We’re in a weird time in pop culture where the desire to relive nostalgic properties is at an all-time high, but the scrutiny over any remake/reboot/reimagining is equally high. Nobody wants their beloved titles to be changed for the worse, but they still want to see them done in some new fashion. It’s a delicate balance to strike, which Lauren Montgomery and Joaquim dos Santos know all too well. They’re the team behind Netflix and DreamWorks Animation’s Voltron Legendary Defender, which premieres on the streaming site on Friday, June 10. Nerdist sat down with Montgomery and dos Santos to discuss carrying out Voltron’s legacy.
The original Voltron series ran from 1984-1985 and was itself a re-dubbed (and largely re-written) take on two separate anime: Beast King GoLion for season 1 and Armored Fleet Dairugger XV for season 2. The two creators of the new incarnation of Voltron said the goal in bringing the show back was to heighten the strengths while downplaying the weaknesses. “We remember what we loved about the original show, which was the fun, the colors—the brightly colored lions, the characters with their corresponding colors,” said Montgomery. “When you go back and watch it, it feels a little thin in the character development portion, and even some of the stakes and the fights get a little repetitive.”
But they also couldn’t just do a direct version of the Japanese original, because the content got a little too heavy for kids. “We went back and we also watched the original show that it came from, GoLion,” Montgomery continued, “which has a very deep story, but it also goes, like, really far into some crazy dark territory… maybe a little too far.” Though Montgomery didn’t get into specifics here, one such example of GoLion potentially crossing the line may be the ritual rape of women by the criminal leaders of the Galra Empire, including big bad Emperor Daibazaal.
Dos Santos adds, “It was definitely inappropriate in the ’80s and still bordering pretty sharply on inappropriate.”
While they couldn’t touch on a lot of the story of the original anime, Montgomery shared what they took was a deep sense of mythos and legend, hence the title. “[It had] a sense of drama and a sense of stakes,” she continued. “And so we choose the things that resonated with us the most from each thing. The stuff that we remembered as a kid which was the teamwork, the big space opera feel. The mixture of science and magic and the King Arthur take on the whole era. [We are] just bringing what we want to bring to it, which is the deeper storytelling and just fleshing the world out and fleshing the characters out.”
They also had to remember that even though the original series may not hold up very well on rewatch, it held up perfectly fine through the eyes of a little kid. “Your child brain fills in a lot of the gaps that weren’t there originally,” dos Santos recounts. “So I remember these high drama moments and then we would go back and watch it… It was reedited and redubbed and a lot of the themes were kind of dumbed down. It wasn’t there. And you’d go to the play yard and you’d play all those moments out. So for us, this was a chance to build all those moments that your child brain had filled in over the course of that time.”
The look of this new series is also a highlight for fans. Montgomery and dos Santos both came from Nickelodeon’s The Legend of Korra, and that show’s reverence to Japanese-style animation continues big time in Voltron. “We had nostalgia for the original series and the fact that it itself is from Japan. It’s anime, our roots are in anime. We grew up loving it, so a lot of what anime is, it’s part of us as artists,” explained Montgomery.
The style of Voltron is definitely more angular and a tad exaggerated, which is a bit different from their other shows, as dos Santos explained. “Korra and Avatar, to a lesser extent, were really figurative and felt almost real world at times,” he explained. “We went into this one wanting to push some of the character proportions and it played into our characters supervisor’s aesthetics. She definitely likes those sort of longer, funnier, more playful characters so it all kind of worked out that way. I think we’re more in accordance with like a Lupin the Third.”
One thing fans will probably notice right away is that the titular Voltron does not appear in every episode. This was a calculated move on the part of the creators so it didn’t become like Power Rangers, where every episode ends with the Megazord. “We just didn’t want end up with that rinse-and-repeat Robeast,” Montgomery explained. “It’s the same-battle-every-time situation that’s kind of happening in the original. Voltron only needs to come out for the most massive of threats. We have these really incredible lions that can do really incredible things, so there are some fights that the lions can handle on their own, and there are some times we want to focus on our characters.”
The characters really do stand out when you watch this series. Each of the five pilots could easily be the lead of their own show, and yet they’re all existing in the same show. “It was definitely our goal to make characters that were strong enough on their own,” said Montgomery, “that each character could be someone’s favorite. Not everyone’s immediately going to gravitate towards the head, the leader. Which was just standard in a lot of the shows I watched when I was young. It was like everyone beelined for that main character, everything revolved around them and a lot of the side characters ended up feeling very side-charactery.”
These elements aren’t simply left up to the writing, though, as dos Santos explained. “The actors kind of bring that. Their performances come across as so genuine that you are intrigued by Huck’s story, you’re intrigued by Pidge’s story. We’ve gone to lengths to make sure the team aspect. It’s cheesy, but you need a leg in order to have Voltron, so the leg’s just as important as the center piece. So I think that same thing carries through with the characters.”
And if you’re worried that all of this character drama is going to get in the way of the action, fear not. “We’ve got really cool action,” said dos Santos. “We come from shows that were really reliant on martial arts action and stuff like that. It’s not that our characters are doing martial arts stuff all the time, but there is a bunch of cool action staging to be done that’s not necessarily Voltron related. It means more when they finally make it to Voltron. It means the big stuff is about to happen.”
You can find out what big stuff is happening when the first season of Voltron Legendary Defender drops on Netflix beginning Friday, June 10. Let us know your thoughts on the new series in the comments below!
Kyle Anderson is the Associate Editor for Nerdist and loves animation more than most people he’s met. Follow him on Twitter!