The Classic Show You Loved:
The premise of Voltron couldn't be simpler: Five lion-shaped space robots combine into a bigger robot and kick ass all over the galaxy. In the second season they introduced a different Voltron made out of cars, but soon enough the far more popular lion version was brought back.
Because a robot made of cars would make no sense.
But Actually ...
You've probably guessed by now that Voltron was a combination of two different shows (the one with the lions and the one with the cars). What you might not know is that in the process of editing these two Japanese cartoons together, they cut out enough gore, death and atrocities to make up seven more Saw movies. Seriously, this shit is heavy -- like this censored scene from the very first episode that starts out innocently enough, and then this happens:
Or this one where some alien slaves are brutally whipped, or this other one where they're whipped again, even harder. Or, hey, how about some mass destruction and screaming babies? Or this dude shooting himself in the head. Some of these are choreographed like Tarantino movies.
"Don't worry, kids! There's always a way out of your crippling depression!"
It just goes on and on. There was at least one violent character death in every episode, and the people adapting this thing for American television had to flip over backward to cut all that stuff out and still end up with a show that made some degree of sense. For example, in the U.S. version, the good guys always made sure to mention that the enemies had been evacuated from their ships before they were blown up, or that they were all actually robots. Their Japanese counterparts simply did not give a fuck. Here's one of the good guys brutally impaling a dude:
Not even the main characters were safe: When the character Sven was dramatically killed off in Japan, the U.S. version "saved" him by adding a completely disconnected line of dialogue about taking him to a doctor -- to which he replies "Take me there fast!" in a ridiculous voice, when he's already dead (at 0:44 in this clip).
In the end this worked out for the best, though, because this character was so popular in Japan that they eventually introduced his twin brother -- in the U.S. version, the brother was simply a recuperated Sven coming back to the team like nothing happened. Another time, they made up for the fact that the main character was obviously crying (over yet another censored death) by having him comment that the heat in his spaceship was getting really intense.
"I just ... I just REALLY LIKE THESE EYE DROPS, GUYS."
The Classic Show You Loved:
Battle of the Planets is about a group of five teens in bird costumes who travel across the universe fighting an evil galactic empire, with the help of their robot sidekick.
At no point do planets literally battle, sadly.
Or, if you're a little younger, you might remember those guys as an Earth-based superhero team called G-Force, and if you're even younger than that, you might swear that they're called Eagle Riders. Well, there's an explanation for all that ...
But Actually ...
This is like the opposite of all the other examples in this list, because in this case, a single show from Japan (Science Ninja Team Gatchaman) was recycled into three different cartoons in America. The first and possibly most famous was Battle of the Planets, which debuted in 1978 and hilariously tried to pass off Gatchaman as a Stars Wars rip-off, even though it wasn't even set in space.
Notice there's no robot. And that they're all tripping balls.
If it seemed like every strange alien planet the team visited looked exactly like Earth, that's because it always was -- the translators simply added a line or two saying "Hey, so, we're totally on another planet right now, you guys," when in fact they never even left Earth. The bad guys weren't aliens at all, they were just bad guys.
This is how all street thugs dress in Japan.
As for the annoying robot sidekick, 7-Zark-7 ... yeah, they just pasted that shit on top of the original cartoon. In retrospect, this was really obvious, because the two animation styles were radically different and you rarely saw members of the team interact with Zark (and if they did, it was through a screen), but as a kid you tended to overlook that sort of thing.
Because you were stupid.
7-Zark-7 was also used to make up for all the violent or depressing scenes they had to cut out, because Japan can't just make a damned cartoon without trying to bring everyone down. So, for example, a scene like this with 7-Zark-7 flapping around and literally doing nothing for two minutes ...
... was typically created to replace another scene like this one where the two main guys (Mark and Jason in the U.S. version) beat the crap out of each other while sounding all angsty and dramatic.
They tried a funny dub, but it was undermined by Mark repeatedly punching Jason in the face.
