How Netflix’s Voltron: Legendary Defender became an essential animated series

Since Netflix’s Voltron: Legendary Defender debuted in 2016, critics have praised the streaming network’s reboot of the iconic 1984 Saturday morning cartoon Voltron: Defender of the Universe (which itself was an adaptation of a Japanese anime series). Consensus throughout the reboot’s first two seasons was that it remained a funny, kid-friendly space adventure while simultaneously aging up the story through dazzling depictions of deep space, hair-raising action sequences, and attentive character development. And now season three, released earlier this summer, is the show’s best one yet.

Overseen by the creative duo behind Nickelodeon’s Avatar: The Last Airbender and Legend of KorraVoltron has maintained much of the original story’s basic narrative, following five teen paladins named Shiro, Keith, Lance, Hunk, and Pidge. The unexpected pilots of a fleet of sentient robot space lions that combine to form one large battling super robot known as Voltron, the paladins are responsible for thwarting the ever-growing threat of General Zarkon and his imperialistic Galra Empire.

In season three, after efforts to locate their team leader Shiro (who disappeared at the end of season two following a battle with Zarkon) prove unsuccessful, the paladins are forced to find a new leader and align with new lions. However, rebuilding the team — in the face of their new enemy Lotor, no less — isn’t as easy as it looks. As they fight to preserve their roles as the universe’s legendary defenders, the series’ shortest and darkest season yet sees the team venture to vast, unfamiliar universes where they must face dangerous new challenges.

Here are five reasons why season three of Voltron: Legendary Defender shouldn’t be missed.

A fast pace prevents the season from falling victim to predictability

In season three, the outcomes of several Voltron storylines become apparent long before they actually happen onscreen. Whether it’s the team’s near-death experience in their first battle or the season’s final fight (which sees the paladins arguing over their heroic priorities), the way they and their enemies fare is somewhat predictable. But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because season three is easily the most dramatically compelling.

With so few episodes (seven, as opposed to 11 in season one and 13 in season two), there is little room for filler. The result is a heightened sense of urgency that overcomes the season’s predictability, because it forces viewers to think less about what’s coming up and more about the dramatics of the present moment. We get plenty of action and answers, without enough downtime to wind up mired in anticipating what’s ahead.

The unveiling of Voltron’s dark past ups the show’s emotional stakes

To say that Voltron features mature content despite its kid-friendliness would be a major understatement. Throughout its three seasons, the show has touched on everything from torture and nationalism to identity and family. Three of its main characters have lost parents, and one her entire planet. Shiro regularly experiences PTSD symptoms, the result of having been a Galra prisoner, and in season two the compassionate Princess Allura was forced to unpack her own racism when Keith’s Galra ancestry was revealed.

Season three continues to explore big themes, including free will, love, power, and teamwork. These themes are most emotionally resonant in moments when the paladins are fighting — with each other, over what their next move should be, or against Lotor and his all-female team of generals. Ultimately, though, it’s season three’s final episode, in which the team is forced to finally reckon with Voltron’s past, that delivers the clearest exploration of those weighty subjects.

Opting out of the cliffhanger approach of finales past, the last 22 minutes of the season see Coran recalling the emotional history of the original paladins, the cosmic origins of the lions, and a love among friends so corrupted by power it threw the universe into destructive chaos.

The full article first appeared at Vox on August 26, 2017

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