By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)
Voltron: Defender of the Universe was one of those animated series from the 80’s I absolutely adored along with Robotech. The American producers took the Japanese animated material and successfully adapted them for a North American audience. In both, the heroes have to battle against alien invaders. While Voltron is getting one seriously massive update by DreamWorks to become Voltron: Legendary Defender, which is now on Netflix. This animation company took approximately five years since acquiring Classic Media’s catalogue of titles (which includes Casper and Where’s Waldo?, to name a few) to pump this reboot out. And this amount of time waiting is reasonable to fans in bringing back a love which clearly calls back to other shows like Mobile Suit Gundam.
Any development of the rumoured Robotech live-action movie is languishing. Talks began in 2008 with no word on commitments. According to Harmony Gold’s Kevin McKeever, the Sony Films deal is not finalized.
Voltron certainly saved the day. This reboot is executive produced Lauren Montgomery and Joaquim Dos Santos (better known for their work on Avatar: The Legend of Korra), and they used the same production team to create the style in this series. I am quite enjoying it and binge watched it at least three times since its debut. To improve on what the original series did not do, the producers had a series bible properly developed to outline the development for each of the characters.Pidge gets the most love out. Very rarely do I find myself cheering and I felt like a kid again watching Voltron duke it out with its flaming sword! Lightsaber ho! (yeah, I know, wrong series).
This reboot reworks a lot of the basics so the mythos is more coherent. I’m enjoying the occult references which reveal how the legendary beasts — mechanical lions — combine into the guardian of the galaxy: Voltron! There’s a symbiotic relationship each pilot shares with each of the lions. As Princess Allura (Limberly Brooks) explained, there’s a mystical bond, a quintessence, that unites the pilot and bio-mechanical robot together. They form something greater which science can not explain. In Robotech, that energy is known as protoculture. In this series, it’s simply known as a quintessence. Shiro (Josh Keaton) is the leader of the group and he gets to pilot the black lion; Pidge is an intellectual, a computer specialist who gets to pilot the green lion; Lance (Jeremy Shada) is cocky, a “Maverick” (like in Top Gun) who gets the blue lion; Hunk (Tyler Labine) is a kind-hearted mechanic (just like Lunk in Robotech: The New Generation) who pilots the yellow lion and Keith (Steven Yuen) the hothead has to handle the temperamental red lion. When they manage to work together, their mutual mechs combine to become the mighty warrior. The casting is all-star and I enjoy the humour they share. This series has the team record their lines in one big studio.
In this reworking of the series, four of them are still in their early to late teenage years. Shiro is the adult. He was part of an expeditionary force which encountered the Galra Empire at the fringes of our solar system — on one of Pluto’s moons — and was quickly captured and interrogated. One year later, he somehow managed to escape and return to Earth, only to have his superiors quarantine him until answers can be found. But before they can learn anything, Keith and the gang decide to break him out. In their rush to escape, they stumble upon the first lion, the blue one, who takes them to a greater cause to which they all quickly accept. Should they ever return to Earth, they are most likely going to be more than drummed out of the Galaxy Force. Unlike the original series, where they are originally a tightly knit fighting unit, this group has issues to work out.
As with any series spanning sagas, the group have to learn how to become an effective fighting team. “Some Assembly Required” highlights this fact because they are having trouble getting their lions to form Voltron. Not only does this series teaches the importance of group effort in any endeavour but also it reveals how meaningful relationships can be developed. The characters are very well-rounded and lots of interesting developments can be found as the series progresses. A few secrets are meant to be kept quiet, for now, but in due time, I’m sure Pidge will let people in on “his” secret. His motive in being with the team is one to cry for, because he is in it to find his father and brother, of whom was taken by the Galra too. The tell all episode is “Tears of the Balmera.”
The villains in this series is also a vast improvement over the past iterations. Emperor Zarkon (Neil Kaplan) is the ruler of the Galra Empire and he’s survived for over 10,000 years by absorbing Quintessence in a different way. I like to know more about how this fifth fundamental force operates and figures into this Voltron universe. Later episodes may well explore more of this mystical side of the universe and introduce an all new character representing a fundamental force for good, perhaps similar to Yoda in Star Wars.
Witch Haggar (Cree Summer) harvests the energy to her own ends and the Druids are nothing like those described in Dungeons and Dragons! I’m loving this evil character the most because Summer has a very distinct characteristic (she’s Elmyra Duff in Tiny Toon Adventures) in her voice I love to hear when she wants to emphasize it. In this series, there’s a deepened sinister maturity which really works. I hope a further exploration into the mystic will be explored. With only eleven episodes offered, this introduction is more like a teaser of what’s to come.
Just how long this series will last will no doubt span at least four years. In theory, they should be released batches of twelve episodes every half year if past DreamWorks releases on Netflix are any indication.
4 Stars out of 5