[Toon Tangent] Voltron: Legendary Defender (Netflix)

Written by Jared the Greek

For those who grew up in the 80s the series Voltron was one of the first exposures to anime that most kids had.  The series was a redub of the Japanese combiner robot series Beast King Go-Lion.  The series followed five astronauts who pilot five lions that combined into Voltron in order to battle giant monsters.  The series was simple and formulaic, but eventually led to the team battling the evil Zarkon and saving the universe.  The original series had several continuations, but this is the first full reboot of the franchise.


This time around we meet our pilots as they train at the academy.  During an attack they discover the Blue Lion and set off on their journey to locate the other four lions.  In this quest they meet Princess Allura and get involved in the war against Zarkon and his evil empire.  As the series progresses you see the team defend an alien civilization, liberate a slave colony, and challenge the main Imperial fleet.  Each episode ties into the next and the ongoing story ends with a sequel bait cliffhanger at the end of episode eleven.  Despite the short length there is quite a bit of story packed into the series.  You learn secrets about the characters, enjoy some basic space politics, and even get some comedy along the way.  The show has a darker tone than the original and it will keep you watching due to the great writing.


The characters are basically the same team from the original with some exceptions.  First of all Keith is no longer the team leader, he’s the hot headed red lion pilot who functions as a foil to Lance the laid back joker.  Sven isn’t in the series at all and is instead replaced by Shiro who takes the role of team leader.  Shiro’s name is a reference to the Japanese name for Sven (Takashi Shirogane).  Shiro has a mysterious past, but does his best to overcome those memories and lead the team with precision and control.  He makes a great leader and his backstory is the most fleshed out of the whole team.  Coran also has a complete character change as he went from serious royal advisor to silly royal attendant who is skilled, but often hides it behind a veil of stupidity.


Each of the characters has their original traits, but they have more depth than the 80s series.  Lance is the comic relief, but he is also a risk taker who puts his life on the line to assist the team.  Pidge is still the tech expert, but also a skilled fighter and determined to win at any cost.  Keith is still hot blooded, but now is more of a stoic warrior who pushes himself to be the best.  Hunk is still the heart of the team, but we now get to see how his compassion can be overcome by his impatience and lack of trust of strangers.  Princess Allura is much more proactive in this version and can hold her own in a fight without the need of a Lion.  Overall, the better developed characters really make this a fun show and as you learn more about the characters you really begin to care about them.


The voice acting is great in this series.  There is a whole new set of actors and they all fit their characters very well.  Pidge has some great emotional scenes and really stands out due to the performance.  The comedy is well timed and the actors do a great job of selling the jokes.  Granted when you have Jeremy Shada (Finn in Adventure Time), Rhys Darby (Murry in Flight of the Conchords), and Tyler Labine (Dale in Tucker and Dale vs Evil) it is easy to see how the comedy parts could work so well.  The enemy forces have very ‘generic bad guy’ voices, but as they are not the focal point of the series this can be forgiven.  Haggar is perhaps the only villain that sticks out due to the haunting performance by vetran voice actor Cree Summer (Just about every video game you’ve ever played).  The cast is great and they work really well together to make a more cohesive experience.

The music is great and has a very space feel.  Some of the tracks feel like they were unused material from Mass Effect and it really works well in this universe.  Sadly, the original theme is not used in this series, but at the same time you do not get the cheesy narration either.  The opening has a completely new theme, but it does reference the original summoning of the lions as each of the lions leaps out of it’s element in this opening which is pretty cool.  The closing is a basic credits scroll, but since this is a Netflix series the ending credits will mostly be skipped.  The music supports the visuals really well and despite the lack of the original theme it is a great soundtrack.


The animation has an anime stylized look, but it doesn’t outright copy the medium.  It has a feel of Young Justice in terms of color palate and character design.  There is also some CG used in various parts, but it blends very well and adds to the overall look of the show.  Most of the character designs are the same, but have been updated, however Coran, Shiro, and Allura all have new distinct new looks.  While the uniforms do look the same in design the colors now match the lions and in addition to that each character has a unique weapon they carry for close quarters combat.  While the aliens of Zarkon’s Empire look similar to their old look the new aliens introduced have their own unique designs that make them stand out as separate species.  This gives the universe a much more diverse look and adds to the adventurous tone of the series.


The new series solves many of the problems with the original series.  For example the lions have use outside of just forming Voltron.  Several missions require the team to maneuver their lions to different locations in order to complete a task.  Adding to that, the main team has several missions where they need to fight outside of their lion and use their unique weapon to battle enemy ground forces.  Voltron is only used when the situation calls for it and this sparing use of the giant robot make those scenes stand out much more than they did in the original monster of the week style series.  Most importantly the series does not pander by shoehorning in the original cast or by making every other scene a reference.  When a reference does happen it’s used differently than in the original.  When they first try to form Voltron Shiro quotes ‘and I’ll form the head’, but his use of the statement is very different from Keith’s use of the phrase in the original series.  These types of changes allow the series to pay homage to the original while still being a fully unique series.

When it comes to a series reboot the deck is stacked against the series.  While Voltron may not be as beloved as some other 80s properties it still is remembered fondly by those who saw it in their childhood.  In some ways this reboot reminds me of the Battlestar reboot.  It takes the core concept and modernizes it, it makes some changes to the characters, and adds in heavier themes while still trying to keep the original roots.  While the horrors of war were minimal in the original series (in Go-Lion Earth falls to a nuclear orbital bombardment) this series shows slaves being tortured, it shows the deaths of civilians, and has the characters realistically look at their low chances for victory.  While themes of the Japanese version are still present it doesn’t remain serious all the time and has a good balance of drama and comedy.  The series takes a very different path than the original and as this is not based on any existing anime footage the creators can push it any direction they wish.  This is one of the best sci-fi action cartoons I have seen in a long time (this counts anime) and it is well worth your time.  Whether or not you watched the original you can easily get into this space opera adventure.  It’s a character story with a giant robot and not a giant robot story with some characters.


Bottom Line:

Highly Recommended, this should be the example of how to do a reboot

- Jared the Greek (Twitter: @JaredTheGreek)

– Jared the Greek (Twitter: @JaredTheGreek)

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