So bit of a quick update. As you can no doubt see by the last time I actually posted something here, I haven’t been too consistent in doing so, and I’ve been spending more of my time writing for The Fandom Post. I do want to try to stay consistent with this though, so for now my personal goal is to try and have at least two or three posts on here every month. This is the first thing for this month obviously, and I plan on trying to have the second done before Saturday. We’ll see how long I can manage to keep this up for, but I plan on trying a couple of different things so hopefully it all pans out. Anyway onto the review.
Synopsis: Long ago the leader of the Galra race, Emperor Zarkon began his conquest of the universe, and the extermination of the Alteans. The only force capable of stopping him was a weapon known as Voltron, but it was sealed away along with the Altean princess, Allura. 10,000 years later, a group of young space pilots from Earth stumble upon one of the robot lions that form Voltron, along with Allura but soon discover that Zarkon is still alive, and has already seized control over most of the known universe. Now these pilots must become the new Paladins of Voltron and use it’s power to defeat Zarkon once and for all.
Giant robots have long been a staple of nerd culture, and when it comes to Americans who grew up in the 80’s they’re associated with one name: Voltron. Speaking as someone who grew up in the late 90’s/early 00’s, my only experience with the original series is through vague memories of the reruns that aired on Toonami when I was five or so, but I do know there’s been many an attempt over the years to reignite the franchise. These include shortly lived series like Voltron: The Third Dimension, and the more recent Voltron Force, but pretty much all of them have ended in failure. Now it’s time for yet another contender to step up to the plate, but Voltron: Legendary Defender just might be the one that finally lives up to the challenge.
Reboots tend to suffer from the awkward experience of trying to both capitalize on a new audience while not totally isolating an already existing one, and usually end up losing on one of the two in the process. However rather than leaning too much one way or the other, Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra alumni Lauren Montgomery and Joaquim Dos Santos stated in interviews that their approach was to create the show they fondly remembered, rather than the one they actually grew up watching. It’s a particularly bold statement because the original Voltron was an Americanized mash-up of two separate mecha anime, Dairugger XV and Beast King Go Lion (with the latter being where it drew the most material from), and has been admitted as not making much sense on it’s own, despite the show’s legacy. Obviously this show is a lot more coherent, but rather than rejecting what came before it, Legendary Defender instead pays homage to both the Voltron of yore and the original Go Lion in particular (Shiro and the Galra retain their original names from Go Lion, and the character designs are retooled directly from that version) while also using the showrunners’ previous experience to make a fun sci-fi fantasy romp, that’s filled with a solid combination of action, humor and occasional 80’s mecha camp. The result is an experience that both old and new audiences can enjoy, and a production that was clearly a labor of love.
The show’s first season runs 11 episodes and manages to cover a decent amount of ground in that time, but it mostly just gives the sense that things are only beginning. While the 70-minute pilot suffers a bit from having to do a lot of things at once, the later episodes find a balance between building up the show’s universe, and maintaining enough of a constant pace that it never feels like it’s cooling down. In fact, the series takes advantage of Netflix’s “binge-streaming” model to create a heavy sense of continuity, and one that feels a lot more in line with how anime is formatted, than the structure normally seen in U.S. TV seasons. Many of the episodes run directly off each other, and even the small handful of standalone episodes end up tying into the season’s overarching story pretty quickly. This helps to make it incredibly easy to burn through in one or two sittings, but also comes with the unfortunate effect of making the season’s final episode feel a bit frustrating, as there’s no real attempt to conclude anything, so hopefully a second season won’t take too long to surface.
Though while the show is strongly supported by it’s format, it also benefits heavily from its strong core cast of characters. All of the Voltron Paladins prove to be easily likable, and while they feel a bit archetypal in the beginning, they’re gradually fleshed out over the season’s run. Shiro in particular seemed like the super dependable leader who’s usually set up to be a sacrificial lamb (and still may be) but has enough of his own issues to feel like a real character, and the team’s “smart guy” Pidge has pretty good character arc, ultimately becoming the most endearing member of the group so far. Even Princess Allura manages to avoid merely being a damsel-in-distress, and at times feels like the real head of the team, rather than Shiro. Ironically, if there’s anyone who sort of falls into the background, it would be Keith, who despite being the protagonist of the original Voltron, doesn’t really have much to work with aside from his attitude problems, and occasional banter with Lance. The Galra are also pretty one-note as far as villains go, but the show drops some strong hints about that there’s more to both Keith and Zarkon that meets the eye, so I’m certainly open to seeing where the show takes them going forward.
Normally I don’t talk too much animation when it comes to western stuff since the intent generally leans towards making something consistent as opposed to how stylized anime can get, but in this case it’s worth mentioning. Studio Mir’s work on The Legend of Korra was pretty solid, and their aesthetics have only improved, with a few of the show’s best action scenes feeling reminiscent of the Japanese “sakuga” style of animation as the animators show off some unique visual flair. Equally notable, is the production’s work in effectively blending together it’s 2D and 3DCG elements, as the latter manages to avoid feeling out of place, and even Voltron itself feels at home with the rest of show’s visuals. My only real complaint would be that the character designs aren’t quite as sharp as the ones featured in Avatar and Korra, but the show more than makes up for it making the characters as expressive as possible, and it helps to add to a lot of the humor.
The rebooting of a franchise as mixed as Voltron is by no means an easy feat, but so far it seems like the staff has managed to pull it off. Between the fun characters and the impressive work on the production, there’s plenty to enjoy here, and the showrunners have clearly poured a lot of time and heart into making a series with the potential to carry the franchise well into the future. Time will tell if this ends up making the kind of splash the other reboots failed to, but for now it’s looking like after years of dormancy, Voltron may finally have the chance to rise again.
Available for streaming on Netflix