Executives from World Events Productions and Harmony Gold USA previewed a special crossover series with Voltron and Robotech during a panel at New York Comic Con, an event Voltron Creative Director Jeremy Corray referred to as “a pop-culture event years in the making that fans of classic ‘80s cartoons, anime, and giant robots won’t want to miss.” The announcement came this summer at San Diego Comic Con, and Friday, October 11, marked the first time representatives from both properties came together to discuss the details. The resulting comic, a mashup of the two icons of ‘80s animation, will be released by Dynamite Entertainment in December 2013.
In the mid-1980s St. Louis-based World Events Productions syndicated Voltron, known in Japan as Hyakuju Oh Goraion (Beast King GoLion), an anime that followed the story of space explorers whose robot lion spacecraft formed a giant robot that protected the universe from evil.
Another famously popular ‘80s series, Robotech is a sci-fi anime produced by Harmony Gold, a leading production, acquisition, and distribution company of international television programming, including Shaka Zulu and Around the World in 80 Days. Humans in Robotech’s saga must defend themselves against aliens in a series of wars.
“It was our shows that really helped launched the modern day anime industry that you see today,” says Kevin McKeever, Vice President of Marketing for Robotech.
Bob Koplar, Vice President of World Events Productions (WEP), says that back in 1983, “there was a limited amount of content out there, especially in terms of animation . . . The folks at World Events felt like there’s a whole world of interesting content being made, particularly with what was going on in Japan. The anime that was being made was beautiful stuff; it was unlike anything that had really been seen on US airwaves.”
WEP acquired the rights from Toei Animation, and in addition to broadcasting Voltron in St. Louis, World Events syndicated it around the US and eventually the world.
What some people may not realize is that several liberties were taken in the translation from Japanese to English, according to Voltron’s Wikipedia page. In the days before 24-hour information access through the Internet and instant translation found on sites such as Crunchyroll and Daisuki.net, WEP producers had to surmise the plots and create new dialogue while removing the violence and themes considered too “adult” by American standards. It worked. Voltron was a huge hit.
When JapanCulture•NYC asked Koplar after the panel about how true to the Japanese version WEP was able to keep the syndicated series, he said, “The anime, the original show, it’s not a kid-friendly video. But [the darker themes] are underneath the surface if you’re perceptive in Voltron, but they’re not the things we focused on . . . But I think we tried to stay as true as possible while making it kid-friendly.”
Television today isn’t as conservative as it was when Voltron hit our airwaves, but Koplar acknowledges that WEP is still sensitive to the same issues they faced 30 years ago.
“The standards have been brought down a little bit more, especially with cable these days,” says Koplar, “but I think for that age range – and for Voltron, you’re talking from 6 to 11 – so you have to be careful when you skew that young. You’re not going to see too many 6- to 12-year-old cartoons talk about death, illegitimate children, sexual conquests.”
Charged with addressing those themes is Tommy Yune, Robotech Creative Director, who is co-writing the crossover story with Dynamite Comics, which will produce and distribute the comics. It’s interesting to note that Yune watched every Japanese episode of GoLion to familiarize himself with the origins of the characters, subtext, and subplots.
Yune says that one of the challenges of writing the crossover is that the two series are so different.
“Robotech is a gritty, near-future, speculative science fiction, military epic adventure,” says Yune. “On the other hand, Voltron, even though it involves giant robots, if you took robots out of the mixture, it’s actually more of a fantasy.”
Yune worked on finding elements of the Voltron Universe that would feel natural within the context of the Robotech Universe. One of the main points of emphasis for Yune with this crossover series is to build up the backstory of the characters.
“I wanted this to be a throwback series for fans,” says Yune.
So he’s focusing on what he calls the “Three M’s”: Mecha, Mullets, and Mice.
Yune admits that some Robotech fans are unhappy about this crossover because of that third M. Those fans argued that the mice-free Robotech is a “serious series.”
Judging by the reaction of the audience attending the panel, the Voltron/Robotech crossover is a venture that will be well received by fans of both series. It’s not immediately known, however, if the series will be enjoyed in the land that inspired the original syndications.
“I’m sure we’ll market the comics in Japan,” says Koplar. “I don’t know what the plans are for a Japanese release. That would be an interesting market to do this in because they’re both well known properties over there.”