I know for a fact that I watched the original Lion Force Voltron when I was a kid. I’m fairly certain I had the toys, too. But I wasn’t a Voltron obsessive, and I’m hard-pressed to remember much more than the barest bits of the show now. You know, five lion bots, “and I’ll form the head”, a few of the names, that’s about it. So for a long time I wasn’t falling all over myself to watch this new Netflix series Voltron: Legendary Defender. The initial trailer, though…
…that was enough for me to notice, and start doing a bit more digging. Two things cemented my interest: the animation studio, and the names of the folks work on this. Lauren Montgomery, Joaquim Dos Santos, and Tim Hedrick were all deeply involved in Avatar: The Last Airbender and Legend of Korra, and wrote or directed some of the best episodes (Hedrick with The Puppetmaster, for instance). Studio Mir is animating Voltron, and their work on ATLA and especially Korra is amazing. Their use of color and lighting are first-rate, and fits well here.
As for the story, I don’t want to spoil it, but it does involve a group of misfits discovering the Voltron lions, and having to learn to work together to fight back against the evil empire that is conquering the universe. It sounds basic, but what elevates it is the relationships between the characters. The season one story focuses mostly on Shiro (Sven in the 80s Americanized Voltron), who had been captured by Zarkon and the Galra (the bad guys) and escaped, Pidge, whose father and brother were with Shiro when he was captured, and who will do anything to find out what happened to them, and Princess Allura, who along with her right-hand man Coran are the last surviving Alteans. Her father built Voltron but then hid it away, which is one mystery explored this season. The other is how Shiro escaped captivity – he doesn’t remember despite being gone for a year. Some of the others (Keith, Lance, Hunk, even Coran himself) can shade into comic relief territory – but much like Sokka developed from a dope to an effective fighter and teammate, you get the feeling there’s depth to everyone that’s going to be revealed in time. The main villains (Zarkon, the witch Haggar, and Commander Sendak) are suitably scary, and Zarkon in particular has secrets of his own sure to be explored in future seasons.
The voice cast is very solid, I’m especially attached to Kimberly Brooks as Allura. Steven Yeun, Tyler Labine, Josh Keaton, Jeremy Shada and Bex Taylor-Klaus voice the Voltron Paladins, while Rhys Darby performs as Coran. Neil Kaplan, Cree Summer and Jake Eberle are your villains.
All in all I enjoyed the heck out of the first season (all on Netflix as of June 10) a ton, and am dying to know what’s coming next. Worth watching even if you don’t have kids who are interested.