Welcome back to Voice Acting Analysis, everyone! Today we’re looking at the recently released Voltron: Legendary Defender, a spectacular reboot of the admittedly cut-and-paste 80s series about giant lion robots who kick lots of ass. It’s gotten quite a large fanbase already thanks to its clever, insightful writing of lovable characters, gorgeous animation from Studio Mir (The Legend of Korra), and a top-tier voice cast. Top to bottom, I can’t think of a weak link. Today I’ll be looking at a relatively isolated episode to more fully dig into the cast from a general sense and in both this specific story, which is quite excellent.
Summary: The Voltron crew is attempting to get information out of their captured prisoner, the Galran commander Sendak, through a link with a Galra crystal he brought aboard. However, strange things begin happening in the castle, and the question of what is real and what isn’t may have deadly consequences…..
Josh Keaton (Takashi “Shiro” Shirogane)-More than a few people have wryly commented that this isn’t the first time Josh has played a “space dad” to a bunch of misfits, having been Hal Jordan in that capacity on the late, lamented Green Lantern: The Animated Series (why no, I’m not still bitter). But Shiro is a distinctly different character from Hal in a number of ways. Hal was an adult who had major responsibilities, but you were never in doubt that he would be able to handle them mostly maturely. Shiro, by contrast, is the survivor of an alien abduction on the Kerberos space mission, tortured and experimented on and forced to fight for a year before escaping somehow (there’s a lot of mystery to his character, let’s just say), having to try and remember a lot of it. But he’s also a mentor figure to this ragtag crew, trying to hold them together and be an inspiration. And he is that, Josh doing a smooth “leader” voice like he often does that works rather wonderfully for taking command and encouraging his team, as well as a certain geeky enthusiasm at points. But Shiro is clearly still heavily impacted by his time abroad, with some pretty major PTSD issues; it’s tough to say how much of his leaderly skills are him trying to keep things together in his own head to try and act like everything is okay when it’s clearly not. Nowhere is that shown better than here. In a confrontation with Sendak (who may or may not actually be speaking to him psychically), Josh adopts a panicked, paranoid fervor as the commander taunts him about being a supposed monster, finally escalating into a frightened “STOP IT!” It’s stellar work in a tense scene.
Steven Yeun (Keith)-Steven, known primarily for shows like The Walking Dead, made his voice acting debut on Korra as the first Avatar, Wan, and did an excellent job there, playing the role with lots of heart and humor. Keith is a bit of a shift in terms of personality. He’s quiet. Terse. Rough. Doesn’t suffer fools gladly. And Steven does a fantastic job with all of that; those characters are often hard to play, but he finds the humanity in Keith’s exasperation (especially my favorite line delivery in the entire season: “We had a bonding moment! I cradled you in my arms!”), fear/confusion, and even some honest laughs. He doesn’t get a whole lot to play around with here, but he does nicely with material like insulting Lance’s intelligence, impatience at how long it’s taking to extract info, being alarmed at the training robot suddenly trying to murder him, and comparing notes with Lance on what the castle’s been doing.
Jeremy Shada (Lance)-It’s aaaaaadventure time! Joking aside, Jeremy plays Lance in some very different and fun ways from his most famous role as Finn on that particular Cartoon Network show. Lance is a lot more openly gregarious and flirtatious than Finn often is, and puberty has added an additional slice of fun to Jeremy’s voice and performing style. As a result, Lance is sort of the designated comedy punch-up character, though the great thing about the show is that everyone gets to be funny in their own ways. His flirting frequently sucks/gets him into trouble and his comebacks are lame. But Lance does deserve to be a paladin, and Jeremy has a wonderful sincerity to his performance as well that makes the rough edges of the character more palatable. This episode is largely a comedy highlight for him, screaming in terror and being quite Done with the state of the castle trying to kill them, but there’s still a great little sincere moment where he thinks Coran is in trouble and tries to help him (it’s the castle imitating Coran’s voice, but A for effort, Lance).
Tyler Labine (Hunk)-Mostly a live action actor in Canadian/co-Canadian productions, Tyler’s had a few voice acting gigs here and there (such as an enthusiastic sports announcer type in Monsters University), but this is easily his best thus far. He’s got a nicely rough, cheery voice, and the sensitive yet canny Hunk is a good match for it, in both moments like when he’s complaining about possibly throwing up, when he’s discovering just how important it is that they fight, or explaining why he suspected two bounty hunters as being liars from the start. His work here is pretty much all comedy-based, bemoaning goo food trying to kill them or insisting that he not kick Pidge because of a misunderstanding, but it’s all delivered with great aplomb.
