Voltron: Legendary Defender – Review
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 the 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 name “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.
Review (Warning: Some Spoilers to Follow):
Linny: Netflix has Voltron categorized as a kids’ tv show, tagged for 5-7 and 8-10 years of age. I immediately noticed their reasoning for labeling it as such with almost every single character coming off as either one dimensional or juvenile save for Shiro, who unsurprisingly is one of the older cast members. Even in the case of Shiro, it’ not that he is an extremely well written character but being surrounded by a young cast definitely makes him stand out. It’s not a critical flaw by any means, especially if you’re going into the show knowing the target audience. However, if you like your shows to have more mature or well rounded characters, you might find yourself disappointed as you’re presented with one goofy character after the other with very little growth or development.
Tom: By the end of Voltron’s 11 episode (13 if you split the extended first episode into parts) we have a solid idea of who each of our, rather one-dimensional characters are. As Linny said there’s very little exploration here, with the show content to allow our characters to exist as introduced. A couple episodes do explore and challenge both Pidge and Allura, each getting their own story line that helps to push them along and evolve them as characters. But Voltron remains so plot heavy that even these developments equate to nothing more than a line or two of dialogue highlighting how either character has grown. Little time is spent exploring that transition and growth. Everyone else remains largely unchanged from their introduction. Keith is as rash and hot headed as ever, Lance stays chill and ignorant, etc. Shiro, whose big draw was the mysteries surrounding his character, gets a few resolved and others briefly touched upon, but remains the same stand up leader through and through.
Linny: There was a particular episode in the earlier half where princess Allura seems to switch personalities for no apparent reason. She is harsh and rude, berating the paladins to work harder. One could assume it to be a manifestation of her determination and desire to reach peak fighting condition as soon as possible and to take down Emperor Zarkon and the Galra invasion. However, it’s executed poorly to the point where she comes off as unreasonably hostile and verbally abusive, rather than actually motivating these clueless kids into becoming brave and skilled paladins. The show doesn’t even address her overtly harsh and bordering cruel attitude. Allura’s adviser, Coran might also be a rather grating character for those who dislike exaggerated accents and childish one liners. Once again, it’s not that Coran is necessarily a terrible character, he’s just one that might not win over older audiences. It gets especially frustrating when the show finally deviates from its fart and puke jokes but Coran remains as silly and juvenile as ever.
Tom: Hunk, our resident fatty of the team, remains the most frustrating character from my point of view. Near all of his comedy comes from his lust for food, because, of course, overweight people think of little more than food. When in doubt the writers often have Hunk turn to food as a source of comedy. It feels lazy, if not insulting. The villains, which we’ve neglected to talk about, remain cloaked in mystery. Much of their screen time is reserved for scheming against Voltron and it’s only in the finale that we get a whole new twist on Zarkon that puts everything in a new light. Unfortunately this twist feels entirely underutilized, almost like an afterthought as not one of the heroes acknowledge the surprise development that should have become the focal point.
Linny: In all honesty, the show doesn’t have the best start thanks to its cramped info dump story telling in the extended 68 minutes premiere. The audience receives a barrage of information with everything happening in rapid succession. On one hand, it will please those who like fast paced stories but it might also feel like the rush to get all the story out results in a less gripping and equally rushed narration and execution. The characters receive very short introductions and it hampers their chances of appealing to a wider audience. Throw in constant puke jokes and a fart joke for good measure and it’s nigh impossible for an older viewer to find anything to praise in the first episode itself. Thankfully, things pick up from the second episode itself so for those of you stuck watching this for the sake of a younger sibling or even your kids, there’s hope at the end of the tunnel. Even if you’re watching the show out of your own free will and didn’t take to the first episode, you should give the second episode a chance as it does a better job of conveying what to expect from the rest of the series. There’s a handful of caveats though if you decide to stick it out. Know that a lot of the mysteries and questions raised in this season remain unanswered with new reveals tossed in the last episode that only raise more questions. It’s most definitely an expected ploy to keep viewers engaged, entertained and invested but if you were expecting a more compact story with few loose ends, know you won’t be getting that just yet.
