Take a Chance on this Loving Reboot By Netflix and DreamWorks
You know, when I say Vol, you say Tron?
If you haven’t seen Voltron Legendary Defender yet, well get ready to binge one of the most dynamic and well-executed reboots of a beloved cartoon to date. The classic show was a battle-focused cartoon about an alien princess and a team of human Paladin warriors fighting an evil empire with an amazingly powerful weapon of combining robotic lions, Voltron. (I know how it sounds, all right!)
It wasn’t particularly kid-friendly with character deaths, sexual innuendos, and violent fights, but all the more reasons it is so beloved by the Gen X-ers who saw the show when it debuted in Japan as Beast King GoLion in 1981, and the slightly more sanitized American Voltron: Defender of the Universe in 1984.
Maybe like me you were a fan of the original, awkward spankings and all (I want to know who animated those frames …><;). Or maybe you’ve just gotten an email from Netflix letting you know that the new season comes out June 15. Or maybe your kids are into it and you’ve heard snippets that leave you wondering what’s a quiznak anyway?
For real, VLD is the newest (and prettiest, thank you Studio Mir 🤩) All Your Colors Combined cartoon with a fresh face, fleshed out characters, and a panel of writers who are not afraid to shatter your expectations (and your heart, I’m still reeling from the season 2 finale, and parts of season 4).
You might be thinking, “But mochillama, why do I want to start watching a show I’ve never heard of that’s on its sixth season?”
That’s a very good question, reader, and I’m happy to answer it.
**Caution, from here on out there will be spoilies, in the words of Scott Aukerman.**
A Whole New Wooooooorld
If you’re a fan of the OG Voltron series, Beast King GoLion, you’re probably lovingly aware of its idiosyncrasies and general oddities. The heart of the show was simply the epic 80s Voltron transformation, formation of new weapons, and the blood-pumping (and repetitive) space battles with the Drule Empire.
The new show takes all of the beloved essentials of the show and upgrades them – Blazing Reboot style. We don’t get a dopey Zarkon cackling on his throne and narrating his every evil thought. We get an increasingly dehumanized (dealienized?) villain who has a compelling backstory and a fixation on the most powerful weapon in the universe.
The evil Haggar is a crone who creates Robeasts, monsters meant to destroy Voltron. Besides that all we know is that she likes cats, tormenting Princess Allura, and reminiscing on her former hot bod (don’t we all…).
In the reboot, we get a villain with backbone, whose cruelty is unparalleled — she manipulates living creatures, machines, the very life force of the universe, with no regard for anything except serving Zarkon’s goals. And as the seasons pass, we learn that she might not be in as much control of herself as she thinks she is…
And our archetypal color-coded team of heroes is not only modernized and fleshed out, but they’re a lot more fun. In Beast King GoLion, each of the paladins had a nickname to describe their very basic character. Akira/Keith was called Chief; the wise mentor, Shirogane, Quiet; the emotional ace pilot Lance, Moody, the soft-hearted muscle man Hunk, Hothead, and the science prodigy Pidge was Shorty.
Each of the new characters playfully riffs off their counterpart in the best of ways with some perfectly executed surprises. The dialogue is a lot more natural, and each character grows beyond their initial typecasting as the series progresses.
Some of the best parts of the show aren’t even really related to the main characters. The background animation is whimsically gorgeous and as our human heroes encounter new alien races and planets, you can see where the animation team had fun. Even the politics and dealings behind the scenes of the Galran empire are more intriguing than the original Drule iteration.
Plus there’s the loving tributes to classic anime of days long past. This team of creators grew up on the same variety of scifi, fantasy, and anime that we did and they love playing off those familiar themes as much as they enjoy dashing our expectations.
High Stakes Plot Lines
I won’t go into spoiler territory too much in this blog, but there a few things about VLD that make it more than just another animated series. For one thing, the series has tackled issues like representation, family troubles, PTSD, and character growth gracefully and naturally. You’re not going to see modern issues shoe-horned in here. But you will see characters and their problems adapted to the times (you wouldn’t dream of spanking this woke Princess Allura).
Also, if you haven’t seen GoLion, you may not be aware that someone on the team dies. (Don’t @ me, it came out almost forty years ago!) In Defender of the Universe, this death was sanitized and the character permanently left for the “space hospital” (with all the beloved family dogs that ever went to “live on a farm upstate.”)
From the very first season, we’ve had one character injured by a bomb, a few others risk their lives to protect the team, and some other very close near-death injuries (I’m trying to be vague here). There’s a very real understanding of danger on the show and a sense that time is running out – the Galra don’t care that 4/5 of the team just came out of a human high school. It’s only a matter of time until the Paladins luck runs out.
And besides the risk to the Paladins lives’, the problems they face as a team are hard-hitting. Whether it’s splitting the team up, mind control, alternate realities, family kidnapping, and enemies turning a new leaf, there’s a lot to work with here (I’m talking to you fanfic auteurs.) The show has a 72-episode commitment from Netflix, and is about halfway through.
With meaty plotlines and devastating consequences, there is a pleasant but real anxiety about what’s to come for the team.
Team as Family
In GoLion we meet characters that love each other but we don’t get to see why they do. One of the strengths of VLD is how the writers bring the characters together from total strangers bound by an obligation to defend the universe against a blood-thirsty, planet-destroying conqueror. Who could say no, knowing that their loved ones are at risk?
But our team, Allura, Shiro, Keith, Hunk, Lance, Pidge, and kooky space advisor Coran, grow as individuals and as a group along the way. They make sacrifices to stay on the team, and take risks to get the slightest edge against the Galra. They mess with each other’s stuff, they goof off and make milkshakes, and freak out over the origin of milk together.
Characters bicker and tease each other, but they also happen to save each other’s lives. The writing team does a great job of imagining what it would be like to go from a NASA-type high school to fighting in an intergalatic war at a huge disadvantage.
The team isn’t perfect but they face challenges, work through problems, and open up to each other. Given that the production staff, writing team, and animation studio worked on beloved ensemble shows like Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra, it’s no surprise that the characters of Legendary Defender are a masterclass of authenticity, design, and development. And hugs.
If I haven’t convinced you by know to give the new Voltron a try, then you must be a Power Rangers fan or something. But seriously if you are interested, carefully* head over to the DreamWorks YouTube channel to check out trailers, clips, and more. If you were somehow trapped in Jumani for a lifetime and don’t already have a Netflix subscription, get one quick! And if you’re already a fan, check out the season 6 trailer to get as pumped as I am for June 15th (if you weren’t already psyched by the Incredibles 2).
Come back next week and I’ll (spoiler: seasons 1-5) lay out all the different storylines that season 6 has to untangle!
*Disclaimer: In general, the comments of any official DreamWorks, Voltron, or Netflix social media post are filled with spoilers, shipping wars, and fan theories. I’d advise you to live a simple life and skip tumblr entirely. Enjoy!