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.
And so after a…surprisingly short hiatus Voltron: Legendary Defender is back with it’s third season. Given that the second season debuted earlier this year, I was honestly shocked to see this one coming down the pipeline so fast, and even more to learn the fourth season is already planned for later this year. All that surprise was suddenly made clear when it turned out that this season is noticeably shorter than either of the previous two, only totaling in at seven episodes, and the fourth season may end up turning out the same way. Needless to say that made things a little disappointing, and with the episode count being so low, I was able to burn through the whole thing in pretty much a single morning even while having other stuff to do. Of course, annoying as the shorter run time is, new Voltron is still new Voltron, so how it’s time to see exactly how well it stacks up to the first two seasons.
I suppose that first and foremost we should talk about the most interesting thing this season: the introduction of Prince Lotor. While I’m pretty ignorant on most things related to the original version of Voltron, I do know that he was a pretty important presence there, and was about as significant a villain as Zarkon himself. As far as this version goes, he’s certainly a welcome presence as he’s by far the most interesting antagonist the show has offered so far. Even though season two did more to flesh out the Galra as a whole, Zarkon and Haggar themselves were still pretty one-note as far as villainy goes. Lotor on the other hand is a much more charismatic figure, knowing how to stay one step ahead of the Paladins by exploiting their weaknesses, and playing both sides of the conflict to his advantage. Given the history of the people penning this show, it’s pretty easy to see him as something of a male counterpart to Princess Azula from Avatar: The Last Airbender, but so far he seems a lot more composed and unlike Azula who was pretty loyal to her father, Lotor’s true motives remain a mystery even by the end of the season.
In comparison I’d have to say that his four female generals are kind of a bit boring, and despite being given clear character archetypes to work off of, they feel pretty interchangeable and didn’t leave much of an impression. It’s a shame since I really like the idea of them kind of functioning as a foil to the Paladins so I’m really hoping they’ll be given more to do in later seasons. On the bright side, the season’s finale does a lot to flesh out our two biggest baddies as we’re given more information on the history between Zarkon and Allura’s father as well as Haggar’s real identity. It’s an interesting bit of backstory that does quite a bit to explain Zarkon and Haggar’s origins, and while it doesn’t totally humanize them, it certainly gives them a lot more to work with than either of the previous seasons did and paints them with at least a few shades of grey (albeit very dark ones). It’s another area where I’ll be curious to see exactly where the show takes things, and I’m happy to see the show doing more with its antagonists.
Unfortunately the downsides to this season mostly come from the Paladins and it’s a shame since they’re generally the best part of the show. The best character arcs of the season involve Lance having to come to terms with the fact that he’s just not leader material and having to humbly accept Keith taking the position, as well as Allura managing to come into her own as a Paladin. However the big issue here comes down to the incredibly short time gap between Shiro’s disappearance and Keith’s taking his position, and Shiro’s official return to the team. While there was pretty much zero room to doubt that Shiro had actually died last season, (and I appreciate the show not talking down to its audience enough to think that kids would either) bringing him back into the fold so quickly feels like a waste. We do get a few episodes in the beginning dealing with Keith’s hotheaded nature being a poor match for leadership but parts of that new team dynamic coming together feel rushed, and by the time Shiro returns it doesn’t feel like the team has been without him long enough to have truly accepted Keith as their new leader. It’s possible this is intentional given that the one episode we do get with Keith and Shiro together shows a pretty clear wedge in the group’s ability to get things done but for right now it feels kind of awkward and I can’t help but think that the show would have benefited from keeping Shiro away from the group for at least half another season.
On a technical standpoint the show looks as sharp as ever, in terms of both action sequences and mecha design and there’s a few cool sequences mixed in here. However the shorter timestamp for this season means that there aren’t as many opportunities for it to show that stuff off, and what we get isn’t nearly enough to compensate. As a plus though, I can at least say that out of all of the character designs I’ve seen for the show thus far, Lotor’s is definitely the one that feels the most “anime” inspired and I’m always happy to see the show get closer to that general aesthetic since that’s clearly what it’s aiming
As a whole a lot of what feels off about this season partially comes down to how short it is, and even with the significance its supposed finale offers, it’s pretty hard to escape the feeling that this is merely half a season that was divided because someone at Netflix thought it was a good idea. I doubt it ended up affecting much in terms of actual content, but it does make things here feel kind of incomplete even with the big cliffhangers the last two seasons ended on. There’s enough solid material sprinkled through this season to work, and the weaker parts don’t yet feel like they’ll be enough to hinder the show’s current momentum, but I’m really hoping that season four will feel a bit more balanced that what we ended up getting this time around.
Available on Netflix