“Voltron” Offers a Minimal Aesthetic, Robust Characters and Several (Forgivable) Plot Inconsistencies
Recently released on Netflix, the anime reboot has hints of “Avatar,” but riffs on more complex themes.
By Shiloh McKinnon, Reed College
Two weeks ago, I saw a picture of a character with a scar across his nose, a shock of white hair, and what could only be described as “kind eyes.”
Little did I know that I was looking at Takashi Shirone, better known by his nickname Shiro, and the fandom’s name for him, “Space Dad.”
When I asked a couple of my friends if the show was worth watching though, they had no idea what I was talking about. “Voltron?” they said, “You mean the 80’s anime?”
It turns out that’s a much harder question to answer than I would have expected. Of course, I wasn’t talking about the 80’s mech anime, but it turns out that “Voltron: Legendary Defenders,” the series I was asking about, is actually a reboot of that cartoon.
It came out on Netflix two weeks ago and was produced by the same studio that did “Avatar: The Last Airbender” and “The Legend of Korra.” Well, all of that was enough to get me to watch it and, having binge-watched the series twice in the same week I’d say that was a pretty good idea on my part.
So What Is It?
Without giving too much away, “Voltron” is about a bunch of kids who accidentally end up bonding with and piloting five individual lion shaped spaceships that combine to form Voltron, a mech dude that is consistently referred to as the “Universe’s Strongest Weapon.”
The kids (and Shiro) are expected to use this weapon to slowly destroy the Galra Empire, a colonizing force that has already taken over more than half the galaxy. At least they have the help of Allura, the princess from the alien planet of Altea, who helps these humans navigate and understand the technology and some local cultures.
From the Studio That Brought You “Avatar”
If you’re familiar with “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” you’re probably already starting to see familiar themes. Environmentalism isn’t quite as big of a deal in this show as it is in “Avatar,” but there’s an incredibly charming plot line that focuses on the symbiotic relationship between a planet-sized creature and its inhabitants.
The story that the plot really slams home though, is the anti-colonization narrative. Rather than just pointing at the Galra and saying these are the bad guys, the show demonstrates how the Empire devalues its colonized people and resources. And y’know there’s a gladiator arena too, in case you weren’t absolutely positive they were evil.
But enough of the overarching themes of the show, let’s talk about the looks.
If you’ve been paying attention to cartoon network lately, the thought of a reboot of a well-loved cartoon may have you clutching your chest in panic. I can assure you, this show is at least a hundred times more intelligent than “Teen Titans: Go,” and is well edited and drawn, unlike the new “Scooby Doo” or “Powerpuff Girls.”
In fact, although the character’s personalities are a little trope-y (mostly in the fact that the yellow Hufflepuff character is the largest, a demonstrable coward and food focused) the designs are great, from the five main humans to the various different alien species. The ships are really cool too, and if the Galra ships are ten times as big as everything else, well that just increases the drama in the fight scenes.
The animation overall is quite simple, but it’s clean, and the show knows how to make its style work.
One of my favorite things about the funny moments in “Voltron” are the expressions that everyone makes, especially when reacting to terrible jokes or pickup lines. Seriously, every screenshot from this show is gold. If nothing else, it makes fantastic expression-drawing practice.
Everyone Speaks English?
As much as I love Voltron though, I have one major complaint.
Literally everyone in the galaxy speaks the same language.
The show establishes that Galra and Altaean written languages are different—one of the characters even comments on having to translate some text in order to read it—but everyone speaks English! And trust me, it’s not just a “Well, these aliens are speaking English so an English-speaking audience knows what they’re saying” vibe when they speak—every character, human and alien, reacts to the words.
This wouldn’t be that bad, except that the individual ships that make up Voltron are called “Lions.” Now I’m a nerd that’s particularly into sci-fi, so my suspension of disbelief can stretch quite a bit, but when the Alteans are constantly making jokes about animals that don’t exist on Earth, there is no conceivable reason for them to consider Voltron made of “lions.”
But I guess that’s what we get when we watch a reboot of the 80’s show that brought anime to the United States.
Space Dad and the Space Kids
I mentioned that I started watching the show (and convinced a number of my friends to watch with me) because of Shiro.
I’m going to suggest that you do the same.
“Voltron: Legendary Defender” is well paced and constructed, but I hesitate to call it a mech anime because that’s just not its focus. Really, the show is about Team Voltron, five homesick kids and a traumatized barely-adult that are trying to stop an evil almost bigger than they can imagine.
And the best part? The show balances that huge responsibility with humor. One of my favorite episodes involves a food fight, serious PTSD and an exploding star and they’re all important to the plot.
All in all, I loved “Voltron: Legendary Defender” and highly recommend it, especially if you’re looking to interact with a fandom afterwards. There are already some fantastic fan theories floating around the internet and some fantastic fan art.
That said, it’s not a high power anime. Voltron gets formed maybe once an episode, and it’s usually in the last five minutes. If you’re looking for giant robots fighting giant robots, this might not be the series for you. Though the individual lions do get to do some pretty awesome stuff. It is an action oriented cartoon after all.
So, are you intrigued by Space Dad? Interested in dynamic relationships built on both desperation and trust? Do you like the idea of five nerds banding together to try and save the Universe? Then you should probably check out “Voltron.” After all, it’s on Netflix!