Beast King GoLion: An Anime Review
I live in Delaware. My wife's cousin lives in Gainesville, Virginia, which is usually around a two and a half hour drive for us. It's a relatively simple trip, one that basically just involves driving on a handful of highways for the length of the trip. The first time I went down to Gainesville, it was at night, on Thanksgiving Eve, and traffic sucked. Traffic sucked hard. The primary reason for that was construction. What should have taken maybe two and a half hours took closer to four and I am pretty sure my DS ran out of battery power on the way, so I wouldn't call that first drive a pleasant experience. The only plus from that drive, however, was seeing Castle Voltron.
While it's not an exact replica of Castle Voltron (or Castle Gradam as it's known in the original), the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Kensington, Maryland certainly looks like it at night. I mean this with absolutely no offense intended; I'm a Presbyterian and I would absolutely love if my church looked like Castle Voltron. I was positively ecstatic when I made this discovery, because when I was a kid, I owned Castle Voltron. I owned all the lions, too, although I seem to recall them getting lost and/or broken long before the castle itself. I had some of the Robeasts, as well (excuse me, Deathblack Beastmen). And I remember playing the heck out of those things.
The entire point of this long-winded opening, really, is because I have more memories about the toys than I do with Voltron. I know I watched Voltron when I was young, I wouldn't have had the toys if I didn't, but I know I didn't see every episode, and a few decades later, I don't really remember anything whatsoever about the show.
Except for "...and I'll form the head!" You tell 'em, Keith.
Voltron was adapted for U.S. soil from a 52-episode anime named Beast King GoLion. The original was produced from March 1981 to February 1982 in Japan and the adaptation didn't appear in America until September 1984 (when I would have been three years old) as the 124-episode Voltron: Defend of the Universe. At first glance, it's obvious something is going on here; how does 52 episodes of a Japanese show turn into 124 episodes of an American one? Well, you do this in the same way that Power Rangers did with Super Sentai; they took a bunch of unrelated shows about people in flashy costumes fighting monsters, threw them in the blender, and turned it on. The Voltron we got also includes footage from Armored Fleet Dairuger XV and had nothing to do with robot lions. But I digress; I'm not hear to really talk about Voltron, I'm hear to talk about GoLion, and when you get down to it, Voltron was not Beast King Go-Lion.
Voltron may have borrowed footage from GoLion and the general plot (five youths pilot five robot lions that possess the ability to combine into a single larger robot in order to combat a diabolical empire), but episode-to-episode, the shows have nothing to do with each other. When GoLion was repackaged as Voltron, things were heavily censored: blood was removed, scenes of torture were cut, planet Earth was no longer an irradiated husk of a world, and in probably the most famous of all the changes, characters that were killed on-screen were either "injured" (before subsequently disappearing from the cast) or stock footage was used to make them appear after they should have been dead. In addition to that, plots were changed around to make them more kid-friendly (one character's back story, in which they were basically a rape baby, is simply never mentioned). So I had some pretty big hopes for Go-Lion. I didn't remember specifics from Voltron (all the changes mentioned above come from various sources on the web, mainly Wikipedia), but I do remember it being a bit cheesy. I had hoped that the original stories would be of a slightly higher caliber. Much to my sadness, they're not. Beast King GoLion isn't very good.
This stems from two real issues that I came across while watching the nine-disc series. The first issue is that the vast majority of the episodes are the same. The Galra empire wants to destroy GoLion! A Deathblack Beastman (and later the Mecha Deathblack Beastmen) is sent to take care of him! Oh no, the five individual lions aren't strong enough. Let's combine into GoLion and use our magic sword! Lather, rinse, repeat, again and again and again. Of the nine discs in the series, you could probably get by just by watching discs 1, 8, and 9 and that will tell you everything you need to know. I don't want to dismiss the vast majority of the series out of hand, because now and then things will play out a little bit differently, and there are some occasionally good episodes in the middle of the series. and to be fair, that is also the same plot to pretty much every episode of Power Rangers and I have no problem watching them ad nauseam. And if that was the only problem I had with the series, I'd have let the repetitiveness slide.
The other issue, however, is that the writing is really, really bad, and the characters are all useless twits. GoLion is definitely a show of its time in that its inherently sexist, classist, and simple. Characters have one personality trait, maybe two if they are lucky. Kogane is the Leader. Seido likes to eat a lot. Princess Fala is the Princess. Sincline is the homicidal maniac who probably eats babies in his free time. It's okay to start with generic templates at the start, as that can help people to identify with the characters, but over the course of 52 episodes, these characters don't grow at all. Who they are in the first episode is who they are in episode 52. It's all very one-dimensional and it gets very boring, very quickly. Compounding this is the fact that everyone is an idiot, always saying and doing things that make absolutely no sense, even in context. Especially notable is the princess, who is tricked by an imposter pretending to be her aunt and a real lion who she believes is her mother in the span of a single disc.
The animation is painful to watch at times, but it's pretty comparable to other anime shows produced during that time period, so that gets a pass. The music is pretty decent, with each of the lions getting their own theme song that plays at random intervals over the run of the show, and the opening and closing theme didn't grate, even after 52 episodes. As a whole, though, I simply can't recommend this show. I was only partially joking when I said you can manage with just discs 1, 8, and 9; that is probably the best way to watch this show, as its tricks don't have enough time to overstay their welcome. I'm glad I slogged through this (slog being the operative word here), but it's not something I would recommend everyone do.