Thursday, May 18, 2017

'Voltron: Legendary Defender' Is a Nostalgic, Addicting Reboot of a Notable 80's Cartoon

Voltron: Defender of the Universe is one of the most notable 80’s cartoon reruns I had watched when I was a kid in the 90’s.  Outside of Power Rangers and Super Sentai, it was my first encounter with the “piloted, themed vehicles combining into a giant robot” trope.  However, when its reboot Voltron: Legendary Defender first aired last year, I wasn’t too enamored to check it out immediately.  It took me a few months after season two ended (last January), and after seeing high praises for it here and there, before I decided to check it out and binge its 24 episodes so far.

Now, Defender of the Universe will always have the nostalgic edge over Legendary Defender.  But since the latter doesn’t have to use and edit footage from a pre-existing foreign show, as what the former had to do (from a Japanese anime called Beast King GoLion), it allows the writing to make the storylines more coherent and sensible, infuse humor, provide sharper dialogue, and develop more organic and interesting character arcs.  In addition, the advantage of modern animation (which is done by Studio Mir, the same guys behind The Legend of Korra) makes the latter’s action scenes more exciting than what the former had to offer.
That said, I can’t really say if the latter is superior to the latter.  Again, the nostalgia factors are too strong.  For one, no matter how catchy the intro theme of Legendary Defender is, it’s simply impossible to match the original’s iconic, LSS-inducing theme.  Also, the original Voltron sequence is much more stirring with Keith’s spoken checklist pre-transformation (“Ready to form Voltron! Activate interlocks. Dyna-therms connected. Infra-cells up. Mega-thrusters are go.”), the team’s affirmation yell (“Let’s go, Voltron!”), and Keith’s cheesy transformation narration (“Form feet and legs.  Form arms and body.  And I'll form the head!”).

Speaking of Keith, one of Legendary Defender’s significant spins is that he isn’t the leader of the Voltron team.  And instead of Sven being part of the original five, a new character named Shiro is in it, who serves as the leader (Shiro’s full name is Takaeshi Shirogane, which happens to be the original name of the Sven character in the Japanese anime).  However, it has been heavily implied that Keith could eventually become the leader (maybe in season 3?), which opens the possibility of Princess Allura piloting one of the Lions, as it was in the original when Sven gets “injured” (in the original Japanese anime, he was killed).

So with Shiro serving as leader, getting the Black Lion, the distribution of the lions is also different: Keith has the Red (instead of Black.  Is that because the original wore red anyway?), while Lance has the Blue (the original had the Red).  Also, Legendary Defender’s version of Pidge is revealed to be a girl (real name “Katie”) disguising as a boy a few episodes into the first season.
I actually found the changes made quite amusing and interesting.  Moreover, I actually like the new versions of the characters more than the original, as they are more well-realized and quirky, and are given more “superhero” action moments as individuals outside their Lions rather than be exclusively portrayed as pilots-inside-the-Lions episode in, episode out.

I also like the storytelling structure more.  Instead of doing the monster-of-the-episode plot format, the series follows a singular, linear, main narrative broken into serialized parts.  This removes the traditional predictability of an episode (i.e. new monster arrives; Voltron team intercepts it, eventually forms Voltron; destroy the monster with a Blazing Sword; the end), but instead produces a faster pace for the overarching storyline, compelling character development, and a binge-worthy mood (as how all Netflix shows are designed).
Voltron: Legendary Defender has tremendously likable characters, glorious action, thoughtful “G” comedy, and absorbing storytelling.  It doesn’t overdo pushing audience’s nostalgic buttons, but balances references to Defender of the Universe and doing its own thing.  As a result of all these, it’s extremely entertaining and addicting.  And it only gets better and better as it progresses.

Looking forward to season three later this September!
Post-script:
I wish Voltron: Legendary Defender will also reference or even fully feature the Vehicle Force Voltron. Though the Lion Force Voltron is more popular, I actually like the Vehicle Force Voltron more.

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