Voltron: Legendary Defender
Fandom's proclivity towards confusing what they want, what they think, and what they know is a curious thing. Prior to watching this series, I encountered a storm of seeming-spoilers online, as people rambled about a plot twist late in the series -- only to discover when I actually watched it that that plot twist hadn't even happened, it was just a fan theory that people had seen and taken as hard fact.
A peril of the post-facts world, I guess, and although it leaves me in the odd position where I'm reviewing yesterday's canon rather than today's reworked, re-filtered canon, it does at least mean I wasn't spoiled, so that's nice.
Ramble about fandom aside, I'm glad to see Voltron: Legendary Defender back for a third series. Or -- half of a third series? As with the first series, this series feels incomplete, like the first half of a larger arc -- but unlike the first series, we're getting a crop of new episodes in just a few months, meaning we won't be waiting long for the conclusion to this arc.
(Or maybe we will, because there's no telling as to whether series three and series four will fit together into a complete arc like series one and series two did.)
Picking up a little while after the battle with Zarkon and Shiro's disappearance, the third series sees the team working with the Blade of Marmora to form an alliance of rebel planets, despite not being able to form Voltron. When cunning tactician and heir to the empire Prince Lotor arrives, with four generals in tow, however, the team must rally to form Voltron once more, with Keith piloting the Black Lion, Lance piloting the Red Lion, and Allura stepping in to pilot the Blue Lion. Amidst the team's clashes with Lotor, Shiro returns, but with no idea as to what happened to him, and without the ability to pilot the Black Lion.
So, overall I did really enjoy this series. It's fun, pretty well-animated, arguably more focused than either of the two series preceding it, and it gives us a really cool backstory episode regarding Zarkon, Haggar, and Alfor that sort of kind of semi-confirms my theory of there being some greater threat (although I theorised that the Galra Empire was acting against it, rather than what seems to be the case, that they're somehow influencing Zarkon and Haggar).
Lotor's established early on (far earlier than Zarkon) as a formidable villain with a pretty delightful miniboss squad; there's some cool exploration of the nature of evil; and the main character conflict hinging on Keith's ability to lead was a good idea, with Keith having to undergo some pretty sharp character development to become more leader-y, and with that conflict also pushing for character development from both Allura and Lance (although Pidge and Hunk get shortchanged, as ever).
Certainly, the character conflict was handled better than it was in series two, where we had such gems as 'Keith discovers he's part-Galra and then we never see anybody's reaction to it except Hunk and Allura's' and 'Lance has self-esteem problems and then a stray comment from Shiro fixes it.'
I profess, I don't like the idea of lion sharing. It makes me oddly uncomfortable, not least because nobody's changed their outfit colours, so now half of them don't match and half of them do. It's very upsetting.
Anyway, having complimented this series, let's talk about my biggest bugbear with it: The conflict between 'it's the first half of a story arc' and 'it has to be a story arc in and of itself, to stand on its own as a complete series.'
Left to breathe as the first half of a fifteen or sixteen episode series, we could have gotten more time focusing on Keith and the others trying to adapt to the status quo, more time on them clashing with Lotor (who seems to be Keith's personal villain, just as Zarkon is Shiro's, and Haggar is Allura's), and maybe even some more light-hearted episodes. We could have had Shiro not appear until the end of episode eight, and had the latter half of the series focused on reintegrating him back into the group (or discovering he's a secret clone, whatever).
Caught in the weird liminal space of being both its own series and half a series, though, the demands on it change completely -- Shiro has to come back with enough episodes for him not to feel like a cameo, because otherwise you have a whole series without one of your main characters; the team has to have a climactic battle with Lotor that they come out of at least semi-victorious, to cap off the story (leaving the last episode, the flashback one, feeling sort of dangling and out of place); there has to be some sense of resolution.
That sense of resolution is missing from the series (as it was from the first one), and moreover, the necessity to have Shiro return and to have some kind of victory against Lotor means that the series feels quite rushed. We don't have time to fully explore Keith adjusting to leadership, or the team adjusting to his leadership, because we have to hit those essential plot notes that are necessary for the series to stand on its own.
Still, we don't have to wait long to see the rest of this arc, as series four is slated to come out later this year, at which point we'll all discover whether or not Shiro's a clone, and presumably everyone will get outfits in the correct colours and we can all breathe a collective sigh of relief. Also, maybe we'll get some robeast battles, because I miss those.