I am going to talk about major plot points in the first season of Voltron: Legendary Defender. If you haven’t seen it yet and you don’t want to have the storyline spoiled for you don’t read this. (Actually, if you haven’t see it yet, you should just stop what you’re doing and go watch it. Seriously. Right now. Go on. And then come back here and we can discuss further.)
Did you watch Voltron as a kid? I did. I loved it. It rated somewhere in the “not as good as Battle of the Planets or Thundercats but way WAY better than She-Ra” spectrum of things. I have fond, if somewhat hazy memories of the show, and of playing with my cousin’s robot lions, which I coveted.
So when Netflix announced a new Voltron cartoon would be coming out I was intrigued, but I’m going to be honest and say I wasn’t expecting much. Something flashy with lots of computer generated animation, formula plots, monster of the week type stuff, nothing deep, nothing special. Still I would line up to take a peek, to satiate my inner kid, and to see if it whether or not it was a show that I wanted my children to watch.
When I was a kid I wanted to be Princess Allura, the pilot of the Blue Lion. A princess that got to pilot a giant robot? Could there be anything cooler? I watched the trailer for the new series and there was no sign of a princess in a pink jumpsuit. Was there no girl pilot in this version of the show? Bah. That would be disappointing.
Ok, well, let’s see, originally Sven piloted the Blue Lion until he got injured, that’s when Allura took over. Maybe that’s where they were heading with this. Maybe Shiro, as they were calling the Black Lion’s pilot in this version, would be injured at some point and Allura would step in.
Or maybe…. Well, I had noticed that the voice for Pidge was being provided by Bex Taylor-Klaus. Did that mean Pidge was a girl? I carefully rewatched the trailer for any clues, hoping that the green pilot might turn out to be female. I’m not sure why it mattered to me so much, but it mattered. I wanted there to be a female pilot in the show darn it!
When Voltron finally hit Netflix in June I didn’t watch it right away. At some point hubby started watching it with the six year old, and he mentioned to me that it was surprisingly good, so I bumped it to the top of The List of Things I Must Watch With The Kids.
Watching the pilot episode confirmed my suspicions; Pidge was a guy and the only female in the show was Princess Allura. Still, hubby was right, the show was good, really quite good. Also my daughters loved it, and begged to watch more. So over the next few days we did, and damn, if it didn’t just keep getting better.
By episode two I had an inkling that there might be more to the character of Pidge than there originally seemed. When Shiro made the big reveal at the end of episode three it went right over my daughters’ heads. They didn’t even notice. However when we sat down and watched the fourth episode, The Fall of the Castle of Lions, they literally cheered when they realized that Pidge was a girl. “She is the best! She is SO BRAVE. Do you think she’ll save her dad?” By the time we got to learn about her backstory in episode five, my kids couldn’t stop talking about Pidge. They wanted to run straight to their father and tell him all about it, because discovering Pidge was actually female was apparently one of the most exciting things that happened all Summer. (Hubby hadn’t watched the series past the pilot yet so the conversation kept getting cut off with “NO SPOILERS!)”
Overall Voltron: Legendary Defender has given me so much more than I expected from a Voltron reboot. First the animation is fantastic. They kept the obvious CG scenes to a minimum, and it has a great anime look to it. Secondly the voice acting is fantastic, definitely way above and beyond what you expect to find in “some kid’s show”. Third, the writing is fantastic. It rises way above the original series that it was based off of. This is not just a monster of the week show. It’s not simply formula TV; find the bad guy, form Voltron and beat the bad guy. Though I will admit nostalgia would have driven me to line up to watch a monster of the week show. This is so much more than that.
There is humour here, and not just the sight gags and body function based humour that makes my kids giggle. There are moments when Hunk is downright hilarious. Moments when the obvious “comic relief” character, Coran, made me laugh out loud.
There is an ongoing story here, parts of which are darker in nature. Shiro’s experiences as a captor of the Galra have left him suffering from a degree of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Princess Allura, last known female survivor of an alien race, misses her home planet (which was destroyed) and her father (who is long deceased). While it’s revealed that Pidge, disguised as a boy, became a Galaxy Garrison cadet as part of her search for her missing father and brother.
While the show itself is so much more than I expected from a reboot of some 80s kids cartoon, Pidge herself is also so much more than I expected to find in the way of female characters. I wanted a female pilot. I wanted someone my girls could relate to, as I used to pretend play at being Princess Allura all those years ago. Instead they gave us Pidge, who is so much MORE than just some token female. Pidge is a technical genius, she’s also brave, curious, and a hard worker who fights for what she believes in. While all of that makes me like Pidge as a role model for my young girls, what really touches me is how much my kids identify with her. They ADORE this character. They want to be Katie Holt.
I feel that I should mention that Princess Allura is also no pushover in this version of Voltron. She definitely breaks the damsel in distress mold. Her grief over losing her father and her entire planet is touching, but she also moves beyond it. She is the leader of the group. She pilots the castle. She takes an active role. At one point she makes the decision to drain herself to heal the Balmeran. Later in the series she disguises herself as a Galran soldier in an attempt to infiltrate one of their ships. But the truth is, my kids didn’t care for her one way or another. All of their wide eyed admiration is focused on Pidge.
I have read some articles online about how Pidge’s character is a huge step for visibility of transgendered people in television shows. I’m all for LGBT visibility in entertainment. I don’t find the idea off putting at all. However for me making Pidge out to be transgendered reduces her somehow. I feel like it’s as if they’re saying it’s okay that she loves gadgets, is a tech wiz and pilots a giant robot, because she’s not “really” a girl.
A key point here is Katie didn’t disguise herself as Pidge because she wanted to join the Galaxy Garrison. She disguised herself as Pidge because she had already got kicked out of the Garrison for trying to hack their computers. She didn’t swap genders because the Galaxy Garrison doesn’t accept female applicants, but because she wanted to go undercover and find out more about her missing family. She doesn’t start pretending to be a boy because she identifies as a male, she does it because she thinks it makes her less likely to be discovered and kicked out again.
I loved the plot twist when they revealed that Pidge was a girl. I loved her backstory. But even more so I loved how all the other characters reacted as if it were no big deal, and how they went on to treat her the same in the remaining episodes of the season. My kids picked up on that too. Being a female pilot was no big deal. Being a girl who was also the techie genius was no big deal. Being a girl who single handedly fights off four Galran soldiers was no big deal. Girls rock just as much as guys, no big deal.
Overall, my spoiler laden point is twofold:
First, if you have been dismissing Voltron and haven’t watched it because it’s “just a kids show” I think you are making a mistake. If you are normally open to the idea of watching anime or other cartoons that are aimed at an audience beyond young children, you’ll probably enjoy this series.
Secondly, if you have been dismissing Voltron as a show that is “just for boys” I think you are making a mistake. Voltron is for girls. Well, no, that’s not true. It’s for all kids, big and small, who enjoy watching a well animated giant robot series with an actual storyline. However, there is plenty here, in the characters of Allura and particularly Pidge, for young girls to relate to, and for parents of young girls to find admirable.
So what about you folks? Have you watched Voltron: Legendary Defender yet? What did you think of it? Do your kids love this series as much as mine do? Are there any other Pidge fans out there?
|Disclosure: I am a member of the Netflix #StreamTeam, and as such I will be providing thoughts and suggestions about what’s currently showing on Netflix. As always my words and opinions are my own.