Inquirer Super

The Super Nerdy guide to ‘Voltes V’

By Ruel S. De Vera
01/15/20 4:08 PM

Many a Filipino heart was warmed on Jan. 1, 2020 when GMA 7 released a teaser trailer for “Voltes V: Legacy.” The one-minute teaser indicated the network was bringing a live-action adaptation of “Voltes V” to Philippine TV. The teaser became viral immediately, launching a wave of nostalgia and excitement. “Voltes V” is the most important anime show for Filipinos, period, and the buzz surrounding the teaser is proof of that.

“Voltes V” is no ordinary anime. It is part of Filipino mythology, particularly of the generation that grew up during martial law and beyond. It is the source of inspiration and a form of diversion, a Japanese property transformed by Filipinos for Filipinos. Yes, it is named after a giant, ultra-electromagnetic robot, it is about family and freedom.

Here is our repository for all things “Voltes V,” an unashamedly devoted body of ultra-electromagnetic knowledge about our favorite robot.

Let’s Volt in!

The mythology:

The Earth has suddenly come under attack by aliens from the planet Boazania. These humanoid aliens have superior technology and quickly overpower Earth’s military. But Earth has a secret weapon: the Voltes V team. Composed of the Armstrong brothers Steve, Big Bert and Little John; ninja Jamie Robinson and hothead cowboy Mark Gordon, the Volytes V team have fighting machines that combine into the robot Voltes V. The giant robot is important because the Boazanians, led by the villainous Prince Zardoz, used giant Beast Fighters to wreak havoc. While the Voltes V team battles to rid the Earth of the invaders, there’s a more personal mission: The Armstrongs are looking for their missing scientist father Ned; their human mother Mary Ann is killed while defending the team.

It turns out the Boazanians are a racist society where the horned Boazanians (such as Zardoz) oppress the non-horned Boazanians. It turns out Ned Armstrong is a non-horned Boazanian and is the father of Zardoz; Zardoz and the Armstrong boys are half-brothers. Ned had been leading a rebellion within Boazania and the Voltes V team soon play a part in that.

There are five machines. Steve pilots the Volt Crewzer, Mark the Volt Bomber, Big Bert the Volt Panzer, Little John the Volt Frigate and Jamie the Volt Lander. Each machine has its own unique weapons, but when they need an extra boost, the machines fly into V formation, with each member pressing a button and crying out, “Let’s Volt in!” The machines, using ultra-electromagentic energy, transform and join together, becoming the robot Voltes V. Steve, whose cockpit moves into the robot’s eyes, is in command.

Voltes V has a variety of weapons: the chain knuckles, Volt bazooka, the ultra-electromagnetic whips and tops, the groundfire and the Volt missiles, which come from its hands. Voltes V uses the team’s combined martial arts knowledge—in one famous episode, Steve had to learn the “Butterfly technique” to catch a Beast Fighter’s sword. But when all the weapons don’t work, Voltes V uses the final weapon. It takes out the hilt from the chest and the blade emerges, lightning strikes, forming the Laser Sword. This is a mostly unstoppable weapon and when it is done, Voltes V leaves a flaming “V” where the Beast Fighter once stood (There was one episode where the sword didn’t work immediately, but that was an aberration).

The show in Japan

“Chondenji Machine Voltes V” is a Japanese animated (anime) mecha show that came during the Golden Age of Super Robot shows. A Super Robot show is distinguished by its gigantic robots, manned by a pilot or a team of pilots, with monster or fellow giant robots. Examples include Go Nagai’s “Mazinger Z” and “Beast King Golion,” which would become the American show “Voltron: Defender of the Universe.” Its polar opposite, the Real Robots show, is characterized usually by smaller manned units engaged in what could easily be real world conflict. That genre’s codifier is “Mobile Suit Gundam,” which will come up again later.

The show’s title translates into “Super (or ultra) electromagnetic Machine Voltes V.” Ultra-electromagentic energy is a big deal on the show, powering the robot and much of the tech. Outside of Japan, it is simply called “Voltes V.”

