DreamWorks Voltron Legendary Defender is the show you’ve been waiting your whole life for. Whether you’re a fan of classic Voltron, mecha, sci-fi, Avatar/Legend of Korra, Star Wars, or even Power Rangers.
We’ve had the chance to watch the opening episode and it runs nearly the length of a TV movie. In that run time, the series not only introduces all of the major characters, but deftly sets up the large universe the show will be playing with. On paper it might seem like the show is trying to do too much in its initial outing. Having to establish seven main characters is a tall order but by the end you will genuinely love each and every one of them.
That’s the biggest strength of the opening episode. The characters. In a series like this it’s easy to get lost in all the cool sci-fi aspects, but the team behind this show wisely use the characters as the gateway into the universe. Especially the characters’ humor.
This show is actually far funnier then you’d expect it to be. The original Voltron did have some comedy, but it was a very, “oh hold on we’ve gotta have a wacky moment” kind of humor. Not so here. The comedy is very situational based that’s organic to the story and the characters. It’s all summed up that when the team first forms Voltron, Hunk hilariously proclaims, “I’m a leg!”
Even the more serious characters like Shiro, with his mysterious back-story about being kidnapped for a year, never verges into brooding territory. It’s taken seriously, sure, but even he gets to have a few laughs.
That comedy warms us to the characters very quickly. Hunk spends quite a bit of the first episode on the verge of throwing up, which sounds gross, but is super endearing. Lance is a ladies man without being creepy in the real world sense. Pidge freaks out over the littlest things, with his best moment being where he questions whether he’s even tall enough to reach the pedals in his Lion.
Keith is another of the more serious characters, but it’s Lance who gets under his skin to get a few joking reactions out of him. Allura is the one who really gets our characters moving on the main plot of the episode, finding their Lions, but her scene has her take Lance down a peg in a delightful bit of physical comedy. And oh boy, Coran.
Remember how in the original series Coran was just this kinda stuffy mentorish character to the original pilots? Now he’s completely overhauled. He’s hilarious! He’s wacky and a clown shoes who thinks he’s way cooler than he actually is.
Not everything has shades of humor, however. The villain characters are deadly serious, with Emperor Zarkon being particularly threatening. This is a guy who knows he’s the baddest dude in the universe and that confidence shines through Neil Kaplan’s performance.
Speaking of actors, this cast is perfect. There is not a bad or miscast actor in the bunch. They fit the characters perfectly and combined with the exquisite animation they’re set to be your new favorites before the first outing is over.
Oh yeah, Voltron also has a ton of great action. This should be no surprise, coming from the Legend of Korra team. Our characters get involved in quite a few hand to hand fights that are varied and complex. If you’ve checked out the bios on Voltron.com, you’ve noticed the characters all have some kind of hand weapon. This not only works as a very subtle callback to Voltron Force with that team’s weapons, but it helps the characters feel more involved in the action. Sure, piloting the lions is super cool. But when the characters can get involved in ground fights as themselves, it helps get the audience more involved in the action.
But let’s not undersell those giant Lion fights. They are astounding. This is the kind of giant mecha action anime is known for, but taken up about ten billion notchs. We get a ton of varied fights with the Lions blasting through space and fighting enemy ships on their own and when they combine to form Voltron? Oh man.
The original series was somewhat held back in the limited animation ’80’s mech series were known for, but here? Voltron is a lean mean fighting machine. That giant robot is all over the place while still maintaining the grand sense of scale that comes with being a giant mecha.
So, the show is able to cover your mecha needs solidly. What about if you’re a classic Voltron fan? Is this show going to deliver? Well, it depends on how die hard you are. Legendary Defender isn’t concerned with making references to the past. There isn’t a single moment where they stop to make some kind of reference only dedicated fans will know. This isn’t Voltron Force. This show is more focused on introducing the general concept of Voltron to a new generation and being it’s own thing. It captures the spirit of the original series without being beholden to it. Which is all the better.
It’s telling the only negative thing I’ve seen posted about this show are old school fans complaining about the lack of the distinctive transformation sequence. You know, the whole, “dynotherms connected” thing. To that I have to say, “Really?” That’s what you’re getting bent out of shape about? Not the changes in characters or backstory? Not the designs? It’s the fact they don’t say, “Infracells up!”
If that’s what was a big selling point about the original series, this show will let you down because it discards anything about the original show that just doesn’t make sense. Sven, now Shiro, doesn’t have a Swedish accent because there was no need for it. Pidge doesn’t sound like a muppet because, shocker, that makes him less relatable as a human being. The distinctive formation sequence isn’t there because… who cares if a mega thruster is go? This show is it’s own thing, and its dedication to not being beholden to the past is what will make it stand apart from the other entries in the franchise.
That’s been the problem with all the other incarnations of Voltron and why they haven’t caught on. They were too concerned about paying homage to the old series without trying to be something completely new. This show serving as a complete reboot will help new audiences not feel alienated and maybe even get them to check out the classic series. I know after loving the hell out of this premiere I’m interested in checking out the old show.
If the series were too stuck in the past, it would stay there. Let Voltron be something new. It’s embracing that delightful mix of sci-fi and fantasy that Star Wars has brought back into the popular consciousness. It’s come at just the right time to really be a smash hit, which by the by, I have every confidence this show will be. It’s everything I’ve wanted out of television. Not just kids TV, but television in general. It’s got an incredible lore and fun characters that make the action scenes feel all the more powerful. Basically, it’s Game of Thrones but better. Yeah, I went there.
Also, it doesn’t have the problem nearly all of your favorite geeky properties do. That being the “you have to wait for it to get good!” How often have you recommend a show to a friend but had to give the caveat, “The first season is kinda weak, but it’s worth it for the payoff!” Voltron is amazing right out of the gate. When the show drops June 10th on Netlflix, check out the opening episode if you’re skeptical. It’ll blow you away.
The show has such a great energy to it and that comes from the cast and crew. They have a real pride for it. I got a chance to talk with a large chunk of them at the recent DreamWorks Voltron Legendary Defender art show at the Hero Complex Gallery in Los Angeles. They’re all ecstatic the series is finally seeing the light of day after working on it for so long. Even the people behind the marketing are jazzed. This isn’t just a job for them. One of the DreamWorks guys spoke about how he was just going to watch one episode but ended glued to his seat and watched the whole thing in a day.
That’s what I’ll be doing when the show drops for sure. Voltron lives up to the hype. It’s your new favorite show. Watch it. You’ll fall in love.
And oh yeah, the Space Mice are back and they are amazing.
Shamus Kelley was so amazed the Space Mice made an appearnce he dropped some serious cash on a Space Mice piece of art that’s now hanging on his wall. All hail the glorious space mice! Follow him on Twitter!