Voltron Legendary Defenders
Warning: this contains spoilers. If you haven’t seen the new series yet and don’t want spoilers, then navigate away.
If you’re still here, then I did warn you.
First I need to admit my love for the classic Voltron. Keith was one of my first true loves, I even had a picture of him (from my Voltron coloring book) framed in my room. However, I loved classic Voltron, and have never bothered with the other iterations, so I can’t compare the new reboot to any of those, only the original. Also, it’s been a minute since I’ve seen the old ones, so my memory may be hazy in a few areas.
This reboot is done by the Avatar/Kora people and I see their stamp all over it. The principle animation reminds me of Kora in places, with some of Avatar’s simplicity, while the story pacing, and even personalities of characters feel very Avatar. And, just as with Avatar and Kora, the series gets less comedic and more serious as the episodes roll along. However, with only 11 episodes they never quite reach the level of Kora and stay more in Avatar Book 1 territory.
I won’t bother detailing the first episode – that’s been done all over the place – but I have to take a moment to point out some changes. Instead of adult space explorers, we get a group of cadets who are still in school – well, except Keith who was kicked out for “disciplinary reasons”, and Shiro (The Sven replacement) who actually IS an adult, but has spent a year as a prisoner of Zarkon, having been kidnapped on a science expedition with a father/son pair.
As for their personalities, Hunk and Pidge initially seemed pretty much like I remembered (more on that later), though I did get tired of the puking gag with Hunk every time they fly. Luckily it disappears after the first few episodes. As for the others. Hmmm. Lance is no longer the kind of uptight second in command, but rather demoted to third place, and turned into a Sokka clone (as in Sokka from Avatar). I can deal with that because it was amusing and I’m not a lunatic purist, but -as you may guess – the Shiro/Keith changes irritated me a bit.
As I said, Shiro is the Sven replacement and has absolutely nothing in common with the base character. Did I mention he was kidnapped? Not only does he remember nothing about his confinement or even how he escaped (this is never explained), but while there he got his arm replaced with some alien tech, which makes a handy plot device now and then. In a later episode when he fights with Haggar the witch (yes she is there), Haggar tells him that she installed the arm and had hoped to make him their greatest weapon. Of course, by then he has remembered bits and pieces f his confinement, including being a gladiator in a ring (Just as the original space explorers were before they escaped and ended up on planet Arus) Despite this, Shiro is calm, collected, and 100% leader material, no doubt because he is older and better trained than the others.
And that’s the thing that irritates the crap out of me because when they made him cool and collected and in control, they took those attributes away from Keith, leaving Keith to be temperamental, brash, sarcastic, and with no sense of what team work means. (Though they were nice and gave him control of Voltron’s sword at least -more on that later.)
And Keith’s not the only one with no sense of teamwork. Since these guys have NOT been traveling as space explorers together, they have pretty much zero team work abilities. In the classic series, the delay in their working Voltron properly is technical (the missing key), while in this series the problem almost always comes back around to their inability to work together. Even Pidge takes a turn at wanting out of the team in one episode. Luckily, since most of the episodes are only twenty-some minutes, it doesn’t last long enough to get really annoying, and by episode eleven some of the personality glitches have started to smooth out. Except Coran’s.
Coran is the adviser to Princess Allura. In the classic series he is a bit stuffy, no, more than a bit, a lot, but in this show he is 100% comedy relief. He’s so outrageous that it literally made me cringe. Buffoon does not even cut it. By the final episode they had toned him down by about 10% but I’d say another 40% is necessary.
As for Allura, despite complaints online that she is a princess in a tower who does nothing (boo hoo) this is far from true. For starters she is the only one who can create the wormholes that enable the Voltron force and the giant castle spaceship to get from one end of the galaxy to the other before they’re old, she knows pretty much everything about all the technological components of the castle (which is also a space ship. Was it a space ship in the original series?), and the lions are tied into her life force. On top of that she has some fantastic healing abilities (she uses this energy/healing thing to save a dying planet-sized beast at one point), and, as it is revealed in the 10th episode, has some chameleon/shifting abilities as well (she turns her skin purple and makes herself taller in order to impersonate one of Zarcon’s drones). She is also freakishly strong – in the same episode she picks up and flings Shiro into an escape pod as well as holding doors shut against a group of drones. And, far from being the demure, sweet princess that the original Allura was, she is almost tsundere at times, and yells and waves her arms a lot. She reminded me a lot of Katara from Avatar who, despite being lauded as a strong female, doesn’t really start out that way and has to grow into the role. A sweet stay-at-home princess she is not. Get over it internet.
Another complaint I saw about the first episode is that it was “five white guys saving the world as usual – can’t you do better” bleh, bleh. First off, sorry to fry your burrito but Keith is supposed to be Asian from my understanding, and Lance and Hunk aren’t white (their skin colors are both darker than the others) and they aren’t all men because – KACHING – they turned Pidge into a girl.
