Voltron The Legendary Defender: Season 1
Cast: Steven Yeun, Jeremy Shada, Bex Taylor-Klaus, Josh Keaton, Tyler Labine, Kimberly Brooks, Rhys Darby
Directors: Joaquim Dos Santos, Lauren Montgomery, Ki Hyun Ryu, Eugene Lee, Steve In-Chang Ahn, Chris Palmer
Writers: Tim Hedrick, Joshua Hamilton, May Chan
A review by Robert Coffil
I didn’t grow up with Voltron. As a child, I caught episodes here and there, but it wasn’t something that was a cornerstone of my childhood. However, when Netflix announced that they were doing a series, I was immediately interested. The Netflix model, of doing 8-12 episodes of a show and dropping them all on a Friday, really works for me. They consistently deliver high-quality television and because all the episodes are available on a streaming site you don’t have to worry about missing an episode. Also, from a storytelling perspective, the writers of the show don’t have to worry about rehashing origin details every episode.
Now I actually didn’t get to the show until recently (my To Watch List is never ending), but when I did, I binge watched it all in two days. This show is a delight.
The first thing that really stood out to me about this show was the design. It’s a beautiful show. There is a lot of anime influence in the design of the characters. The lions, spaceships, and Kaiju that Voltron fight are all digitally rendered while the other animation is regular animation. All the action is sleek and smooth. There was nothing that stood out as being horrific in terms of design or production value. I’m actually jealous that kids today get high-quality shows like this, I wish we had this when I was a kid.
The showrunner is Joaquim Dos Santos. He has worked on Avatar The Last Airbender, and a bunch of the DC direct to TV films like Under the Red Hood and Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths. The man has storytelling chops for days and you can tell in this show. I’m almost completely unfamiliar with the idea of Voltron, but I never felt lost. There were parts of the series where I was extremely invested and couldn’t turn away. The characters on display are diverse in their motivations and dispositions. The episodes are bite sized at less than 26 minutes run time (except for the first episode it is an hour plus). Given the run time, they never run into any pacing issues.
I do have some criticisms of the show. My one gripe is that the dialogue isn’t always great. The jokes are funny and the asides some of the characters go on (I’m looking at you Coran and Hunk) are good. What’s bad is the clunky exposition. It seems like the writers are sometimes torn between getting into too emotionally complicated areas and keeping it simplified enough for the Y-7 audience. It wasn’t horrible, but I just wish they would ‘go there’ with the characters and the storylines.
What they do with Shiro (Black Lion Pilot) is interesting. He gets captured by the Galra Empire and later escapes. However, he suffers from a form of PTSD by not having any memories of his time in jail. Any time he tries to remember he gets these severe headaches. I was not expecting what is basically a kids show to deal with the ramifications of being a POW.
Perhaps my favorite story arc of the show involves Hunk (Yellow Lion Pilot) and the Balmara. Hunk is played off as the larger, smart, hungry, goof of the group; however, about halfway through the series, he becomes this driven agent for change concerning the Balmarians. When heading to recover a Balmarian crystal for the Castle he realizes that the planet is alive and the people who work under the thumb of Galra empire haven’t seen the sun in 10,000 years. It becomes this allegory for environmentalism and anti-colonialism. The Galra Empire just rips the crystals from the heart of Balmara without giving anything back to the planet. This done over 10,000 years has lead to the planet and its citizens to be in absolute turmoil. The people who are native have never seen the sky and have no idea what life is like without the Galra Empire. This series of episodes were my favorite and from here the show had me eating out the palms of its hand.
Must See TV! Netflix’s Voltron took me by surprise. I expected the show to be a ho-hum average cartoon with good vs evil. It was more than that. Voltron surprisingly is not just a vapid show with mechs fighting Kaiju. There is actual depth and meaning to the show that resonates in the mind and heart of the viewer. I cannot recommend this show enough.