The showrunners behind Voltron: Legendary Defender have chosen not to rock the boat too hard when developing their second season in terms of the show’s tone. There’s still an equal mix of action, drama that never degrades into senseless angsting or becomes too grim, and humor that doesn’t undercut the situation. Where it does differ from the first is how much depth it’s willing to give the cast. It’s remarkable how balanced this show is and the variety of things it pulls off successfully.
An ongoing plot point this season involves the Galra’s uncanny ability to track our heroes, and what- or who- exactly could be responsible. Though there are some consistent key elements in a few Voltron episodes that include the paladins adapting to the various alien cultures, and the conflicts- both Galra involved and otherwise- having some sort of unforeseen twist that inevitably requires them to form Voltron, but still calls on the team to use different tactics.
The character growth feels believable, but the cast remains appealing even as they make mistakes and learn. Bex Taylor-Klaus’s Pidge geeking out over the various alien technology is incredibly cute- in one episode she is clearly having trouble understanding her connection to nature, but it’s also obvious she’s genuinely fascinated by the potential that it entails. A lesser show would have made her overly snobbish, but Pidge never loses that inner sweetness.
Shiro- A.K.A “Space Dad”- is really great this season. His empathy and patience are two of his most (and many) admirable traits, but thanks to some strong writing and Josh Keaton’s good voice acting, he never falls into the flawless, generic leader archetype. Occasionally he does have his breaking points like when he rescues a whiny alien from an intergalactic prison, and also moments of weakness and growth alongside the other paladins- particularly in his struggle with keeping control over his Black Lion.
Keith was typecast as something of a temperamental hothead in the first season, and now he’s allowed to move beyond that. This time he has an especially good storyline where he tries to understand how a strange dagger relates to his upbringing, resulting in some unexpectedly heartfelt scenes. You can hear in Stephen Yuen’s performance how concerned Keith is about Shiro himself, as well as his questionable plan when he rescues Ulaz, a renegade Galra soldier.
I loved the subplot about Shiro wanting to make Keith the team leader if the worst ever happened. Keith always has this heartbreaking expression whenever the matter is brought up, one of many small moments that reflect on how the crew has become a surrogate family for each other.
Eventually, he begins to wonder about other Galra opposing Zarkon, while Princess Allura is a skeptic who, through her life experiences, is decidely prejudiced towards the Galra. Thankfully she also evolves over the new thirteen episodes and becomes even stronger, and Kimberly Brooks keeps her likable throughout.
When there’s tension between the cast, it never becomes to where they feel out-of-character, or de-evolve into coming off like jerks. The connection between them is evident, they’re aware there’s too much at stake for them to be constantly squabbling. Even the rivalry between Lance and Keith is more lighthearted than anything.
Rhys Darby’s Coran (Coran the gorgeous man) remains mostly a comedy relief character, with some funny physical gags on display throughout, especially when he aids the team in a wormhole jump to escape Zarkon’s ship. As is the same with the show as a whole, much of his humor can be rather subversive, such as when he suits up the team in space-pirate gear for a visit to the newly gentrified and cleaned up version of what he remembered as a deadly raider outpost.
But much like Tyler Labine’s food loving Hunk, he’s still nevertheless a knowledgeable and vital member of the team, as opposed to many joke characters in action shows that feel like hanger-ons. Jeremy Shada’s Lance eventually begins to have doubts regarding his worth to the team, but he goes on as well to have standout moments. In fact, Shada lends the same kind of gregariousness and energy to Lance as he does with Finn the Human.
Neil Kaplan’s Zarkon is in many respects kind of a basic villain, but he’s still allowed to be considerably cruel within the boundaries of Voltron’s target audience, and his frustration over not being able to regain control of the ancient mech is fun to watch- not to mention he has some surprises of his own up his sleeve that could also make for some cool toy designs. I also enjoyed Cree Summer a lot as Zarkon’s right-hand sorcerer Haggar, who tries unsuccessfully to get the evil emperor to be more patient.
I can’t help but constantly be impressed by Defender’s attention to detail, not just in terms of story and character development, but also the visuals from Studio Mir. On top of having an appealing art direction that merges Western ideas with anime influence, the fight scenes and space battles remain as striking and colorful as ever- many of them are great works of art in their own right. The Xanthorium clusters are gorgeous- how does one make a deadly, explosive asteroid field elegant looking and aesthetically pleasing?
Capped off by a season finale that ups the stakes and ends with an intriguing cliffhanger, Voltron: Legendary Defender’s second arc seamlessly picks up where its predecessor left off in telling an entertaining, family-friendly space opera story. There are some sly references to the 1980’s series that pop up in the climax, as well as throughout the entire season. It’s only appropriate for a show that works so hard to capture what was so good about the original, all while pushing the property into a fresh creative direction. Easily recommended.