The was directed by Tadao Nagahama as the middle part of his “Robot Romance” trilogy, a very popular series of Super Robot shows, all produced and distributed by Toei Co. LTD.

“Voltes V” was preceded by “Chodenji Robo Combattler V” (yes, that show also had “Super-electromagnetic” in its title) and bears many resemblances to “Voltes V.” In fact, a quick look at the robot and the team members makes people assume it is Voltes V, down to the robot’s mouthplate, the five component machines and the big “V” on the color-coded uniforms. By the way, the “V” in “Combattler V” is actually pronounced like the letter “V” unlike the “Five” in “Voltes V” (it says so right in the show’s logo).

“Voltes V” is a refinement and escalation of the themes and ideas of “Combattler V.” It is not a continuation and is a much better show. It’s a surprising show as major characters don’t just die at the beginning or the end, but instead die throughout without prior notice.

The names are mostly different in the original show. The Armstrongs are the Guos: Steve is Kenichi, Big Bert is Daijiro, Little John is Hiyoshi, Ned is Kentaro and Mary Ann is Mitsuyo. Jamie is Megumi Oka and Mark is Ippei Mine.  Zardoz is Prince Heinel.

“Voltes V” has an interesting pedigree in that it is produced by one Yoshiyuki Tomino, who would, in 1979, create “Mobile Suit Gundam.” It doesn’t take much to connect “Voltes V” and its surprisingly violent combat with the Real Robots violence of the first “Gundam” show. Consider “Voltes V” among Tomino’s prototypes for “Gundam.” He was nicknamed “Kill ‘em all Tomino” for a reason.

The final installment in the Robot Romance trilogy, “Tosho Daimos,” which translates into “Fighting General Daimos,” aired in 1978 and was popular as well (Richard Erika!).

“Voltes V” first aired on Japan’s TV Asahi in 1977, with all 40 episodes airing until 1978, to good ratings and a modicum of popularity—but nothing like what it would gain in other markets.

The show in the Philippines

“Voltes V” was aired in several foreign markets. It had the greatest impact in the Philippines, where it began airing in 1978 on GMA 7 every Friday night, becoming a family event.

The company behind the Philippine success of “Voltes V’ is the aptly-named Telesuccess Productions, Inc. Telesuccess has been in the business of dubbing anime for airing on Philippine since the 1970s. While they are most identified with the lucrative “Voltes V” license (they were the publishers of the anime-oriented Questor Magazine), the company had also been behind the Tagalog dubs of fellow robot show “Mazinger Z” and the drama “Candy Candy.” You probably have listened to a Telesuccess show at one point or another; later hits including “Yuyu Hakusho”—better known as “Ghost Fighter” (Eugene!)—and “Fushigi Yugi” (Tamahome!). The new show, “Voltes V: Legacy,” is, of course, officially licensed by Telesuccess from Toei Co. LTD.

Like its other Japanese-sourced shows, Telesuccess’ “Voltes V” was dubbed into English by Filipino voice actors led by the acclaimed character actor Joonee Gamboa. It is this dub that became iconic and remains the definitive “Voltes V” experience.

“Voltes V” was the watercooler show of its time. Kids had to watch what happened on Fridays so they could discuss it with their friends the next week in school. It was important because of the twists on the show such as as when the major characters died and when rogue elements like the mysterious Mechanical Eagle (friend or foe?) showed up. They knew the theme songs (particularly the opening theme) by heart. The crowning glory was to own the Popy die-cast combining toy (see below).

In 1979, then President Ferdinand Marcos banned all Super Robot shows (“Voltes V” was not the only one) because of the “excessive violence” shown in them. But “Voltes V” was the most popular, and it was almost finished, having aired 35 episodes with only five more to go.

Conventional wisdom said it was really due to “Voltes V’s” other theme: people rising up against an oppressive regime, turning the show’s missing ending into a signature manifestation of martial law. An entire generation of Filipino children had a cultural void left by the lack of closure due to the abrupt banning of “Voltes V.”

