*WARNING: THE FOLLOWING ARTICLE CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS FOR VOLTRON: LEGENDARY DEFENDER*

On January 20, 2017, Netflix welcomed back VOLTRON: LEGENDARY DEFENDER for its much anticipated second season! For those who don’t know, VOLTRON is the fourth incarnation of the original 1984 show VOLTRON: DEFENDER OF THE UNIVERSE. All of the stories follow the same basic premise: the universe is being conquered and destroyed by the Galra Empire and the only thing that can stop the Empire is a giant robot called Voltron. The robot is made up of five color-coded lion mechas; robots piloted by the Paladins of Voltron.

In the current version of the story, King Alfor of the planet Altea originally possessed the legendary defender. However, at the peak of the war, he hid it away along with his daughter, Allura, to keep it out of hands of Zarkon, the Galran Emperor. Ten thousand years later, a new group of pilots from Earth discover the lions and become the new paladins of Voltron. Three of them, Lance, Pidge, and Hunk, are cadets from Galaxy Garrison, a space pilot program. The fourth, Keith, is an ex-cadet from the same academy. The last one, and leader of the group is Shiro, an astronaut who had gone missing on a mission to Pluto (and was presumed dead).

Voltron Team
The team of Voltron! Top left: Keith, bottom left: Lance, center: Shiro, top right: Pidge, bottom right: Hunk

 

Readers can find more information on the first season in my previous article if they’re interested. I’ve already praised VOLTRON for its work in bolstering its female characters and not succumbing to boring stereotypes, but let’s go on about its successes! Admittedly, the series can feel too fast-paced the way it is almost laser-focused on the main battle with the Galra Empire, however, it still handles complex issues that fans can relate to in real life. Here are some of the main points that are highlighted in season 2!

Gender Roles

Even though the main cast is mostly male, the production team takes every chance to support or introduce important female characters. For example, season 2 episode 2 “The Depths” features an underwater village headed by matriarch Queen Luxia as well as female rebel leader Plaxum. It’s this consistent inclusion of female characters that makes the series so enjoyable. However, this article will focus on the show’s main protagonists.

READ: Interested in LGBT+ representation in video games? Check out this article!

Princess Allura

Most of what VOLTRON does well as a series is very subtle, yet constant. Allura’s design, as stated in my previous article, is an effortless change that can have an incredible impact on dark-skinned women everywhere. Aside from that, season 2 particularly features Allura’s physical strength and abilities as a fighter. In “Across the Universe”, Allura and Coran get caught in a wormhole time loop that keeps de-aging Coran. At one point, he becomes an infant, and with one more jump, he would blip out of existence. Allura cradles him, desperately searching for a solution. Once she manages to free them from the loop, Coran suddenly grows back into a full adult, still cradled in Allura’s arms.

Aww she’s carrying baby Coran… or not.

The usual running gag would probably have Allura flustered and straining to hold him up, but no such thing happens here. The audience is reminded that Allura is a powerful woman and could easily toss a full-grown adult over her shoulder if she needed to.

For most of the season, Allura is reinforced as the distant commander in chief, providing tactical backup from the main ship. This is not exactly a fault, since the bulk of her character building took place during season 1, and season 2 focuses on the others’ character arcs. However, during the climax of the season, Allura is shown fighting on the front lines against Galran mages and Hagar, Zarkon’s trusted companion and witch.

Allura kicking some ass!

Sometimes the best thing that shows or creators can do is normalize strong female characters. Obvious subversion of stereotypes can end up reinforcing the idea that characters who deviate from the norm are the minority. When shows represent unique and subversive characters in a casual way, they can slowly challenge people to reconsider what “normal” really is.

Pidge

In season 1, it was revealed that Pidge was actually born a girl named Katie Holt. We can safely assume that this implies her biological sex is female. Since she announced herself as a girl to the team, we can also assume that female pronouns are likely okay to use. Pidge is another great addition to the cast of female characters, since her gender reveal is taken pretty smoothly, and she doesn’t dress or behave any differently as a result. She is still the team’s resident smarty-pants and tech wizard, and her role as a paladin and front-line fighter is never undermined.

CLICK: How do the video game industry and Native American representation work together? Read about it here!

