[WARNING - This review contains SPOILERS for Voltron: Legendary Defender season 2.]
Season 1 of Voltron: Legendary Defender was a big hit for Netflix, winning over longtime fans of the classic anime/'80s cartoon and earning many more. Though Legendary Defender is certainly a new riff on the GoLion/Voltron series, it keeps the basic elements - the Lions, their Paladin pilots, the Altean/Galra conflict - and infuses them with a new complexity. What was once a cut and dry battle against the forces of evil becomes a murkier conflict, with neither side acting wholly good or bad, and the spiritual bond between Paladins and their Lions is deepened.
The first season only hinted at this added complexity, but season 2 of Voltron: Legendary Defender expands on it, revealing the scope of the war against Zarkon to truly be universe-wide. Where season 1 mostly kept its focus on the action inside the Castle of Lions - and especially on acclimating its human characters to a brave new world where they're legendary heroes - season 2 introduces new allies to their cause and new alien locales to be explored. And these additions aren't here only for the sake of it being the second season, but the expanded setting benefits the characters, action, and comedy - the three elements that make up the core appeal of the show.
In season 2, each Paladin is given the opportunity to grow, strengthening the bond with their Lion and unlocking a new ability - think the Green Lion's beam that grows vines on its target which Pidge unlocks when she gains a greater understanding of the relationship between nature and technology. Nowhere is this more apparent than with Shiro's arc this season, having his bond with the Black Lion repeatedly tested, and in Keith's arc, which shockingly reveals him to be part Galra! The premiere definitely teased the progression these two characters would have this season, but it turns out to be even more satisfying than expected.
Given the fate of his character in the original series, Shiro has basically had the shadow of death follow him around since day one. But rather than give in to that fatalist view of his character, Voltron: Legendary Defender spends its second season building him up, deepening his bond with the Black Lion in the process. He also must also come to terms with the Black Lion's past, how Zarkon was its original Paladin and a former ally of King Alfor (a detail that hints at a much larger story yet to be told about the creation of Voltron and a time when Altea and the Galra Empire weren't enemies). Accepting what was allows Shiro to realize not only his full potential but that of his Lion, unlocking the full capabilities of the Black Lion and by extension, Voltron.
It all culminates in their final fight with Zarkon - outfitted in his own giant robot and dead set on retrieving the Black Lion - when Shiro is able to take complete control of the Black Lion, regaining the Black Paladin's bayard and allowing the team to unleash Voltron's full power, delivering one hell of a final blow to Zarkon in the process. The moment is triumphant for all our characters, but Shiro especially - which only makes it all the more strange and unsettling when he mysteriously vanishes from the Black Lion's cockpit! It's a startling cliffhanger for season 2 to leave off on, having effectively dispelled with the lingering assumption that Shiro would bite it. But it does cleverly leave an opening for Shiro to return while still allowing for others to step up in his absence.
Chiefly, that responsibility will fall to Keith, which is why season 2 spent the time developing him into more than a cocky pilot. There's a real insecurity about Keith, something which is made most evident by his obsession with a mysterious Galra blade left to him by his father - a hint at a past that may hold secrets Keith would rather not know. Over the course of the season, it's revealed the blade is the weapon of choice of those from the Blade of Marmora - a Galra resistance movement which sprung up in response to Zarkon's oppression. Proving himself worthy of the blade by enduring the Trials of Marmora, Keith is also forced to reconcile with his Galra heritage. He learns to accept it as a part of himself and as a strength not a weakness, finding it especially helpful when they need to infiltrate Zarkon's ship. His Galra heritage does, however, cause a rift between himself and Allura, exposing her own prejudice - something which was already becoming apparent by her reluctance in accepting help from the Blade of Marmora.
Along with Shiro and Keith, Allura also learns a bit about herself and in the process grows into a more effective leader. Voltron: Legendary Defender is as concerned with developing Allura as it is the Paladins, and the series is all the stronger for it. It's telling that she spends the entirety of season 2 in her more utilitarian space suit than her gown, and come the finale she even engages directly in the battle, entering Zarkon's ship and fighting the Witch Hagar herself. (Where she also learns that Hagar isn't Galra, but Altean! Again implying this centuries-long conflict isn't black and white.) Just as much as season 2 has sent Keith on a path of assuming leadership of Team Voltron, it has given Allura a similar journey from figurehead to future Paladin.
Unfortunately, giving these complex and fulfilling arcs for Shiro, Keith, and Allura does take screen time away from Lance, Hunk, Pidge, and Coran. Though each are allowed moments to shine (in Coran's case, literally), their overall progression pales in comparison to the other three. Thankfully, their antics still remain a huge part of the show's comedy, which like last season, it's a huge part of the appeal. Not only does it help in making the characters endearing, but it breaks up the heavier moments of season 2. There are both entire episodes that play like comedic asides - their trip to a space mall, for instance, which is possibly the funniest episode the series has ever had - or just hilarious beats used to cut tension - like the Paladins being awkwardly positioned inside the wormhole generator.
Voltron: Legendary Defender season 2 has all that made its first season such a success and more, expanding the scope of the series and dialing up the complexity of its central conflict. The characters are richer thanks to their experiences in season 2 and their camaraderie has never been stronger. Filled with laughs and slick action, Legendary Defender is a pinnacle of animation - in both artistry and content - and there shouldn't be any question over whether or not the series deserves a season 3. In fact, ending not only with Shiro's disappearance but a tease for one of the original series' most infamous characters - Prince Lotor! - Voltron: Legendary Defender demands another season.
Voltron: Legendary Defender season 1 and 2 are both available to stream on Netflix.
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