robots, you can bet that you actually just saw someone get killed. In addition, spaceships that get blown up are typically either said to have been evacuated or that were being piloted by robots. There's one episode where the Voltron Force gets aboard this damaged Doom cruiser in order to recover some jewels that were pirated from Arus and in one room, they come across a bunch of guards who are clearly dead but are said to be unconscious instead. The same goes for an episode where Zarkon visits a slave planet run by his nephew (who is completely human, I might add) and, at one point, they walk across the backs of a bunch of slaves who are lying in the sand because, "they refuse to work." Yeah, they're just refusing work, which is why they're not at all fazed by being walked on. And finally, if someone apparently dies on-camera but you're told later on in some way that they're either recovering, have been sent back home, or are just fine, it's sure thing that those characters really did die. Some examples include when Sven was sent away to recover after having been injured during his fight with Haggar and her robeast, in one episode where a creature called a Medusa that Pidge befriended collapses after running a long ways with Pidge on her back but you're told that she's been sent back to her home planet, and in the episode involving the Sand People where one that Allura became attached to was turned into a robeast and Voltron defeated him in battle but we're told that he was simply flung into a deep sleep as a result and eventually recovered. If Peter Cullen as the occasional narrator chimes in to let you know that things turned out all right, as he did in that latter example, that's a sure sign that they really didn't.

Some major characters in the series actually got killed in the Japanese original but were spared in the American version. The one that I find to be the most impressive involves the character Sven. While in the American version he's injured in that battle with Haggar and her robeast and is taken away to another planet for recovery, which you later find out was attacked by Zarkon and eventually led to Sven having to live in the caves on Planet Doom, it's a much different story in the Japanese version. There, the character of Shirogane was actually killed in that fight and the man whom Princess Romelle (Amue in that version) encounters on the villains' planet is his twin brother, Ryou. I thought that was quite brilliant when I found that out, since you'd never know given how both characters look exactly alike. Can you think of another instance like this where a character lived and died in two different versions of a show? I can't. Also, Nanny's Japanese counterpart, Hys, was killed near the end of that version and the same goes for Haggar (Honerva), who was killed by Lotor's Japanese counterpart. While their death scenes are, naturally, not shown in Voltron, you may notice that, after a certain episode, you don't see them unless it's stock footage... well, that is until the America-specific season where they are indeed brought back into regular action but, regardless, that's another sign that they were originally killed. Both Shirogane and Hys had funeral scenes as well as moments of people visiting their graves in the Japanese original, which were also nixed.

WEP's edits weren't always successful, though. In some instances, they didn't cut out enough to convincingly make you think that you didn't see a little bit of somebody being killed or some other atrocity happening. For example, there's a moment in the first of the two-part episode involving the clone of Coran's son, Garrett, where two guards who are supposedly robots run into the main control room and Garrett, deciding to drop his charade, turns around in his chair and shoots them. In the following wide-shot, however, you can see some blood underneath the bodies of one of the slain "robots." At the end of another episode, Lotor, intending to punish another witch whom he temporarily employed for her scheme's failure, makes up his own potion and adds to it a substance that he says is snake venom. But, you don't have to be really smart to take one look at the red liquid pouring out of the severed end of the snake's body and realize it's actually blood and that Lotor sliced its head off (another dead giveaway is that, before the clumsy and sudden editing, the snake actually had a head). Going back to that episode involving the Sand People for a second, you have to wonder why the Voltron Force, especially Allura and Pidge, are so upset over what happened to "Sandy" if he's just in a deep sleep instead of dead and why Pidge screams something that was meant for Lotor up at the sky (it wasn't the best anguished threat he could have said, mind you, but still...) And finally, going back to the episode involving Coran's son, you're told by a villager who rescues Allura from her crashed Blue Lion that Coran's son and wife are alive and well in another dimension and that the gravestone meant for them is a fake that was put there to fool Zarkon into thinking they were dead. First of all, you'd have to wonder why Zarkon would be concerned with this woman and child, even if he did know who they were, when he's captured so many slaves and killed hundreds of other people. And second, in the still flashback depicting Coran's wife and son being sent to another dimension by a benevolent spaceship, it's obvious that the ship is one of Zarkon's and that it's firing on the woman rather than "beaming" her anywhere. So, as you can see, while WEP tried their best to make this show as kid-friendly as they could, it didn't always completely work.

The often clumsy editing of the violence is only one of several big problems that Voltron has. As I said back in the introduction, while I do still like this show a lot for the nostalgic memories that watching it brings back, I can't deny that it has more than its fair share of problems that may have gone mostly undetected when I was a kid (mostly) but are painfully obvious that I'm an adult. The biggest problem, for me, is the sheer repetitiveness of the show. This comes in two forms. One is simply the plots of a good 85% of the episodes. The series starts with a story arc that tells how the space explorers escaped from Planet Doom, made it to Arus, met up with Coran and Princess Allura, reactivated the lions, and eventually managed to bring back Voltron himself and after that, we have the evolution of the Voltron Force itself where Allura decides to take over as pilot of the Blue Lion for the injured Sven, Coran and Nanny's eventual acceptance of the princess' new position, and Lotor replacing Yurak as the leader of Planet Doom's campaign to conquer Arus; there's also somewhat of another arc that deals with the people of Arus at first being frightened and living in caves after Zarkon's attacks but eventually coming out and rebuilding their homes, bringing the planet back to something of its former glory. However, once those plot-points are out of the way, the show becomes as repetitive as you can get: Lotor and Haggar come up with some sort of scheme to defeat the Voltron Force that usually involves a robeast (even if one wasn't mentioned beforehand, they seem to pull one completely out of thin air in order to battle Voltron at the end of a given episode), the force is caught off-guard and temporarily separated or incapacitated by said plan, they try to battle the episode's robeast with the lions but are unable to, they eventually manage to form Voltron and, after a battle that may or may not last for more than a couple of minutes (usually, it's the former), Voltron destroys the robeast with a slice of his Blazing Sword and Lotor retreats, vowing to destroy Voltron one day; in short, lather, rinse, repeat. I know a lot of series, be they television shows, books, and movies, including many that I like, get very repetitive and episodic but, that said, re-watching Voltron has actually been a bit excruciating due to its recycling nature. When you watch several episodes in a row, as I have been, it feels like you're just seeing the same thing over and over again and, for someone like me who hates that, it's more than a little torturous. That's why I'm always happy to see episodes that deviate from the established formula and, while they're few and far between here, they do very much exist and are very much a welcome breath of fresh air when you come across them. When I talk about my favorite episodes, which, trust me, won't be a very long selection, you will quickly notice that I'll be focusing mainly on those that don't follow the formula.

