Voltron: Legendary Defender

Tagged: TV

US animated tv series (2016-2018). Dreamworks Animation/Netflix. Executive producers: Joaquim Dos Santos, Bob Koplar, Ted Koplar and Yoo Jae Myung. Writers include May Chan, Joshua Hamilton, Tim Hedrick and Mitch Iverson. Directors include Steve Ahn, Eugene Lee and Chris Palmer. Voice cast includes Kimberly Brooks, Rhys Darby, Josh Keaton, Tyler Labine, Neil Kaplan, A J Locascio, Jeremy Shada, Cree Summer, Bex Taylor-Klaus and Steve Yeun. 78 episodes of 23 minutes (plus seven shorts). Colour.

Voltron: Legendary Defender is a reboot of the US animated series Voltron: Defender of the Universe (1984-1985), itself largely an edit of the Japanese Anime series Hyaku Jūō GoLion ["Hundred Beast King GoLion"] (1981-1982). All concern five manned Mecha lions which can combine to form a giant humanoid robot called Voltron and in this form fight Zarkon, the Witch Haggar and Zarkon's son Lotor.

Five space pilots from Earth – upright Shiro (Keaton), angsty loner Keith (Yeun), jerky Lance (Shada), geeky Pidge (Taylor-Klaus), and food-loving Hunk (Labine) – discover the Blue Lion on Earth and are taken to the Castle of Lions (also a Spaceship) on the planet Arus, where they meet Princess Allura (Brooks) and her advisor Coran (Darby), plus four mice. The pilots are persuaded to become the paladins of the lions and oppose Emperor Zarkon (Kaplan), who rules the very evil Galran Galactic Empire with the support of his chief advisor Witch Haggar (Summer) – a user of both Magic and Technology. A key to the Galran Empire's success is Quintessence, a Power Source which has the "highest known energy per unit volume in the universe" and is also a magical force (see Science and Sorcery): it powers the Galran Empire, keeps Zarkon and Haggar alive, and was also used to create Voltron.

The Paladins, Princess Allura (who eventually becomes a paladin herself) and Coran battle to build alliances with the Alien inhabitants of the planets they free, to bring down Zarkon. Meanwhile, Zarkon's son Lotor (Locascio) has his own agenda, ultimately killing his father and being crowned Emperor. Though his intentions are arguably good, he is willing to commit atrocities to achieve his goals: eventually he has to be defeated by Voltron, and dies. Haggar (now known by her original name, Honerva), is revealed to be Lotor's mother and plans to be reunited with him and Zarkon by finding a reality (see Parallel Worlds) where they still live – however, the process will destroy all other realities. Honerva succeeds, but is distraught when Lotor refuses to accept her as his mother, so she vows to destroy all realities ("if there is no place in this Universe for me, then there will be no Universe at all!"). She goes to the "source of time and space ... of everything" but is fought to a standstill by Voltron: Honerva and the paladins then find themselves standing in the "collective consciousness of all existence". They talk: with surprising ease Allura persuades Honerva to recant and join her in restoring the destroyed realities (through their both being imbued with Quintessence), though to do so will kill them both.

Though the initial characterization does not wander too far from central casting, some growth does occur and there are many revelations. One that is no surprise to anyone – excepting Lance but not the viewer – is the discovery that Pidge is a young woman. The show also allows some moral complexity: in one episode the paladins enter an Alternate-World reality where Princess Allura's people – previously depicted as noble freedom fighters – had quickly defeated Zarkon and then imposed "peace" on their universe by removing the free will of opponents and potential opponents, and now plan to spread this Dystopian version of peace to all realities. Also of note is the final episode's inclusion of the first ever male-on-male kiss involving a main character in western children's animation.

Voltron: Legendary Defender is sometimes formulaic, sometimes ambitious. Despite many eyebrow-raising narrative elements – apparently the lions combining to form Voltron is not part of their original design but just happened one day – and the Humour being hit or miss, this is an enjoyable, exciting (though perhaps the battle scenes outstay their welcome) and visually appealing show. [SP]

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