krpalmer: (anime)
[personal profile] krpalmer
In the raffish pantheon of mid-1980s cartoons, Voltron's niche may be smaller than some but it does seem remembered, its title invoked in the sure expectation of bringing back memories of "five robot lions that combine to form a mighty robot." (That, though, does remind me of the seeming accidents of history that made the other Voltron, the "fifteen flying cars, plane-things, and nondescript aerial bricks that combine to form a mighty robot," stick in my own memory, even if some of that may shape a certain subtle dismissal different from the usual shrugging off...) More than that, in possible place of nostalgic merchandising the title's been applied to new animation (now produced on this side of the Pacific) in just the past few years. I do know the series "Voltron Force" didn't seem very popular among those whose opinions of it I did see, even if they never seemed to articulate specific reasons for that. However, this wasn't the end of things. In its constant push to produce content that can't be taken away by the studios, Netflix announced it would be streaming another new Voltron series, and its staff including some people who'd worked on the Avatar franchise seemed to help some wait for the actual work to judge it. The first preview clips prompting recognition of how Voltron's combination sequence now obviously drew on the well-regarded stock footage of the giant robot anime GaoGaiGar attracted that much more attention, and when "Voltron Legendary Defender" began streaming I started taking it in. I was perhaps still weighted by recent ambivalent thoughts about intellectual property being recycled by corporate owners as if to avoid the risk and effort of coming up with new fundamental ideas, but it's also more than easy to recoil from thoughts of self-proclaimed fans monstrously incapable of conceiving others might like something they don't. I did at least wind up imagining it's possible there could even be parents drawing on their own memories with the thought it's for the sake of their kids, perhaps even connecting two generations (although this not having been the case when those parents were kids themselves can pack its own uncertainties...)

Even after all of that, though, I found myself able to like the series, and in a way that built up episode by episode. Identifying things tweaked from the original was an amusing pastime at the beginning; I did take note of how the colour-coding of the five pilots at last made a precise match to the colours of their robot lions, even if this did mean giving up the leader being named "Keith." This, though, somehow left me thinking Princess Allura (changed from "blonde and pink" to the slightly more exotic white-haired, dark-skinned, and pointy-eared "alien" anime will stretch itself to include; in this show, she seemed closer to "Terran" than anything else in the cosmos) just wouldn't have a chance to become a pilot, and as much as she wasn't quite just "waiting in the castle" the thought of "the pilots staying all guys" wasn't quite enthralling... and then the series did find a way to get past that, even if took a few episodes more before I had all the details presented in such a way there didn't seem the risk of up-to-the-minute awarenesses casting certain ambiguous shadows.

All of that might link back to that familiar possibility for dismissal of "this is a cartoon; nobody ever dies in a cartoon." It may be that my happening to remember the other Voltron only added to impressions of the original made-from-anime-series show going to such blatant lengths in its dialogue to insist on that for that to only add to the trimmed-back footage and leave me with suspicions back then; that did mean I wound up watching the original anime series and not the nostalgic DVD releases. Voltron Legendary Defender could be clear its generic enemy soldiers really were "robots," and while the enemy commanders didn't always get away all of it might have then tied in with another impression. I know that drawn animation in particular has only a few tricks to deal with "crowds" and it takes work to design a science fiction universe from scratch, but the series did get to feel somewhat sparsely populated.

At the same time, another form of "restraint" to the series, that Voltron wasn't formed in every episode (and once formed, wasn't just able to rely on its sword after stretching things out once more), could be impressive in its own way. I took note of a plot arc midway through that involved liberating a small world with a reasonable population of aliens, but perhaps there I started thinking of the infamously barely-begun "Robotech II: The Sentinels." That only brought to mind that franchise's slow drift through more than a few recent years, as if the rights-holders just keep waiting and hoping for a live-action movie to keep them from having to do anything themselves, and how that's grated away goodwill those not just wielding Macross as a vengeful stick might have had.

In any case, while an extended opening episode wound up sort of surprising me with just when a considerable cliffhanger was thrown at us, the news there'll be more episodes did prove reassuring. With what mecha and science fiction anime that does show up of late to catch my interest perpetually seeming to get clobbered by fan opinion anyway, Voltron Legendary Defender was refreshing; it might well have transcended mere "nostalgia."

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