Thursday, June 30, 2016

TV Review: Voltron: Legendary Defender

There's a surprising amount of anime on Netflix, we discovered recently. It's not always the most up to date, and it's not the deepest of catalogues compared to dedicated services such as Crunchyroll, but certainly more than I expected to find given the sparsity of shows coming over to the UK that aren't spin offs from kids video games. It obviously does quite well on Netflix's viewing stats, too, because they've commissioned their own anime-esque show, albeit one aimed slightly younger, and based on one of the great legacy properties from the 1980s - Voltron: Legendary Defender. Now I've seen very little of the original Voltron, but like many a 90s anime fan probably picked up most of the beats through watching the wave of mech-anime that was the fashion at the time. But as a family with viewing tastes well disposed towards Giant Robots fighting, we were on this pretty quickly. 

So for those of you now aware of Voltron the main setup is this. There are five giant robot Lions pilotted by chosen "Paladins" who can combine into a giant Lion-themed Robot to fight evil galaxy-conquering Aliens out in Deep Space. If you're thinking "Power Rangers" then yes, except that Voltron got there first. Legendary Defenders feels in a lot of ways like Netflix are feeling their way into this, as it's only 11 episodes and spends a lot of time introducing it's characters, so you get a very quick sense up front that it's main villians are going to stay badly underdeveloped, and indeed the series ends on a cliffhanger. I'll say now that I hope there is more on the way. 

So with a shortage of plot, Voltron lives and dies on two main things. First, it's main cast. You have five Paladins, each with thumbnail personalities that get fleshed out as the series goes on, and a Space Princess and her psychic mice, and a sort of sidekick character who sits somewhere between mentor and comic releif. We are heavily into archetype territory here. What makes this work - and it does work really well - is that these archetypes exist for a reason, and smart writing gives the team a solid and interesting dynamic whilst allowing for character growth. A couple get left behind - much of the focus is on team leader Shiro and tech whiz Pidge - but everyone gets moments to shine. Alura - the Space Princess - starts out looking like a poor token for the shows "only" female character but gets one of the best episodes pretty much to herself and a late-series moment to join the boys in kicking some butt. 

The second main thing the show needs to worry about is how it looks. After all, this is a show about Giant Robots fighting in space and the action is a main part of it's attraction. This really delivers, although that should be expected from the studio that did work on great shows like The Legend of Korra. The animation is smooth and clean, and the fights full of impact and dynamism. It's very faithful to the visuals of the original too; there is no attempt to add "realism" into it. This is a primary coloured Lion Robot fighting with a great big sword and it's pretty awesome actually.

Family verdict was a big win. Voltron: Legendary Defender is a pacey, engaging show that kept adults, teenagers and kids alike all entertained through it's run. We've already had requests for toys and complaints that there isn't more available already. It's simplicity is turned into strength; you don't need to be a fan of anime to follow it, and it's shorn of some the forms more troubling tropes. It's for everyone, really - and thats just one more great thing about it.