In 1984 Toei Animation brought over a little show called Voltron from Japan to Western audiences. Quickly finding itself a part of every kid’s Saturday morning ritual and situating itself somewhere between Transformers and Ninja Turtles, Voltron was right at home on 80’s TV, and its message of camaraderie and brotherhood have stood the test of time.
Now, some 30 years later, Netflix and Dreamworks have teamed up to bring us an all new, modernized take on the tale of the Legendary Defender and savior of the galaxy, Voltron. Spoiler alert: They nailed it!
The first episode is an hour long and opens with a flash back to when humanity has made it to Kerberos, a moon of Pluto and the furthest mankind has ever gone in space. The small crew sent to the moon are hoping to find microscopic organisms to prove life outside of Earth. During the excavation the three are abducted by an alien ship and we get our first glimpse of Zarkon, the big bad of the series.
This scene ends quickly and we are treated to a one year time jump to Earth and the Galaxy Garrison. It is here we meet 3 of the future lion pilots: Pidge, Hunk and Lance, and it’s not long until these three end up running into Keith and Shiro the other two pilots that form team Voltron. From there the show does nothing but push forward, spending little time with useless exposition.
I have to admit, the first episode felt a little rushed with just how much it was trying to shove in my face. Trying to establish the lore behind Voltron, the purposes that drive each individual pilot, and introducing a slew of characters from the Voltron crew to Zarkon and his minions; it can seem like a bit much to chew on.
After this however, the show finds its footing and continues on at a more reasonable pace. Taking time to flesh out the pilots:
- Shiro: Pilot of the black lion, also the oldest of the group. As part of the original Pluto excavation team he is the only battle tested member of the group, and acts as their leader.
- Keith: Pilot of the red lion. His confidence and ace piloting ability serve to rally the group.
- Lance: Pilot of the blue lion. He is a cocky, self-proclaimed ladies man. His rash decision making leads the team into trouble more than once.
- Hunk: Stocky pilot of the yellow lion. He approaches situations with a caution that can sometimes come off as cowardice. But he is often the voice of reason, causing the team to seriously think about their actions.
- Pidge: Youngest of the bunch and pilot of the green lion. Pidge is the brains of the bunch. Pidge’s technological know-how gets the group out of plenty of tricky situations.
The five pilots are trained by Princess Allura and Coran to become Paladins, the legendary pilots of Voltron and defenders of the universe. Allura has spent the past 10,000 years in slumber in the Altean Castle on planet Arus with Coran. Allura and Coran are awakened when the curious pilots are whisked away to planet Arus in the blue lion they found on Earth.
From there the show just opens up with the main conflict and doesn’t let up. With Allura, headstrong and confident, taking the reigns as their commander, and Coran, a man that is too smart for his own good—he seems aloof but is always useful—the pilots transform from rebellious teens to an unified and focused team.
Throughout the series we are treated to backstory for all the main good guys and they all become very like-able and distinctly different. Each character has a flaw or secret that is delved into in between the action, and really helps ground them as real people. I have to say that Pidge and Shiro’s relationship quickly become one of the strongest in the show, with Pidge quickly becoming my favorite pilot. Pidge and Shiro’s backstories seem to be the most fleshed out, but seeing as they have ties to the original Pluto mission, this is understandable.
Even the lions appear to have their own personalities that act as a mirror or amplifier of their respective pilots. The bonds of the pilots and lions grow and really shine through during the later episodes’ action sequences. Hunk’s yellow lion is heavily armored and defense oriented. Lance’s blue lion is cool and reckless, a perfect reflection of his cockiness. Keith’s red lion is quick, precise and sure of every move just like him. Pidge’s green lion is often found in the back, assessing the situation before making a well calculated strike. Finally, Shiro’s black lion takes charge and wears the responsibility of being the head of Voltron on its back.
It is unfortunate however that none of the bad guys: Zarkon, Haggar, and Sendak, really don’t get much in the way of motivational exposition, sometimes just coming off as being evil for the sake of being evil. The potential is there for them to become more than just cookie-cutter foes, it’s just not explored in season 1.
Not to say the enemies aren’t menacing and a very real threat. With the Robeast created by the witch Haggar and her dark magic the Palidans are pushed to their limits in some very intense and bombastic action scenes. Commander Sendak also proves the formidable foe, just wait until you see what he does with that arm!
Zarkon is kind of just a big talking head at this point, commanding the others from his sleek metallic throne. His constant directive; “Bring me the lions!”
Like I said, the enemies are pretty one dimensional and hopefully they flesh them out a bit more in season 2. But they do serve their purpose as hurdles to our heroes and provide the series’ driving action.
And what action it is! The camera swoops and follows the battles smoothly. Enemy ships explode in bright, firey explosions full of debris. Every battle reveals a new power or ability of one of the lions or pilots, and when Voltron finally gets his sword it is an amazing sight. The animation is top-notch. Even when they introduce CG cell-shaded characters or objects, like Voltron, the Robeast, or massive space ships, they all fit really well within their surroundings and never look tacked on.
Voltron’s transformation scene is a definite callback to the classic transformation scene of the 80s, and refreshingly, isn’t overused. Voltron is assembled exactly when he needs to be, and because the creators showed restraint in using the giant robot, his arrival lets you know that the shit just got real. It really lends a true sense of power and awe to Voltron whenever you see him on screen, and that’s exactly how it should feel when you see him.
Despite being rated Y-7 the deep story, amazing action, and heavily serialized show is a real treat for fans of the original series from the 1980s as well as their children, should they have them. When I say serialized, I mean serialized. Tailor made for binge watching, no episode had a proper ending. Each one just kind of stops and picks up immediately in the next episode. Perhaps the biggest shock of them all is the final episode, where it literally just ends in the middle of a battle. Cliffhangers like this, to me, are a double edged sword. First of all it leaves me wanting more, but on the other hand it’s going to be about a year before I can get the rest of the story, and that’s a long wait for a show that’s this good.
Written by Tim Hedrick, a writer and producer for Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra, a show that received a lot of praise for it’s deep characters and wonderful world, it’s no surprise that Voltron: Legendary Defender is as amazing as it is. Wonderfully voice acted and beautifully drawn, it’s hard not to
demand recommend that you watch this show now.
The entire 11 episode first season is streaming now on Netflix. You geeks should definitely give it a watch!