Tuesday, July 5, 2016

TV Series Review: Voltron: Legendary Defender

As long time readers know, I like my giant robot shows and I haven't had any to watch the past spring season. Sure Kumukuro is airing, but since Netflix licensed the show I couldn't legally watch it week to week. Likewise, Macross Delta is airing this season but since the entire Macross franchise is tied up (I could've sworn I saw an excerpt from the contact on ANN and, as someone who has actually worked with licensing materials etc, holy cow what I thought I saw was baaaaaad) that's also off the table.

Enter the remake of a show I thought I was too young for (I have since been corrected, apparently the original Voltron reruns were showing in the US up to 1997 at least). Everyone else was hyped so I expected to try out an episode and go eh, not for me. Unfortunately if you put an entire season of a show in front of me at once I will binge (now that half of Kumukuro is out I've had to hold back from binging on that as well) and, whelp, I'm a fan now guys!

Voltron: Legendary Defender

Sometime in the future, a group of explorers are eagerly discussing what their latest tests on the frozen soil of the moon Kerberos might mean for life outside of the solar system. However at that point their theories become moot as the three of them are sucked up into an alien warship and as far as Earth is concerned the Kerberos Mission was a failure and are completely unaware of how close they came to being found by the 10,000 year old Galra Empire. This explanation frustrates many of the up and coming Galaxy Garrisons cadets including the trio of Lance, Hunk, and Pidge who all admired the Kerberos crew members. Pidge has even been doing some spelunking of their own and realized that there are aliens and they are close by, chattering back and forth about "Voltron". Things then escalate as one of the Kerberos team members, pilot Shiro, manages to escape the Galra ships and the trio, plus Galaxy Garrison drop-out Keith, then rescue Shiro from their over-zealous instructors as Shiro also raves about finding Voltron before the Galarians do. Together the five of them compare information and discover that Voltron is a giant robot made of five, smaller lion robots and it seems as if fate has chosen these five to find the robots, join with what remains of the rebel Altean kingdom, and strike back against emperor Zarkon to free the universe.

In case anyone is looking at the episode listings and noticed that Voltron has the rather noitaiminA-like runtime of 11 episodes don't worry, it's actually 13 episodes with a triple-length opener. You would think that "five robots turn into an even larger robot (occasionally in space)" would not need that much time to set-up but the staff here, many of whom worked on Avatar: The Last Airbender and Korra, know that while giant robots are a draw, it's the characters that will keep or lose the fans and they cram as many little character interactions as they can into this first episode and beyond. It's not the smoothest opening episode, I thought there were too many jokes (or rather, too many crass ones, I couldn't tell if the show toned them down later on or if I just got used to the crasser ones) and without knowing that it was three episodes in one it seemed like a weird pacing choice to have multiple fetch quests to find the lions in the same episode. 

After that however the story evens out and it's a rather fun show, I don't watch too much American television, animated or live action these days (really it's just the lack of long term streaming options that's holding me back) and I do like a change of pace and the style of humor in American cartoons (both verbal and visual) is pretty different and I like seeing some of my old favorite tropes pop up again. The show is actually pretty tightly paced, I'm not sure if you could call any of the episodes outright filler (except for the "team must learn to work together!" episode which is so standard I wouldn't even call it filler, or possibly a later one where the castle is haunted but that had actual plot progression at the end as well). I almost feel like the show could use a little bit of filler however, it does a pretty good job at fleshing out most of the cast in just 11-13 episodes (I would say that a few of them even had actual character arcs) but there's still a lot of character backstory we don't know and a couple of character dynamics that haven't really been explored yet. Unsurprisingly (for me anyway) I'm not that fond of either Keith or Lance but I ended up liking the rest of the cast way more than I expected*, but I can't really get into any details since a lot of what made me like them is pretty spoilerly! So I have an additional post on my tumblr here with all of those ideas and some speculation for where the series is going to go next. 

I hope that "where the series will go next" is soon because, well, the series ends on a cliffhanger and it's the type of cliffhanger I associate more with a mid-season climax than a season finale (and, there's a scene in the OP that hasn't come to pass yet). And the writers are all experienced enough to know that, I've seen a couple of staff on tumblr indirectly say things that a few other friends and I have interpreted as "we're working on a second season" but there's also a WaPo interview (spoilers for the whole series) with Dos Santos and Montgomery who says that there isn't anything official on the table yet. And yet again, Netflix only announced this reboot in January and only put out a full trailer a month or so in advance so it could be that they don't even announce a second season until it's nearly upon us. I do think there will be a second season, cliffhangers aside, this is a really good reboot where I came in totally blind, loved it, and I'm discovering that so many of the details I liked are new. Like, I saw people saying how glad they were that the cast wasn't white anymore and I thought "guys, if it's anime originally, they weren't white originally" but holy cow, those original designs were pretty white looking so yes, revamping the show so much that you spend time thinking about diversity in the cast still isn't something we always get in American tv, animated or live action. Plot-wise the story follows a lot of genre conventions and it's not hard to predict how certain things will turn out but execution wise it pulls everything off pretty well and it's clear that the staff has put a lot of thought into the details and that's what makes a show memorable in the end. 

*as a side note, normally I wouldn't have liked Hunk that much, he's the butt of a lot of jokes early on and too pragmatic even for me, but I've been really nauseated and worse lately so I found myself empathizing with Hunk. "Guys don't mock him for throwing up because he's being thrown around in 0g in a lion mech, that's totally a legit reason, that sounds way worse than my commute and that's already bad enough!"

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