Voltron: Legendary Defender – Preview
Voltron: Legendary Defender:
Release Date: June 10th, 2016
Synopsis: During the exploration of a frozen planet three explorers are captured by an evil menace known as the Galra Empire. A year later, mankind is still prepping for a greater effort in space exploration. Unfortunately their cadets leave something to be desired as Lance, Pidge and Hunk fail their rescue flight simulation test. But one night, while sneaking out of the barracks, an alien ship crashes down containing Shiro, one of the original three abducted by Galra Empire. He brings a warning of this approaching menace. His memory is jumbled however and the only clue he remembers for combating this terrifying evil is the word “Voltron.” Lance, Pidge, Hunk, Shiro and Keith, an expelled member of the exploration cadets, must work together to discover what Voltron is, or face destruction at the hands of the mighty Galra Empire.
1st Episode Review (Warning: Some Spoilers to Follow):
Tom: Visually, Voltron nails a middle ground between paying homage to the original, the anime industry in general and providing a visual style sure to grip and entertain a more American minded audience. Voltron is similar to The Legend of Korra, unsurprising as they share the same studio and even several key members of Korra’s production. In an effort to depict Voltron itself, the decision was made to model him through the use of CGI, meaning Voltron looks and moves differently compared to the other 2D animated characters on screen. The CGI is smooth and moves fluidly, but often appears at odds with the rest of the animation. It’s a decision sure to irk purists and even as someone more welcoming of 3D animation in the anime medium, I found myself a bit let down. I’ve seen better CGI robots and while Voltron doesn’t look horrendous, he lacks a certain feel that made the original incarnation so memorable.
Linny: As someone completely new to the world of Voltron, I wasn’t sure of what to expect. What I got (as someone who’s clearly much older than the intended audience according to Netflix’s tags) was a predictable and familiar line up. We had the nerdy little kid, a goofball foodie and of course the cocky, self appointed leader aka Pidge, Hunk and Lance respectively. They each reminded me of characters from other shows I devoured in my teen years. While they felt familiar, you might find yourself bored and disengaged if you’ve outgrown those type of shows, unless you’re into it for the nostalgia. It didn’t help that the humour feels rather childish with Hunk constantly throwing up from motion sickness and even a fart joke thrown in for good measure. There’s also a clear clash within the show itself as the pilot of the Yellow Lion, Hunk again, is defined as someone who is self sacrificing and cares more about others than himself. Yet Hunk constantly does and says things that are the exact and complete opposite of self sacrificing and caring. He openly admits to having been focused only on his own safety and escape even when his friend is in mortal danger. The only thing he is shown to care about is food because, of course, he’s the token fatty.
Tom: Voltron’s cast is mostly well-defined, if perhaps lacking in depth. We spend no more than a handful of lines defining each member of the cast, some more effectively than others. The show is so plot centric that no one has any time to breath as a character and coming away from the premiere I can’t help but feel like I don’t really know any of these people. Of our six leads Lance, Pidge and Hunk are the three we’re left feeling most familiar with. Lance is brash and cocky, full of himself and this gets played up quite a bit throughout the episode. Pidge is the more talkative worrier but thoughtful member of the group. He’s a character who yammers often and your mileage will vary heavily depending on how ‘funny’ you find his dialogue. Being the nerd of the group, it would’ve been easy to harp on that aspect of the character, but rather they refrain from falling prey to such an easy characterization. Like Linny, Hunk is the character I have the most beef with (not for, Hunk. With. Not for.) Being the token fat guy of the group, it would’ve been nice if his type of comedy could’ve come from other avenues beyond food jokes. As Linny said he spends much of the episode going on about food. Fortunately, or really unfortunately in this case, Hunk delivers on another type of comedy: Body humor. Indeed he spends a solid chunk of the episode, well, hurling chunks. Neither source of comedy works for me and the juvenile nature with which the jokes are delivered solidifies the comedic appeal for a much younger, less discerning audience. It’s no surprise the show is labeled for ages five to ten.