That being said, the writers of VOLTRON subtly imply that Pidge’s gender is not as concrete as we might think. Yes, she declared that for the most of her life she was considered a girl. However, it is very possible she became comfortable with a masculine, or androgynous presentation. In “Space Mall” we get a funny bathroom scene where Pidge is unsure of what alien bathroom to use. While this could be seen as more of an alien dilemma than a gender dilemma, later we see Keith walking out of the blue-marked bathroom with no question. Even if Pidge’s gender is never explicitly changed or revealed, this is a clever way for the writers to represent fans who might be questioning their own identities.

Confused Pidge

Dealing with Race

Representation

The cast of VOLTRON is incredibly diverse, showcasing multiple characters of different races. We have Shiro, who is Japanese, Hunk, who is Samoan (as stated by his voice actor on Twitter), as well as Lance, who is Cuban (as confirmed by his voice actor at NYCC last October). In general, the racial representation is great for the same reasons Allura’s redesign is great; viewers and fans that usually don’t get represented can connect more with these characters. While the show doesn’t call any of the characters’ human races into question, the second season presents an interesting equivalent that is all too familiar to many people in real life.

READ: What’s the deal with protagonists being bad dads? Read Brian Long’s article to find out!

Prejudice

Here comes season 2’s major spoiler, so watch out! Fans have suspected Keith’s family origins since season 1, but now, they’re confirmed. In season 2, episode 8, Keith and Shiro go on a diplomatic mission to the rebel group, the Blade of Mamora. The Blade of Mamora is made up of defectors from the Galra Empire.

Keith has a knife from his childhood with the rebel group’s symbol on it, and demands answers. He is put through a grueling trial where he fights soldier after soldier until he figures out the trick to the test. Soon, he is able to  “awaken” the blade, proving that he has Galra blood in his veins. The episode strongly implies that he gets his alien heritage from his mother’s side, but whether his mother was full Galra is left unclear.

Keith enduring the trial

Once the paladins and Allura become aware of Keith’s heritage, they have a noticeably different reaction to him. When Hunk and Keith go on a mission to retrieve crystals to fix the wormhole generator, Hunk makes all sorts of commentary on Keith’s newfound identity. While Hunk is labeled the “kindest” of the group, what he says can be recognized as familiar microaggressions. He complains about being sent on “the worst jobs,” for example, “going to a Galra-occupied planet to get [his] lion, going to a Galra-occupied Balmera to get a crystal, going into the belly of a beast with the only Galra alien team member…”

Allura is openly cold to Keith and refuses to even speak with him after learning he is part Galra. She even praises Hunk alone on completing the mission that both he and Keith went on. When Hunk mentions Keith also helped, she ignores him. Since the Galra Empire is obviously the big bad enemy that the Paladins and Allura are facing, it’s not hard to understand the team’s apprehension. Allura’s entire planet was wiped out in this war. She lost everything to the relentless Galra Empire.

LOOK: Read Madeleine Slade’s article on autism and infantilization in video games here!

That being said, it’s unreasonable for the team to cast these views onto Keith, who was never raised in the Galra Empire (or even by his own birth parents it seems). Hunk continuously asks Keith about “his society” and any newfound knowledge that Keith would have no knowledge of just because he is part Galra. This is an obvious parallel to the microaggressions and prejudice people face in reality all the time. It doesn’t only come from strangers; it can come from close friends and family, even the kindest ones.

It’s Complicated

In the end, the team and Allura are able to move on from Keith’s revealed heritage. Allura admits that she wanted to hate him, but realized she was in the wrong. This is a great, and pretty ideal resolution to many of the parallels we have in real life. These aspects of representation can really uplift older fans who are used to a lack of it. On the other hand, hopefully these parables in VOLTRON will make a strong imprint on the children the show targets, and raise a new generation with broader and more accepting outlooks on people and society.

2 Comments

  1. LF

    February 2, 2017 at 12:40 am

    This so far is an excellent series. My one issue with this series is that they turned Hunk into a punk. The Hunk from the original series, though kind and big-hearted, never backed down from a fight. He was a tough, bold, plain-spoken guy who was protective of the other Voltron characters particularly Pidge and Allura. This iteration of Hunk is fearful and a source of comic relief.

    I loved your analysis on Keith

    Reply

  2. VLD

    February 1, 2017 at 9:11 am

    Lance’s VA confirmed Lance is Cuban back in October.

    Reply

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