I’ll give you a second on that.
Remember that father/son pair Shiro was with when they were taken prisoner? Well that was Pidge (or should I call her Kate?)’s father and brother. It’s revealed that after Galaxy Garrison blames their disappearance on pilot error, Pidge/Kate hacks the Garrison’s computers and is thrown off base. To get back in, she cuts off her hair and enters as a cadet under a different name. After the Voltron force shoots down the ship Shiro was held prisoner with, Pidge goes back and gets enough data to start the search for her parents – this is what causes that moment I mentioned when she wants to leave the team. This is pretty much sussed out in the first few episodes – with Shiro being the first to realize it as he suddenly remembers things about his exploration companions. It’s handled well, and little clues are dropped that make you go “OOOooOOOO”. And even though it often aggravates me when they gender-swap roles, I don’t mind this so much because Pidge was never one of my favorites and he was always pretty girly anyway. At least the leisure suit is gone.
With only 11 episodes, they haven’t gotten into any of Keith’s past – not even what he did to get tossed out of the Garrison – nor have they gotten into Lance or Hunk. I’ll be interested to see if they do in the next season and what they do. It might be nice to see Hunk fleshed out as more than a stomach. (to be fair, they’ve already made him super smart half time)
As for Voltron… Hmmmm. They’ve changed the lion arrangement. Shiro is in the black lion, and Keith is in the red, while Lance has been demoted to blue (what with his red lion being taken). Why? Yes, Keith’s uniform was always red (because he was the leader and in anime it is red leader, blue is number two, etc. so their uniform colors denoted their rank in the team, NOT the color of their lions). However they have now evidently decided to match the lions with uniforms, which makes me wonder HOW they could give Allura one? Unless they make her team leader and give her a black uniform, it would mean a major shake up and everyone having to get new colors…
Though they don’t get into the elements involved with the cats, there is a hint at it later on when Lance’s lion shoots an ice gun and Keith’s a lava like blast that melts metal. The cats seem to have a LOT of random weapons that pop up when they’re needed and disappear when they aren’t.
Speaking of weapons, everyone but Shiro gets a Bayard – a technological weapon that turns into a different item based on the user’s personality (Keith gets a sword, Lance a blaster, etc.) The black lion’s Bayard was lost with the original Palidin (pilot), but Shiro has that spiffy arm, so it’s all okay.
Also, despite not being in the first episode, the Voltron robot does have his weapons – each lion has a different one that they activate by coupling their Bayard with the lion. Pidge controls the shield, Keith the sword, Hunk a giant blaster, and I don’t recall seeing what Lance’s is.
There is some good humor when the group is trying to unsuccessfully figure out how to form Voltron in the second episode. Despite being able to do it in episode one, they find it is a skill they can’t redo as easily, though by the last episode they’ve got it down, though Zarkon’s remarks about the lions being unable to beat him “in fledgling hands” shows that they have a long way to go to utilizing it all.
As for other elements, the space mice are there – though there’s a different story about their telepathic abilities – and the hologram of Allura’s father is also there for awhile (she has to destroy him when his program is infected – the final scene of that episode actually made me tear up a little). I mentioned Haggar, and her Druids are there, as is Zarkon, of course, and though they aren’t in the first episode there are Robeasts that land in their giant space caskets (and unlike the classic series they don’t randomly change appearance – ha ha!).
They also use the classic mecha-anime split screens to show the characters talking when they are in their lions or in Voltron, and an overlong transformation sequence that takes place in space so that the cats always fly out of the atmosphere, transform, and then fly back, allowing them to use the same sequence over and over, which gives it an authentic cheese flavor.
Since this is novel length, I’m going to wrap it up. In all, I enjoyed the series. As I said, the pacing is well done, the story flow is good, there is a bit of an “Oh!” moment at the final meeting with Zarkon. There is a lot of comedy – almost too much at the beginning, but it evens out. They stick to enough of the original material to keep me satisfied, with enough newness to give some surprises (like who the original Paladin of the Black Lion was! Since everything with the black lion is purple, this now makes sense why all the Zarkon things are purple.) And the show ends with the hint that the story could get much deeper in a second season. I compared the pacing to Avatar, and I stand by that. If you enjoyed it, there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy this one.
Though be warned: the last episode ends with a horrible cliff hanger – the wormhole they’re traveling in is rendered unstable by Haggar, meaning they have no control over where they’ll come out at, and the black lion and red lion fly off by themselves and disappear…and end. Is there a second season coming? If so when? Alas, I don;t have these answers, but if someone else does, I’m all ears.
Have a telepathic space mice kind of day!