Voltron is an interesting property. It began in Japan as Beast King Golion, an anime that ran from 1981-1982. The show was dark and featured torture, murder, slavery, and genocide in addition to the usual monster-fighting heroics.It wasn’t a ratings beast (pardon the pun) in its native country, and in 1984 the animation from the show was licensed by World Events Productions – along with another anime, Armored Fleet Dairugger XV - and then both shows were edited into the series Western fans know as Voltron: Defender of the Universe. Confused yet?
I never watched much Voltron. I tried to do so recently – it’s available on streaming via Netflix – and found it pretty unwatchable (just as I did when I tried to revisit Gaiking - so much yelling!). However, I did watch the first couple of episodes of Beast King Golion, which is available via streaming on Crunchyroll.com, and found it a more mature, interesting show; but what’s really fascinating is how it was changed for the U.S. market. For example, at the beginning of Beast King Golion, Earth and most everyone on it has been destroyed in a nuclear war; in Voltron, the scenes showing the devastated Earth are referred to as a different planet, and reference is made to the planet having been “evacuated” before the holocaust.
My only childhood memories of the property is owning the 6″ Matchbox diecast figure. But that was enough to get me to pick up last year’s SDCC exclusive from Mattel, Blazing Sword Voltron. Its appeal lay mostly in the fact that it was only 6″ tall and super-articulated, and it sat unopened in my closet for more than half a year. But when I finally opened it, I was impressed.
Packaging: I don’t usually go in for packaging, but as usual for their SDCC exclusives, Mattel brought their A-game. In addition to a big, attractive window box that shows the character off nicely in his “form Blazing Sword” pose, the box also has a button that, when pressed, causes the sonorous voice of Peter “Optimus Prime” Cullen to intone the opening narration from the Voltron cartoon. Once removed from the package, the inner backing can also serve as a nice display base, and still has the talking feature.
Design & Sculpt: Most of the Voltron toys from the 1980s were actually Japanese toys imported by Matchbox, and they featured a lot of diecast and chrome parts. This represented a slightly more “realistic” look to the character than the way it looked on the cartoon, and subsequent toys by Trendmasters and Toynami were inspired by the vintage versions. And while Matchbox did release a 6″ “Popy” version of Voltron himself, most of the other versions have been 12″ or larger and made from multiple lions that combine together to make one large figure.
Mattel is doing the combining thing as well – the largest one of all time – but to start the franchise off, they released this 6″ super-articulated figure. Instead of going the chrome-and-diecast route, this Voltron is made entirely of plastic and features a softer, more cartoon-inspired look.
I don’t know who did the sculpting – pretty sure it was in-house – but they’ve done a good job here, depicting a great version of the cartoon Voltron. (I’m no Voltron expert of course, but it seems accurate to the cartoon design.)
Plastic & Paint: The paints are strong and bright, in keeping with the cartoon look; there are no washes or dry-brushes here. It’s simple but effective. I realize this figure may simply look too “toyish” for some fans. But it’s the style Mattel was going for, so I won’t fault them on it.
The paints are mostly flat, and prone to scratches and rubbing since the figure is molded primarily in rigid white plastic. More problematic is the fact that the figure has prominent mold lines which sometimes lack paint, and in some cases don’t even line up quite right. It’s most evident on the legs and feet.
Articulation: Modern Japanese collector toys – i.e., Robot Spirits, Revoltech, Figuarts etc. – are known for their articulation, and this is the rare case where Mattel has managed to match them. I’m not sure if I can totally cover all the points of articulation, but here goes:
He has a ball jointed neck with an excellent range of motion. His shoulders are swivel/hinges and also have up-and-down hinges built into the torso so he can raise his arms straight up. His biceps swivel, his elbows are hinged, his forearms swivel, and his hands are ball joints. His upper torso is a ball joint, his waist is a swivel, his hips are ball joints, his thighs have swivels, his knees are hinged, his ankles are hinged, and the balls of his feet are ball joints. The “jaws” of his hands are also hinged, with a spring to keep them tight around the sword, and the wings on his back have hinges as well.
Accessories: Voltron comes with his mid-formation Blazing Sword, and the sword in its normal form. They’re well designed and not too heavy, allowing for plenty of good poses, but I do have one complaint: the regular sword’s guard is too close to the handle to allow Voltron to hold the blade parallel to his forearm. Instead, he has to hold it with the blade perpendicular to his forearm, with the wide part of the handle facing forward.
I realize that extending the guard might have hurt the sword’s sculpt, but an easy solution would have been to put it on a small sliding peg so that the guard could be pulled out for side-grips. Given all the other engineering ingenuity that went into the figure, I wish they could have solved this issue too.
Quality Control: There are a few issues. First, there is the aforementioned paint rubbing. I’ve also noticed the joints have become increasingly loose over time and use. Finally, as many have noted, the ball-jointed hips aren’t quite engineered properly, so the edges rub against the top of the pelvis and become a tiny bit squished and scratched.
Price: A Japanese import toy of similar size and articulation will run you about $30-$40, or sometimes much, much more. (I’m comparing this figure to Japanese figures rather than, say, Marvel Legends due to the fact it represents a giant robot.) So, given this is an exclusive figure with what was probably a relatively small production run, the $30 price tag feels only somewhat unreasonable.
Overall: I think this figure was the surprise of Mattel’s SDCC crop last year, and perhaps hasn’t quite received the credit it deserves. Given collector’s issues with MOTUC, DCUC, and especially Ghostbusters, it’s almost refreshing to see Mattel nearly knock this one out of the park.
Some minor QC issues and the price keep it from being perfect, but I’ve quickly become very fond of this figure and it’s earned a permanent place in my collection. And it bums me out that we’ll probably never have an in-scale Robeast for him to fight (in fact, to my knowledge there has never been an in-scale monster for any Voltron figure to fight).
Where to Buy: