Last week, I spent a few nights finishing up the last Voltron series on Netflix. I have to say that for the most part it was pretty satisfying, if not a tad bit on the depressing side with a few bizarre unexpected moments thrown in
One thing I have appreciated about the Netflix Voltron: Legendary Defender series is that the writers had decided to focus on all the main characters and their development. In the original series, the characters were admittedly quite bland and the story often times fell into severe redundancy; after a while, you just wanted the bad guys to get a single win because it was so boring after the first main episodes.
What Netflix had done was focus on the relationships between characters, going into their backgrounds and actually giving them motivations. For instance, Pidge’s motivation was to re-discover her brother while Keith’s was resolving his internal conflict and finding a sense of self. Throughout the series, each character grew a little more as the story unveiled more and more of their backgrounds.
In turn, by placing emphasis on the characters as the driving point, the creators had managed to hone in on having the audience become emotionally invested in each character, no matter how silly or goofy they occasionally were portrayed.
Another thing is that the show is self-aware of the original series. They often play with that fact going as far as showing how the original TV series was based on the current one and having Pidge use her old voice to demonstrate she’s the real deal in one episode. But what makes this aspect interesting to me is that there’s a slight expectation where you’re waiting for the story to take more of the form from the original. Such as Keith romancing Allura or Shiro dying.
While certain aspects came true such as Keith eventually becoming the leader of the Voltron team and manning the Black lion, the show manages to avoid fully embracing the original identity. Instead, it tries to carve a new identity by even defining how Voltron once was by creating a concept of Paladins.
Probably, one of the best story arcs in the series is the turn of Zarkon from the original Black Paladin into a corrupted despot. In the original series, we never truly learn the background of Zarkon and we blindly accept him as an evil force in the universe. Here, we see how Zarkon and his wife are tempted by the Quintessence and are transformed into possessed beings, hungering for power.
At the end of the story, we find out the driving force behind Haggar, which is that she wants to return to a different time where she is accepted. However, she learns that even in that universe, her own son cannot accept her, which causes her to reject all realities. With that, she becomes determined to destroy everything as all the love in her life has been extinguished.
Just before this, we see the redemption of Zarkon as the new Voltron paladins rescue the souls of the original ones. Through that, we see that he isn’t a simple, one dimensional villain but someone who was possessed and wants a second chance.
Thus, the last person remaining to be saved is Haggar for which none other than Princess Allura makes the ultimate sacrifice. It’s a bitter sweet ending but fitting one as she has grown and matured over the series into the only person capable of stopping the unrelenting witch. It’s also bitter sweet in that Lance loses the person he truly loves.
However, we still see in the heavens that through her Blue lion she may not be dead as we know it. As with the other paladins, their souls are intrinsically tied to the lions themselves. Despite how the other four retire from their positions as paladins, you can say that they are still bonded by love and friendship by both the lions and each other forever.
I think the message while simple still resonates powerfully. It may be cliche but I think the tragic elements help uplift the ideas in the series. For those of us who grew up with Voltron, seeing Princess Allura sacrifice herself is probably one of the saddest scenes in the series. Whereas in the original it’s Sven (or Sven’s younger brother in Go-Lion), this time we see Princess Allura, which in many ways seems fitting given her own tragic nature. By comparison, Sven’s demise wasn’t as big of an event because he really wasn’t with the team long and just had a funny accent, thus not making him memorable. By the time he made his own sacrifice in defeating Lothar, it felt a bit off as he really wasn’t a key player in Voltron by that point.
Another great thing that they did at the end was give each character their own conclusion. I felt most of them were pretty satisfying, except Shiro’s. Now, I know in reading other blogs that his gay marriage was controversial as it was a move to gain points by the studios and Netflix. For me it was more of a strange move that came out of left field. I read that it was mentioned how Shiro had a male lover before but that episode must have been so minor that I didn’t pay any attention.
My real issue though was that there was absolutely no build up. Outside of the supposed dead boy friend, there’s never any indication of Shiro’s sexuality. In many ways, it’s about the same level of story telling as “The Room’s” “I have breast cancer” moment. It just happens and you’re like WTF.
I didn’t feel uncomfortable about him being gay but I ended up laughing just because I wouldn’t have guessed. Also, he’s such an odd character in the story. As I mentioned, the character he’s based upon (Sven) is someone that I would have expected to die at any second. He’s basically Sean Bean. And apparently he meets a few close calls.
By the end, he feels more like a backup character, playing second fiddle to Keith who has taken leadership over the team. And when Keith isn’t pushing the team harder, it’s Princess Allura. So when he gets to pilot the new ship that is made to join with Voltron, it feels a bit gratuitous.
Now, let’s switch topics a bit and go into the overall content. While the bulk of the show is driven by character, the filler really is technobabble, unending background music and non-stop fighting. You never really get a sense of danger for Voltron until Haggar makes her last appearance. But in almost every situation, there really isn’t any true narrow escape. Even villains manage to ditch death easily.
The technobabble stuff becomes overwhelming at times. I’m not a huge fan of random pseudo-scientific lingo thrown out like a buzzword Gatling gun whenever Pidge enters a scene. But the issue I have is that it’s used in a jarring manner to resolve almost anything. While the original Voltron was formulaic in just pitting new versions of robeast against Voltron, this series’ main formulaic method was doing something like having the characters say, “by doing XYZ, we will resolve conflict ABC.”
Another massive issue I had was just the non-stop background music. It felt like every scene was meant to be epic and intended to be at a boss fight level in some game. But it simply was a case that the music never stopped playing. And it was overwhelming. It would overpower the Voltron formation music because the transitions weren’t there. At least with the original series, the moment Voltron formed, you knew shit was about to get real just because the main theme would be played.
And when it came to the fighting scenes, it felt sadly underwhelming by comparison. Moments where you would anticipate an epic battle ended up being frames that would be shown in slow motion. Also, you weren’t given the chance to breathe and figure out when the real battle would start. Compare that to the mega battle in Robotech between the Zentradi and humans in either the original Robotech cartoon or the movie.
One thing I did enjoy that came as a surprise was the experimentation of stories here and there. For instance, there was the episode where the team play an RPG or the dream sequence inside the game show. Those were pretty outrageous but made the show a lot more interesting because you didn’t know where the creators wanted to go. Also, it presented opportunities to play with certain characters outside their normal environments.
Overall, the series is definitely worth watching. I’m sad that this part of the series has ended. However, there are hints that the so-called Vehicle Voltron team might make an appearance as we saw Pidge constructing his “twin” robot Chip along with the Vehicle Voltron cars in the background. Despite the unpopularity with Vehicle Voltron, I do believe that if they received the same treatment as this version of Voltron from Netflix, it would be far better than the original series.