All that changed after Marcos was removed in 1986.

“Voltes V” was finally aired in full, first on PTV 4, then on ABS CBN 2 and IBC 13 in English.

Interestingly, the last five episodes had to be dubbed by a different set of voice actors save for Zardoz, voiced by Dodo Crisol.

It was dubbed into Filipino by IBC 13. GMA 7 and HERO TV, with GMA doing an entirely new re-dub in Filipino featuring the voice of their studio talents to commemorate “Voltes V’s” 40th anniversary in 2017. Aside from being aired pretty much steadily on free TV since 1986, the show can also be viewed on streaming services such as iFlix and Hooq.

It’s often said that “Voltes V” is to Filipinos what “Voltron: Defender of the Universe” is to Americans, but that actually doesn’t capture the cultural significance of “Voltes V.” “Voltron” is a great gateway to anime for Americans but it is not a symbol of resistance.

The new show

“Voltes V,” however, has only ever been aired using the original 1977 2D animation. “Voltes V: Legacy” marks the first time anyone is using a new set of visuals, much less CGI or live-action.

The trailer starts with a shot of the Earth and broadcast transmissions of reports of alien attack.

There is an eagle and the shot zooms in on its eye, which turns it to be a robotic eye—this is no doubt a callback to the aforementioned Mechanical Eagle.

The eagle flies over the familiar image of Camp Big Falcon.

The text reads; “The hero of generations returns.”

We see the feet of the robot.

Then we get a shot from behind of Prince Zardoz, who appears to have kept his distinctive look.

We see the iconic razor saucers entering the atmosphere.

We see the torso and chest of the robot in the gantry, with sparks from either construction or repair vehicles. These shots are interesting because that’s not how Voltes V is housed in Camp Big Falcon but do reflect the first time the team sees the robot. These shots are reminiscent in particular of the Guillermo del Toro film “Pacific Rim,” which is cool because that film was in turn inspired by mecha anime.

We get a shot of the elevator. 

The launch bay doors open, and we see the Volt Crewzer launching.

Cut to Voltes V, seen from behind, arriving to face off with a Beast Fighter.

Then, we get Voltes V jumping full into the frame with a flaming version of the Laser Sword.

There is a V-slash, with machine designs in the opening left behind.

The “V” turns into the “V” of the Japanese logo which then turns into the “Voltes V: Legacy” logo.

We hear the cry of “Voltes Fiiiiive!”

Takeaways from the trailer:

These are clearly early CGI shots, so there is no telling how the final show will turn out. In particular, the show is live-action, so how they shoot the actors will play a big part here. The CGI is promising, and we know Riot (who did the CGI for “Encantadia”) will be doing the effects.

They seem to have chosen to keep the original look in general. Camp Big Falcon and Zardoz’s costume point to this as they would want to keep the designs as close as they can to the original.

But the Beast Fighter and Voltes V itself shows they have decided to modernize the design aesthetic. The robot doesn’t have the straight lines of the 1970s robots, instead having the segmented torso and arms of very recent mecha. The proportions are also different, but it all seems to be in service of making what was a very cartoony design much more “realistic.”

The background music is also an updated orchestrated version of the theme.

That’s it. That’s all we know. We have no idea who’s going to be in it, how many episodes it’s going to be or even when it’s going to air.

We already know that Mark A. Reyes (who helmed the “Mulawin” and “Encantadia” franchises) has been working on the project for five years and will be helming this one as well. The most interesting clarification is the airdate. Contrary to assumptions that, because of GMA 7’s choice of airing the teaser on New Year’s Day, the show would air in 2020, there has been speculations it would instead come out in 2021. Reyes has been quoted as saying they won’t commit to that airdate either as the work required for the show is immense. This may be very cautious expectation management on GMA’s part though the teaser has triggered much excitement among fans.

