Thursday, April 8, 2010

A (Not So) Brief History of Voltes V

Influenced in part by increasingly accurate science fiction stories (Star Trek) and the rise of martial arts movies with Peking Opera influences, does merging of both guarantee TV series success?

By: Ringo Bones

I don’t know if the cult of Voltes V – that late 1970s sci-fi animation that features a giant anthropomorphic robot – only gained a foothold on Philippine soil. But I think given the sheer brilliance of the merging of excellent storytelling and contemporary (in the 1970s) cutting-edge science, Voltes V could have won fans across the world. For those unfamiliar with the series here’s a not so brief history of the sci-fi cartoon / anime saga.

Before Dr. Armstrong (the Voltes V’s inventor’s name in the English language dubbed version) arrived on Earth and asked for help with a few trustworthy locals to conjure the most ambitious – and animation worthy – plan to defend our planet. He grew up on a planet with a social system much screwed-up than that existing on our own called Boazania (in the English language version). As a reminder, Voltes V first aired on the Japanese TV network Asahi on June 4, 1977 with the story’s timeline set at 1989. It lasted 40 episodes until May 25, 1978 before being dubbed in English and shown in the Philippines in that year – thus spawning legions of fans who are still obsessed with it and those original late 1970s era Questor owned Voltes V merchandise – or was it Toei Animation Co., Ltd.

In the mythology of Voltes V, it all began in a planet far away from Earth called Boazan or Boazania in the English language version. In the story, Boazania is located 4324 parsecs or 14, 096 light years (1 parsec = 3.26 light years) from Earth has two ring systems around it, the top one circling the planets Tropic of Cancer region while the bottom ring circles around the planet’s Tropic of Capricorn region. Basing on what I’ve learned so far on the physics of planetary ring formation, such ring system probably is extremely rare or impossible in our cosmos. Technology wise, Boazania is probably 200 to 300 years more advanced than 1970s era planet Earth – assuming if the US Republican Party abandon their anti-science stance – which in the Voltes V story probably looks like 500 years more advanced than us.

In terms of social conditions, Boazania is like pre-abolitionist era Europe and America – or more like feudalism absolute monarchy era Europe. There occurs two classes of sentient humanoids – i.e. people – one born with horns and those born without and the ones with horns are the ones who are in charge, making the non-horned ones as the slave class. In the English version, the horned ones are referred to as “bourgeois”, though from time to time with extreme rarity a non-horned Boazanian bourgeois will be born. An incident that became the starting point of the mythology of Voltes V when the incumbent emperor / king had her consort / queen born him a son without horns.

At first, the Boazanian king wanted to kill the baby but the queen forbade him. So they made false horns for the baby and managed to keep the whole incident a secret known only to the Boazanian monarch’s inner circle – though the king’s brother was envious of this. The baby was named Lagour (Ragooru in the original Japanese version). Lagour grew up into a very intelligent Boazanian – probably their equivalent of Albert Einstein – then married a girl named Rozalia. Not long after that joyous occasion, the Boazanian King or Lagour’s father died, making the young man the new king / emperor of Boazania.

The late king’s envious evil brother who wanted to be the king / emperor of Boazania spread the news about Lagour’s fake horns. At the day of the coronation, the late king’s evil brother snapped the fake horns of Lagour and the palace guards dragged the heir apparent to prison where he was sentenced for a lifetime of slavery. The late king’s brother then proclaimed himself as the new Boazanian king. His name is Zanbazir or Zambojil in the English version.

The incarceration and slavery of the heir apparent Lagour had him separated from his wife, Rozalia and never saw her again in the course of his enslavement. One day, Lagour just received news that she died, but unknown to Lagour, Rosalia was pregnant when he was sent to the dungeon, and gave birth to a boy. The child would later grow up to be Prince Zardos and would complicate the conflict that would later occur between Earth and Boazania.

In the royal dungeon / forced labor camp, Lagour met many friends and the prevailing schisms about the inherently unjust social conditions of Boazanian society. He met a bourgeois – a man named Darge - who chose to cut his own horns as a statement against Boazanian societal inequity, an action that condemned him into slavery. Later on, Lagour had found out that the Boazanian emperor / king Zambojil wanted to conquer Earth – probably a recent discovery of its similarity to Boazanian atmosphere and the 3 billion or so non-horned inhabitants – seems too tempting to pass up. During a prison rebellion, Lagour - with a few fellow inmates – managed to hijack a Boazanian spacecraft capable of interstellar travel and took a 5-year journey to escape to Earth.

