This Voltron Legendary Defender review contains spoilers.
Last season of Voltron Legendary Defender completely changed the status quo for the series, not only setting up Keith as the new leader but also bringing in Allura as a Paladin. While the forced reintroduction of Shiro caused the series to stumble it seemed everything was right.
Then this season changed the status quo again with Keith quickly departing the team in the first episode with Shiro resuming command. This change is indicative of a season wide problem. On paper this is not a horrible idea. In fact, Keith believing he’s not a great leader and wanting to train with the Marmora is a great one.
The problem is that there wasn’t enough time with the third season’s new status quo to make this plotline feel earned. Many of the fourth seasons plots are good and well executed, but it feels like we missed at least a half season’s worth of development and stories.
Don’t get me wrong, this season is still some of the best TV out there but it could have been even better. Allow me to explain why this season didn’t feel quite right and then I’ll talk about all the amazing stuff.
I can only wonder if Shiro returning so soon forced the Voltron producers to move up some of their stories. They’ve clearly had a very tight plan since the start of the show and this unraveled it all.
I can totally imagine all of the plots this season happening at the start of what was originally going to be season four (since season three was supposed to be thirteen episodes before it was split in half into what is now seasons three and four). After a full season of Keith struggling to lead Voltron, Shiro returns. Keith sees a way out and takes it. It could have totally worked.
Still, there was a way to have Shiro and Keith attempt to co-lead the team this season while giving all the other plot lines proper build up. The Voltron Coalition plot, with the team attempting to enlist worlds in the fight against the Galra, was beautifully introduced at the start of season three and had a lot of potential. While it is hilariously touched on in “The Voltron Show!” (more of that in a bit) it didn’t feel like its formation was properly explored.
Pretty much every race the team interacted with signed up without pushback. I wish there had been some resistance to the team’s efforts, which would have allowed us to get a fuller picture of the universe under Galra rule and the people who live there. Maybe some races don’t want to sign up. They like living under Zarkon! We know he has fans, as glimpsed in “Space Mall”. It would make the battle with the Galra empire have some moral and ethical complications.
Having a few more episodes devoted to plots like these could have also given us some much-needed time to develop the other members of the cast, especially Hunk who has been criminally underserved these past two seasons. It had been mentioned that Hunk would start gaining some confidence and works towards becoming a diplomat. Let’s see that happen!
Let’s spend some time with Lotor’s generals and get to know them. Let’s see more of how Lotor was ruling the empire. We got a great picture of it in the first episode of season three but then it fell by the wayside until Zarkon returned this season.
It’s not a bad problem that the series has some many great ideas and plotlines that it can’t give enough time to all of them but it does make it feel rushed. We don’t have enough downtime and I don’t mean episodes with the characters just relaxing. I mean that the storylines are always jumping from important event to important event. That sounds great in theory but you need some breather episodes that help world build and let us check in on how the characters are feeling.
Non stop game changing episodes leave precious little time for character moments, something you need to make those big intense moments work. Take for example, the final episode of this season when Allura powers up Voltron to escape from Haggar’s gravity spell. It’s an amazing moment to be sure but it wasn’t properly built up to.
She has this moment saying she hasn’t trained and well… yeah, she hasn’t. If resisiting Haggar’s spells had been a bigger plot thread this moment would have been a real triumph for her.
Maybe she could have been working with Lance because the small moments they’ve had together, especially when he encourages her in the final episode, hint at a really deep respect for one another that I would love to see more of. It could have been tied in with training on the Blue Lion and feeling like she wasn’t as skilled a pilot as the rest of the team.
I know I’m a broken record on this topic, but this is where some officially licensed full length Voltron novels would slot in perfectly. It would give the fans a chance to see some of these adventures if there isn’t time to show them all on screen. I don’t want the Voltron writers to scale back this universe spanning story but if they don’t have time to tell it all the way they want to I hope they can find other avenues to make it happen. While the comics have been great some Star Wars expanded universe like novels would be perfect. Come on, DreamWorks. Make it happen!