Other times, they used Zark to explain that someone who died in the episode was actually OK, even if we literally just watched them explode into a million pieces, like in this U.S./Japan comparison:
So you see the couple (whose bodies have been rigged to explode) embrace their fate:
And right at the moment where the Japanese version shows them being blown to chunks:
The American version has the robot:
"And then they lived happily ever after in a completely non-jarring tonal shift!"
Incidentally, in the Japan version the bad guy, Zoltar, was actually a hermaphrodite -- in the U.S., they simply pretended that his female form was his "sister," leading to all sorts of crazy sitcom-like misunderstandings.
One episode had him meeting his boss while having dinner with his family in the same restaurant.
Two more Gatchaman adaptations were created later on: G-Force in the '80s and Eagle Riders in the '90s (in the middle of the Power Rangers boom). G-Force used the exact same episodes as Battle of the Planets, but with the reduced censorship and lack of Star Wars copyright infringement, it was practically a different show. We're looking forward to the next iteration, Bird Naruto SquarePants 3D.
The Classic Show You Loved:
Robotech is credited with starting the interest in Japanese animation in the U.S. when it debuted in the '80s -- others came first, but this is the one that proved that animated shows didn't necessarily have to be dumbed down, hacked up pieces of shit with no consistency or character development to make it in America.
Not when we can just do it ourselves by taking things out of context!
Robotech is an epic multi-generational saga showing Earth's decades-long war against ruthless alien invaders, beginning in the futuristic year 1999. The most fascinating thing about it was the way the world's landscape changed as its protagonists were replaced by their descendants and successors -- not many animated shows would dare dumping their lead character halfway through the series and replacing him with someone else, and Robotech did that twice.
And everyone got a lot girlier with each change.
But Actually ...
Of course, this was all accidental. The only reason Robotech changed protagonists is that it was actually three unrelated shows put together, one after the other, and it all happened because of broadcasting rules. You see, in 1984, an American distribution company wanted to license a Japanese series called Super Dimension Fortress Macross in the U.S., but there was one little problem: They needed 65 episodes to get the series into syndication, and Macross only had 36. So, they ended up buying two more shows (by the same animation studio, but featuring different characters and settings) and combined all three into one longer series.
Similarly, Finland tried this with Dallas, ALF and CHiPs, but it didn't quite take.
The first show was about an alien invasion (in a contemporary setting), the second about a futuristic war between humans and aliens and the third about post-apocalyptic Earth -- they simply pretended these were different stages of the same alien invasion, merging the three alien races into one, and that was it. Character names were changed to make it seem like they were related: For example, the main character of the second "generation" was said to be the daughter of two important characters in the first. While the plots were left largely unchanged, much of the dialogue was modified to create a consistent mythology. They even created an entirely new episode merging footage from the different shows to establish a direct connection.
Same person, but not really.
The shocking thing here is that the stunt actually worked -- watching Robotech, you wouldn't suspect it was three different shows unless someone told you. The thing is, they went out of their way to make sure the cobbled-together story made sense, when they could have just pulled a Voltron and left it at that. Robotech was a ratings success, and at one point they even had sequel series and an animated movie in development. The creators imagined "a huge, incredibly ambitious saga, that would eventually take the plot into a giant loop, ending where it began."
However, Robotech toys weren't selling as well as expected. Part of the problem was that several Macross models had already been licensed to other U.S. toy companies -- the single most recognizable robot in all of Robotech was off limits due to Hasbro licensing it as "Jetfire" of the Transformers series. Some of the stuff they tried to sell instead was kind of baffling:
That's a Robotech doll house, and we're not kidding.
Since the entire purpose of merging these three shows together was selling Japanese toys, the sequel plans were cancelled, and that was practically the end of Robotech -- almost every other attempt to revive the franchise has been aborted or never left the planning stages. But hey, at least they never compromised their dignity.
Well, almost never.
For more on toys that probably didn't sell well, check out The 15 Most Unintentionally Hilarious Bootleg Toys and The 25 Most Baffling Toys From Around the World.
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