Voltron: Legendary Defender earned quite a bit of credit in its first season for having a continuous, serialized plot that delved into important topics like gender and acceptance. The series took quite a few chances on beloved characters from the 1980s cartoon series Voltron: Defender of the Universe, and in the end, it worked out in the team’s favor.
In an interview with Polygon ahead of the show’s second season debut, executive producers Joaquim Dos Santos and Lauren Montgomery said the show that exists right now couldn’t have without Netflix’s support. Voltron: Legendary Defender follows five space pilots — Shiro, Keith, Lance, Pidge, and Hunk — who get caught up in the war against Emperor Zarkon in the Galran War. When they meet Princess Allura, they become Paladins and reunite the five Lions to become Voltron, a 100m tall robot warrior.
[Warning: There will be major spoilers for Voltron’s first season, and minor spoilers for the second.]
Having a serialized cartoon show can be a hard sell for most broadcast audiences because of the nature audiences tend to watch them, Montgomery and Dos Santos said, adding that it’s much easier to sell episodic cartoon series to other networks.
“Had it been a another situation on another network, it wouldn’t have been a weekly sort of thing,” Montgomery said. “It would have been significantly less serialized if serialized at all. We wouldn't want to be able to take an kind of major risks, and there are a few episodes that may have been killed. Networks might say, ‘There's not enough Voltron, not enough Lions. That's not what we're paying for.’ Having Netflix as a platform, it allows the show to have the voice that it has.”
Dos Santos agreed, adding Netflix was the optimal platform for the type of series they wanted to make. Although the show definitely pays homage to the original series from the ‘80s, there are enough differences and advancements that it stands on its own two feet. Dos Santos said although they’re always worried about how fans may react to certain narrative decisions, he and Montgomery were making the version of the show that they always wanted to.
“It definitely helps that people know what this version of Voltron is now and not have to adhere to the source material,” Dos Santos said. “There's still a ton we can mine from the original series if we want to, but we don’t feel like we need to.”
Dos Santos said that because Netflix remains relatively hands off — the only team of executives they need to show episodes to ahead of time work at DreamWorks — they can delve into the backstory of their characters. Most importantly, they can explore areas that may be considered controversial for standard cartoon series on major broadcasters, including sexuality. One of the big reveals from the show’s first season is that Pidge is a woman. It’s never questioned by her friends, and they accept it immediately, but it’s a plot arc the show could only have gotten away with on Netflix, according to Dos Santos and Montgomery.
“We can explore the personal journeys that we might not have been able to do on other networks,” Dos Santos said. “It would have just been ‘the toy show.’ They trust in the content creators and that's really nice.”
Voltron: Legendary Defender’s second season premieres on Friday, and there are quite a few questions from the first season that have been left unanswered. Most importantly: what happened to Shiro? Last season, Shiro’s fate following the climactic fight with Zarkon was left ambiguous, and when asked about it, both Montgomery and Dos Santos laughed.
“I think we can safely say that we misdirected people who were freaking out about Shiro being dead right off the bat,” Dos Santos said. “As long as people know that no one character is actually safe, that just makes the villains more scary.”
“We tried to set up a world where there would be very real consequences,” Montgomery added. “It’s what we tried to set up with our teaser. Not every trailer is 100% true. These characters, none of them are totally safe. We try to make this a situation where bad things can happen.”
As the characters head into the second season, they’ll partner up with new allies but also have to take on dangerous enemies that didn’t appear in the first season. Montgomery said the Lions would still be taking on Zarkon, but having one enemy would get pretty boring after a while. Having new enemies keeps the universe feeling like its populated and there are dangers at every corner.
In terms of what fans should expect out of the second season, both Montgomery and Dos Santos said the big theme was self-exploration. The team was going to dig into the personal backstories of these characters a little bit more, and watch them as they grow together, both as a team and individually. The first season set up the idea of the team and introduced the characters, but the second season will focus much more heavily on who these characters actually are.
“I think we try to have a good balance throughout, try to create a world as broad enough and as dramatic as it needs to be,” Dos Santos said. “We'll be exploring some of the characters backstory at length, but I don’t want to give too much away or when it will be happening.”
Voltron: Lgendary Defender’s second season will be available to stream in its entirety on Jan. 20.