Like many toy robots avalaible in the West during the 1980s, Voltron originated in Japan. It began life as Dairugger XV in 1982, the star of Toei's Super Robot anime Kikou Kantai Dairugger XV (which loosely translates to Armoured Fleet Dairugger XV). The name 'Rugger' and concept of 15 units (devised by Saburo Yatsude) apparently does come from rugby ('rugger' being a stereotypical posh English schoolboy name for the sport), making this possibly the only robot that can claim rugby as an influence.

The series covered the adventures of the Rugger-Guard, an Earth exploration ship attempting to find a new world for the people of the Galbeston empire, and free them from their evil dictators. These dictators and their allies constantly harass the Rugger-Guard on its' mission.

The ship is protected by the three Rugger teams, each consisting of five units. These can either combine to form three large vehicles, or to form the giant Dairugger XV robot. Each of the teams has a speciality area - air, sea and land. The Ruggers all had individual pilots, and the fifteen were all featured to some extent in the anime. However, along with mission commander Jinji Ise and his lieutenant Dick Asimov, only the three team leaders - Manabu Aki, Miranda Keets and Walter Jack - managed to get much sustained screentime.

Kikou Kantai Dairugger XV ran for 52 episodes, from 3 March 1982 to 23 March 1983, on the TV Tokyo network. The unedited anime is currently pencilled in for a Western release on DVD with subtitles, though this has been postponed a couple of times, and maybe be dependant on the sales of the similar sets for King of the Beasts Golion.

The design was licensed from the studio by legendary toy manufacturers (and regular Toei collaborators) Popy, who made three versions of the toy.

The smallest was released as GB-73 in Popy's groundbreaking Chogokin series. Measuring at 6" tall, this standard (or ST) version was made of a mixture of diecast and high-quality plastic. This version did not separate into the 15 component vehicles, although the chest-plate could be removed, the fists could fire and a pair of missile launchers were located in the shins. Intertingly, A high-quality knockoff of this that actually separates was manufactured, and is a prized figure among collectors.

The next version up was the 9" GB-72 Deluxe Chogokin or DX version. Packed in an oh-so-early-1980s austere brown box with gold trim, this could separate and form the three 'team' vehicles. The design was actually able to break down into ten smaller vehicles due to the combination design. It was made of the same mix of diecast and ABS plastic as the ST version, but had no spring-loaded features.

This version was skipped in the West, and remains a rare figure. It was a bit of an oddment even at the time, with the TV commercial concentrating on the largest release instead, and the figure was even ignored for the retrospective book The Chogokin Chronicle, being relegated to a footnote in the back instead of the glossy colour section.

[Click to see the original commercial]

The third and largest version was an 'irregular' release outside of the Chogokin series. At 14", this figure was too large for any of Popy's regular ranges (though it was smaller than the late 1970s vinyl Jumbo Machinder figures the company produced, which were around 2 feet tall), while the all-plastic construction didn't fit in with the Chogokin ethos. It was sold both as three separate sets, split up into the Kurugger, Kairugger and Rickrugger vehicles, and also as a boxed set containing all fifteen vehicles. Confusingly, it also seems to be named as a DX version. This version has been bootlegged on numerous occasions, ranging from inaccurate versions to wildly inaccurate versions.

Popy subsidiary Victoria also manufactured several versions of Dairugger XV. These included a 3" version with moderately inaccurate colours, a gold-coloured 6" Mechagold version and a translucent Mechcrystal version.