As an ’80s kid, I was never into Voltron. The animated space opera, wherein a team of teens pilot a pride of metal lions that origami themselves into a space samurai, wasn’t for me. Transformers? Hell yes. Robotech? Sure. But Voltron confounded me. There was something off-putting about robot lions that combine to become a robot knight. For some reason, the fact that Voltron’s hands and feet had lion mouths was nonsensical madness to my young brain. At least the contortions of the Transformers excluded animals mouths. In fairness, this bias isn’t grounded in logic either, but the point is, I was skeptical as hell when my own children recently stumbled on the new Voltron: Legendary Defender, currently streaming on Netflix.
My thought process went something like this: “Huh, new Voltron. Do the lions still turn into a dumb robot? Yes? Okay, I’m out.”
But one afternoon I came downstairs to interrupt my boys’ television time and was transfixed by the animation on the screen. It was some kind of anime-esque action scene with a suited character in a cool sci-fi cockpit. The animation was clean and simple, giving the sequence a sense of speed and intensity. The music thrummed. I couldn’t turn away. Then, I saw the multi-colored lions zipping through the air.
“Is this Voltron?” I asked my 7-year-old.
“Yeah! And that’s the red lion and they don’t know how to form Voltron yet and so the princess is shooting rockets at them,” he replied.
I blinked a couple times. This did not compute. The show I was watching looked really great. The art was fantastic and looked way more futuristic and slick than the eighties Voltron ever did. I actually had to pry myself away. There was shit I had to do.
But when Saturday morning came, I asked my boys if we could watch Voltron. We started on episode one and binged our way through the first season. (There are seven seasons available right now). And as we got deep into the story, there were so many surprises.
For one thing, Voltron: Legendary Defender is well written. Characters have a story arc that develops over time. As the team of strangers gets to know each other after being whisked to a distant corner of the universe, there are real emotional stakes. It reminded me very much of Avatar: The Last Airbender in that respect. But there are also relationships built between the characters and their lions, who are given a lot more agency and soul that I remember from ’80s Voltron. The dynamic is surprising and interesting.
It doesn’t hurt that the new Voltron has some really great voice talent, too. A standout among them is Rhys Darby as Coran, royal advisor to Princess Allura. I was delighted to hear the voice familiar to me as the as the dopey, but earnest manager of Flight of the Conchords. In Voltron, it feels like the directors simply let Darby run. His Coran isn’t so much clueless as he is enthusiastic to a fault, and it fits the weird New Zealander perfectly.
And the addition of the comedian makes perfect sense because this version of Voltron is funny. Not just in a bathroom humor type of way that appeals to kids either, (though there is that). In a gag early in the first season, our heroes are struggling to form Voltron for a second time so they attempt to force it. The screen is split five ways as the characters concentrate. The music swells with excitement, then suddenly the camera pulls back to reveal the lions standing in human pyramid style in the middle of the desert. A lonely puff of dust blows past the pyramid — the anticlimax, disappointment, and frustration are perfectly timed and worthy of a belly laugh.
More than that though, the action is on point and there’s enough outside of the lions to make it feel like the Voltron universe has depth and mythology, making it an interesting and watchable show well into the later seasons.
The golden era of Voltron never aroused much passion in me as a kid. For my children, Voltron: Legendary Defender is decidedly not their father’s Voltron. Thank goodness.
Voltron: Legendary Defender is streaming now on Netflix