The toys

The first, most sought-after version of the toy was the diecast and plastic Popy version. This toy was the perfect encapsulation of the Japanese Super Robot toys of that period. Coming in individual boxes or in the much-sought-after all-in-one gift box, the five machines that made up Voltes V were incredibly detailed, with transparent cockpits and spring-loaded missile-firing mechanisms (Don’t lose the plastic yellow ammunition). They of course docked together to form the titular Super Robot, which stood over 12 inches tall. Perfectly painted but also boasting decals, the five machines looked gorgeous displayed together. It was also released as part of the Godaikin line. Despite the boxy proportions and limited articulation, this remains the definitive point of this character by default, and today a mint example can cost almost in the six figures.

A non-combining Voltes V made it to an even larger size—over 24 inches—as part of the Jumbo Machinder line though it kept the spring-loaded fists gimmick. This—and the smaller 5-inch version—made it to the American market as part of the imported Shogun Warriors line.

Various plastic versions of Voltes V have been available through the years in different poses and sizes since then. Voltes V would not get a serious re-engineering until Bandai (which incidentally now owns Popy) rolled out Voltes V as part of its Soul of Chogokin line. This is the most highly-articulated, most well-designed version of the character. It still breaks up into the five parts, is made up of plastic and die-cast metal, and has spring-loaded gimmicks of its own. It has all the weapons, even the tops and the bazooka. Of course, it has the chromed sword, with a handle that actually pops in and out of the chest. Yet when put together, it stands 6 inches tall! What an amazing feat of design. The SOC Voltes V went through several editions, highlighted by the 40th anniversary edition in 2017.

Eschewing the combination for even more articulation, Bandai’s SOC Full Action (FA) Voltes V is a full-on action figure version of the Super Robot.

Most recently, Action Toys has put out two different tiny combining Voltes V sets, including a super-deformed “Chibi” version and a more normally proportioned Voltes V.

With the character’s continued popularity, Voltes V will no doubt be reincarnated in other toy forms in the future.

Filipino celebrities have Voltes V at the heart of their treasure chests. Eraserheads frontman Ely Buendia had an original die-cast Voltes V; the band’s seminal album, “Ultraelectromagneticpop” is a play on the robot’s Ultraerelectromagnetic tops. DJ Big Boy Cheng, who owns Ronac Art Center, also has one. There are many Filipinos who have entire Voltes V collections.

In 2017, the clothing line Giordano released a line of shirts to commemorate the show’s 40th anniversary.

The Opening Theme

While the show’s visual iconography is embedded into popular Filipino consciousness, the opening theme song is even more powerful.

“Voltes V no Uta” is sung by Mitsuko Horie. Later on, Horie would voice many an anime character (notably Upa on “Dragon Ball”) but she really made a name for herself specifically singing theme songs to anime songs beginning when she was only 12. The song is written by Kobayashi Aso and arranged by Takada Hiroshi and Horie herself.  “Voltes V no Uta” literally mean’s “Voltes V’s song,” and Horie continues to perform this song live to this day. A brass- and string-heavy song, “Voltes V no Uta” is instantly recognizable for most Filipinos; Gen-Xers probably grew up with a vinyl 45 record of this side. The A-side was the full song and the B-side was an instrumental version. Like all Super Robot openings, this opening was essentially all exposition, showing the good guys, the bad guys and the combination sequence which would become stock footage repeated every episode when the time was right.

The song’s lyrics in Japanese:

Tatoe arashi ga futou tomo
Tatoe oonami areru tomo
Kogida sou tatakai no umi e
Tobikomou tatakai no uzu e
Mitsumeau hitomi to hitomi
Nukumori wo shinjiau gonin no nakama
Borutesu ni subete wo kakete
Yaru zo chikara no tsukiru made
Chikyuu no yoake wa mou chikai

Tatoe ikazuchi furou tomo
Tatoe daichi ga yureru tomo
Tobidasou tatakai no sora e
Mamorou yo tatakai no niwa wo
Nigiriau tagai no te to te
Makokoro wo shinjiaou gonin no nakama
Boruteso Faibu ni inochi wo kakete
Yuku zo shouri wo tsukamu made
Uchuu no yoake wa mou chikai

Tatoe kemono ga hoeru tomo
Tatoe yukute wo fusagu tomo
Utaou yo tatakai no uta wo
Katarou yo tatakai no michi wo
Ashinami wo soruete yukou
Otagai wo shinjiaou gonin no nakama
Borutesu Faibu ni azuketa inochi
Tobi ze uchuu no hate made mo
Minna no egao mo mou chikai

Note that “Borutesu Faibu” is the Nihonggo approximation of “Voltes V.”

