I missed out on the whole “giant-robots duking it out” cartoon spree. I never watched anything except PBS until I was in high-school, and I only got started on anime when I was in college. So when I heard that Netflix was rebooting Voltron, I was not hyped in any sense of the word. Then I heard that the creative team behind The Legend of Korra was behind it, so my curiosity was piqued. Then I heard that Studio Mir, the people who animated The Legend of Korra, were handling the production, so I began to pay attention. Then my tumblr went absolutely BONKERS with Voltron praise and fan art, so I decided to give it a try.
TLDR: BEST NETFLIX DECISION OF MY RECENT LIFE AND YOU SHOULD JOIN ME IN ENJOYING IT.
For a basic plot summary (no spoilers): Evil Emperor Zarkon is trying to take over the universe. So far he has been very successful, and the only thing that might stand in his way is Voltron: a massive anthropomorphic robot that is formed by the fusion of five smaller lion-shaped robots. With the universe in peril, five humans must learn to work together to form Voltron and save everyone from Zarkon’s growing empire.
I know the premise sounds a bit hokey, but somehow they make it work.
Of course, I should expect nothing less from the people who brought us The Legend of Korra. Sure, Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino have both moved on to new projects and neither are participating in V:LD, but almost everyone else has carried over. Notable among these are Lauren Montgomery and Joaquim Dos Santos, storyboard artists for LoK, and now the producers and show runners of V:LD. LoK was characterized by riveting plot-lines, consistent pacing, and well written characters. V:LD excels in all these categories. The plot never feels like it is stagnating, but it never moves too fast for the audience. It also never takes itself to seriously; a TV show about five robotic lions that form a giant robotic human is a fairly ridiculous premise, and the writers seem to be aware of that. The tone can become dark, but a constant levity and hope pervades the atmosphere and even the darkest moments there is always a bit of humor to be found.
Another carryover from LoK is the Korean animation powerhouse, Studio Mir, and they bring their A game to this show. Just look at these fight scenes:
Not since LoK has deadly combat looked so stylish. I do not even have to write about this, the gifs speak for themselves.
The animation also breathes life into these characters, and this combined with a very talented voice cast makes the seven main players of the story worth watching. I for one had no care for giant robot fights, but these characters have me hooked into the fandom in a way that I have not experienced since … ever really. This might be my first TRUE fandom. All of these lovable dorks are worthy of their own articles, especially with all the nuance crammed into 13 episodes that allows for rampant and compelling speculation.
Something else of note is the diversity in this cast. In previous iterations of Voltron (the ones broadcast in America anyway) all the main characters were played as white. In V:LD this is turned completely on its head. Takashi “Shiro” Shirogane, based on the name alone, has some kind of Japanese heritage. Lance, through both his darker skin tone and references to real places, can be speculated to be of Caribbean or Latino descent. Keith is voiced by Korean-American Steven Yeun, implies East-Asian ancestry. Hunk and Allura both are ambiguously brown as well, which makes Pidge and Coran the only white coded main characters in VLD. Even the cadets in the background shots at the Academy are shown to have a variety of skin tones.
Even the aliens show progressive attitudes. With the exceptions of the Alteans (even they subvert this to some degree, but that’s some spoilers), all alien species encountered do not conform to human gender standards. The female-coded aliens are not exclusively given pinched waists and mammary-gland-shaped-chests. Male-coded aliens are not exclusively broad-shouldered and brawny. This kind of thing is very rare in Sci-Fi (looking at you, Star Trek aliens), and it never gets in the way of the narrative. The human characters can interact with the aliens normally (maybe even romantically?) and traditional beauty standards have nothing to do with it.
Of course, there are some things that Voltron needs to work on. The one thing that I noticed most was the massive sausage fest that the show is. At the start of the show, the only main female characters are Allura and the villainous witch Haggar. That is it. Sure, the show corrects this issue later on, but the roles of female coded characters are still relatively minor.
All this considered, the possibilities for the future of this show are almost as good as an incentive to watch as the show itself. Netflix has recently been a haven for LGBT media, and The Legend of Korra was hailed by many for the finale, which included canon-confirmed bisexuals. The silent prayer that accompanies this show, something that is palpable within the fandom, is the hope that there might be another LGBT friendly cartoon in the near future.