[This is a review of theVoltron: Legendary Defender season 1 finale. There will be SPOILERS.]
Voltron: Legendary Defender -- Netflix and Dreamworks Animation's bid to rejuvenate the classic 1980s cartoon -- had the perfect comeback with its three-part premiere, working to welcome both returning fans and those discovering the property for the first time. It blended exciting action with great comedy and heart, and proved itself just as much a successor to animated series like Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra as it did the original Voltron.
The series as a whole only builds on the precedent set in that premiere, developing character relationships and the show's overarching narrative in a satisfying manner, allowing each episode to reveal a little more about these new Defenders of the Universe and their mission. Unlike the previous Voltron, Legendary Defender uses a more serialized approach in its storytelling. Which, yes, means there isn't a new Robeast for Voltron to fight every episode, but it enables the series to tell a captivating and gripping tale that will have viewers consuming one episode after another; all the better for Netflix's binge-inducing delivery. The creative team led by Lauren Montgomery and Joaquim Dos Santos has truly outdone themselves by not only crafting endearing and well-rounded characters, but by placing them in a story which begs to be delved into further -- and that's especially true after the finale's startling cliffhanger.
The animation of Voltron: Legendary Defender is equally spectacular thanks to Studio Mir, the same company responsible for animating The Legend of Korra. The characters all boast unique designs, with no one ever appearing like a copy of another with only minimally altered details; Shiro has that strong, square jaw, Pidge the wide-eyes of youth, Lance a wise-cracking smirk. To that end, the lions are also distinct from one another, with each designed to move in a way that suits the purpose of its pilots -- Keith's Red Lion is spry and quick, while Hunk's Yellow Lion is more sturdy, rugged.
The action in Legendary Defender is fluid and dynamic, whether it be the lions dodging enemy fire, Voltron battling a Robeast, or even the paladins themselves engaging in combat. And again, this ought not be too surprising seeing as Studio Mir deftly handled the elemental bending and martial arts of Korra, but it's great to see that excellence translates into space battles as well. Yet, Legendary Defender may be at its most stunning when it comes to depicting the futuristic technology of the Alteans. Clearly a blend of computer graphics and hand drawn animation, the combination isn't jarring, instead adding to the ethereal and mystical nature of a science so advanced it might as well be magic.
For its finale, Legendary Defender finds Team Voltron on a mission that takes them to the heart of the Galran forces and face to face with Zarkon. It's a high-octane conclusion as they race to rescue Allura -- who sacrificed herself so Shiro could escape in the episode prior -- and its battles are some of the series' most intense. In a sense, the duel conflicts of Shiro versus Haggar -- his torturer while a prisoner of Zircon's -- and Keith's with Zarkon himself exemplify what makes Voltron: Legendary Defender such a compelling watch: not only are these characters fighting for their lives, for the universe, but to prove themselves worthy of their new positions. It's a personal struggle as much as it is a galactic one.
Their fight against the Galra in this finale also has them realizing how outmatched they are if they cannot fully harness the power of their lions and bayards. No where is this more clear than in Keith's fight with Zarkon, in where the villain reveals himself as being the original paladin of the Black Lion and uses the black bayard with incredible finesse, able to conjure several, extremely powerful weapons from it. Sadly, though Zarkon is impressive once he's in throes of battle, as with the show's other villains, he and Haggar are woefully underdeveloped, more often than not coming across as merely stereotypical bad guys with plans of conquering the whole universe.
The same cannot said, however, of Legendary Defender's main cast, all of whom are developed far beyond what their character's brief outline would suggest. Sure, each certainly fill a role, but whenever possible the series goes to great lengths to invert our expectations. Shiro, the de facto leader, carries with him trauma from his time spent as a prisoner; Keith, often unwilling to follow orders displays a strong drive to improve; Lance, a braggart who constantly clashes with Keith proves himself capable of great bravery; Hunk is a good-natured guy who impresses himself at almost every turn; and Pidge, revealed to actually be a young woman, is not only intelligent but brash, and thankfully is never defined by their gender even after the truth of it is shared with her teammates.
Princess Allura is also more thoroughly developed over the course of the series, never once falling into a cliché of constantly needing to be rescued or being incapacitated (there isn't even a suggestion of romance between her and any of the paladins, a real refreshing change of pace). On the contrary, Allura will often come to the paladins' rescue, utilizing her greater understanding of the Voltron technology and the universe at large. Still, she isn't without her flaws or moments of poor judgement, demonstrating she too has much to learn if they have any hope of saving the universe from Zarkon.
On the surface, Voltron: Legendary Defender is about a giant robot doing battle with evil in the universe, but what it's about even more is a team of unlikely heroes trying to pull of the impossible with the odds seriously stacked against them. Its characters are likeable, funny, but also flawed. The series is asking us to join them as they learn to navigate the challenges of piloting robotic space lions light years from home, but also as they learn to work together as a team and treat each other as family. Which only makes Voltron: Legendary Defender's season 1 finale all the more shocking and heartwrenching, separating and isolating everyone just as they were beginning to truly come together as one.
Voltron: Legendary Defender season 1 is now available to stream on Netflix.