Tom: The story does indeed move quickly, jettisoning character development and exploration in favor of getting to the battle to save the universe. The series stays serialized, meaning stories flow from episode to episode rather than wrapping up in a twenty-four minute run time. It’s an approach most anime use, and can provide greater and more epic tales. But due to the low episode count it makes Voltron feel, well, quite short, as if the season was meant to be a whole lot longer. This has the unfortunate side-effect of making several elements feel underused before becoming dropped entirely. One example is Allura’s father, who exists inside the command castle as a sort of central A.I. But beyond his introduction in the series opener, he only appears one more time during the first season, before this idea is written out entirely. It’s odd and begs the question as to why he was even introduced as an element in the first place?
Linny: Speaking of bad execution, there is an episode where our heroes are trying to liberate an entire enslaved tribe from the Galra rule. However, throughout the two episodes they appear in, for 95% of that time, we only get to see 5 of these people. For some unexplained reason, even when the heroes sneak into their camp, there’s not even a glance of anyone else besides those 5. Thus, when the heroes are discussing evacuation plans and they calculate that it could take up to several weeks to evacuate the inhabitants, we had a hearty chuckle at the thought of 5 people requiring that much time. Of course, it’s most likely due to budget issues and animation constraints that we don’t see the rest of these people until it’s absolutely necessary. But there’s a lot of unintentional humour to be had. And while the show does rise above its initial childish humour, it never strays too far from elements that would appeal to and appease its core target. This might make it less than impressive for older viewers. However, if you’re watching it mainly for nostalgia, the faithfulness is sure to be one of its more enjoyable aspects.
Tom: Another problem Voltron has occurs in the season finale. The ending is sudden, quick and without weight. It’s a big cliffhanger, but isn’t played as one and nothing about the 11th episode actually feels like a season ending. It’s missing the power behind it to really sell the cliffhanger and that means Voltron ends not with a bang but a whimper. It’s yet another detractor to this reimagining.
Linny: The season finale is definitely not impressive and like Tom says, it felt more like a mid series cliffhanger than an actual season cliffhanger. Also be prepared for Pidge and Lance to disappear for no reason during the more climatic moments of the season’s finale, making you wonder what the hell they are doing, especially during the more heated combat scenes. This once again cements that this show is aiming for younger audience who have short attention spans and won’t think about what’s happening off screen.
Tom: Pulling back a moment to talk about the animation. Here Studio Mir, known for a style reminiscent of anime, takes a number of queues from anime sensibility. Studio Mir isn’t afraid to go a little further this time, deforming our heroes faces to resemble cats, or introducing the famous sweat drop gag. It’s a nice nod to Voltron’s origins and doesn’t delve too far in paying respect to those origins while turning away western viewers less accepting of anime style. It’s a solid and accomplished balancing act. The CGI, on the other hand, never becomes more than adequate. The series depicts every ship and Voltron through the use of CGI and it does the job well, but never enough to produce a sense of awe. In fact, thanks to the over use of the Voltron transformation animation, the CGI kind of outstays its welcome. The scene never becomes truncated, meaning you’ll watch the exact same animation over and over at least once an episode. The kids might not mind, but older viewers will find it eventually becomes little more than dead space, eating into every episode’s already tight run time.
Linny: If you are like me, older than the intended audience and you’d never heard of Voltron before this, you might not find it an extremely great watch thanks to its immature elements and less than stellar story telling. It’s not a complete waste of time though and if you are strapped for shows to watch and want something playing in the background while you do your chores, Voltron could be a nice pick thanks to the English audio leaving you free to multitask. Also, I need to repeat that the first episode wasn’t the best set up for the season and it does get better, but not by an overwhelming amount. Voltron is probably best suited for nostalgic viewing and for its younger, intended audience.
Tom: I want to make it clear I don’t hate Voltron: Legendary Defender. I’ve had a lot negative to say and offered very little praise. The truth is Voltron moves at fast enough of a pace, with enough of a gripping, if simplistic, plot to offer enough fun that I find myself recommending it. But Voltron could be a whole lot better and I’m hoping some of these issues are addressed going into its second season (assuming it’ll have one?) I’d like to get to know the characters better and I’d like to see them grow. I think Voltron could become a truly incredible series if it pulled back on the plot a little to give room for the characters to breath. Oh, and give Hunk more than food humor. Overweight people aren’t always thinking about stuffing their faces.
Voltron: Legendary Defender is available for streaming only at Netflix.com