Voltron is back!!! Read Michelle's review of the Netflix series.
Netflix has been on a roll with putting out high quality original programming and now they have dipped their toes into the world of animation with a reboot of the classic giant robot series Voltron. While this isn't the first attempt at a reboot with attempts in 1998 and 2011 (both of which didn't end up being popular with fans) this is definitely the best version since the 1984 iteration. What we ended up getting in the states back then was a heavily edited version of the Japanese anime known as Beast King GoLion and it is the version that most people are familiar with. Netflix and Studio Mir, the animation studio responsible for the hit cartoon series Avatar: The Last Airbender, have combined forces to make an enjoyable show that maintains all of the qualities that made it fun while updating it with a modern sensibility that makes it relevant to today's audience.
The basic premise is that there are five pilots: Shiro, Keith, Lance, Pidge, and Hunk who discover mechas shaped like lions that combine to make a sweet looking robot known only as Voltron. They fight the evil Galra Empire who is ruled over by the nefarious Emperor Zarkon. In the original series, the plot lines and narrative were a bit thin and most of the episodes devolved into "monster-of-the-week" type scenarios. Fortunately, in the reboot, the plot is more complex and meaningful. Each of the five pilots (called Paladins) have fully fleshed out backstories that make you care about their struggles and plight and the amount of ground covered in the show is impressive considering that it's only eleven episodes long. There is very little filler and each episode is a continuation of the storyline. It's squarely aimed at kids and it has some great positive themes to impart (the Voltron robot basically represents a simplified version of democratic socialism) but there is a lot for adults to enjoy as well. It's just an overall intelligently written show, and it's pretty funny to boot.
What impressed me the most was the high quality of the production. The animation is a mix of 2D and CGI and it's integrated seamlessly. The action scenes are where most of the CGI is utilized and it looks outstanding and makes for some heart-racing and exhilarating battles. I was surprised by how much restraint the creators showed with using Voltron, they don't trudge it out every episode so when it does make an appearance it's extra exciting. The look of the character designs is a mixture of retro '80s/'90s anime and the facial expressions especially are hilarious and incredibly emotive. Anime fans will feel right at home with this show. There are also little references and in-jokes scattered throughout the background and fans of old-school giant robot anime will definitely be stoked to find them.
Unfortunately, the theme song isn't as cool as the original one, but the rest of the synthwave inspired score definitely makes up for it. The voice acting is outstanding, as is the overall sound design. All of the attacks that Voltron makes are crystal clear and get the blood pumping with their powerful buzzing clarity. This is definitely a show you should watch with the sound cranked way up. I'm usually not a fan of reboots but Voltron: Legendary Defender is an excellent reimagining of a classic franchise. This is how a revival should be done--keep enough of the classic elements to appease the original fans but update the other elements to appeal to a newer generation.