The '70s, during which the late Ferdinand Marcos's Martial Law is in full swing, could be encapsulated with the title of a Netflix series: Love, Death, and Robots.
Explicit or "bomba" movies were on the rise. Thousands were arrested by state forces, even summarily executed or "salvaged" and "disappeared" as desaparecidos. Weekday television through GMA was replete with anime featuring robots.
The week is all set for the average martial law baby couch potato in 1978: Mondays, Mekanda Robot; Tuesdays, Daimos; Wednesdays, Mazinger Z; Thursdays, Grendizer. And on Fridays, the pièce de résistance, Voltes V.
Voltes V follows a group of five people who operate the eponymous giant robot to fight giant robots from the fictitious alien planet Boazania, whose leaders are planning to conquer Earth.
But the Boazania arc has a bigger story: An emperor is ruling the planet with an iron fist. They also have a cruel caste system, in which Boazonians born with horns become part of the aristocracy, while the hornless ones are forced into slavery. Eventually, the hornless Boazonians would start an uprising to topple the dictatorship.
But alas, on August 27, 1979, or when Voltes V was down to its last four episodes, Marcos banned it from television for its supposed "harmful effects" via the Interim Board of Censors for Motion Pictures (IBCMP) Memorandum-Circular No. 13-79.
Voltes V was only one 15 robot-themed shows banned during that time according to an article published in the Phlippine Daily Express on August 28, 1979.
Complaints reaching Malacanang indicated that most of the shows banned were "warlike in nature" and tended to create "unwholesome attitudes among children toward violence" according to the news report.
One of the anime's hallmarks is when Voltes V obliterates enemies using its laser sword, forming a V-shaped slice. It's also riddled with bombs and explosions.
Many, however, were led to believe that it's because the Marcos regime was supposedly afraid that dissenters might copy the uprising in Boazania.
Historian Xiao Chua, in an entry to his blog It's Xiaotime! on Sept. 18, 2012, said he first heard of the subversive angle from Voltes V diehard fan Redante dela Cruz, during a lecture about Martial Law at the University of the Philippines in 2004.
But Chua said that Marcos was, in fact, reluctant to ban Voltes V. Instead, the censorship happened at the behest of the Catholic Church—based on an account of the cult classic's voice actor in Filipino.
In a Sept. 17, 2012 Facebook post where Chua was promoting his upcoming Martial Law lectures, Celina Cristobal commented that while Marcos indeed pushed the button, it's because someone from the Catholic Women's League supposedly asked his government to do so.
"Na-pressure ang gobyerno," Cristobal said, "kaya nawalan ako ng trabaho."
Cristobal, who also had voice acting credits in Daimos and Mekanda Robot, also noted that the religious organization was making headlines for days, prompting Marcos to take action.
She also lamented that American cartoons, despite having a degree of violence, weren't banned. According to her, the evolution of violence in anime didn't sit well with the elders, as it was supposedly unreal and "un-American" compared to the "cuteness" of animals in American media.
"Wala daw magawa si Marcos dahil nga Catholic Women’s League at ang daming magulang na sumang-ayon (pero malamang na middle-class at upper middle-class na pamilya; at wala namang boses ang mga bata, di tulad ngayon)," Cristobal wrote.
As the upcoming ban on Voltes V was already being heard through the grapevine, Cristobal said her employer subsequently bought the rights of other "wholesome" anime for dubbing.
Still, she acknowledged the political backdrop at the time, saying Marcos may have indeed considered Voltes V's anti-feudal, anti-capitalism, and anti-oligarchy themes as reasons to ban it.
"I suppose ang puno’t dulo nito ay political approval at socio-economics," Cristobal said. "Five years into martial law, I believe, at kailangan bumigay sa lahat ng mga sektor para matanggap na mas malalim ang martial law."
Another reason for the Voltes V ban was more of a business decision.
When Chua made another post promoting his upcoming July 30, 2012, lecture about Voltes V and Martial Law on Sept. 1, author Rod Vincent Yabes on Aug. 3 commented that it's because its ratings also went down, alongside other robot animes like Mazinger Z and Grendizer.
Local educational children progams Kulit Bulilit and Kutitap, as well as biblical animated shows Super Book and Flying House became replacements, according to Chua.
"Subalit hindi naman totally banned ang mga animated robot shows dahil nagkaroon pa ng Voltron," Chua wrote, adding that He-Man: Master of the Universe, though it has violent themes, wasn't banned.
The tables were turned in 1986, when the Marcoses were kicked out of Malacañang and went into exile in Hawaii through the EDSA People Power.
It was only in 1999, or two decades since Voltes V was banned and 13 years since People Power happened, that the martial law babies—with some already having children of their own—were able to catch the much-desired remaining four episodes as GMA aired the series anew. A movie befittingly called Voltes V: The Liberation, which combines the last four episodes, also hit the theaters that year. In 2023, GMA is set to air its live-action adaptation called Voltes V: Legacy.
Voltes V has undoubtedly cemented itself to Pinoy pop culture, being the subject of toys, stickers, trading cards, and other merchandise. Its main theme song, which has been memorized by many despite being in Japanese, also became a popular ringtone. The line "Let's volt in!" has also become so iconic that even the late rapper Francis Magalona used it in Bagsakan, his collaboration with Chito Miranda of Parokya ni Edgar and Gloc-9.
But beyond the entertainment Voltes V has been giving, it would always be a reminder of the dark period in Philippine history.
Artist Toym Imao, a diehard Voltes V fan who was 11 years old when the show was banned, has made it a point to depict his childhood and the Marcos dictatorship in his installations.
In an interview with Norman Sison for Vera Files, Imao said his humble goal was to encourage discussion and talk among those who view it, even those who are not from the era, especially since nothing much has changed in Philippine politics.
"That the Marcoses are still in power, along with other similar incarnations in our existing government," Imao is quoted as saying, "is a barometric reading on our political maturity as a people.”