Eat your heart out Power Rangers
The original Voltron: Defender of the Universe came out over 30 years ago, and has since inspired countless giant fighting robot series. Voltron: Legendary Defender is a fantastic modern reboot of a cult classic and fan favorite. This new version of the series was produced by Dreamworks Animation Television, and animated by Studio Mir. If you didn’t already know, Studio Mir is a pretty big heavy hitter when it comes to popular animated series in America. Studio Mir is responsible for The Legend of Korra, Guardians of the Galaxy (TV,) The Boondocks, and more. With a seasoned studio like them going into this, you know you will be viewing quality animation. Like everything else Netflix provides as originals, Voltron: Legendary Defender delivers plenty of entertainment and excitement for viewers of all ages.
The animation is very similar to the amazing artwork that viewers saw in The Legend of Korra. Characters look and move very similar to Korra and her friends. There is a debate over whether or not this style is Anime, but characters have the same general face shapes and expressions that are commonly seen in anime. When the Paladins of Voltron enter their Lions however, the show takes on a CG animation style, which works to strengthen the excitement of action sequences. Altogether the show looks incredible, and the quality of animation is probably the strongest stone in Voltron: Legendary Defender’s foundation
The sound effects are amazing. The little touches really count when the giant mechs are battling. Slow motion sequences where Voltron dodges a missile or something similar really shine due to the sudden bass drops that we’ve grown so accustomed to in movies like Transformers. The music is fantastic because it really pays homage to it’s 80’s roots.
The Voice Acting
The main cast of Voltron: Legendary Defender consists of about 8 characters; Princess Allura, Coran, Shiro, Lance, Keith, Pidge, Hunk, and King Zarkon. Josh Keaton does well with the leader of the group Shiro. He delivers a “Big brother,” character quite well, and he really shines in the moments where Shiro must overcome himself to lead. Tyler Labine, who you may know from Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil, is absolutely phenomenal as the voice of Hunk. His ability to give life to the nervousness and reluctant courage of Hunk as he develops into the bulky physical and emotional support of the team is impressive. He provides a bit of comedic relief at times also, which is something he’s proven to be quite good at in his other roles. Jeremy Shada (Finn from Adventure Time,) voices the arrogantly silly young pilot, Lance. Although I have my own feelings about the character itself, Shada delivers an excellent performance. He really nails the cocky teenage pilot’s hubris, and makes the viewer roll his or her eyes regularly (I think this was the writers’ intentions.) Keith, the edgy rebel of the group is voiced by Steven Yeun (Glenn from The Walking Dead.) This character is such a change from his work as Glenn, that it surprised me how well he performed. He accurately voices a solid pallet of anger, frustration, and reluctance in the stressful situations that his character is thrown in to. Bex Taylor-Klaus plays Pidge, the nerdy tech guru support character of the team. Without spoiling too much, Pidge is a character with a significant amount of internal struggle throughout this first season. I think Bex does a very good job pacing the different emotions that roll out of the kid from moment to moment as he struggles to keep up at times. Neil Kaplan delivers a copy and paste villain role through King Zarkon, which isn’t bad, but also isn’t anything to get excited about. Kimberly Brooks, who voices the lovely Princess Allura, has become very experienced in voice acting through several popular video games. She voice acted in titles like Mass Effect, Batman: Arkham City, and Bioshock: Infinite. She brings a pretty decent performance (Albeit for a flawed character) to the table and represents the character well. Rhys Darby voices Coran, who is arguably just a secondary source of comedic relief. His accent makes the character stand out (I’ll speak more on that later,) but at times can cause the pacing to seem weird. I had a few moments where I felt it sounded like he may just be reading his lines, which caused his dialogue to sound unnatural.
Writing & Story
The general setting that is established in the first extra length episode is a thick one. Earth has an advanced space program with ships that can travel great distances, but we don’t have any contact with aliens. That is no contact except a few years ago when a captain and his crew were mysteriously kidnapped. When that captain (Shiro) escapes and makes it back to earth, he and four young men discover the Blue lion which transports them to Allura and Coran. They are told that the evil king Zarkon, is trying to enslave the entire universe and they must learn to form Voltron: Legendary Defender to stop him.
The young men must work together, despite their differences. They discover in pretty much just a day, that they can’t return home to Earth because the entire universe is in need of their help. They each get a Lion which is a space ship and a mech with supernaturally scientific powers. They actually say that at one point. They also get really cool space suits and a weapon called a Bayard that conforms to the wielder’s style.
The weapons are cool, and it seems like each Paladin, as they are called, has their own key place on the team. Shiro (black suit) is the captain that was kidnapped and escaped, which makes him the mature leader. He has a really good older brother vibe which is perfect for these young guys. Keith (red) is the quiet reserved one with a temper, who plays things a little close to the edge. Pidge (green) is the tech-nerd, and is usually the brains of the operation. He’s really small and the youngest of the group. Hunk (yellow) is the strong beefy one, who usually plays the roll of their tank. Lance (blue,) doesn’t seem to play a role. There is a point where Princess Allura explains why each of them must pilot a specific lion that conforms to their personalities, and when she comes to the blue one Lance interrupts and she never even finishes.
I think Lance might have been meant to be the sort of Michelangelo of the group to provide comedic relief. However, once Coran is introduced I feel that role is a bit unnecessary. I would’ve liked to see Lance take on a more important role in the group, because often he’s just the guy that arrogantly messes things up. There’s even a couple points in the show where, for one reason or another, he can’t help the team. When these events happen the team seems to function fine without him. I just wish he served more of a purpose on a team that seems to rely on the idea that everyone plays a role.
I also think that Princess Allura should have been written to be a little bit more mature, or should have reacted to the situation she finds herself in a little more dramatically. Either way is fine, but she behaves like a teenager in calmer sequences, and when the action gets heavy suddenly she becomes the stalwart leader everyone needs.
Lastly, I feel that Zarkon needed more depth as a villain. It seemed like they tried to focus on Voltron fighting his lieutenants for this first season. I really hope that Zarkon can become a more interesting character in later seasons because of this. He just seems to be a generic “evil” ruler with a pretty cut and paste goal. He needs to have some backstory.
Animation is fantastic here, and I really like the two different styles depending on whether or not they are in their Lions. The modernization of it all is amazing, and I quite enjoyed the action being a heap less cheesey than the original. Voice acting was mostly solid, and it tickled an itch that I’ve had since I finished the Avatar series.
Characters need to be written a little bit better, but when they are written well it shows. The Allura and Coran mechanic needs to be thought about a little harder and we need back stories for ALL the characters, not just some. Finally, Zarkon needs to have more depth.
Yay or Nay?
Yay. Definitely yay. You have Netflix, so this is free for you. Go watch it, if for nothing else but to know where the basic formula for the Power Rangers came from. It’s good though and I think you’ll enjoy it.
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