There's a second, much more literal way in which this show is repetitive and that has to do with the bits of animation and whole scenes that it recycles, mainly as a way to fill up the empty space created by the censoring of violent or depressing content. The footage that is recycled the most, besides the main Voltron formation sequence (while that's cool the first time you see it, it becomes sigh-inducing when you have to watch it for the 30th time; there was one episode where they formed him three times, two of which were the main sequence, which almost caused me to start rubbing my temples), is the sequence where the members of the Voltron Force run inside the chutes leading to the vehicles that take them to their lions. They grab onto these handlebars and ride them along the ceiling to a spot where they let go and plop down into the aforementioned vehicles that ride on a tram to wherever each individual lion is housed. You always see one or all of the same three guys holding onto the handlebars (Keith, Pidge, and Hunk, although Lance had one in the early episodes that was never used again afterward) and, while you typically see all of the pilots riding towards their lions, depending on which ones are currently active, the one you always follow all the way to his lion is Keith who, are being hoisted up in the cockpit, tells everyone to position their keys, and, when he does so and the key locks itself in place, the computer makes a musical chime before the lion is activated with a roar. You only see a few of the lions activate but you do often see several or all of them emerge from their hiding places. Like I said with the Voltron formation sequence, it's cool at first but the novelty and even the nostalgia wear off when you see it over and over again. They don't always use the footage correctly either because, besides there being a shot of Allura plopping down into one of the transport vehicles in the early episodes when she hadn't joined the team, they use the footage of Keith running to the chute leading to the Black Lion in the episode where they first activate them, which is when they didn't have the key for that lion and Keith had to pilot the Green Lion, not to mention that there are several times in the second season where you see Hunk running for door number 4 instead of 5, where he should be (I don't know how that happened). Another scene that's often repeated is an ending one where Allura is standing atop one of the balconies of the castle, waving to her people, and then decides to reward the "Voltron Force" for their victory and bravery, although she mainly just kisses Lance, even when he didn't do anything that special or noteworthy, which, like I said, makes me wonder if he's the one Allura secretly has a crush on rather than Keith. Often Pidge, seeing how excited Lance is by this, will ask for a kiss too but, when he closes his eyes, Allura has the space mice kiss him and Pidge, thinking that Allura just kissed him four times, starts doing backflips and jumping around in pure ecstasy, usually saying that he'll now take on all of Planet Doom's forces. There was one time where Allura actually did kiss Pidge but, for the most part, it's that same footage with the mice and the constant recycling of this scene causes it to stop being funny and charming after a while. There is another repeated moment where Pidge finds the space mice eating something underneath the main dining room table and they, upon seeing him, try to run away but Pidge immediately lets it be known that he's not going to chastise them and they stick around.

Even the villains aren't immune to being present in stock footage. An oft-repeated scene between Zarkon and Haggar involves Zarkon angrily telling the witch something, which leads to her cat sitting up in her lap, his eyes flashing, and hissing and screeching. Zarkon typically responds to this by telling the cat that he didn't ask for his opinion and he goes back to talking to Haggar, who reassures him in some way while continuing to pet her cat, who becomes calm once again. There's another scene between the two villains which has Zarkon talking to Haggar while she sits down at the bottom of the staircase that leads to Zarkon's throne, leading to Haggar telling him of something that makes him stand up, usually out of excitement for a plan that might actually work. The most awkward stock footage with the villains, though, is how they establish that Zarkon and Lotor are alive at the end of the original episodes by sharply cutting to shots of them saying that they've escaped, along with very brief and poorly done shots of ships meant to be how they escaped. And, going back to the good guys, you'll often see a shot of Voltron landing amongst a bunch of cheering people who run up to greet him after a successful mission, even if they only "succeeded" due to WEP's editing (as in a couple of situations involving Romelle that I'll elaborate upon shortly). Bottom line, repetitive plots are bad enough but when you reuse footage to this degree, it becomes very noticeable and, even if you know the reasons and understand that the producers' hands were tied, you can't help but feel that it's not the best way to fill out an episode's running time or to take the place of something young kids shouldn't see.

I'm well aware that writing a translation from one language to another is never easy but, nevertheless, WEP's unorthodox way of translating GoLion into a more child-friendly show contributed even more to the writing of Voltron being quite bad. Again, I hate picking on this aspect of the show because I'm well aware of how difficult it must be but, some of the scripts and pieces of dialogue for this series are downright incompetent. It's like they can't keep the plots of episodes, the concepts they come up with, or even simple names straight. This is especially true whenever they do callbacks to previous episodes, which often feature people forgetting something that was blatantly obvious before or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, know something that they had no way of finding out. Even the first few episodes are not immune to this, with Zarkon telling his forces to destroy the Voltron Force even though the space explorers have just recently been put into action as such, something he couldn't know, and then, in a following episode, he seems surprised when Haggar informs him that the space explorers are planning to resurrect Voltron, even though he previously referred to them as the Voltron Force. And in addition, during the last of the original episodes, both Coran and the Galaxy Alliance know that Lotor has placed Zarkon inside of a robeast, even though there's no way they could have known that. An extreme example of characters forgetting the events of past episodes involves the character of Princess Romelle. In the second episode with her, when Lotor has her as a slave on Planet Doom, Romelle thinks to herself, "We were happy on Planet Pollux, until Lotor came and turned my brother into a robeast." Uh, bullshit! In Romelle's introductory episode, Pollux had joined forces with Planet Doom by choice and Romelle's brother, Avok, volunteered to become a robeast to battle Voltron. Moreover, as I mentioned when I talked about her, Romelle at first seemed onboard with conquering Arus and destroying Voltron but, when we see her talking to Prince Bandor later on, she's suddenly had a change of heart and tells him that war is not something to be happy about. That's why I seemed unsure of myself when I talked about her character earlier because I found that to be rather confusing. Also, let's not forget that Romelle and Bandor's father was plotting against Zarkon the whole time they were in allegiance with him (okay, Zarkon was plotting against Pollux as well, but still) and yet, Romelle again makes it look like they were the victims because she says that Bandor is now in charge of Pollux because their father lost his mind over what happened. He looked okay to me at the end of that aforementioned episode. What, did he go back home and then it suddenly hit him, "Oh, yeah, my son was turned into a robeast, has now possibly disappeared forever, and my daughter has been kidnapped" and he fell apart right afterward? Speaking of Romelle, during the stretch of time when Lotor had her as a prisoner, the Voltron Force kept saying that they were going to rescue her but they never did. At the end of her introductory episode, where Lotor first takes her prisoner, they tell Bandor that Lotor will have to land on Arus in order to refuel to make it back to Planet Doom and that they'll make him trade Romelle for the fuel... and that never happens. At the end of her second episode, Voltron destroys the robeast that he's forced to face and Keith tells Lotor to return Romelle to Planet Pollux and they'll follow him the entire way to make sure he does... and I guess Lotor must have found a way to elude them because Romelle is not returned home until many episodes later when she meets up with Sven on Planet Doom. Having not seen the original GoLion versions of these episodes, I'm guessing that they ended on much more downbeat notes and WEP felt that wouldn't be a good way to end episodes of an action cartoon aimed at kids but, regardless, these promises that never come true make the Voltron Force look like a bunch of liars! There are many, many other examples of this inconsistency in the writing but I think this is suitable enough for you to get the idea.

