I would like to speak to you about my Defender of the Universe, Voltron.
Should I start at the beginning? Is that really necessary? I mean, most of the time when I explain some excessively nerdy topic, I basically have my mother in mind (she’s going to find this blog one of these days…), and try to explain the subject of discussion for her baby boomer brain. However, this might be one of the few situations where my mother is well aware of the pop culture nerdery in question. Why? Because I first caught the Voltron bug when I was all of four years old, and, thanks to stupid labor laws, it was very hard for a four year old to earn enough dough to purchase even one super transforming lion robot, left alone an entire pride. My parents were eager to please my little avaricious self, so, at some early point in my life, Voltron, Defender of the Universe was acquired in a myriad of forms. I had little rolly Voltron, oddly spongy Voltron, and, of course, the big cheese himself, Big Damn Voltron. As a point of fact, Big Damn Voltron has been a centerpiece of my home décor for years no matter where I hang my hat.
Wait, where was I? Oh, right, the good news.
Got a little ahead of myself there. See, Voltron was the star of an ancient cartoon (anime?) from the 80’s, and featured five unique space explorers piloting a bunch of robot cats that were capable of combining into the titular Voltron. Despite the fact that Voltron was popular enough to drive its blazing sword into the hearts of a million teeny viewers, attempts to revive the Voltron franchise (The Third Dimension, Voltron Force, Cloverfield) have generally fallen flat. So imagine my jubilation at the announcement of a new Voltron series from the people behind Avatar: The Legend of Korra (a series that, incidentally, I just finished rewatching for the third or fourth time). This is gonna be great, guys!
And it is a stupendous show!
It’s just a lousy Voltron show.
Voltron: Legendary Defender is a serialized Voltron show. It features the old mainstays (Hunk, Pidge, Lance, Keith, Allura) and “newcomer” Takashi “Shiro” Shirogane, who is actually a sort of alternate universe Sven from the original Voltron series (Takashi Shirogane was, incidentally, the original Go-Lion character that became Sven). Sven, in the original series, suffered an early, fatal defeat and was retired to “space hospital” to go play with the other absent space explorers and run around a great big yard and have a by and large blissful nonexistence. In V:LD, Shiro is Black Lion’s pilot for at least the entire first season, and has a dark and mysterious past in an alien gladiator ring. Shiro is the possibly corrupted leader of the Voltron Force, and struggles deeply with his feelings of inadequacy and inability to save Pidge’s family.
In other words, Shiro got issues.
And everyone has issues! Hunk is homesick, Pidge has a missing family and trust issues, Keith appears to have become improbably feral, and Lance has been separated from whatever store sells those cool flight jackets (and I guess he almost died, too). Princess Allura is apparently the last of her people, and is so cripplingly lonely that she’s talking to vermin. Even Coran, the most clearly comic relief character in the cast, has some sort of malaise going on with entire planets getting sucked into Hell by the evil empire that incidentally obliterated his people. Oh, and that evil empire? There’s more throne gamery going on there than Westeros, with secret plans for planet juice being passed around and… ugh, it gets complicated.
And Voltron: Defender of the Universe, the original series? That Voltron ain’t complicated.
That Voltron is stupid.
Here’s the plot for an 80’s episode of Voltron: Purple Bad Guys have a plan. After much shouting and gnashing of teeth, Purple Bad Guys implement the plan. Everything goes great for Purple Bad Guys for 15 minutes (not counting commercials for [Voltron] products). At minute 16, the Voltron Squad assembles Voltron. At minute 17, Blazing Sword is formed. The Purple Bad Guy Plan that, for some reason, ultimately relied on a skyscraper sized Robeast, goes right down the toilet as Voltron cleaves previously mentioned Robeast in twain. Purple Bad Guys shake their fists angrily, and Pidge learns a valuable lesson about recycling or something. Roll credits.
With a scant few exceptions, that’s every single episode.
And for little kids, it’s glorious, because every episode has the same moral: Voltron is going to make everything okay. When you’re four? That’s the most important lesson of all.
Look, I’m assuming you didn’t stumble onto this site during naptime. You’re an adult (or something much like it), and you know life is complicated. I’m sure there are a million problems swirling around your head right now, all bumping into each other and causing stress from their mere mention. Maybe it’s something all-consuming, like providing food and shelter for your family, or maybe it’s something comparatively simple, like an ex-lover haunting your favorite noodle place; regardless, you’ve got problems, and they’re important. Maybe there are solutions to these problems, maybe the answers are far out of grasp. Maybe there are no resolutions, and this is something you’re just going to have to live with until the day you die.
But wouldn’t it be nice to just form Blazing Sword and be done with it? Wouldn’t it be nice to Voltron your problems away?
Voltron: Defender of the Universe is all about that. A lot of 80’s anime has a similar flow, too. Take a look at Sailor Moon. Whatever is going wrong with Usagi this week (whether it be her low economic standing, poor dietary habits, or general incompetence) that problem is going to be solved in about twenty minutes when she decides to transform into a superhero, spend a minute or two futzing around in her knee-high boots, and then banish evil forever (or at least to another day) with her Moon Tiara or literal magic wand. Sure, her talking cat or obviously envious brunette buddy might make a few quips before the credits roll, but I heard that theme music, I know that the problem du jour has been solved. Heck, isn’t the endpoint of the Sailor Moon franchise a millennia of serenity? That sounds pretty alright!
Ultimately, this is why modern incarnations of Voltron or Sailor Moon do not match their previous versions. To my knowledge (with the exception of programs literally written for babies), we no longer produce TV shows with that simple, black and white morality. And that’s probably a good thing! In our modern age of streaming and absorbing hours upon hours of entertainment like oversized sponges, sucking up 25 hours of “everything is going to be okay” would likely turn the populace into a flock of waddling sheeple straight out of a bad reddit post. Adventure Time, Gravity Falls, and Steven Universe are all excellent children’s programs that also engage all age groups thanks to their gray morals and universes where a “villain” may just be a misunderstood older fellow (or rock). These are shows that would dramatically lose something if their “bad guys” were cackling maniacs destined for the pointy end of magical weapon.
But there’s a reason 80’s nostalgia works so effectively on an entire generation. Optimus Prime, Sailor Moon, and Voltron aren’t just heroes, they’re The Answer. There’s no problem that won’t be solved by the end of that theme song. Galactic Peace is just a dead Robeast away, and then everything will be perfect for another day. Watch that same canned animation of the lions combining, or Sailor Moon transforming, or Optimus rolling out, and know, just know, that everything will be okay.
Voltron: Legendary Defender is a great show about an eclectic cast of characters working their way through saving the universe.
Voltron: Defender of the Universe is universal peace through repetition.
It’s kind of hard to beat that.