Now with all that out of the way, let’s talk about the positives of this season. First off, “The Voltron Show!” While I’m sure fans are already debating whether this or “Space Mall” is the better comedy outing, I think they’re both hilarious in different ways.
“The Voltron Show!” is clearly a send up to just how over the top some anime and especially Tokusatsu is. For those not in the know, Tokusatsu are Japanese special effects shows that usually include superheroes. Many of the over the top poses Coran choreographs for the team are lifted directly from Super Sentai series like Goranger, Flashman, and Zyuranger (which of course later became Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers and the pose in the episode is taken specifically from a Power Rangers publicity shot).
It’s the perfect escalation of zany events, with Coran wanting the live shows to get bigger and bigger. It even seems there are some small references to fans reactions to the first season of Voltron, with Coran calling Shiro, “our most popular character” and Hunk being annoyed at fart jokes.
The episode serves a double purpose of depicting the team efforts to recruit races into the Voltron Coalition. While, as I mentioned above, I would have liked to see this play out over more episodes it’s still an amazing way to world build with humor. I need the full soundtrack to Voltron Live, stat.
On the serious side, episode two was far and away the best outing for the season. Pidge’s desperate search for her brother was beautifully executed. Her breakdown at Matt’s supposed grave was heart wrenching and all the credit needs to be given to the animators, Bex Taylor-Klaus’ award deserving performance, and Brad Breeck’s music.
The score of Voltron Legendary Defender has been fairly solid up to this point but I wouldn’t exactly call it stand out. This season however it ramped up dramatically. Episode two’s score tugs at your heart strings and makes you feel every bit of Pidge’s anguish.
It’s nice to learn where Pidge’s name actually came from and why she’s held onto it even after the team discovered who she really was. I’m sure that’ll disappoint some fans who hoped for a more involved answer that tied into Pidge’s gender identity but I’m satisfied that Pidge is a girl who doesn’t conform to strict gender norms. However, if you want to headcanon Pidge as trans or anything else, feel free!
Now that Matt has returned I hope Pidge will get more plotlines that don’t directly tie into the search for her father. I know it’s a driving force for her character but I’d hate to see it completely dominate her arc.
While Matt’s reaction to meeting Allura was hilarious, I do hope this isn’t a recurring joke. We’ve already got that with Lance and we don’t need more. Unless we start seeing more main or side characters start fawning over the guys and not just one off background characters like we see around Lance. Which just reminds me, it was nice to see Shay again for a brief moment. What about her and Hunk? Let’s see that relationship develop!
So hey, how about that finale? Pretty intense, although of course the biggest game changer is the possibility of Lotor forming an alliance with the Voltron Coalition. Lotor’s arc over this season was sparse but he did display the depths he’s willing to go for his mysterious mission.
Outright murdering Narti was damn cold and proved he has no ties to anyone. If he’s no willing to toss his closest generals away like pawns, his ultimate goal must be universe or, dare I say, reality spanning. Since he briefly ventured into the alternate universe for more power, I wonder what he needs it for.
I can only wonder what the rest of his generals will do now that they’re on the run. They, much like Lotor, are now a rogue element in this battle for the universe and will probably complicate things down the road. I can’t wait to see it.
Even if this season felt like it skipped over a lot of potential storylines, it’s still a fun ride and sets up a lot of intrigue for the future. What the hell is keeping Zarkon going? Is he just being shot up with pure Quintessence? What’s up with Haggar and her face? Will Keith rejoin the team? Will those five rebel ships that ended up surviving the final battle form Vehicle Voltron? (Okay, that’s just wishful thinking on my part.)
Let’s just hope the fifth season gives each of these plotlines the time they deserve. Bring it on!
Shamus Kelley caught that “Defender of the Universe” line in episode one. Nice callback. Follow him on Twitter!
Read the full Den of Geek NYCC Special Edition Magazine right here!