The writing also sometimes makes the characters look like complete idiots. In the early episodes, there are several instances where the team, sometimes twice in one episode, have to remind each other that the blue cat they've seen prowling around belongs to Haggar, which means that the evil witch is nearby. There's one episode in particular where the space mice, spotting the cat through the dining room's skylight, are really freaked out and all Allura can say is, "Poor little things. This just isn't your day, is it? First it was Nanny, and now it's that strange cat. But don't worry. I'll look after you" It's as if Allura doesn't remember that cat means Haggar is somewhere nearby and no doubt plotting something, despite the fact that she should know that by now since they've encountered the cat before. There was another episode where Allura's Blue Lion was unable to activate because the lake that it resides in was completely drained and it needs water in order to function. The spirit of King Alfor appeared to tell her, as well as the others since they could hear his voice over the telecom, that each of the lions take its power from one of the elements of nature and he even flat-out tells them that the Blue Lion's element is water. However, despite this, they spend a good chunk of the episode trying to figure out a way to get her lion moving and, as if she had an epiphany after thinking back to what her father told her, Allura suddenly says, "He means we must have water to launch the Blue Lion!" And I'm thinking, "No, really?! You think?!" King Alfor wasn't even speaking in riddles when he told her that and it took her a good while to figure it out. I still like these characters but man, that was the definition of stupidity on their part.

And by the way, that's another thing about the show's writing: it feels like they just pull stuff completely out of their asses in order to get the plot of a particular episode moving. That aforementioned concept about the lions being powered by the elements? Unless I missed something, that was never, ever mentioned before that episode and it never came up again either. The same goes for the idea of Planet Pollux being the evil twin to Arus. That episode has Coran going through the planet's sordid history, about how it came to be as a result of an evil prince of Arus being banished there centuries ago, which I guess is meant as an explanation as to why Allura and Romelle look so similar but, after their introductory episode, the people of Pollux are nothing less than friends to Arus and the Voltron Force. Okay, so Lotor's betrayal by turning on the mutated Prince Avok and taking Romelle hostage was probably enough to make them decide that Planet Doom was their real enemy, not to mention that Prince Bandor took over as ruler when his father "lost his mind" over what happened, but still, they sure were able to put aside centuries of hatred for Arus rather quickly, don't you think? And let's not forget how the king of Pollux and his advisors were planning to overthrow Zarkon as well as conquer Arus. Did those advisors just immediately submit to Bandor when he took over (I guess they had to but, again, I bring the concept of centuries of hatred between the two planets). There are many, many more examples of this that I could bring up, like how King Alfor at one point appears to tell Allura that his image was programmed to appear on her lion's video screen whenever she's in trouble, even though he hardly ever did so before then, but, like I said before, I think you get the point. I shouldn't be too hard on it since, given their ultimate goal, the writers probably found it hard to get around some of the stuff presented to them and were backed into a corner but it's still hard not to notice these writing inconsistencies. And by the way, if I made some mistakes when I was going into the specifics of this show, like the backgrounds of some characters or the various weapons and abilities of the lions and Voltron, I sincerely apologize. With this type of writing where names are changed and specifics are made up on the spot, it's virtually impossible to keep everything straight.

Speaking of names, they can't even seem to keep them crystal clear either. The reason why I didn't even try to name the space mice when I talked about them is because they're given so many names throughout the show and so many of said names jump from one mouse to another in-between episodes. The most typical names that you hear given to them are Chitter, Cheddar, Cheesy, and Cheeser, as well as other names like Inky, Squeak, and Suki. In the America-specific season, when it's made clear that the smaller mice are the young of the larger ones, the biggest, light-blue one is referred to as Papa Mouse, even though in earlier episodes, he was not only given most of those aforementioned cheese-related names but his children got called as such too. If they don't care about consistency when it comes to the names of these mice, then why should I? There are other characters and planets whose names also got confusing. Lotor's second-in-command was a guy named Mogor, who was always identifiable by the army-green clothes he wore and the helmet with two downwards-aiming, ram-like horns. However, while they call him Mogor most of the time, there was one episode where he was referred to as Morgil instead (ironically, though, the GoLion version of said episode made the same mistake). And in one early episode, Pidge mentions his home planet and refers to it as "Terra" but later in the series in the episode that's actually called Pidge's Home Planet, it's given the name Balto. See what I mean when I said that it's hard to keep things straight with this show?