Bex Taylor-Klaus (Pidge)-There’s a bit of a twist with this version of Pidge, traditionally depicted as male (most hilariously in the original 80s English version, where the character has what is best described as a chain-smoking Muppet voice) which has led to all manner of speculation and headcanons. Turns out this version is, at this point (using “she” pronouns for the moment myself), a girl, having dressed as male to go undercover at the Garrison to try and find out what happened to her brother and father, who were on the Kerberos mission with Shiro. I think I can say that Bex, primarily known for appearing on series such as Arrow, IZombie, and the Scream show on MTV, makes one of the best VA debuts I’ve heard in ages. She’s got a lovely mixture of high and low tones to her voice, and is brilliant from the first moment, capturing all the smarts, sardonic humor, rage, and sensitivity of the character wonderfully. It’s no wonder Pidge is such a fan favorite, frankly. She gets some pretty fun stuff to do here dealing with the castle attempting to inconvenience or murder them all, including possibly my favorite Pidge line of the entire series: “Curse my short arms!”
Kimberly Brooks (Princess Allura)-I was both surprised and pleased when I heard about this casting. Usually this kind of role goes to your Tara Strongs, your Grey DeLisles, your Jennifer Hales. Kimberly is an absolutely wonderful, but I’d honestly say vastly underappreciated black VA who’s been putting in consistently great work for years on shows like Scooby-Doo, Doc McStuffins, and Steven Universe, and in games like Mass Effect or the Arkham series where she’s Barbara Gordon/Oracle. For her to get a role like this is fantastic. And Allura is a terrific character on top of it, a princess who has a rich emotional inner life and range as well as getting to really kick some ass. Kimberly adopts a pseudo-British accent for the role, and while one can occasionally hear her slip, it adds a real distinct flavor to the performance in both dramatics and occasional comedy. She gets probably the most meat of the episode since the climax involves shutting down the AI of the castle-ship, which has become corrupted and is about to kill them all….but it contains all her father’s uploaded memories and personality. While most of this heartbreaking decision is shown through gorgeous, saddening visuals, Kimberly absolutely nails the tearful goodbye. Next to Bex, it’s my favorite performance of the episodes and probably the series.
Rhys Darby (Coran)-A New Zealand-born comedian and actor, Rhys is probably best known for projects like HBO’s Flight of the Conchords. Not having seen that, I can only speak to my experience of his presence here, and what a delightful one it is. Coran is one of those interesting combinations of a prim-and-proper military attitude with a skewed, overreacting way of looking at the world. Rhys, with his genuine Kiwi accent adding a flavor much like Brooks’ faux-Britishness, manages to do this high-wire act while making it seem almost effortless. He can snap into or out of all-business, nutty, oddly sincere, or sometimes all three at once. Coran has some fun stuff here, like blathering on about old times (he does this a lot) and then attempting to explain to a skeptical Lance why the castle couldn’t be haunted because it has strange mystical properties that they’ll never fully understand…which he realizes DOES make it sound haunted. He also gets some wonderful moments of sincerity and urgency as he tries to snap Allura out of her trance to realize that Alfor’s corrupted AI has tricked her.
Jake Eberle (Sendak)-Jake is an actor who dabbles in a lot of different types of things; outside of his voice acting, he’s probably best known as a sound editor. For Sendak, he adopts a tough, gruff voice that’s well-suited for his brand of villainy in the early episodes as a sort of mid-boss the paladins have to deal with. He gets some really interesting notes to play here, though, taunting Shiro about his supposed weakness and the terrible things he did during his time fighting as a gladiator for the Galra. It’s really eerie and unsettling, with Jake bringing a gloating menace full-force.
Keith Ferguson (King Alfor)-A lot of the additional voices in the series don’t get credited, sadly, although some are fairly easy to pick out due to their prominence (Norman Reedus and Lacey Chabert as the aforementioned bounty hunters, for instance). Keith is fairly consistent as an additional voice in the series, and Alfor certainly sounds like he COULD be him (as does the Garrison commander in the early episodes), so we’ll go with that for now. Keith has been around for a while, first coming into prominence as Bloo in Foster’s Home For Imaginary Friends and having done a little bit of everything since (currently he’s Reaper in Overwatch). He adopts a kingly, regal voice similar to Allura’s accent for Alfor, but the nice thing here is that with the corrupted AI, he gets to put a different spin on things (after displaying the regular attitude in the opening scene with them conversing). What’s curious is that outside of one moment of anger towards the other paladins as he tells them to get away from Allura, there’s not anything directly sinister about his performance. It’s just….off. Creepy. Not like Alfor (as Allura says as the episode closes). Very impressive, eerie work.
That’s all for Voltron for now. Next time….well, honestly having a bit of trouble figuring that out. So let’s just say it’ll be a surprise.