Health And Family

Searching for Voltes V

KINDERGARTEN DAD - Tony Montemayor -

I  finally got sucked into Facebook. It’s like that interconnected collective of cybernetic organisms in the sci-fi series Star Trek, called the Borg, whose primary purpose is to absorb all other species through forced assimilation. The Borg’s signature line might as well be Facebook’s: “Resistance is futile.” 

Right after Facebook processed my birth-year, one of the very first things it recommended to me was to join a group of over 17,000 “friends” who had become “fans” of Voltes V. To all of you who might be too young to remember, Voltes V was the classic and ground-breaking Japanese animation series that first aired on Philippine TV in the late 1970s. It had a lasting impact on the Filipino children of my generation. I remember that when I moved to Japan, my staff brought me to a karaoke bar and asked if I knew any song in Japanese. I jokingly said that the only one I knew was the Voltes V song (or Borutesu Faibu no Uta). I don’t know who was more shocked — I, when they found the song in the player — or my Japanese friends, when I actually tried to sing it!

Voltes V was a super electromagnetic machine made up of five volt machines that needed to unite or “volt in” in order to form the robot. Animated or not, I think that the show’s stirring volt-in sequence is still one of TV’s best (interested parties can still easily find it in YouTube). Each of the five machines was piloted by one of the five young members of the Voltes Team — three brothers, an orphan boy, and a young female ninja. The plot revolved around their team’s heroic trials and exploits against alien invaders from the planet Bozania. Led by the evil Emperor Zanbazir, the Bozanians sent various “beast-fighters” (half-beast/half-machine monsters) to attack Earth. Apart from the spectacular melding of Samurai martial arts with space-age robotics, Voltes V was unique in that its characters were actually realistic. They were so different, ironically enough, from the western cartoon superheroes of the time who were the ones who appeared robotic. Each of the young pilots had his/her own strengths and weaknesses. Even its villains had character and personality. Its episodes were action-packed but also full of drama and sentimentality. The storylines had underlying themes of love, family, equality, selflessness, sacrifice, unity, team work, and patriotism. The show’s formula took the Philippines by storm, apparently striking a chord not just among Filipino children, but even with the adults as well.

The show also had a heavy revolutionary undertone at a time when Filipino student activism was once more bubbling to the surface. Some suspected that this was the reason why the Martial Law government suddenly banned it from TV to the dismay of millions of Filipino children. The official reason stated was that it was too violent. But talk was rife that the regime actually worried that it would inspire the people to revolt. They were also apparently upset with the many telling parallelisms between the Bozanian villains and some government personalities. At the time the show was banned, there were only five episodes left and Filipinos didn’t actually get to see the finale till its second revival in the late 1990s. It’s interesting to note, however, that the story ends with Voltes V counter-attacking the planet of the alien invaders. It sparks a popular uprising among the Bozanians that leads to the overthrow of its tyrannical regime. I’m not sure if I’ll go as far as some commentators who have suggested that Voltes V was actually one of the inspirations of the EDSA People Power Revolt in 1986. But then again, many who were a part of that historic peaceful revolution had once been “Voltes V kids.” One of the very first things that Cory Aquino reportedly did when she rose to power was to put Voltes V back on the air. I wonder though where all those revolutionary Voltes V kids are now (me included) while the country is slowly being ravaged by a bunch of cannibals. 

One of the story’s sub-plots was the search of the three pilot-brothers for their father who had mysteriously disappeared after designing Voltes V. At the end of each episode, they would play this beautiful and poignant song that was entitled Chichi wo Motomete (Searching for My Father). It was the perfect counterfoil to the show’s high-energy theme song. It was also one of those songs that, even if you did not understand the lyrics, you sort of knew what it was all about. Translated to English, the first part of song’s refrain starts with, “I won’t cry. I’m a man.” The second part of the refrain then evolves as the song progresses. From “I believe. I believe in the day I will hold my father in my arms.” To “I’ll endure. I’ll endure and wait for the day I will hold my father’s hands and laugh together with him.” Until finally, “I will fight. I will fight for the day I get my father back with my own hands.” The brothers’ search for their father is intimately intertwined with the fabric of the whole Voltes V story, but I won’t get into that here. Suffice to say that I think that it’s so melancholically Japanese. It’s that part of the Japanese psyche that I also identify with a lot.

My wife and I try to limit our children’s exposure to TV for pedagogical reasons. But when they get a little bit older, I guess it won’t hurt too much to introduce them to Voltes V. It’s not just a fun story; it’s also something that can really be considered a cultural milestone in modern Philippine history. More than that though, it was a part of my childhood that contributed to who I am now. Who knows, it might even inspire them to one day try to change society, too. As the Voltes Team’s famous cry went, “Let’s volt in!”

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Please e-mail your reactions to [email protected].

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