When you're looking through the show's episode guide on websites such as Wikipedia, you can't always count on the titles to tell you what an episode is about because, sometimes, it feels like they came up with them without actually watching the episodes they correspond to. The fifth episode, The Princess Joins Up, would lead you to believe that's when Allura becomes the pilot of the Blue Lion but rather, she becomes an honorary member of the Voltron Force when she helps them to defeat the Cyclops robeast there and doesn't become an actual team member until the episode The Lion Has New Claws. An even bigger goof is the episode The Right Arm of Voltron, which is when Sven is injured and taken to another planet to recover. That title is wrong because Sven is Voltron's right foot, not arm. They even make that mistake in the actual episode, when Keith himself says that, "Sven is Voltron's right arm." There's no excuse for that. That's just a screw-up. The episode that comes after the princess joins the team is called The Stolen Lion but that's the episode with Bokar, the handsome prince who turns out to be a robeast in disguise and he only steals the Blue Lion when he takes Allura hostage during the climax, so it's not very relevant to the plot. I don't know why the episode where they battle Lotor's weird lion tamer robeast is titled It Takes Real Lions. I guess it has to do with the lion tamer concept but it still doesn't make sense, especially when they form Voltron to destroy the robeast. The episode where Romelle comes across Sven on Planet Doom is called There Will Be a Royal Wedding and I have no clue why. That would lead you to believe that Romelle was going to marry Sven as a reward for saving her from Planet Doom but no such event takes place. They truly pulled that one out of thin air. And one of the last of the original episodes, Zarkon Becomes a Robeast, is half-right: Zarkon does indeed get transplanted into his robeast here but that doesn't happen until the end and you don't see him in action until the following episode. Again, you see what I mean? I should cut them some slack on the actual writing and whatnot but couldn't they have at least tried to come up with some better episode titles or at least ones that are relevant to the plots?

I'd also be lying if I said the voice-acting was absolutely perfect because, believe you me, it isn't. While it was innovative in that it employed actors who were part of the Screen Actor's Guild, the show was still aimed at kids and, therefore, the performances ended up being quite broad and some, especially in the case of the villains during their nuttiest moments, were downright hammy. I shouldn't be too harsh since voice-acting in anime in general wasn't all that good back then but there are some things here that are hard to ignore. One is how a character's voice will change from one episode to another. The most blatant example I can think of is a villain introduced in the American second season named Cossack the Terrible. In his first episode, Jack Angel voices him in a manner similar to how he voiced Zarkon, albeit with a bit of a Southern twang to it. But, in his second appearance, Angel starts using a much more high-pitched and comical voice that he retains from there on out, although there are fluctuations in how over the top it is from episode to episode. There are other examples of this type of mistake in the show but that was the one that really caught my attention and that's not even a character I was very familiar with at that point! The voice actors also sometimes make mistakes when referring to other characters, calling them the wrong name every once in a while. I remember one episode where, twice in one battle, Keith ordered Hunk to do something but both times, it was the red lion making up Voltron's right arm that reacted. And there's no hiding that the words not only don't match the lip movements and sometimes come in too soon or too late (although I don't know what they could have done to fix that). Since I'm not 100% familiar with the process of dubbing anime, it could be that these types of mistakes happen a lot when recording but, still, I don't see why somebody couldn't just double-check everything to make sure they got it right. They were probably on a tight schedule with a low budget.

One type of voice problem that I find harder to ignore is when someone's voice doesn't sound right at all given who they are. Remember when I said that Pidge's bizarre, smurf-like voice drove me nuts? Well, he's not the only kid in this show with that kind of bizarre voice. A lot of the children who pop up either have that same type of voice that sounds more fitting for a munchkin or, even worse, it's clearly an adult actor trying to sound like a child and failing miserably. One character who alternated between both types of voices was Tammy, this little girl who became separated from her mother during a crowd-panic scene in the episode Surrender and was looked after by Pidge for the majority of the story. For most of that episode, she's obviously voiced by Michael Bell, Lance's voice actor, in a high-pitched, sad voice that might not sound exactly like a little girl but, for me anyway, does the job in making me feel sympathy for Tammy. But, near the end, her voice suddenly switches over to a hushed version of that munchkin type of voice and that hurts it because, one, it doesn't sound at all like how she was speaking before, and two, as I've been saying, it's unnatural and weird. As I asked this before and I'll ask it again: could they not find any really good child voice actors to play Pidge and the incidental kid characters? It's true they probably didn't have much money to do this dub with and were probably lucky to get the actors that they could get (as we'll see, they only had one female voice actor for the longest time) but would kid actors have really cost that much to hire? I'm just asking. But if you think the kid characters got bad voices, those given to some of the supporting female characters are downright creepy. While the wonderful Tress MacNeille would join the cast for the second season, B.J. Ward was the only female voice actor on the show for the initial run and as a result, she had the job of voicing the principal female characters: Allura, Nanny, Haggar, and Romelle. Every once in a while, she would voice an incidental female character but, for the most part, she was too preoccupied with the four principal roles that she had in order to do so and therefore, since they had no money to hire other women, some of the male voice actors, namely Michael Bell, had to do their best to fill those roles and try to sound like a woman... and their best wasn't nearly good enough. Like the kids, some female characters got bizarre, high-pitched voices (no doubt trying to hide the fact that they were done by men) that didn't sound natural or like women at all but even worse were the unaltered voices of the men trying to sound like women. That was just wrong on so many levels to hear the sound of Michael Bell trying to sound feminine and completely failing at it coming out of these girls' mouths. I remember being weirded out by that even as a kid and wondering why only characters like Allura and Romelle actually sounded like women. I know they probably didn't have a choice but still, you have to wonder how they could have listened to those performances and let them by. It's just wrong!

Finally, and this is a problem that plagued ThunderCats too, when you watch a good chunk of this show, it becomes all too clear how few voice actors they had to work with. I've said this countless times but I must reiterate that I realize this was quite possibly a low budget operation and they could only afford the actors that they got but, when you have only a handful of voice actors trying to fill the enormous cast of a rather broad show, it's inevitable that it will become apparent how small the actual production was. It's not a fair criticism and I don't mean for it to sound like I'm picking on the production staff. Still, it's just an impression that I got from re-watching the show that I felt compelled to share.

