The 1980s Cartoonscape: From “Space Ghost” to “Speed Racer”

When I got home from elementary school, I always looked forward to one thing: homework. I’m kidding. I couldn’t wait to get home and watch some cartoons. I fondly remember everything from “Space Ghost” to “Speed Racer.” I started fourth grade at Heard Elementary School in Franklin, Georgia, in 1984. I’d get off the bus, drop off my belongings, and go to the den, where the television was.

I only had a few hours until my father arrived home and took over the “dial.” (One turned analog knobs on televisions. We referred to these knobs as “dials.”) When my father returned home, it was time for news from one of Atlanta’s local affiliates. Boring!

So I’d sift through the UHF channels to find my cartoons. As Weird Al Yankovich’s 1989 film of the same name famously parodied, UHF was a fascinating experience. You never knew what you’d get, much like Forrest’s box of chocolates. It could be an infomercial, a syndicated staple like “The People’s Court,” or an older dramedy like “Eight Is Enough.”

The Discovery of Voltron: A Transformative Childhood Experience

After watching “Superfriends” and “He-Man” on WGNX 46, I switched to WATL 36 at 5 p.m. on September 10, 1984. As a nine-year-old, I found a show that would alter the course of my life forever: “Voltron: Defender of the Universe.” In my defense, a cool new cartoon has the power to do such things when you are a child and innocent.

Voltron was unlike anything I’d ever seen before. As a newspaper advertisement stated, the visual effects “blew me away.” I didn’t realize that Voltron was my first memorable exposure to anime. Anime has previously appeared on American television. “Speed Racer,” as previously mentioned, was an anime. However, the art style of “Speed Racer” did not strike me as significantly different from that of American cartoons.

Furthermore, I need help recalling “Star Blazers” (“Space Battleship Yamato”) or “Battle of the Planets” (“Science Ninja Team Gatchaman”). I was not even born when Osamu Tezuka brought “Astro Boy” to the small screen. So I credit Voltron with sparking my long-standing interest in and enjoyment of anime.

Voltron’s Influence on the Anime Boom: From Toonami to Streaming

Since then, unadulterated anime has become more accessible to the American market. Several subscription services now offer anime streaming. As a result, your children might be colossal anime fans. Or perhaps, like me, you are a member of Generation X, whose Japanese peers are known as “the First Generation Otaku.”

Toonami reintroduced anime to us Xers during our university days and reinforced our love for the medium. Anime has grown into a multibillion-dollar industry since World Events Productions licensed several Toei Animation properties, edited them together, and renamed them Voltron.

I’ve wondered how something like Voltron became remarkably popular in the 1980s. That was before there was commercial internet. Yes, Matthew Broderick’s character in 1983’s “WarGames” used a dial-up modem to hack WOPR, but the general public was unaware of public data networks.

Voltron’s Path to Popularity: Word of Mouth and Merchandising

Voltron became popular only through word of mouth. Excited little kids like me inquired of my peers whether they, too, had seen this awesome “cartoon” known as Voltron. If they hadn’t, they would have tuned in because their friends urged them to.

There was also merchandise to entice interest. Given the success of recent Transformers and Gobot releases, merchandisers correctly predicted that Voltron would be a big hit. And so Matchbox, Panosh Place, and LJN stepped forward, imported Japanese toys from their original series (“GoLion” and “Dairugger”), and rebranded them as Voltron.

I had a few of them myself. Along with the Blue Lion, I had Prince Lothar’s action figure. I also had a vinyl “Vehicle Voltron” from IJN’s “Basic Series.”

Limited Entertainment Options: How Voltron Captured Children’s Hearts and Minds

Beyond word of mouth and merchandising, there was also the reality that fewer entertainment options existed in 1984. If it weren’t on broadcast television, no one would see it. (Do you remember how much a VCR or a Betamax machine cost in 1984? $$$)

So, there were fewer competitors for children’s hearts and minds back then. The original Voltron will always hold a special place in the hearts of fans, as nothing can surpass its popularity.

Voltron’s Timeless Appeal: Why the Original Reigns Supreme

Those who have a Netflix subscription may recall that Netflix did a “Voltron” reboot that lasted several seasons. That is true, but “Voltron” on Netflix didn’t create the same level of interest because it wasn’t an anime but a cartoon. American kids in 1984 had no idea what anime was, but they knew Voltron differed from “Inspector Gadget” or “Heathcliff.”

This distinction stems primarily from the use of Japanese source material. That makes a significant difference. The original Voltron will likely remain the most popular version, and it is unlikely that any other version will surpass it.

Without detracting from the main point, I’ll briefly mention that the original Voltron has been re-released on DVD for its anniversary, along with brand-new toys. And they continue to sell out quickly.

Rediscovering the Untouched Source: Crunchyroll’s Streaming of GoLion and Dairugger

However, American anime licensors such as Sony’s Crunchyroll have decided to stream the original, unaltered source anime. I’ve seen “GoLion” and “Dairugger” as an adult. I understand why World Event Productions heavily edited the anime for American television. They were violent. Voltron, for example, was killing “robots” in the sanitized Voltron. But GoLion was killing aliens in the original anime.

Voltron’s Enduring Legacy: A Timeless Symbol of Adventure and Imagination

Despite the internet’s absence, Voltron’s 1980s success was due to several factors. The show has gained widespread popularity for various reasons. These reasons include the impact of television, successful word-of-mouth marketing, profitable merchandise, limited alternative entertainment options, and the captivating nature of the program.

Voltron introduced many young people, including myself, to anime, sparking a lifelong interest in the genre. Despite subsequent iterations and reboots, fans will always have a soft spot for the original Voltron. It stood out from other cartoons of the time because of its unique blend of Japanese source material.

Even though the internet and streaming services have made anime more accessible today, the original Voltron remains iconic and is unlikely to be surpassed in popularity. We are celebrating the anniversary of this beloved series with new toys and re-releases, demonstrating its enduring influence.