Toy Review - Voltron vs Voltron vs Voltron!
Voltron is back…whether it’s the Netflix series (which I should really write up some time, but the short version is it’s mostly awesome with only one GLARING problem) or it’s in the toy shelves. Now, when we talk about Voltron toys, we really open ourselves up to a lot of things that can be considered: the original Japanese Popy releases, Matchbox’s Voltrons I (Vehicle Voltron), II (Gladiator Voltron from the unaired English dub of Lightspeed Electroid Albegas), and III (the well-known Lion Force Voltron), the Panosh Place lions that could carry pilot figures but the formed Voltron was…well…less than great, Trendmasters’ 90s releases, Toynami’s collector oriented releases, Mattel’s collector oriented but with action features that make it feel like it’s more geared toward kids and lastly Playmates’ most recent line that ties into the current Netflix series.
Whew! That’s a lot of Voltron to choose from! Unfortunately, coming from humble beginnings, my exposure to the earliest toys was limited…given that friends and relatives had them and I did not. By the time the Trendmasters stuff was coming out, I was in college, so means were better, but still limited. What didn’t help was the fact that I was getting back into Transformers and, as such, Beast Wars/Machines toys were consuming most of my free cash. But thanks to my late, great, sister, I happened to snag a Trendmasters classic Voltron (all plastic though) with her employee discount. Alas though, can’t say the plastic quality was all that great, as there was a breakage issue and, in street vernacular, he ain’t with us no more. Thus, for review purposes, this leaves us with Toynami’s 25th Anniversary Voltron, Mattel’s 2012 24” Voltron and the most recent Playmates 16” electronic Legendary Voltron.
Toynami’s Voltron adheres closest to the aesthetic of the original toy and, as such, is the best place to start. At face value, it certainly could easily be mistaken as the original, but Toynami has made a few tweaks here and there that once you get the figure in your hands, it becomes very clear that this is new. The biggest give away is the added articulation. Mind you, this is not to say that the original was any slouch in this department…far from it! Toynami replicated the shoulders, knees and elbows (with swivels at the top and bottom of the joint) as well as adding some wrist articulation. With those swivels at the wrist, that meant that the ability to shoot off the lion heads had to be scratched. Another interesting change…I recall that the original Yellow Lion used to have the sides of the head open to reveal blasters. This too is gone from the Toynami version. [As well as all the other versions we’re looking at. – Ed.] In the hips, Toynami changed the joint from the standard forward/backward joint that defined many a toy groin back in the 80s to more of a ball-join, allowing for some, albeit limited, outward movement that allows this Voltron to capture some slightly more dynamic poses. I nearly forgot, there’s also an added waist swivel and neck articulation…allowing the body to shift a bit and the head to look around. This version is also molded a little leaner than its predecessor, mostly evidenced in the longer version of the Blue and Yellow Lions making for longer legs and higher knees. I never noticed this until doing research for this review…and I have to say, there’s something a bit more balanced to the old proportions. Still, as I said, this is likely the closest you’re going to get to the original without copious amounts of ebay or flea market stalking. [Don’t forget pestering childhood friends that had it when you didn’t. – Ed.] Overall, it looks great on the shelf and you can get the arms to do some really cool things but the hips, knees and feet end up looking more poseable than what they really are. But if you want a pure retro fix…this is your bot.
Next up we have Mattel’s 24-inch monster from 2011-12. These could either be purchased individually on MattyCollector.com or you could subscribe to Club Lion Force and every 2 or 3 months a lion and its pilot would be shipped to you. The bonus for joining the club is that you got a Sven pilot figure. Each of the pilots were 3 ¾” scale and fit into the lions. They also came with colored keys that served not only as figure stands but also as a way of unlocking each lion’s pilot compartment. This is where things start to go wrong. Push a button and the pilot compartment opens. Push a button and the lion legs spring out. Push a button and the lion head unlocks forming the foot or head of Voltron. There are a lot of buttons…and a lot of springs. As such, this toy is rife with chances to brush up on your profanity in either forming Voltron or separating out into the lions. This ends up illustrating the core contradiction of Mattel’s offering. You see…I don’t think the folks at MattyCollector knew who they were trying to aim this product at. With the increased articulation (shoulders, elbows with aforementioned swivels, torso, waist, good ratcheted hips, thigh-swivels, knees and even a little articulation in the feet) and price point, you’d think it was aimed at collectors…but the gimmick overload, simplistic design and pilot figures all suggest mass-market or kids. In taking this middle-of-the-road approach, Mattel failed to capture either: collectors got too pissed off with things popping out all the time and each lion proved too expensive and, since it was only available for brief periods of time on MattyCollector’s website, too hard to come by for kids and their parents. This still ends up being my favorite of the three, however, as I’m a sucker for huuuuuge toys, the animation-centric design is full of nostalgia win and I do like the increased articulation. To be fair though, many of the pictures you see in the gallery have a lot of profanities in the background as either some gimmick sprung during posing or the ratchets were set in such a way that when trying to pose the figure ends up being so off-balance that you end up finding your Voltron being subjected to many a drop test. So yeah, it’s my favorite, but I’m all too willing to admit that there are plenty of flaws here and can certainly see why many collectors were disappointed upon this figure’s eventual release.