The second season that was made specifically for the U.S. is what is the most alien to me since, for whatever reason, Toonami never aired it when it played Voltron back in the day. When I began re-watching the show many years later, I was surprised to learn that this season even existed but, I think I would have remembered it if I had seen it because it has a lot of memorable aspects to it. It's very different in look and feel from the original GoLion episodes. It has a much softer look to its film stock and the colors are much deeper than they before in some areas and lighter in others. For instance, Pidge's green clothes and the color of the Green Lion are so dark here that there are many moments where they look black, both Allura's and Romelle's striking, vibrant blonde hair have a more strawberry-blonde color to them this time, and Zarkon's skin color is light blue instead of the dark, blue-purple color it once had. As I will elaborate on later, there are some different sound effects to be heard here, particularly during the Voltron formation sequence, and there are some new bits of music as well, which adds some needed change to how repetitive the show's score can get. Unfortunately, it suffers from the same editing and stock footage problems that the first season did; in fact, I think they're even worse here. The episodes tend to go back and forth between footage created specifically for this season as well as material from the original episodes. Not only is this very noticeable due to the drastic changes in picture-quality (the original episodes look much cleaner while these episodes have a more faded, grainier, and softer look) but, quite often, the scenes don't match up and it's rather awkward when trying to figure out where everyone is sometimes. There's one instance where you see the Black Lion crash against a cliff-face in the middle of a rocky desert that's obviously on Arus but, when you see the crashed lion afterward, it's now at the bottom of a canyon on a small planetoid, which is where the scene in question was taking place to begin with. In another example, they reuse the karate scene from an early episode of the first season but they re-edit it to where, instead of being dragged off by Coran and Nanny as she was originally, Allura stays behind and talks with the guys. The editing becomes awkward because you hear Allura talking to the guys, even though she's nowhere in sight, and when they cut back and forth between where the guys are looking and where Allura is standing while they're "talking," it doesn't quite match. Allura would have to be on the other side of the lake according to the establishing wide-shot, which wouldn't make for an ideal way to carry on a conversation. And finally, how about during an episode that takes place at Galaxy Garrison, where Sven rejoins the team and Allura takes cover inside the main headquarters? When they show Allura talking to the pilots from the control room, you can tell that this footage is from the early episodes when she hadn't yet joined the team due to her suddenly wearing her formal dress rather than her uniform, which she was wearing beforehand, and that she's actually in the Castle of Lions' control room! The season also tends to reuse footage from its own previous episodes, which is easy to notice too, and there are instances where the animation is downright pathetic, with some characters frozen in place in a quick shot where they're supposed to be running or Allura running with her hands held up in a bizarre position in one episode. You'd think they would have had been able to iron these problems out in episodes that were made specifically for America but, unfortunately, the constant low budgets and time constraints seemed to have made them impossible to get rid of.

Since they didn't have to edit out or tip-toe around an original source's violence and death this time around, this season proved to be even more light-hearted than the already toned original. Not only did they make sure that it was perfectly clear that the soldiers from Planet Doom who are constantly shot down are robots by giving them mechanical voices and animating them to explode in a shower of sparks, but there's a lot more wise-cracking this time around from both the good guys and the bad guys. The Voltron Force themselves appear to have such a strong sense of comradery by this point that they tease and make jokes about each other every chance they, with Allura even getting in on the action now. One of my favorites is when they mentioned a time when Keith accidentally got into the Blue Lion and everyone, including the princess, proceeded to tease him to death about it, with Keith finally saying, "Thanks for that little trip down memory lane, guys!" Lance is especially quick to come up with quips this time around, talking about how low a robeast ranks on the scale or about how "Dr. Lance" has the cure for that "tied up feeling." And as for the villains, while Zarkon is still as much of a ball-buster as he always was, Haggar is also quite the jokester this time around, quietly commenting that it doesn't take much to make Zarkon look like a fool, calling Commander Cossack out for what an idiot he is, and such. One of the funniest things I think I've ever heard Haggar say was when she was once told that the hostage exchange she was attempting to strike with the Voltron Force wasn't fair and she responded, "I'm never fair. It gives me a rash!" And the new villains that are introduced here, Cossack and Queen Merla, are also quite humorous, albeit in their ways that I'll go into presently. And going back to the Voltron Force for a minute, this is where you start to see hints of a possible romance between Keith and Allura, which was hinted at very subtly in the original season but still felt like a friendship for the most part. Here, you have moments where Allura feels jealous that another woman might be interested in Keith, Keith picking flowers for her, a moment where Coran sees the two of them embracing and makes them break it up, causing them to blush, and an ending for one episode where they each put their hands on top of the other's. Nothing comes of it, though, but there's still those hints that this has possibly grown into something more than just a simple friendship.

The narrator has more of a presence in this season than he did before, almost always introducing each episode, often telling you stuff that you should already know, as well as usually doing an outro for each one as well (if not the narrator, then someone else will do one or the other, as was the case with 95% of the episodes of the original season). Unfortunately, another character who's more prominent in this season as well is the spirit of King Alfor. If you thought he was a contrivance beforehand, you have no clue. Before, all he usually did was point the Voltron Force in the right direction whenever they were in a jam without affecting anything himself. Not so here. There are episodes in this season where he's transported the pilots to their lions when they were unable to reach them and another where he actively helped Allura escape from Lotor and actually took out some of the robots that were pursuing her. Jeez, Alfor, why don't you just sap all of the suspense and drama out of the show while you're at it? And finally, I have to mention that, although her life was spared by WEP's editing as opposed to her original Japanese counterpart, Nanny doesn't do much in this season, which will no doubt appease those who aren't too fond of her, myself included.

The order of the villains is a bit shaken up in this second season. While Lotor is still present, he's not as active as he was before. Commander Cossack is the one who now typically leads the attacks against Planet Arus and Voltron, although Lotor still gets involved if it involves Princess Allura. In fact, Lotor becomes a bit more complicated in this season than he was originally. He's still obsessed with Allura being his bride but there are instances in this season where you see that it's more than just a lustful infatuation, that there are some genuine feelings there, like when he prevents Queen Merla from sending Allura to another dimension and, during that instance, her normally effective mind powers don't work on him because his affection for Allura is too strong. And later on, when Merla puts in motion a plot to poison the entire Voltron Force, including Allura, Lotor actually warns Keith so he can save the princess. Lotor also still intends to overthrow Zarkon and late in the season, when a plan to do so ends with him being imprisoned, Lotor actually declares war on the kingdom and, as a result of Merla's influence, becomes something of a temporary ally of the Voltron Force... at least, that's what you think, until Lotor and Cossack lead the force in a near fatal trap. In stark contract to Lotor's position here, Haggar takes a much more active approach in Zarkon's attacks against Arus, often joining Commander Cossack on his missions and using her magic to battle the Voltron Force and summon robeasts out of thin air. That's another thing, she feels more like a traditional witch here, with the spells and incantations that she speaks in order to give her an advantage in battles and to make robeasts appear out of nowhere. In the original season, the stuff that she came up with often felt like a combination of magic and science but here, it feels like magic for the most part.

