Peak TV isn’t just for adults. There’s a stunning amount of great animation on the airwaves and streaming over the internet at the moment, ranging from the surprisingly affecting Star Wars Rebels to Regular Show, a cartoon that’s a love letter to the dumb things guys do in their early 20s. That makes it hard for the cartoons of the ’80s to compete, especially a show like Voltron, which was an anime recut and redubbed into a far more accessible series than the original. So Voltron: Legendary Defender has the job of taking what people loved about the original and shaping it into something more modern without losing the charm. And they succeed handily.
Voltron: Legendary Defender wastes no time. The hourlong pilot isn’t even a quarter over before we see our first robot lion, and Voltron himself is on screen before long. But the show smartly takes the time to sketch in our heroes, their flaws and virtues, and make them interesting. It undeniably plays to its audience, especially with the humor. Hunk’s queasy stomach is a running gag, and the show manages to land what is, by crude humor standards, a sublime fart joke in the pilot. Also by the end of the pilot, viewers will know who everybody is and even care about them a little. That care will likely only deepen as the series progresses.
The series also does a tremendous job of taking the design and visual cues of anime and playing off them in a Western series. Part of this is just that anime and anime-esque series are part of the West’s cultural lexicon now, but the show only streamlines and gently tweaks instead of radically reinventing. There’s a strong feel of ’80s anime here, but it never feels dated. If you’re a massive fan of the original show, you’ll find a lot to love here, but it’s accessible to everyone else, too.
Voltron: Legendary Defender also takes advantage of every episode being out at once to experiment with serialization. It’s not Breaking Bad, of course, but the episodes are more tightly connected than you might expect, and the lack of pressure to wrap up an episode in 22 minutes gives the show a surprising amount of room to breathe and the plots to feel more organic than your typical kid’s action show.
The original Voltron is largely beloved because it had a certain charm that it holds, even now, and Voltron: Legendary Defender keeps that in place while upping the franchise’s quality substantially. It may not be Bloodline, but if you’ve got an affection for the giant lion bot, or have kids you think might enjoy it, this is a series worth watching.