After managing to enter the Earth’s airspace and land undetected in Japan, Lagour changed his name to Kentaro Gou or Dr. Armstrong in the English version and worked as an eminent physicists for a few years. Then Dr. Armstrong met a woman professor named Mitsuyo, from whom he had three sons: Steve, Big Bert, and Little John in the English version – Kenichi, Daijirou and Hiyoshi in the Japanese version. Dr. Armstrong managed to team up with Professor Hamaguchi – Dr. Smith in the English version – who was smart enough to understand his very advanced Boazanian science. And General Oka – Commander Robinson in the English version – who knew the urgency of what’s at stake at the impending Boazanian invasion to create a command post called camp big Falcon and a super robot called Voltes V. After this planetary defense system went up and running, Dr. Armstrong “mysteriously” disappeared, probably to work on the Mechanical Eagle. An eagle-shaped craft capable of flying 30 times the speed of sound in the Earth’s atmosphere with a weapons system and power plant more powerful than that of Voltes V and those Boazanian Beast Fighters.

The bulk of the 40 or so episodes of the Voltes V TV series revolves around the battles between the heroic robot and the Boazanian Beast Fighters that mimic that of an ornate traditional on stage morality play - like a traditional Peking opera - prevalent here in the Far East. Voltes V is composed of 5 separate vehicles than needs to be skillfully piloted by someone of appropriate skill.

The head section of Voltes V is comprised of the Volt Crewzer (Cruiser?) piloted by Dr. Armstrong’s eldest son Steve Armstrong and an accomplished Wild West era quick draw pistol marksman. The arms’ section of Voltes V is comprised of the Volt Bomber piloted by Mark Gordon – a former professional rodeo cowboy. The upper torso of Voltes V is comprised of the Volt Panzer piloted by “Big Bert” Armstrong – a big-boned martial arts enthusiast. The waist and legs of Voltes V is comprised of the Volt Frigate piloted by Little John Armstrong – the youngest of the Armstrong brothers and an expert in marine warfare. Jamie Robinson, daughter of Commander Robinson, pilots the feet section of Voltes V. Jamie is an accomplished practitioner of Ninjitsu – i.e. she’s a Ninja.

During the first Boazanian attack on Earth, that included the Boazanian royal command post - a Boazanian castle on top of a flying gigantic horned skull-shaped craft. Dr. Armstrong’s wife – the mother of the three Armstrong brothers – was killed. But Voltes V managed to fend off their planned conquest of humanity – making the Bozanian invasion force commanded by Prince Zardos seek refuge in a deserted island. Assisting the Boazanian prince is the petulant Sandra and the two competing Boazanian warmongers: the three horned steroidal figured Draco and the one-horned hunchbacked Dick Cheney-like figure named Zuhl.

During the course of their battles against a number of Boazanian Beast Fighters, Prince Zardos discovers that some of the Voltes V team are of Boazanian descent after a staged attack by a Beast fighter carrying a biological weapon. Later on, Dr. Smith died when he tried to save the Voltes team from certain death. Allowing him to be replaced by his former colleague with Dr. Armstrong named Dr. Hook (Prof. Sakunji in the Japanese version) who was a much more stern and more unforgiving commander of the Voltes V team and Camp Big Falcon. Commander Robinson also got killed in the subsequent episodes during a battle with a Boazanian Beast Fighter named Daian.

Prince Zardo’s two main henchmen – the steroidal 3-horned Draco and the emaciated one-horned osteoporosis-stricken Zuhl - were in competition during much of the 40 TV episodes. Especially in constructing a better Beast Fighter to finally defeat Voltes V. Zuhl was once severely punished by prince Zardos for not trying hard enough to defeat Voltes V, making Zuhl hate Prince Zardos to the point of killing him if the opportunity arises. When Prince Zardos decided to attack Voltes V himself while piloting a Beast Fighter shaped like a panther called Gargo, Zuhl, ordered by Zaki – one of the Boazanian royal staffers – secretly gave the Voltes team a blueprint of Gargo so that they could learn the Beast Fighter’s weak points. But Sandra found out about it and later in several episodes, Zuhl was put to death for treason. To replace Zuhl, a Boazanian commander named Bergan was sent. Bergan never got to terms with prince Zardos’ arrogance, but never got to the point of wanting to kill the prince himself.

The apparent disappearance of Dr. Armstrong / the Boazanian heir apparent formerly known as Lagour only came to light to us Voltes V fans when movie features of the series were made. Dr. Armstrong was actually kidnapped by the Boazan army, but later managed to escape. This escape – cited by Voltes fans - is probably the reason why Prince Zardos and his henchmen never managed to sent spies and saboteurs to Camp Big Falcon. Dr. Armstrong then set-up a secret base in a cavern hidden beneath the Alps that also serves as a refugee camp for escaped former Boazanian slaves. Together with Doir – another gifted Boazanian who became a slave due to being born without horns despite of his intellect – devised a plan to allow Voltes V to become capable of space travel to planet Boazania to liberate it. This necessitated the construction of the Solar Bird.