The second season is notable for introducing a couple of new villains to the cast, my favorite of which is Commander Cossack, who's brought in to replace Mogor, the military advisor whom Lotor killed during his short reign as king of Planet Doom (despite the editing, that guy's fate is clear). He's now typically the one who leads Zarkon's attack forces in their operations to take over Arus and destroy the Voltron Force but, the thing is, Cossack isn't much more effective than Lotor and even Yurak. For one, he's rather dim-witted, not quite able to understand the details of certain situations, and, despite his nickname being, "Cossack the Terrible," nothing about him inspires fear. He bungles missions as frequently as his predecessors and is also as ineffectual against Voltron as they were, not to mention that he's a coward who panics and flees the minute the tables are turned against him. Zarkon looks down on him about as much as he does Lotor, possibly even more so, and he, Lotor, and Haggar all relentlessly mock him, much to his chagrin. However, his shortcomings are make Cossack a very likable villain. It's really funny to see him foul things up in the spectacular ways that he does and he himself is quite a funny guy too, especially when he's bantering with Haggar. There's one instance where Cossack tells Haggar that if her current plan succeeds, he'll smother her with a million kisses and when she tells him that that's not exactly the reward she was hoping for, Cossack says, "I was just kidding. Nobody could survive that." When Queen Merla first arrived on Planet Doom, Cossack was forced to introduce her and while he was initially going to read the introduction given to him, he quickly just says, "Oh, whatever." And one of my favorite moments with him is in one episode where he thinks he's triumphed since he's managed to turn an entire planet against the Voltron Force but when the lions come back upon getting a distress call from beleaguered planet, Cossack panics and suggests, "Well, maybe they won't form Voltron," to which his robot soldiers say, "Fat chance!" Later on in that same episode, Cossack attempts to battle Voltron himself but it becomes clear that was a bad idea, he says, "On second thought, I think I'll call for help." As you can tell, I really enjoy Cossack and I kind of wish that there had been more episodes produced so we could get more of him.

The much more serious villain introduced in the second season is Queen Merla (voiced by Tress MacNeille), whom Zarkon contacted in order to help him to defeat Voltron. He also intended for her to marry Lotor due to the perks the union of their two planets could bring but that got annulled very quickly due to Lotor's all-consuming obsession with Allura and the fact that he and Merla really don't care for each other... at least, not at first but more on that in a second. Merla makes no secret of the fact that she initially doesn't think much of Lotor or of Haggar and Cossack, for that matter, and just like Lotor, once Voltron is out of the way, she plans to take Zarkon's throne. She has some very potent mental powers that make her able to sense others thoughts and to overwhelm their will and make them do what she wants, although that power does have its limits, as demonstrated when she's unable to control Lotor when he stops Merla from sending Allura to another dimension. Her pet vulture is able to sense whenever someone is thinking bad thoughts about her and can attack when the need arises (he also randomly talks at one point, something that he never does again). The princess is one of her main targets since she wishes to control Arus as well, which is why she falls into conflict with Lotor. Merla is the most cold and calculating of the series' villains but she does have some personality to her. She's sort of fixated on being stylish while doing evil and also has a dry and rather funny sense of humor. When she and Allura first meet each other and Lotor arrives, Allura comments on how Lotor, "thinks he's so great just because he's got big muscles," to which Merla says, "They're not really that big. I'll tell you a secret: underneath his uniform, he wears foam-rubber shoulder pads." And in an episode where she and Haggar form a temporary partnership and actually enjoy themselves while attacking Arus, Haggar comments how girls have to stick together and Merla says, "You haven't been a girl in a long time." At the end of the season, Merla decides to turn over a new leaf and become a good guy, even going as far as to try to get Lotor to do the same since she now suddenly has genuine affection for him. That is very sporadic, yes, but since I like Merla, I didn't mind her decision to help the Voltron Force try to defeat Zarkon. She may not be a very original character but I think she's still memorable and another character that makes me wish that the show had gone on a bit longer so we could get some material with her, especially since she turned good near the end (plus, after hearing the male actors failing at trying to sound female so many times, it's nice to hear another actual female voice).

I really, really like the sound work that was done for Voltron. I don't know if all of this was retained from the original Beast King GoLion or what but, regardless, it has a really good sound quality to it. The sounds of footsteps (especially on metal surfaces), water, plants rustling, metal clanging, and so on all sound very natural and realistic, although there are some more cartoonish and silly sound effects to be heard during the show's humorous moments, particularly in the much sillier second season. Speaking of cartoon sound effects, you'll hear some that are synonymous with action cartoons of the time, most notably when it comes to the laser-firing sound effects. This mainly applies to the second season, which had even clearer sound effects than the original one and changed around those that you heard during the Voltron formation sequence. Instead of the original "pachow" sound that you hear whenever the lions' folded their limbs up and attached themselves to the Black Lion's body to form Voltron's limbs, you know hear some different sound effects, including some metal clanging ones when the limbs attach and some classic cartoon electricity sounds as well. And for fans of classic science fiction, you should recognize the sound that you hear when Voltron poses after being formed as that of the lasers of the Martian war machines in The War of the Worlds. The roars that the lions give off, as the space mice's squeaks, sound quite good and come across like the sounds of real animals and the robeasts typically have a loud, howling roar that is actually kind of disturbing (although, it can very easily get annoying when you hear it over and over again, like in the case of the episode The Shell Game where the robeast there absolutely would not shut up). As it did with the use of SAG voice actors, Voltron made another innovation in that it was one of the first shows to be produced with 2-channel stereo sound, a fact that WEP made known when they marketed the show. I may be giving this aspect of the show more praise than I should but I just had to mention how great I think the show's sound quality is.

