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How a Simple Japanese Anime Worried Marcos

Mamerto Adan is a feature writer who is back in college once again. Science is one of his favorite topics.

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The Cold War period gave the world a nuclear Armageddon scares. It seems that World War III was just around the corner back then, with the bitter rivalry of Soviet Union and the western nations looming. People feared that anytime soon, someone would press the apocalyptic switch, and mushroom clouds would rise in many places. In the Philippines, a known ally of the US, the threat of a thermo-nuclear war wasn’t just the problem.

The Philippines back then was under the Marcos regime.

After a series of so-called violence caused by the communist rebels (suspected to be staged), the Philippines was placed under martial law. Ironically, the government’s measure to fight the tyranny of communism made it no different than communist dictatorships. With human rights abuses under martial law, Marcos’ style of leadership resembles that of Soviet’s Stalin.

Even simple pleasures were censored.

The kids back in the martial law era have something else to keep them busy. The nuclear scare and the horrors of martial law seemed miles away once they opened the TV set. Mecha anime was new to Philippines back then. Unlike the western cartoons and superhero shows, it offered heightened drama and actions, which made it popular. Mecha anime just stole the hearts of the youngster, but then Marcos was in charged, and whatever he said must be done. And much to the ire of the kids, their favorite mecha anime was censored upon his orders.

Voltes V

The titular giant robot.

The titular giant robot.

One of the classic mecha anime to hit the Philippine shore was Super Electromagnetic Machine Voltes V, or simply Voltes V. It was a 70s era anime produced by Toei Company and Nippon Sunrise. And do note that the said anime was produced by Yoshiyuki Tomino, which will later on direct the classic Mobile Suit Gundam.

Going back to the Voltes V, it’s the story of five spandex clad siblings operating specialized vehicles combining into one giant robot. Being heavily fantastical, it was classified as “Super Robot” in the anime world, in opposed to “Real Robot” like Gundams and Macross which presents certain level of realism. Nevertheless, the themes being presented in Voltes V appealed to its Filipino audience more than its contemporaries. Again, Voltes V wasn’t the only mecha anime back then. Kids were already watching the likes of Daimos, Mekanda Robot, Mazinger Z and Grendizer. But the themes of family and the struggle for freedom in Voltes V resonated well in the Filipino culture.

Then there is the combination of action and drama.

The Filipino kids and adults alike had fallen in love with Voltes V, and up until today, continues to capture the hearts of later generations. Voltes V basically kept the people’s minds preoccupied, away from the scare of Cold War, and as an escape from the realities of Martial Law. All is well.

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But Marcos had other plans.

Being a dictator doing what dictators do best, he cancelled it.

Why it Got Cancelled

The so called "violence" in the show.

The so called "violence" in the show.

As Voltes V was nearing its final episode, Marcos suddenly intervened and censored the show, much to the displeasures of the fans. One might wonder what pushed the then President Ferdinand Marcos to cancel a TV show for kids. But until now the reason was not clear. In fact, it became the subject of debates. In 2012, Bonbong Marcos defended his dad’s decision of cancelling the show. He claimed that Marcos was persuaded by parents, as they are worried of the negative effects of Voltes V. There was even an unverified rumor that a women’s group made a request to cancel the show. Violence was the main concern here, according to Bongbong Marcos. To be fair, even early Japanese anime never shied away from violence. Voltes V has death scenes and a lot of hand-to-hand fighting, and who could forget the finishing maneuver of the sword doing a V-shaped incision? But anime fans who had seen it all have agreed that the level of violence featured in Voltes V is meek compared to other Japanese anime.

Violence could have been the reason, but people felt it is just an excuse. Some even joked that the reason was Ninoy Aquino making a remark that the villain of the show is better looking than Marcos. But people suspected that the real reason lies in its themes of resistance and rebellion. Voltes V featured an oppressed group of citizens rising up against a tyrannical government. The same government responsible for the kidnapping and torture of Dr. Armstrong. The kidnapping and torture sound familiar to martial law victims, with the survivors telling stories of abduction and beatings. At the same time, the scene where people rebelled against the horned villains may give the oppressed population an idea and stage a real-life rebellion of their own.

Another reason might be simple cronyism. With such a rating being earned thanks to Voltes V, the rival crony was not please. Hence, using violence as excuse, they censored the anime so no one would get in the way of the crony’s business.

Whatever the reason, all could agree that the kids themselves felt first-hand how totalitarian government operates. Politics just meddled with simple pleasure.

Deeper Significance

The famous pose.

The famous pose.

Even today in other totalitarian nations, censoring anime still happens. A good example is in China. A number of these Japanese animation is banned in PRC, and one of them is the well-loved Attack on Titans. Somehow, its censorship mirrors that of Voltes V, whereas violence is the official reason. But fans suspected that the rebellion themes never sit well with the Chinese government. And some reckoned that you could determine how crazy a despot is on the way he censors simple pleasure (North Korea comes in mind). If that’s the case, the censorship of Voltes V is what martial law was in a nutshell. Anything that troubles a tyrant will be booted out, no matter how simple it was. Freedom to even enjoy yourself is subjected to government regulation. And if Marcos can’t tolerate simple pleasures, then he won’t let major criticism gets away. Just look at the history of martial law abuses.

The fate of a mere Japanese anime in martial law is a subject that should be considered during the election period. There is an allegation that Marcos’ son, Bongbong is employing paid trolls to spread misinformation in social media. A friend describes such act as comparable to Voltes V censorship. Misinformation is not censorship, but it serves the same function. To make someone look good by twisting reality. But in the case of Voltes V, Marcos felt threatened by a giant robot that never existed.

A decade later, the children who missed the ending of Voltes V grew up, to join the peaceful revolution to oust Marcos. The cancellation of Voltes V served as an early wake-up call to the martial law babies, on what totalitarian government could do. And Marcos’ fate seemed to mirror the anime he tried to silence, and the martial law babies were able to enjoy Voltes V after his downfall. Outside the Philippines and some other countries, Voltes V never gained such cult following. Yet it became almost symbolic in the Philippines. It came to represent the freedom lost and regain. And as people pointed out, Voltes V played a role in toppling the Marcos dictatorship. The frustrations of being restricted of their childhood pleasure pushed the martial law babies to take it to EDSA, to topple the Marcos regime.

References

1. Imao, Toym Leon (27 September, 2014). "Ferdinand Marcos angered 'Voltes V' generation". Inquirer.net.

2. Rodriguez, Mia (20 September, 2020). "The Voltes V-Martial Law Crossover You Probably Didn’t Know About". Spot.ph

3. Manglinong, Dan (6 July, 2018). "The role Voltes V played in toppling Martial Law". Philstar.com

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