Voltron: The Legendary Defender released eleven episodes as a Netflix exclusive on June 10, 2016. DreamWorks Animation Television brought Voltron back to life with the creative team behind Avatar: The Last Airbender and Avatar: The Legend of Korra (Executive Producer, Joaquim Dos Santos and C0-Executive Producer, Lauren Montgomery). The 80’s classic returns to defend the universe against evil with the help of five heroic teenagers.
In Voltron Legendary Defender five teen space cadets in training, Shiro, Lance, Keith, Hunk and Pidge are transferred to outer space and face a universe being ruled by King Zarkon. The teens discover five mysterious robot lions and become the designated defenders of the universe, along with Princess Allura and Coran who are from the extinct planet Arus. Together they restore Voltron, the invincible protector of the universe and fight against the evil invading forces called the Galra Empire, led by Zarkon.
Legendary Defenders is a reboot of the 80’s classic that absolutely keeps the simple and pulp tone. If you love swords, energy weapons, robots and space battles, you will love this show. Legendary Defenders had all 11 episodes released at once and the endings of each episode is not conclusive, but more of a continuation to the next episode making it very easy to binge watch the entire season.
The storytelling is excellent, the character relationships are in depth, and the Paladins learning how to work as a team create some really enticing character dynamics. Every character has a well fleshed out back story so this is not just about a bunch of side characters revolving around a main hero. There are unexpected twists and character history’s that are introduced throughout the story. Not only do you see different dimensions of characters through their history and development with one another as a team, you also see them growing with their individual Lions. The paladins start off by being chosen by their lions, then they learn to to pilot them and eventually unlock unique weapons or abilities as they become more seasoned paladins. In Voltron: Defender of the Universe the paladins learned how to pilot their lions and form Voltron exceptionally fast. In Legendary Defenders, viewers get to experience more of how the individual lions fight, decreasing the frequency of the Voltron formation. Assembling Voltron is not the solution for every fight and sometimes keeping the lion form was a more useful tactic against a specific enemy. Voltron was something I would have liked to see more of, but I do believe they are building up its use for a harder fight in season two.
Shiro (Josh Keaton) pilots the black lion and plays the leader role. Throughout the show, he struggles with suppressed memories of when he was captured by the Galra. Lance (Jeremy Shada) pilots the blue lion and is a loud, overly confident ladies man. Keith (Steven Yeun) who pilots the red lion, plays the rebellious and headstrong paladin. Hunk (Tyler Labine) pilots the yellow lion and is the engineer of the group who is always eating or thinking about food. Pidge (Bex Taylor-Klau) pilots the blue lion and is the smart Tech-specialist. Princess Allura (Kimberly Brook) who is the princess of extinct planet Arus, takes on the command position of the group since she is linked to the lions, knowledgeable about their use and controls wormholes in space. Coran (Rhys Darby) is Princess Allura’s silly adviser. Unlike Defender of the Universe, the paladin’s space suits and off-duty outfits match their respective lion colors.
The relationship dynamics between characters are both heart-warming and comedic. For instance, Shiro and Pidge share a dark history that coincides and it leads to one of the biggest twists in the story. Kieth and Lance have a rivalry often competing against one another in Lion races or training exercises but they eventually develop really good camaraderie, although their bantering never fully subsides.
The main villains in Legendary Defender, King Zarkon (Neil Kaplan) and sorceress Haggar (Cree Summer) lack any depth other than her loyalty in honoring his hunger for power. His character design is way cooler this time around, but I hope future Legendary Defender seasons develop him more as the main villain. At the very last episode, his connections to the black lion touch on some of his history but the season abruptly ends without expanding on that detail.
Art Animation & Sound
Legendary Defender’s animation is stellar and you can instantly tell that this was animated by the same team who did The Legend of Korra. It’s very rare nowadays to see hand-drawn animation versus CG and the traditional animation is a breath of fresh air. The characters and environments are well-drawn with sharp visuals. Even the characters facial expressions and body movements are often exaggerated much like Japanese animation. The unique designs for the different races in the Voltron universe are well thought out.
Voltron: Legendary Defenders had some concrete differences from Voltron: Defender of the Universe in terms of story development, art direction, character names and character roles. While some key elements do coincide, the tradition of the 80’s classic isn’t even slightly lost. There are many scenes where you will hear classic 80’s cartoon music play, such as when the paladins are about to pilot their lions to form Voltron:
DreamWorks Voltron Legendary Defender is a show that longtime fans will appreciate while also being a good entry point for those who are new to Voltron. The show is not a continuation of the original series but is its own unique spin that sustains the 80’s cartoon tradition. I do wish the villains were as well developed as the heroes and that the season didn’t end so short, but I am confident they will fill that void in season 2. Legendary Defenders made me a bigger Voltron fan than I already was.
Check out the Voltron Legendary Defenders official trailer here:
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It’s very difficult to revive a classic cartoon while keeping the tradition but Voltron Legendary Defenders mastered this. The animation, character design, story, sound and character development were top notch. If the villains were as fleshed out as the heroes and the season ended with at least some closure, this would be the perfect show. This is a must watch.
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