Not a single note of the original score from GoLion was used in Voltron, with WEP instead coming up with its own music score composed by John Petersen. There are both some good aspects to the show's score but there are some bad ones as well. Starting with the positives, it is very good music and is very catchy. There are a lot of memorable themes, such as the classic, heroic Voltron Theme that you hear every single episode; the beautiful, fairy tale-esque theme that you hear for both Princess Allura and Planet Arus in general (there are actually a number of fairy tale-like bits of music to be heard here); the dark, menacing music for Planet Doom; the soft, emotional music for the sad moments; the frantic, exciting music for the action and suspense scenes; and so on. They're all very distinct and each one serves its purpose rather well. Unfortunately, the biggest problem with the music score is that, like the show itself, it's very repetitive. As enjoyable as the music is, when you hear the same themes over a hundred times (which you will if you decide to watch this show completely from beginning to end, as I did), it gets old and tiresome. How many times can you watch the Voltron formation sequence with the Voltron Theme playing before you get sick of it and hope to never do so again? The same goes for the other bits of music as well, especially the suspense music which I'm pretty sure is something else that you hear in every episode. But even worse than the score's repetitiveness is its editing. It's very scrambled and clunky, with themes constantly overruling and smothering each other in the middle of scenes. There are many instances where a theme will start and will play for only a few seconds before another one comes out of nowhere and takes over, completely kicking the first one to the curb. Like the show's other issues, it's rather noticeable and a bit distracting, although, to its credit, the music never becomes a scrambled mess or anything like that, with two bits of music playing over each other at the same time and such. In conclusion, the music of Voltron is like the show itself: it's good for the most part but, in the end, does have its issues.

Normally, when I do reviews of television shows and talk about my favorite episodes, I talk about each one individually in a rather massive section. I'm not going to do that with Voltron, though, since, for one, after watching the series from beginning to end again, I've come to the realization that there simply aren't that many episodes that stand out to me as being particularly awesome or really good, and, for another, the ones that I do like are due to the most basic of reasons, which would make for very short entries if I did them all individually. And for the record, I think that the opening story arc with the space explorers becoming the Voltron Force and forming the mighty robot for the first time could have been done much better but it's rather hampered by the editing, less than awesome writing that seems to change past events from one episode to another, and, for me personally, the disappointment of finally seeing a kind of ho-hum bridging episode that I never got to see as a kid. I saw the episode A Ghost and Four Keys, where they first break out the lions, many times but I always missed the following episode, The Missing Key, where they form Voltron for the first time. I was mad that I did because that third episode ended on a great cliffhanger, with the first robeast that the team encounters thrashing the lions and sending them all plummeting to the ground with the pilots knocked out, as the robeast stands over them and laughs. I figured that the following episode would have the robeast continuing his attack on the lions and Pidge, having found the key to the Black Lion thanks to the space mice (I knew that happened because they mentioned it in a later episode), would activate it and save the day, although I shudder to think how the Voltron formation checklist would have sounded with him doing it! Unfortunately, that's not how it worked out at all. Instead of attempting to finish them off, the robeast and Yurak's forces pull out, deciding to wait until morning to destroy the Voltron Force (see what I mean when I talk about the ineffectiveness of these villains?). Pidge, after having gone out to try to stave off the attacks himself, manages to make it back to the Castle of Lions and gets in touch with the team, who also make it back. Not long afterward, they are given the key to the Black Lion by the space mice and, therefore, they're able to head out and form Voltron for the first time to easily defeat the robeast and drive off Yurak. I was quite disappointed by how that turned out. However, I do rather like the following episode, The Princess Joins Up, which is where the Voltron Force not only battles Yurak's forces again but also comes up against that Cyclops-robeast that very nearly takes them out; plus, I like seeing the Castle of Lions become the technologically advanced fortress that it would be for the rest of the series and also to see Allura use one of its laser turrets to help Voltron in his battle with the robeast.

The Right Arm of Voltron, where Sven is injured and is sent away to recover, is notable for that moment, which is touching when Keith and Lance find Sven critically wounded, and for the fact that the Voltron Force had to use strategy to defeat the episode's robeast since they were unable to form Voltron (although, that huge mistake with the title still annoys me). The episode Surrender, where Haggar creates a red rain that causes panic and destruction over Arus, allowing Yurak and his forces to swoop in and take control, is special to me because it's the first episode that I actually watched all the way through. I like the idea that the force gets overwhelmed by the situation and is forced to surrender and that, like before, it's only through some sly strategy that they're able to succeed. This episode has a very dire feel to it when the force has no choice but to surrender in order to ensure the safety of the people who have been taken prisoner by Yurak and also because of the little girl Tammy, who has been separated from her mother and is being watched over by Pidge. Even though her voice later becomes strange and smurf-like Pidge's, it's hard not to feel sympathy for her when she's crying for her mother and plus, it's because of her temporarily taking his place that Pidge is able to save his friends and get the team back in the air. Yurak Gets His Pink Slip is notable for the introduction of Lotor, the small duel that he and Keith has, which serves as a distraction for the Voltron Force, and Yurak's transformation into a robeast, which results in his being one of the few main character deaths that was left intact by WEP. Pidge's Home Planet has quite a sad ending where Pidge's home planet, Balto, is destroyed due to attacks by Lotor's forces and the entire force, especially Pidge himself, feels the loss. Unfortunately, the drama is curtailed by a tacked on happy ending where Pidge is made an official citizen of Arus and seems to have gotten over the destruction of his home rather quickly, although I did appreciate Allura's kind gesture towards the emotionally devastated kid. The Invisible Robeast and The Green Medusa are noteworthy for the title creatures, the former being a monster that has quite an advantage over the Voltron Force and gives them a decent run for their money, and the latter being a friendly female creature who, despite Lotor's attempts to turn her into a monster, forms a motherly bond with Pidge and helps him to reach his friends when the need arises later on. I like The Sleeping Princess for the simple fact that they don't form Voltron and battle a robeast at all in the episode but instead focus on the situation with Allura being put into a deep sleep by Haggar's magic. While the episode itself is nothing special, I just like that they didn't tack on a big battle with Voltron, as they often do.

