Voltron: Legendary Defender Review

30 years after it first debuted on American television sets, Voltron is back. The Netflix/DreamWorks reboot of the iconic mech has stirred up all sorts of nostalgia and fond memories for children of the 80s and 90s who spent their Saturday mornings with a bowl of sugary cereal watching Voltron beat up other giant adversaries.

But you don’t have to be a longtime Voltron fan to enjoy Season One of this reboot, and that’s perhaps the show’s best quality. Voltron: Legendary Defender is among the most accessible and most earnest animated series to come around in a long, long time.

It’s beautifully animated, thanks to the brilliant guys and gals at Studio Mir, who previously animated The Legend of Korra. Colors are crisp and resplendent across the variety of planets and deep-space settings that we see. One of the most impressive aspects of the visuals is the CGI that’s incorporated into the battle sequences; so much so that you’ll often be hard-pressed to distinguish it from the normal animation during the show’s fluid moments of action.

voltron2Like The Legend of Korra, Legendary Defender’s visuals are loaded with personality. Its characters are pretty much walking Emojis. In a single episode, you’ll see a few dozen different facial expressions from the cast, many exaggerated and ridiculous in the tradition of anime. You’ll see a lot of these throughout the show’s nigh-endless humor. Sometimes, the comedy is unnecessary, and is even detrimental to the show’s attempt at a serious story of war against a tyrannical, war-mongering empire. Other times, the comedy is downright hilarious and produces instantly-quotable quips.

It all depends on how much you can stomach, but if you’re tuning in to a genre show like this to begin with, you’re likely a fan who will be treated to far more gut-busting laughs than you are eye rolls and sighs.

Our heroes are a very likeable bunch, and they have the potential to strike a chord with a wide array of viewers. Between gender, skin color, and age, the characters are a very diverse group. Some of their demeanors feel like standard action/adventure tropes—you’ve got the calm and assured leader (Shiro), the cocky and reckless flirt (Lance), the taciturn rebel (Keith)—but everyone has a defined identity from the second they appear on screen. Anyone with a heart should be able to laugh with and cheer for the company as the story rolls on.

Even the mechs feel like they have soul, and some literally do. The five Lions that can come together to form Voltron all have a personality of their own that lets them decide who is worthy of piloting them. We’re regularly reminded about the emotional connection that must exist between mortal and mythical machine for a Lion to accept its Paladin [pilot].

And when those Lions roar, they roar. It’s no robotic screech they utter, but a thunderous bellow that feels like it comes from some living, breathing behemoth.Voltron3

Sounds a little bit more like high fantasy than sci-fi, doesn’t it? That’s hardly the only instance where Legendary Defender has an affinity for mystical elements. It very rarely tosses around convoluted pseudo-science that would alienate most viewers. Instead, it offers up all sorts of interesting history and lore about Voltron, the villainous Galra Empire, and the various magical elements that exist in the deep-space settings. One such baddie is an evil sorceress who could be straight out of a Dungeons & Dragons campaign; she goes on to advise our main villain about harvesting Quintessance, a mysterious form of fuel that might as well be a planet’s lifeblood, and can not only empower a living being, but also allow them to live for thousands of years.

You don’t need to be an astrophysicist to understand what’s going on. The show just asks that you kick back and enjoy the adventure.

Unlike old-school Voltron and other giant mech shows of decades past, Legendary Defender follows a more cohesive story. It doesn’t use the “New bad guy shows up, Voltron defeats him, everybody celebrates” format for every episode like we used to see commonly in the genre. There’s an overarching plot that develops from the show’s plus-sized beginning to its maddening cliffhanger ending—seriously, Netflix and DreamWorks, we were coming back to watch Season Two even if Season One finished with a proper resolution.

It was definitely the right way to design this story, as it allows for a few different story arcs to flesh themselves out across a handful of episodes, and it allows plot elements to connect to one another between episodes. Characters and locales that would otherwise be at risk of a one-and-done appearance get their chance to shine in a few different occasions.

voltron4Interestingly, Voltron itself doesn’t get a ton of screen time across the 11 episodes. The Lions are around for just about the entirety of the Season One, but they only join together to form Voltron about four times. The vast majority of the action involves the Paladins battling the Galra in their own separate Lions; there’s also a lot of action that takes place outside the cockpit on their own feet.

Of course, every time Voltron does take to the screen, it brings out the awestruck five-year-old in you. Seeing the classic formation sequence rallies nostalgia of old-school mech franchises, and when Voltron starts cleaning house with its bombastic weapons, it doesn’t matter your age— you’ll grin from ear to ear.

 

FINAL SCORE

9.0/10

 

+ Gorgeous animation and CGI that’s filled with personality

+ A rich setting that draws the viewer in with easy-to-grasp, yet fascinating lore

+ The mech action will have longtime giant robot fans hooting and hollering in satisfaction

+ Appeals to and is appropriate for nearly all age groups

—  Maybe a little too much comedy here and there

—  Again, that cliffhanger ending was uncalled for

Voltron: Legendary Defender Season One is available exclusively on Netflix NOW

Jeff Pawlak is the animation buff on the Geekiverse. He’s watched plenty of anime in his time, and he’s glad to see that American studios have started churning a string of animated epics in recent years. While he eagerly waits for Season Two of Voltron: Legendary Defender, he points his attention to Nintendo video games, giant monster flicks, and other animated shows and movies. Find him on Twitter @JeffreyPavs

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