In 1984, the Anime and toys for three unrelated Toei Anime series - Kikou Kantai Dairugger XV , Hundred Beast King Golion and Lightspeed ElectroGod Albegas , were licensed by the American company World Events Productions.

Inspired by Harmony Gold's blending of The Super Dimension Fortress Macross, Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross and Genesis Climber Mospeada as Robotech , WEP decided to make the three series part of the same mythos, and Voltron: Defender of the Universe was born. Initially, WEP had wanted Future Robo Daltanius as one of the series, but Toei sent tapes of Golion instead, and WEP liked it so much they didn't correct the error.

The robots were each given an area of the universe - Dairugger XV became Voltron I or Vehicle Voltron, covering the Near Universe; Abegas became Voltron II or Gladiator Voltron, patrolling the Middle Universe; Golion became Voltron III or Lion Voltron, guardian of the Far Universe. The three anime series weren't directly linked, but like most Super Robot shows shared enough in common that, after careful dubbing, this wouldn't be particularly obvious.

The relevant toys were licensed from Bandai (who had reabsorbed their old subdivision Popy in 1983) and produced for the West by Matchbox. Each Voltron received two figures - a 'Miniature' version (ST Golion, ST Dairugger XV and ST Abegas) and a 'Deluxe' version (DX Golion - already released in the West in 1983 under that name as part of the short-lived Godaikin range; the non-Chogokin Deluxe 14" Dairugger XV and the DX Abegas). Most of these figures had modifications, removing some spring-loaded features and accessories.

[Click to see the original commercial]

While the figures were released more-or-less simultaneously in 1984, for obvious reasons WEP had to pick a cartoon series to run first. The original plan had revolved around Dairugger XV being show first, followed by Albegas and then Daltanius - hence the numbering. Some aspects of the newly dubbed show were heavily influenced by this, with the idea of an Earth-based command (in Voltron, the Galaxy Alliance) originating from Dairugger XV (in Golion, Earth has been destroyed). However, Golion made such an impression on WEP it jumped to the head of the queue, and Voltron was a smash hit, spearheaded by the Lion Force.

Golion had been significantly edited, with character deaths either toned down or excised entirely, and violence censored. The same changes were made to Dairugger XV (notably, constant mention is made to destroyed enemy ships being piloted by robots was added, while the violence was toned down), while the Galbeston Empire became the Drule Empire to fit in with the dubbed Lion Force series - various robotic monsters also became Robeasts. The central plot of the series was also changed - the renamed Galaxy Explorer was now looking for colonies for the people of Earth. A new title sequence was also devised, with a memorable voice-over provided by Peter Cullen (who also voiced the mission commander, now named Commander Hawkins).

However, the next stage of the plan went not so good. After this, the Dairugger XV series, heavily edited and dubbed as Voltron, aired, and kids did not like. It was probably a mix of factors - the series, initially at least, is pretty light on robot action with a slow pace; with over 20 regular characters it was too much for young viewers to keep a track of, and so on.

The biggest factor, though, was that wholesale reinvention of a franchise was a very new thing - US regulations on toy tie-in cartoons had only recently been relaxed, and manufacturers had yet to try anything like this. An equivalent would be if Hasbro had somehow ran Car Robots/Robots in Disguise as the second season of Transformers - aside from a few names and concepts, little was carried over, resulting in the alienation of the audience, who largely saw the new Voltron as a pretender. Aside from a brief blurb on the boxes of the toys, the concept was not fully explained, and probably came as a massive shock to the audience.

Plans to dub Abegas as the third season were shelved, with WEP instead commissioning brand new Lion Force cartoons from Toei. Aside from an appearance in the made-for-US special Fleet of Doom, alongside Lion Voltron, that was pretty much it for Vehicle Voltron. WEP hired LJN to produce the next batch of toys, which did include Computer-Controlled and combining vinyl Assembler versions of Voltron I, but by the time Panosh Palace took over the merchandise in 1986, it was all Lion Force, with even a few mooted 3.5" action figures based on Vehicle Force characters (team leaders Jeff, Clint and Cric) being aborted.

In the decades since, Vehicle Voltron has been similarly neglected, with little merchandise produced. The Vehicle Team did appear in the 2004-2005 comic series from Devil's Due, but largely as antagonists to bloody Lion Force. More recently, the whole Vehicle Voltron series has been released, spread across three DVD box sets. While a Voltron film is in the pipeline, I suspect it's going to be another Lion Voltron love-in. Not that I'm bitter or anything. Bah.