Review: The Origin of Voltron

“In an all-new series, five unlikely heroes and their flying robot lions unite to form the megapowerful Voltron and save the galaxy.”

Produced by Lauren Montgomery and Joaquim Dos Santos (alumni from “The Last Airbender” franchise) comes the reboot of the  Anime cult classic Voltron (in itself a Re-dub of the obscure anime Go-Lion): Voltron: Legendary Defender

This series, from the hands of Dreamworks Animation and distributed by Netflix worldwide, is the second attempt of modernizing the franchise after the unsuccesful attempt that was the TV Show “Voltron  Force”. But instead of being a sequel to the original show, this one is a full-out reboot and reimagining of said series. All the while using the blend of western animation and Anime that was involved in the creation of both Legend of Aang and Legend of Korra (in fact, the animation was done by Studio Mir, who also worked on Korra).

The first episode of the first season “The Origin of Voltron” is more a one hour special than a regular episode, thus i am going to review it as it’s own thing.

The stroy is quite simple. One year after the mysterious dissapearence of the members of a scientific expedition set in Planet Cerberus (that the Galaxy Patrol blames on a lack of skill from the pilot that lead to their untimely deaths) the pilot of said mission, Shiro, comes back to earth with a cyborg arm. He claims they were captured by a group of hostile aliens known as “The Galra Empire” that had their eyes set in a mysterious weapon called “Voltron“, which was hidden on earth. The Galaxy Patrol unit that finds Shiro, not quite believing what he is saying and not entirely sure he is mentally stable, ignores his warnings and try to sedate him.

Luckily for Shiro, three cadets (Lance, Hunk and Pidge) as well as a washed out cadet (Keith) rescue him and, together, they find a giant blue lion that takes them to a very distant planet where they discover they are the chosen pilots of Voltorn, the strongest warrior in the universe, as well as possibly the only ones capable of stopping the evil emperor Zarkon from conquering the universe.

The rest of the special is the characters having to find the remaining four lions as they slowly come to the realization that they may be the universe’s best and last hope.

This special has two very important tasks at hand, the first one is to present the audience with all the information they need to know: Who is Zarkan? Why is he a threat? What is Voltron? Why is it so important? etc. It is important this information is enough to give an idea of what the series is going to be about and how this world works, but without overwhelming the audience. This, the special does a fine job. It gives you a good grasp of how things are with enough questions left unanswered so there is still some mystery present.

We are given a lot of information, but I did not feel overwhelmed at any point, it’s possible that being one full-hour long may have helped the episode fluidity and that helps the episode a lot.

The second thing this special has to do is, of course, to present the five pilots and the characters of Princess Allura and Coran, Allura’s advisor. Their motivations, their personalities and how they work-out each other. Once again, The special does this quite well and gives us characters easy to root for.

One particular instance comes to mind: the finding of the Blue Lion.

What makes this scene work for me is that the five… actually bring something to the table. We see them actually add something to the conversation and do something to help in the search and, while there is character clash here (in particular from Lance and Keith), I did get the feeling they worked fine as a team and that they complemented each other in different ways.

There is also a sense that none of the characters really need to prove anything to the rest or. Everyone automatically refers to Shiro as their leader… and it makes sense, because Shiro is the highest ranking member as well as having the most experience with this aliens. Likewise, Shiro is actually a very reasonable authority figure that doesn’t seem to consider himself above the rest of the group. There is a sense that he values their opinion at the same time he is leading them.

Another thing i noticed was that the episode did it’s best to avoid making any of the characters seem like “The Hero” and it is quite hard to try and give this title to any of the characters, because they all have a fair share of screen time.

Both Keith and Shiro do seem to fill the traditional role of “The Hero” but, interestingly enough, most of the first act is focused on Lance, Hunk and Pidge (Pidge in particular is the one who we get the most of in terms of backstory). The episode seems to go for more of an Ensemble Piece, and that feels quite refreshing.

As I mentioned, in terms of backstory, Pidge is the one who gets the most focus followed by Shiro; whose past year as a prisoner is vital to the plot; but we don’t get to know anything from before that besides the fact he seems to be quite well-regarded among cadets. Keith, we are told he left the academy because he had discipline issues and… that’s it. Finally, Lance and Hunk are… two guys that just happened to be friends before the start of the show.

Now, there is no need to give all of your characters complicated backstories, but it would have been nice to have a more clear idea of their stories, as well.

Still, it is better than what happens to princess Allura, who, besides telling us her backstory and helping locate the rest of the lions, doesn’t really get much of a role in this special. Coran is simply Comic Relief.

The animation is quite nice,  it is that blend of styles so recognizable of shows like Korra, a nice balance that has that feel of “anime” without falling in that awkward style so common in shows that try too hard to be Anime. It is  a western style that takes inspiraiton in Anime to create it’s own feel, not trying to imitate it. Which is an important distinction to make and a hard labor to acomplish.

The CGI is also really good (better than Voltron Foce, that’s for sure) The Lions look astonishing and each one is unique. The CGI really manges to give them that sense of being big, powerful machines. There is weight to them, as oppose to those instances in which the computer animation in 2D backgrounds makes it look weightless and it’s movement awkward.

Overall, this was a nice opening chapter. The writing is not on the same level as, say, Korra season 4, but that doesn’t mean it is not clever or good. There is depth here, there is depth to Shiro, there is depth to backstory, etc. The animation is really good and the characters are likable. Overall I really enjoyed this special.

Voltron: The Legendary Defender is available on Netflix

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