Lotor's New Hitman, which features Karp, the alien pilot of an especially fast robeast, shows Voltron struggling with a rather challenging opponent who manages to fly circles around him at first, forcing the team to rethink their strategies and push Voltron to his limits. In addition, Karp is a bit of a memorable villain with how overconfident and arrogant he is and how Mogor greatly dislikes him for that. The episode ends on a funny line from Lotor who says that Karp made out of his robeast before it was destroyed and is going to land on another planet... only for an explosion to show up on said planet's horizon, prompting to Lotor to comment that Karp didn't make the best landing and that even if he did survive, he won't be in any condition to fly for a long time. I especially like the three-part episode that begins with The Captive Comet, mainly for the first two episodes because they show that Voltron is far from invincible. Seeing him get pinned to the surface of this comet that acts like a black-hole and being absolutely helpless to fight against its gravitational pull is actually quite harrowing and it's made even more so when Prince Bandor's fleet, after failing to pry Voltron loose, are forced to shoot both the comet and Voltron away from Arus in order to keep it from destroying the planet. The episode ends on a somber note, with Arus saved but, at the same time, having to come to grips with the idea that they will have to carry on and fight back against Zarkon's forces without Voltron. The second part, The Little Prince, kind of negates that ending since Bandor is still trying to save Voltron from the comet whereas before, he felt as hopeless about it as Coran did but it's still entertaining as Bandor tries and tries to pry the robot off of the comet's surface but, ultimately, has to give up and let them go, especially after he learns that there are no signs of life coming from any of the pilots. By the end of the episode, Voltron has rode the comet to the very edge of the universe and comes into contact with a celestial being who gives the pilots a choice to either enter the afterlife and be free of all pain and sorrow or to go back and help their people. If you don't know which option they choose, then you haven't learned anything about this series by this point, have you? Of course, the pilots decide to go back to Arus, where they easily send Lotor back to Planet Doom, setting in motion the third part, There Will Be a Royal Wedding, which is where Romelle encounters Sven in the caves within Doom after being tossed into the Pit of Skulls by Lotor. While the third part is my least favorite (and I still can't figure out what relevance the title has to the plot), it's still nice to see Sven come back and to see him and Romelle help Voltron win a battle against a particularly tough robeast.

I like The Sand People because of the bond that the Voltron Force forms with the title creatures, especially Allura with the one whom she names Sandy and when she, along with everyone else, is forced to battle Sandy with Voltron after he's turned into a robeast, it's quite touching to see Allura upset about having to injure him. It's a shame that WEP's stance against characters dying hurt the impact of the episode's ending, with the explanation that Sandy was rendered unconscious and eventually recovered instead of being killed, but it's still an episode that I like overall. I like the first part of the two-part episode with Garrett, the evil clone of Coran's long-lost son (it was the first multi-part episode I ever watched), called Return of Coran's Son because of the peril that episode's robeast puts Voltron, which is made even worse by Garrett taking complete control of the Castle of Lions... but, I think it's kind of ruined by the second part, Coran's Son Runs Amuck, because of how Lotor's impatience to destroy Voltron ultimately allows him to escape, even though it takes him a while to get himself back together, and how they try to make Garrett sympathetic at the end of the episode, despite all of the horrible things he's done. There aren't many episodes of the second season that I think are particularly great overall. I like Voltron Meets Jungle Woman because of the bond that's forged between the title character and injured soldier for the Galaxy Alliance, as well as her interactions with the mutated fish-man that Haggar and Cossack bring to her planet, although the reveal that he's her father and that she knew it the whole time is extremely contrived. War and Peace... and Doom! is great because Commander Cossack really gets to shine and to be the entertaining, though bumbling, villain that I enjoy. Plus, I like the idea of the Voltron Force trying to help a planet that isn't too fond of them at the moment due to the scare tactics that Zarkon and Cossack have used on its leader. Unfortunately, I don't think that concept was used as well as it could have been. And finally, I like To Soothe the Savage Robeast because of Tress MacNeille's sympathetic performance as Taren, a woman who misses her enslaved lover and, once she's reunited with him, has to help him to stop Queen Merla and Haggar from poisoning the members of the Voltron Force, a plot he was forced to put in motion in exchange for being sent home. Speaking of which, that episode is also where Lotor briefly marries Merla on Zarkon's orders.

A major disappointment with Voltron is that the series never had a proper conclusion. The three-part arc that the end of the original GoLion episodes may not have been the best ending to it, with the disappointing battle between Voltron and the Zarkon robeast and the poorly paced final part where the Voltron Force embark on an all-out assault on Castle Doom and Sven takes on Lotor, but, nevertheless, if they had kept Zarkon and Lotor's deaths intact, it would have at least made for a conclusion to their struggle against Planet Doom. They could have made Queen Merla and Cossack the villains of the second season instead and let the main villains of the first one have their deaths, which should have been appropriate enough due to all the pain and misery that they've caused. But, no, they decided to keep Zarkon and Lotor around and, therefore, there never was that glorious episode where the Voltron Force finally succeed against them. The last couple of episodes of the second season have a promising concept of Merla deciding to be a good guy, developing genuine feelings for Lotor, and trying to make him go straight as well and, at first, it looks as if Lotor will actually become an ally... and then, he and Cossack set a trap for them, which genuinely disappointed me because Lotor proved in the last episode that he could be a bad-ass hero if he turned to good. Merla is both hurt and disgusted that Lotor rebuffed her offer to join her on the good side and be her husband for real and leaves, never to be seen again, while the Voltron Force has one final confrontation with Lotor and Cossack before the entire explodes. The episode ends back on Arus, where Zarkon mocks the Voltron Force for falling for Lotor's trick and being led to a fake Planet Doom, a reveal that absolutely makes me groan, and Keith declaring that Zarkon's reign won't last forever. On that disappointing note, the original Voltron series ends and it makes me sigh that there's no really good series finale to be had here, that it just stops instead. While I'm sure that the Fleet of Doom movie that was eventually made continued the story and possibly finished it in a more satisfying manner, it's disappointing that the actual series didn't have an actual satisfying conclusion to its story.

In conclusion, Voltron: Defender of the Universe is a prime example of one of those things that you thought was absolutely awesome as a kid but doesn't hold up well when viewed with an analytical adult mind. On the plus side, I still like the good guys and the genuine feeling of comradery and friendship that they have between them, the sound effects are well done, and the music score is nice and catchy. Unfortunately, the show suffers greatly from its repetitive nature, both in terms of the general formula and the overuse of stock footage, the clumsy editing that WEP employed in order to get around the death and despair of the original Beast King GoLion, the unusual vocal performances of some of the incidental characters, and the less than stellar writing overall. But, in the end, despite all of these problems and the fact that watching a lot of episodes in a row can get rather tiresome and mind-numbing as a result of them, Voltron is still a show that I hold close to my heart because of all the enjoyment that it gave me when I was a very young adolescent. It's a perfect example of kid-targeted 80's cheese and has some charm to it to this day as a result, even if it doesn't stand up to scrutiny. I might not watch it again for a long time after this review but, when I think back to what it meant for me at that point in my life, my face has nothing less than a big smile on it and that's more than enough reason for me to revisit it every now and again.