You’re never too old to appreciate giant robot action. For some of us, that love of mechs may come from Power Rangers, Pacific Rim or even Spectraman if you pre-date humanity like Geoff does. But for another generation, there was only one king that ruled Saturday morning cartoons: Voltron. The idea back then was massively simple. Japanese animated series Beast King GoLion and Armored Fleet Dairugger XV were stitched together to create something new for American audiences, and thus Voltron was born.
Five pilots, five lion robots and one gigantic Jaeger that would combine to protect the universe. It’s a cult classic series, one that has been in several periods of limbo ever since it finished airing back in 1985. Voltron: The Third Dimension cashed in on the popularity of dated CGI TV series at the time, while Voltron Force was alright at best, lasting only a single season in 2011.
Five years later, and the Voltron team is back in action. And not only is it an even better experience than the original cartoons, it’s possibly one of the best cartoons of the year.
That’s thanks to the DNA that it shares with another legendary series that appealed to both kids and adults: The Legend of Korra. Lauren Montgomery and Joaquim Dos Santos have worked some magic as showrunners here, while head writer Tim Hedrick keeps the story flowing and the dialogue snappy. The final ingredient here is Studio Mir, flexing their considerable animation talents away from Republic City and the various element-bending battles, towards worlds beyond our galaxy and battles set in a future where humanity is very much not alone in the universe.
And as a total package, it’s amazing stuff.
Right from the start, Voltron: Legendary Defender sets the tone. A fast-paced opening hour not only sets up the team dynamic, but introduces the mythology of the five robot lions and the threat of the Galra Empire that never ever feels overwhelming. A TV series that features titanic automatons clobbering each other with energy swords and maces should not need to be complex, but Voltron: Legendary Defender still manages to spin a tale that has straightforward moments of development and tantalising dangling plot threads that you want to see resolved.
But Voltron’s biggest strength comes not from its titular robot defender, but from its cast. Five pilots who barely know each other when the series begins, but quickly find themselves forging a bond as the story continues. Everyone brings personality to the table, whether it’s Pidge’s inquisitive nature, Hunk’s appetite, Lance’s non-existent rivalry with the stoic Lance or Shiro’s mysterious year where he became known as a champion among slaves in the Galra arenas.
There’s a very human level of storytelling here, as the show is at its best when it’s not strapping the five Paladins into robot lions and sending them off to save the day. If it wasn’t for the pitch perfect decision in casting the voices of Voltron, this attachment to the cast might have resulted in a different verdict altogether. Seriously, go watch it. If you’ve been mourning how TV has been empty since The Legend of Korra wrapped up a fourth season that was monumental in the way that such animated tales are told, then Voltron is its spiritual successor.
It’s fun, gorgeous to look at and features a soundtrack that blends 80s electronic music with classy symphonies while the iconic Voltron flies into action. One season in the bag, and Netflix may have something legendary on their digital hands here.
Last Updated: June 13, 2016