There was a very popular English dub of this song that doesn’t exactly jibe with the Japanese lyrics but do get the spirit of the song:

Someday the sons of light shall fill all the earth
The morning of justice shall have come to its birth
So we’ll all wave our banners high and free through the air
For the love and glory we then all shall share

Soldiers boldly unite to fight and fight for peace
Hand in hand like eagles through the breeze
Over lands and over seas

Voltes V we come to you
Flashing through with wings of steel
Fates of foes are what we seal
With swords of laser light
And over lands and over seas
Onwards victory / Voltes V

On the GMA 7 comedy show “Bubble Gang,” Michael V. presided over what would become a crazy hit nationwide segment called “Ang Dating Doon,” spoofing a religious show. That segment was announced with the “Voltes V” theme song. Later on, when the segment was at its most popular, “Bubble Gang” would actually have singers coming on the show to sing the Japanese theme song live.

The teaser for “Voltes V: Legacy” uses snippets of a somewhat bigger, more epic version of the theme.

The Ending Theme

Just as the opening theme song is familiar to Filipinos as a call to action, the closing or ending theme is a full-on ballad that made the viewing experience complete. “Chichi Wo Motomete” is sung by pop singer Mizuki Ichirou. Also composed by Kobayashi Aso, its title literally means “I Want my Father” and speaks from the Armstrong brothers’ desire to be reunited with their father. It is very much a song of its time, full of little country-style preludes and sudden swells. The images that accompany the closing theme start off pretty relaxed, with the team members chilling. But then as the song progresses, it gets really dramatic, with shots of the brothers literally running after the shadow of their father. Unlike the opening theme, there is no dubbed English version of this song.

Oya ni hagureta
hinadori mo
Itsuka ha yasashii
hutokoro ni
Kaeru ashita mo aru darou
Danoni naze meguri aenu
chichi no kage

Naku mono ka
Boku ha otoko da
Shinjiteru shinjiteru
Sono hi no koto wo
Kono te de chichi wo
Daki shimeru hi no koto wo

No ni saku hana mo
tsuyukusa mo
Itsuka ha hito to
meguri ai
Kataru yuube mo aru darou
Danoni naze otozurenai
shiawase ga

Naku mono ka
Boku ha otoko da
Taetematsu taetematsu
Sono hi ha kuru to
Te wo tori chichi to
Warai au hi ga kuru to

Mikazuki wo ou
murakumo mo
Itsuka ha kaze ga
huki harai
Kagayaku yoru mo aru darou
Danoni naze kiramekanai
chichi no hoshi

Naku mono ka
Boku ha otoko da
Tatakau zo tatakau zo
Sono hi no tame ni
Kono te ni chichi wo
Tori modosu hi no tame no

The English lyrics as translated by various online sources:

Even a chick that got lost
from its parents
has a tomorrow
to return someday
to the tender breast again
But why couldn’t I find
my father’s figure?

I won’t cry
I’m a man
I believe, I believe
in the day
I will hold
my father in my arms.

Even flowers
and spiderworts
that grow in the field
will someday find someone
to have an evening together
But why doesn’t happiness
come to see me?

I won’t cry
I’m a man
I’ll endure , I’ll endure
and wait for the day
I will hold my father’s hands
and laugh together with him

The gathering clouds
that cover the crescent moon
Will someday by the wind
be blown away
and a shining night will come
But why doesn’t
my father’s star sparkle?

I won’t cry
I’m a man
I will fight, I will fight
for the day
I get my father back
with my own hands