Back in my childhood, when VHS stores were still a thing (before Blockbuster wiped them out), there was a local shop called “CineMagic” that my family would visit regularly and was how I initially go into Transformers. Though I didn’t really get exposed to Japanese animation fully until the days of Toonami much later, I do remember seeing episodes of the original Voltron series the same way. My memory of the show and characters of that time are fuzzy and I never really got into the franchise, save for remembering that five piloted lion machines would combine to form one giant human-shaped mecha, which would be familiar territory for my Power Rangers phase.
Last month, Netflix saw the premiere of Voltron: Legendary Defender on its streaming service. A collaborative effort from DreamWorks Animation and Studio Mir under the supervision of showrunners Laura Montgomery and Joaquim Dos Santos and head writer Tim Hedrick, all veterans of some of the best animated shows of the 2000s, the new Voltron aims to bring the classic series to a new generation. So how does it stack up?
Action Animation’s Return to Form
Since the ending of Avatar: The Legend of Korra, there’s been a noticeable absence of action cartoons on network and cable television. With a slew of cancellations in 2013 resulting in the ending of shows like Green Lantern, Young Justice and TRON: Uprising, it seemed that it would be a long time before tradition animated action would be making a comeback unless it had “Star Wars” in the title.
While the season is shorter than a traditionally-lengthed season for a half-hour series at about 13 episodes worth of time (a three-episode length pilot and 10 more normal length), it manages to make use of its time in effectively focusing and establishing the core cast and the world around them. While the plot seems standard at first glance with five youths teaming up to fight a galactic evil, there’s still an air of mystery around the players, the villains and even the titular mech that makes for some excellent revelations in the finale. Heads up; said finale ends on a heck of a cliffhanger so get ready to feel gut-punched by the credits.
Paving the Way
As much as the Voltron: Legendary Defender excited me in my time watching it, one of the really exciting things is the possibilities it opens up with its success. One of the biggest factors that resulted in the death of action animation in the last few years comes from the way the business is structured. With the options available in making comparatively cheap animated comedies that can bring an audience in droves versus riskier and more expensive prospects, it’s not difficult to see why many studios choose to go the route that’s a guaranteed success. Unfortunately, this has led to a loss of some great opportunities for storytelling.
With the success of original programming on services like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime, animation is starting to join the fray and could lead not only to a revival in some of the aforementioned cancelled properties but also a surge in new ideas and IPs. As a longtime animation fan, I’ve never been more excited for what the future can bring.