This article contains spoilers…
Season two of Netflix’s Voltron Legendary Defender continues the story of five space pilots, chosen as the latest Paladins of the lions that form the titular robot warrior. Guided by Altean Princess Allura, they fight against the evil Emperor Zarkon and Galra empire. In their quest to put an end to Zarkon’s reign, Allura and the Paladins face new enemies, harrowing missions, and struggles, both internal and external, that test their mettle and their ability to restore peace to the galaxy.
In its beginnings Defender worked to reintroduce the classic series while evolving its core characters by either enriching backstories or taking extreme examples of their stereotypes and playing them to the hilt. Hunk was still the bruiser, but with more heart than ever. Keith and Lance were every bit the red to the other’s blue, but that conflict meant having something to overcome in order to be a team and form Voltron. Pidge not only saw a gender change, but also the added motive of trying to save family. Princess Allura and Shiro (once Sven) were both updated in look (princess arguably more dramatically) and also given richer histories and resultant turmoil as respective leaders of the team, with the princess largely taking point in terms of command. Though these developments are by no means dropped or abandoned, a great deal of the storytelling is lent to expanding the universe, and advancing the plot beyond its origins.
As early as the second episode, the Paladins are introduced to the new planets and races, the appearances of which serve a twofold purpose beyond basic world building. Primarily, these new worlds play into the heroes’ quest to liberate others from Zarkon’s control, as well as build the groups network of allies, with almost every newly introduced race figuring into the team’s plan to take down the Galra empire once and for all. Several of the new locations also present challenges that serve to further forge the bonds between the Paladins and their lions. Through these greater bonds, powerful attributes unique to each lion are unveiled, and the power of their Paladins grow in ways that put them one step closer to being up to the task of eradicating the dark forces that confront them at nearly every turn.
Hand in hand with this expansion is the addition of a subplot previously unheard of or never even considered in the originals, namely the notion that the Galra are not inherently evil. In the past, the race has served as little more than the nameless hordes that back the big bad, sometimes literal cannon fodder for the large-scale battle between Voltron and Zarkon. This time, after a few subtle hints at the end of season one, they are revealed to be a race quietly divided, with a small but cunning group of rebels known as the Blade of Marmora waging a war of careful subterfuge in the hopes of discovering a means to emperors end. These Galra are not only presented as good, but noble and stalwart in their crusade to see the galaxy liberated from tyranny. It is an idea so foreign to the series itself, that even the normally level-headed Allura struggles to in anyway accept it, and yet it is a concept underscored time and again in both the noble actions of the Blade of Mamora, and the shocking revelation that Keith, one of Voltron’s own Paladins, is of Galran blood. It’s a twist that adds welcome depth to Defender’s core narrative, and at the same time forces characters and viewers alike out of the black and white simplification of its universe.
Consistently threaded through these elements is a theme of trust and how vital it is to the success of the series’ antagonists. It is trust, over dominion and control, that allows Shiro to claim his rightful place as the Black Lion’s Paladin and it is trust, in spite of fresh pain and perhaps justified hatred that allows Allura to count the Blade of Mamora among her allies and move that much closer to defeating her true enemy, Zarkon. This theme also comes into play in the form of foreshadowing, as Shiro places his unwavering trust in Keith’s ability to grow into the type of leader the team requires, should he ever be unfit or worse.
Early on, the season suffers from the familiar pitfalls of rather formulaic episodes and fight scenes (possibly unavoidable given the genre and subject matter) and the best animation is still reserved for Voltron’s battles, sometimes to the cosmetic detriment of other sequences. But, the season ultimately does well in continuing what it’s predecessor started, without suffering from any kind of sophomoric slump. Add this to a heart-pounding finale and all the storytelling potential derived from its inevitable fallout, and you have a season well worth the wait and the further anticipation it creates.
Rating: Four Olkari Cubes out of Five
-It was great to see Pidge take the lead a bit more this season, particularly in episode 4 where she effortlessly adapted to alien tech, proving once again how essential she is to the team beyond battles. It was potent enough to make the constant “English, please” forgivable.
-Strong female leadership was further emphasized this season, with a good portion of the new and returning races being led by a powerful matriarch.
-Galra Keith is… probably about as nice as he ever was.
-Episode 5 was pleasantly reminiscent of Avatar the Last Airbender’s The Chase, an episode also written by Joshua Hamilton.
-Haggar puts in quite a bit of work for essentially no yield. Zarkon is lucky she’s as loyal as she is. Or, that is to say, was lucky… Perhaps Lotor will be a better boss.