Linny: Adding to the cast of familiarity is your talented rebel, Keith. He was the best in his class but got expelled due to his bad behaviour, something that reminds me of so many ‘bad ass’ heroes of years gone by. At least that’s what they tell us, but he doesn’t seem to have much of a personality other than being the sullen loner on a mission. Shiro is clearly meant to be the leader from the start and is established as such by literally having him be the pilot of the Black Lion which is apparently the one that leads all the others. And lastly we have the Princess and her Adviser, whose outstanding features were that they both sport very unique accents. The princess is voiced by someone with a distinct British accent and the Adviser’s voice actor is clearly going for an Australian vibe. It may seem like a minor issue but it did feel strange to have these two people speaking with such different accents not just from our heroes but from each other. Then we have the King who for some reason just has your standard American accent…so he sent his daughter to Space Britain for schooling is the explanation I’ve got going in my head. But on a serious note, older audiences may find the accents distracting, especially when the Adviser hams it up for comedic effect.
Tom: Outside of a few arguments with Lance, Keith really gets the least amount of development compared to the rest of the group. Even when our heroes go searching for the other robot lions to bond and pilot, Keith is left on the sidelines, made to stew about off screen for a good ten to fifteen minutes. Shiro is perhaps the most interesting of the group, but only because his presence comes with so much backstory shrouded in mystery. Several questions are posed surrounding his character and his missing memory that help to prop him up, even if he is no more than your generic, level-headed leader. The Princess herself, Allura, is a nice, strong female character who maintains her composure even under threat, but has little more to do than dole out plot and instructions to our heroes. She has a rather ‘special’ relationship with a group of mice that dispels any lingering wonders about which demographic this series is aiming for. As Linny mentioned, there’s some weird accent antics and casting going on, immediately pulling the viewer out of the episode as you try and rationalize how Allura would have a different accent from her father (I suppose they could not actually be related?), or her more Australian sounding aid for that matter. Who, by the way, has some of the most random and perhaps unfunny comedy in the entire episode. He’s a character I hope to see a whole lot less of.
Linny: For viewers like me that immediately gravitate towards a favourite character to become invested through, this show might not win you over with its first episode even though it runs for a solid 68 minutes. A lot happens, but there’s very little actual character development or exploration. It feels like a very basic story, one that’s doing the bare minimum to keep itself moving, rather than growing. Thankfully, the role of Shiro and the mystery behind his missing year in captivity makes for a good hook. For even the more mature audiences, it’s nice to have at least one character who comes off as mature and mysterious in the sea of silly accents, body humour and things working out super conveniently to the point of becoming far fetched. From a Lion conveniently located in a mine that happens to be completely empty of workers and guards inside, to a wavelength depiction of some element being easily and immediately interpreted as the visual mountain range location of another Lion.
Tom: The story moves quickly, even if the opener is three times as long as the others. We start with plot and run from there giving our characters very little time to breathe and introduce themselves properly to the audience. The vast majority of screen time is used to usher our characters onward to find all the pieces needed to build Voltron and hurl him against our big bads of the series. The plot itself is hokey, unsurprising given the series’ 1980s anime origins. From the telepathic mice to the evil alien warlord out to conquer the universe, it’s easy to find Voltron laughable, rather than charming. But the conviction with which the voice actors deliver their roles, and the focused soundtrack make the experience enjoyable, even if it is all a bit silly at heart.
Linny: As one who never knew or heard of Voltron before this re-make, it’s hard for me to look beyond the childish humour and simplistic story. There’s some promise that the show could grow to be a lot more intelligent and captivating thanks to its one mature character, Shiro but when he’s surrounded by so many sillier elements, it could be a struggle to stick with it. There might be hope for those watching with nostalgia tinged glasses but for everyone else, you might have to either go in knowing the intended audience, be the age of the intended audience or hope to God that the Shiro story line plays out good.
Tom: As someone who grew up on Voltron reruns and VHS tapes, I don’t recall too much about the series, outside of its hokey nature and devotion to a strong sense of justice. It’s always been a fun story to me, if steeped in writing from an era of television struggling to depict grander stories in a sensible and appealing fashion. Voltron: Legendary Defender retains that spirit beneath its childish comedy. If the series manages to reign in its more juvenile aspects, and develops its cast while chugging along with its plot then Voltron will wind up a healthy reimagining of the original for a new audience.
Voltron: Legendary Defender is available for streaming only at Netflix.com