Voltron: Legendary Defender just debuted on Netflix in June, but as of this July’s San Diego Comic-Con, it secured both a second season and a release date. By the end of the year, season two will be out on the streaming platform. Which is great news, because I have marathoned the first season twice. I was not eager at the idea of waiting at the very least a year before the cliffhanger ending was answered. I tend to be very picky with ’80s reboots; after all, there are a lot of them around now. Many of them abandon the slightly cheesy charm that persists with a lot of properties from that decade in favor of trying to up the ‘coolness,’ whatever Hollywood thinks that entity may be. Thankfully, Voltron manages to avoid that; it offers plenty of little moments for you to laugh at it, which succeeds in making it more endearing.
The plot of the new series mirrors much of the old. In the somewhat distant future, the safety and sanctity of the universe is threatened by Emperor Zarkon, a guy whose motives and personality are just as nefarious as a name like “Zarkon” would tell you in the 1980s. Opposing him is a team of five pilots with color-coded robotic cat ships that form a singular entity called “Voltron.” Together with a princess named Allura of the planet Arus, they protect the universe from Zarkon’s machinations. If this feels a lot like Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers to you, there’s a good reason for it. Power Rangers was clearly influenced by the original 1984 Voltron in different ways, along with other mecha shows. Pacific Rim anyone? At any rate, while in the original the pilots (called “Paladins”) had the support of an organization called the Galaxy Alliance (and the planet Arus) behind them, Legendary Defender puts them in much more of an underdog position. While there is a Galaxy Garrison (an elite military academy that four of our five heroes are merely students of when the show starts), space exploration is still very new for Earth. It’s a time to be fearless and curious and a little bit reckless, and perhaps only a little worried about what other sentient life is out there.
However, that is poised to soon change when Shiro, a space pilot thought to be dead, suddenly reappears on Earth with more than a few new scars and frantic warnings of a powerful galactic empire. Rescued from a government eager to hide what he knows by cadets Lance, Hunk, Pidge, and academy wash-out Keith, the five deduce that the same empire that held Shiro captive is after something called “Voltron.” Cut to finding a giant blue cat hidden in a canyon, and the team quickly finds itself across the universe in the presence of Princess Allura who has a weighty destiny for them. Form Voltron, defeat Zarkon, defend the universe. No small task for five Earthlings who have no idea where home is or how they will return there. Assuming they ever do at all.
Unlike its predecessor, which was low-budget at its finest (cut from two different shows), Legendary Defender has Dreamworks Animation at the helm. A mix of 2D with 3D, and crew members from lauded shows like Legend of Korra, the show looks clean and smooth with nice, bright colors. The pedigree also reflects in the character designs, with a variety of body shapes and skin tones to indicate a mix of ethnic backgrounds. By far, the biggest change from her predecessor belongs to Allura. Where once was an ’80s it-girl of blonde hair, blue eyes, and fair skin is now a commanding woman with dark skin, silver hair, and elven ears.
For a show titled Voltron, the first season offers very little by way of giant robot fights, for the better. The producers put a lot of focus on the pilots and Allura as individuals, as invested in their characters’ development as they are in cool mecha cats.
Pidge and Lance are both shown to be very close to their families, families they worry they may never see again. Hunk struggles to overcome his fear of conflict while Keith seems at a loss with how to depend on anyone but himself. Allura has to support the paladins whilst coming to grips with the loss of everything she ever knew and loved, and Shiro tries hard to be the supportive leader his younger paladins need without his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder overwhelming him. All this, on top of being the lone force opposing an empire we are told spans across entire galaxies, that hasn’t met with any substantial resistance in 10,000 years.
Unlike a lot of its predecessors, the weight of such a destiny is given the thoughtful consideration. The paladins respond by being overwhelmed, pessimistic, or just plain scared. Shiro and Allura initially are the ones pushing forward the hardest, because they understand their enemy the best.
By working together and sharing the burdens, the team is better able to function as a unit and thus better able to form Voltron. It makes the times they do form the fabled robot all the better; the paladins aren’t the robot, the robot is the paladins. Season Two is slated to focus more on the world-building (universe building?) and examining the lives of everyday people in the galaxies-spanning empire, to give viewers a more rounded view of this world where hopes of salvation lay in one giant robot. Fans of Avatar: The Last Airbender and Legend of Korra likely expect this of cartoons, but those who have yet to treat themselves may be pleasantly surprised at the depth. I would highly suggest tackling Season One before looking up the Season Two trailer, particularly since the young fandom is now deeply worried how much the writers will crib from the original’s storyline. Without revealing too much, a pilot in the original suffered a sad fate, and the creators dared to make us all care about this team so much in 11 episodes we all worry their successor may repeat history. If you can handle growing attached to a ragtag group of underdogs as they try to fight an overlord, I highly recommend you join us at the Castle of Lions.