Now every first and third Thursday each month, ANIMATED INSIGHTS BY SHANNON MUIR takes you inside Shannon’s latest reflections on her passion for animation as a medium, and other animated insights about life. To catch up on all posts, check out the Animated Insights portion of the website! This week, as promised last year, Shannon returns with the second of a two-part analysis on VOLTRON: LEGENDARY DEFENDER. Please note while descriptions have tried to be vague, this will contain mild spoilers about Season 8.
Before I begin, I want to say that VOLTRON: LEGENDARY DEFENDER is overall a well-written and produced piece of animation. This evaluation is not about whether or not the series tells a good tale; it does. The question here deals solely with whether or not it tells a good VOLTRON story. Bear that in mind as you read. Last installment, I talked about there being a certain level of expectation I felt with with any telling of VOLTRON, an “implied contract” of a sort about what expectations people go into seeing it with if they have any pre-knowledge of the property.
The intellectual property has survived over thirty years based on what little people know about it, even if they are not hardcore fans.
- There are five lions.
- The main pilots are named Keith, Lance, Pidge, Hunk, and Allura. (Only more hardcore fans know who Sven – or Shiro in the LEGENDARY DEFENDER incarnation – is).
- Together, they work as a team to save the universe.
That’s what people know about VOLTRON from a cultural icon perspective at a bare minimum, as reinforced by animated parodies and commercials and a variety of other media.
It is on this last point where I think VOLTRON: LEGENDARY DEFENDER missed the mark, and as hard as it is for me to say, the weakest of the VOLTRON series made to date.
The series ends with one team member making a sacrifice to save the universe and leaving the others behind – whether or not said character dies or evolves or whatever isn’t the point – but it is the actions of one person that saves everything. Where LEGENDARY DEFENDER felt most like a VOLTRON series was at the final episode a couple of seasons earlier, where the audience is close to believing that the whole team has given all their lives and the giant robot to save everyone; that feeling of the group as a single unit, as well as individuals, gave so much heart to that suspenseful sequence. At the end of the series, the mourning comes for the loss of a single individual among the presence of the group (again, irrespective of whether said person is deceased), which in turn makes it easy to leave a hole in the hearts of the viewers as well who have rooted not just for these characters but for this team, which makes the loss that more personal.
To take a very strong quote from Keith in the VOLTRON: LEGENDARY DEFENDER Season 8 episode “Knights of Light, Part 2”: – “No. Voltron’s not gone. VOLTRON is within each and every one of us. We’re bonded to it, and to each other.”
This line, from within the series itself and toward the end of its run, only underscores that the lions are not required for them to be a team, and that they do have a bond – a bond which the ending of the series breaks. I’ve worked on animated series before, and worked in and around the entertainment business for over two decades in various capacities. I’m no stranger to the fact that decisions get made by a variety of people for a variety of reasons, especially when ownership changes are also involved such as happened to Dreamworks Animation during the course of the show’s production (I worked as temp human resources assistant when Studios USA merged with Universal, and then later while in grad school was asked to come back and temp again during the NBC-Universal merger years ago, so I know how mergers can affect personnel). I don’t claim to know any behind the scenes of what occurred here, but I do know well enough not to solely blame one set of people on a production.
So, while I’m glad for the storytelling ride I went on, it didn’t feel like a VOLTRON series to me with this kind of an ending. Still, just like the Devil’s Due comics I mentioned two weeks ago, it’s just another telling of the giant robot’s evolution in yet another dimension… multiple dimensions and alternate realities have always been a hallmark of VOLTRON, and this is just one of many.