When I reviewed shows like The Big O, I admitted that I never caught onto the whole genre of giant mecha fighting each other like most guys my age did. I know I watched Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers as a kid, but it had no staying power for me, and I never hit that same stride again.
But lo! the heavens parted, and someone did make a giant robot show that I could get behind. All it took was Netflix and the animation team behind The Legend of Korra to give me a thrill-packed adventure with a strong dramatic core and an excellent cast.
It gave me Voltron: Legendary Defender.
Inspired by the original 1980s show, Voltron is set in the distant future, as human beings explore the cosmos. We meet 4 maverick cadets at the Galactic Garrison, who band together to break out the survivor of a failed first contact mission, Shiro. Their gathering unleashes an ancient and powerful lion-shaped robot from underneath the planet’s surface, and soon our heroes are transported to the distant world of Altea, where they learn about the Galra Empire, led by Zarkon, who has ruled the universe for 10,000 years. Under the eye of Princess Allura, these five “Paladins” scatter across the cosmos to reunite the five Lion machines and reform Voltron, the strongest fighter ever created.
Given that talented directors and artists like Joaquim Dos Santos are attached to this series, it’s no surprise that the animation in the new Voltron show is breathtaking and subtle. We get distinct and colorful patterns for every alien civilization, from the noble Alteans to the ruthless Galra. And as for someone who doesn’t really like giant mecha shows, I must admit that the detail and coloring on the recurring Voltron transformation sequence is spot on and exciting to watch every time.
Beyond how the show looks, Voltron also has subtle details and styles when it comes to fleshing out the alien civilizations encountered in the show. There’s plenty of comedy to be had from arguing over different measurements of time (seconds vs. “ticks” on Altea), but there’s also enough beauty in its more dramatic moments, such as the Balmera rituals that Coran and Allura perform to harvest crystals near the midway point of the season. You get the sense of how vast and interconnected the universe is, and we’ve only seen a fraction of what lies ahead.
The main cast is equally well-rounded. You get equal parts comedy relief and acts of bravery from characters like Lance, Keith, Hunk, and Coran. Meanwhile, Shiro and Allura manage to go beyond their generic leadership roles, bringing in moments of self-doubt and their respective scarred pasts to bear, often when the battle’s reached its peak. I also have to point out that my favorite among the Paladins is Pidge, who redefines being the “smart one” of the team with a major secret and a deep connection to the human team that first encountered the Galra.
With 11 episodes under their belt, the showrunners did a fantastic job of telling a story with a beginning, middle, and end. You can see how they used cause-and-effect to map out their episodic plots. In one episode, they take back their castle and need a rare crystal from a distant planet. In the next episode, the Paladins will be fighting to free that planet from the Galra. In the episode after that, they’ll hunker down and defend the planet from a Galra-bred war machine. Apologies for any spoilers you might have just read, but even so, I hope you can see how the first season of the show manages to follow through and tell a compelling, overarching story arc with multiple smaller stories scattered throughout.
Overall, I really, really liked this show. It’s fun like the shows I used to watch as a kid, but it has plenty of heart and intelligence fueling the universe where it takes place, which makes Season 2 of Voltron: Legendary Defender worth the wait.
Voltron: Legendary Defender is available to watch on Netflix.
Bibliography: Voltron: Legendary Defender (Season 1). Based on Beast King GoLion by Toei Animation and Voltron: Defender of the Universe by World Events Productions. Produced by Joaquim Dos Santos, Lauren Montgomery, Yoo Jae Myung, Ted Koplar, Bob Koplar, Choi Goun, Kim Young Hyun, Kim Seul Ki, and Lee Soo Kyung. DreamWorks Animation; World Events Productions; Studio Mir. Netflix (distributor). Original release date: June 10, 2016 – present.