Voltron Legendary Defender Feature Review: Predictable But Pleasing

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By Caitlin Donovan | More Articles
June 08, 2016  01:12 PM

"Nostalgic” is the word to describe Voltron Legendary Defender.  This story of five boys coming together and learning to pilot a giant robot seems familiar and not without good reason. This new feature-length origin story is a reboot of a classic franchise with a bit of an odd history.

The 1984 Voltron: Defender of the Universe used footage from the Japanese anime series Beast King GoLion, heavily editing and rearranging the footage to create a different storyline. The second season of the show actually used footage from a completely unrelated anime called Armored Fleet Dairugger XV. It’s a strange tale to be sure, but despite being a series created from such disparate elements, it became incredibly popular and earned a lot of sequels.

Voltron Legendary Defender wipes the slate clean and retells the story from the beginning with completely original animation- and what fantastic animation it is! Studio Mir, who you might know from their work on Legend of Korra, delivers spectacularly with expressive, action-packed and aesthetically pleasing visuals.

The character designs are also a great standout. The designs are very diverse and distinctive from each other, especially compared to the original series. The action-adventure aspects of the show are done well and the voice acting is also pretty solid. As a result, Voltron Legendary Defender comes across as a well-made piece.

As for the storyline, it’s easy to tell this is taken from an old story. Nothing that goes with the plot and characters is particularly original or fresh by our modern standards. All the characters comfortably fit the expected archetypes.

We’ve got the experienced leader, we’ve got the hotheaded, reckless, obnoxious boy, we’ve got the funny and chronically nervous fat guy (I point out his weight because the movie has a lot of the standard fat jokes. The “fat people eat all the time” trope is in full force here), the timid, smart boy, the stoic guy….and the sole girl, who is, of course, a princess of a dead world who brings all the boys together but stays out of the action (so far).

We’ve also got the evil villain and our chosen heroes and the ancient instructions and fallen civilization and so on and so forth. The humor isn’t anything to write home about, but will likely appeal to the audience it’s aiming for. There are a few self-aware gems in there- the sequence where they were all desperately trying to form the robot was pretty hilarious. But overall, it's really just all the standard sci-fi set-up.

But that doesn’t really mean it isn’t worth watching. While it all feels familiar, it’s a comfortable sort of familiarity. Voltron is told competently enough that it seems fine that this is a path we’ve tread many times before. You can sit back and watch the pretty animation as the expected story beats play out. This kind of story is a classic for a reason after all- people like a good old space battle.

The predictability of the feature-length origin for Voltron is acceptable. It’s a set-up piece. But now that the set-up is over, hopefully we will see the characters develop and grow outside the very narrow archetypes they are currently slotted in. The plot could stand to deviate a little from the standard formula as well.

Voltron will still be a fine show if it continues at this level of nostalgic predictability, but I feel the show is definitely capable of more. There’s so much talent behind this series and a lot of great potential. Voltron is off to a great start on a surface level, but there eventually needs to be something beneath the surface. However, I have high hopes for this series and look forward to seeing how it goes.

Voltron Legendary Defender will premiere on Netflix on June 10. You can watch the show's trailer here.

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Caitlin Donovan is a long-time nerd with a passion for superheroes and epic fantasy. She lives in North Carolina with her cat and wrestles with writing novels and doing editorial work when she's not ranting about pop culture online. She runs a blog at ladyloveandjustice.tumblr.com
@Caitlin Donovan | caitlin@epicstream.com