We remember 80s cartoons like Transformers and GI Joe because they were excellent.
There is more to this love of these shows, however, than mere nostalgia and the love of something that was loved when we were kids in the happier days of yore. Going back to look at 1980s cartoons with a wider view of more than just the handful of classics that are widely remembered will turn up shows that really were not very good. Case in point: Pole Position
Some shows, however, upon closer inspection, are even better today than we remember. Case in point: Voltron, Defender of the Universe
While not quite one of the giants of the era, it was and is spoken of in the same breath as Thundercats and Rainbow Brite, a second-tier icon that was the Grimm to Transformers’ Supernatural. A a reworked Japanese sci-fi series about a team of robot lions that formed into a giant warrior, Voltron had all the strengths one would expect (and likely recall) from the 1980s era cartoons, as well as many of its weaknesses. But what it did have that many of its peers did not was an extremely unique and distinctive score. Listen to three distinctive tracks from the Voltron Score by John Petersen
Castle of Lions
These are not casual, throw-away tracks. These are musically distinctive, incorporating sounds and instrumentation that were (and still are) unlike other scores found on television. The instrumentation of the Voltron score, as well as the compositions themselves, was vividly new and unlike anything else, helping to create a very tangible uniqueness to the show. But these tracks were the backdrop against which the show occurred. The true masterpiece of the show’s music lies in its epic theme (ironically best demonstrated by the show’s closing music).
The other music of the score is interesting and unique and unlike anything else. This track, however, is epic. It defines epic. It captures the essence of the over-the-top heroism this show is about. This track can, and should be, mentioned musically in the same vein as Star Wars and Indiana Jones, two classics by music master John Williams who (when Voltron was being produced) was producing his most memorable work.
Voltron is a show with plenty of flaws, but flaws that are often balanced out or superceded by its strengths. But an often unnoticed strength is the incredibly vivid and distinctive music that accompanied each episode. A listener cannot mistake a track from Voltron for any other show of the era, or any other show period.
1980s cartoons had some truly innovative elements at play, and had inspiration to work from. The success of Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica (just to name a few possible influences) had established an artistic credibility for this genre of entertainment. The result was a professional field that was willing to experiment and try new things in this genre. Some shows like Transformers and Robotech would produce some truly excellent and unique scores. But none would compare to Voltron as far as being truly unique and immediately recognizeable, which would only aid in the survivability of the series in the minds of its fans.