Aug 8, 2016

[TV] Voltron: Legendary Defender - Season 1

While my love for robots is most focused on The Transformers, I also watched a lot of different robot-related cartoons growing up. And one of them involved a group of giant robot lions that formed a bigger robot called Voltron. It wasn't necessarily my favorite cartoon, but then I was still familiarizing myself with the anime aesthetic at the time. But I did watch a lot of it and I still preferred the lion team over the vehicle team.

When Netflix announced a reboot cartoon, I wasn't entirely sure how to feel about their show, Voltron: Legendary Defender. Given my general feelings for most things from the 1980s, I don't feel that anything needed rebooting, so that's beyond the point. And I also acknowledge that this isn't the first time someone has tried to re-launch the Voltron franchise given things like the 2011 Voltron Force spinoff series.

But we have this new cartoon now and I was surprised by how much of a learning curve I was feeling in getting to appreciate this show. By the end I didn't exactly hate it, but I did feel things were somewhat lacking for an old dog like me.

Synopsis: Voltron: Legendary Defender is a Netflx reboot of the Voltron series by an American-Korean team between DreamWorks Animation, World Events Productions with animation by Studio Mir. The first season ran for 11 episodes and a second season has already been confirmed.

The story initially focuses on three Galaxy Garrison cadets - these being Keith (Steven Yeun), Lance (Jeremy Shada), and Pidge (Bex Taylor-Klaus. They all meet at the location of a crash involving Shiro (Josh Keaton), a member of an expedition believed lost but apparently had been captured by the Galra Empire. The trio eventually "rescue" Shiro from quarantine but find he doesn't remember anything from the time of his captivity. But they have determined that the Galra Empire is searching for something called Voltron. One thing leads to another and they locate a giant blue lion in the desert. This lion is but one of five such machines that can come together to form the legendary Voltron robot that the Galra Empire so covets.

What I Liked: Animation was definitely clean and the look of the series was still quite distinct but also an appropriate homage to the original series. For the most part the blending of flat animated pieces with CGI constructs goes on well enough with only some minor issues of physics.

All characters were written pretty well and each one has distinct motivations and interests that come through. We had a few surprise reveals about things along the way and the pacing of such moments felt organic and believable for the most part. The stories are largely focused on a single meta-plot, although the occasional side episode is inevitable of course.

And I'm really, really glad that they brought the mice back. Those are some tough little mammals.

What Could Have Been Better: Now I know I'm probably speaking more as someone who enjoyed the original cartoons, but hear me out. First, the Voltron transformation sequence doesn't feel all that awesome or epic. The original series had this powerful musical score that really drove things home. Here the forming of Voltron feels too functional as opposed to feeling epic. And that sort of ties to my problems with the scoring in general as the music does little to drive emotional responses.

There are aspects of the progression of the plot that feel a little too convoluted for its own good while other moments seem oddly simple. As a viewer, I don't fully get the whole Paladin selection process given they made the Princess Allura (Kimberly Brooks) a major alien and all the Voltron folks as humans from Earth. And the big bad villains don't feel so insidious yet, but at least Commander Sendak (Jake Eberle) had some moment of awesome that was pretty cool.

TL;DR: Voltron: Legendary Defender is an interesting enough new take on the franchise but one that doesn't do much to to drive the nostalgia feels for older fans. Storytelling is decent enough but could be tighter and some characters  deserve a bit more spotlight time to help with their development. Thus the first season gets 3 Voltron lions out of 5.

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