After noticing that Prince Zardos haven’t yet succeeded in conquering Earth, the Boazanian emperor sent Gururu to fast track existing plans. Prince Zardos later discovered the secret base in the Alps and destroyed it, while General Gururu kidnapped Dr. Armstrong / Lagour. With ambitions to oversee the governing of Earth as a Boazanian colony, General Gururu left a trail for Voltes V to follow into the secret Boazanian castle command post of Prince Zardos in the hopes of the prince will be killed in the impending battle and hostage rescue attempt.

Draco (Jangal in the Japanese version) committed ritual suicide after he was defeated in which the Voltes team came too late to stop him. Prince Zardos wanted to fight Voltes V personally but his consort – Sandra – shot him with a tranquilizer pistol and took him back to Boazania in their saucer craft. Unfortunately, Bergan – Zuhl’s replacement – activated the Magamit Nuclear Bomb – called the Neutrino Bomb in the Voltes V movie – that had enough explosive yield to destroy the Earth. Try as they might, the Voltes team can’t seem to disarm the “doomsday device” before detonation. At the nick of time, Solar Bird appeared, piloted by Doir. Using the Solar Bird, he managed to grab hold of the Neutrino Bomb moments before detonation and threw it into space – thus saving the Earth.

In this part of the series, it was revealed that Camp Big Falcon – the base facility that housed Voltes V – was actually a gigantic spaceship. It rose to the sky after receiving power from Solar Bird. After the two craft docked, Big Falcon became an interstellar vehicle capable of travelling faster than light without breaking the laws of Einstein’s Special Relativity – i.e. Alcubierre-style warp drive. The two merged craft was now on its new mission, to go to planet Boazania, rescue Dr. Armstrong / Lagour, and overthrow the unjust monarchy – i.e. defeat the evil emperor Zambojil and free the slaves.

As the Voltes team approached planet Boazania, emperor Zambojil activated his secret planetary defense weapon named Sodom and Gomorrah. These were comprised of a pair of satellites that can create a magnetic storm that could generate enough radiation to damage approaching spacecraft and kill its occupants. Using a tricky – but very risky warp maneuver – Falcon successfully entered the atmosphere of Boazania. Doir immediately made contact with his fellow men in the dungeon to initiate a planet-wide rebellion against the Boazanian bourgeois. Lagour / Dr. Armstrong / Kentaro Gou was successfully liberated from his cell while the slaves quickly gained victory as Voltes V aided them.

The story climaxed when the three brothers of the Voltes team could at last be reunited with their father, Lagour / Dr. Armstrong / Kentaro Gou. Suddenly Prince Zardos appeared and demanded a sword duel with Steve Armstrong (Kenichi in the Japanese version). None of them won since both of their swords got broken. Prince Zardos grabbed his knife but then Lagour / Dr. Armstrong recognized the knife as the one owned by Rozalia. Prince Zardos said that it was her mother’s thus making Lagour / Dr. Armstrong realize that Prince Zardos was actually his son from Rozalia – making the prince the older brother of Steve Armstrong.

Prince Zardos was shocked in disbelief and won't believe it. Lagour / Dr. Armstrong asked Prince Zardos to look at the knife’s grip saying that it bears the symbol of his family’s crest that also bears the symbol of Boazanian peace. With trembling trepidation, Prince Zardos looked at the grip and was shocked to find that a stylized bas relief of a pair of doves on it – thus confirming that the prince was the half brother of the three Armstrong brothers.

Suddenly, emperor Zambojil appeared bearing a loot of treasures then blamed Prince Zardos in front of Lagour / Dr. Armstrong and the three Armstrong brothers for the disastrous invasion of planet Earth. Infuriated, Prince Zardos threw the knife that he was holding at the emperor. Unfortunately, emperor Zambojil was carrying a grenade, as it exploded. Prince Zardos managed to shield Steve Armstrong from the brunt of the blast. The grenade blast caused a rift on the ground and a wall of flame that separated the prince and Steve Armstrong. In desperation Steve managed to shout at Prince Zardos, calling “brother” (niisan in Japanese) and Lagour / Dr. Armstrong called out his name. Prince Zardos looked shocked and said slowly to Lagour / Dr. Armstrong “father” (otoosan in Japanese), then the wall of flame engulfed the prince.

With the battle finally over, Lagour was finally crowned as the righteous leader of Boazania. A Warp drive feature was finally installed in Voltes V so that the robot can achieve interstellar travel with ease. Then Big Falcon, Solar Bird and Voltes V flew back to planet Earth to serve as permanent guardians – and the rest is history.

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