Lastly we have our latest entry from Playmates based on the new Netflix cartoon. While the full 16” bot looks pretty impressive (mostly), we really can’t judge it in the same way we did the previous two. Toynami’s and Mattel’s were geared toward collectors while Playmates’ is aimed at the current toy mass market. Translation: kids, this Voltron is aimed at kids. [A fact that many collectors tend to overlook these days! – Ed.] As such, well, articulation takes a pretty big hit. All the major joins are there (except for a neck swivel and a waist swivel), but are pretty darn limited. All of the smaller lions come with some form of extra weaponry, spring loaded missiles or shooting discs, none of which are really storable on the combined bot. That’s not going to bug a kid in the slightest, but some adult collectors, including myself, may find that a bit annoying. Now, the reason we don’t have any waist articulation is due to the electronics…and given the nature of said electronics, I’m perfectly okay with it. You see, this Voltron can detect which lions are connected and which ones aren’t and the lights, sounds and voices will all reflect this. Once the mighty robot is formed, then there’s a whole slew of sound effects and such. Sure, for the adult collector these are going to very old very fast…but for the kiddies, well, I’m pretty sure younger me would’ve had a blast with it. Like the Mattel version, pilots are included here, but they’re just tiny bits of solid colored plastic mounted on their…what…hover bikes? Air sleds? Let’s say personal vehicles. There’s no paint details to determine even the slightest of details and each of these has a pretty similar docking point within the underbelly of each lion. It’s a nice touch but, just as the lack of paint on Hasbro’s Titan Master figures, the lack of any paint here proves to be annoying to the adult collector…or maybe it’s just me. The lions were a pain in the ass to find for a while…pretty much the first half of the year, but in June and July the lions started showing up pretty regularly in toy aisles…so if you’re looking for a full set, it shouldn’t take much effort to find one. Oh, one last thing I wanted to point out. The current Voltron’s design drops the old-style wings that stuck up from the robot in favor of wings that look more like the Vernier engines present on a lot of the Gundam Wing mechs (the original Wing Zero and Tallgeese come to mind immediately)…but with a little fiddling, you can kind of replicate the old-school appearance, so that’s pretty cool. My only complaint with the design of this figure is the lion feet. The heads are far from as pronounced as they should be…with both Blue and Yellow Lions having their heads obscured by some degree of kibble. This ends up making the feet look more like…well…feet and not the awesome lion-head feet that helps to make Voltron be one of the most recognizable bots to emerge from the 80s.
As you can see, each of these versions of Voltron has their strengths and weaknesses. For adult collectors, it’s probably easiest to recommend the Toynami version. The design harkens strongly back to the original 80s toy with some modifications and the added articulation, limited or not, can only be seen as gravy. For me though, I’d almost rather have less articulation than the articulation being there but being severely limited. [The latter reeking of false hope and broken dreams. And yes, dammit, I do take my toys too seriously. – Ed.] The other problem I ran into on my Toynami copy is that the joints were pretty loose (hence why the pics in the gallery below are anything but dynamic). Granted, this is an older version, so they may have fixed this by now. I’ve already said that the Mattel version is my favorite despite its many, many flaws. But if you’re stuck on a budget and want something you can readily find on shelves, I can tell you that the newest version from Playmates is a pretty solid toy and, if you need a quick Lion Voltron fix, this is probably the bot to go with.