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Metal Defender Lions of Voltron

Voltron: Legendary Defender
by yo go re

Long ago a mighty robot warrior, Voltron, was created to protect the galaxy from evil. Now, five young heroes must master the power of the Voltron Lions to defeat the Galra empire and restore peace!

There have been attempts before to revive Voltron, but Netflix's new Voltron: Legendary Defender is the best yet. The stories have depth, the action is great, and the characters are well-rounded. And while the show takes its cues from the '80s version, it's not afraid to twist things to keep audiences surprised (and just, y'know, to be a better, more modern show).

Playmates has the Legendary Defender license, and has made a small toyline. One that, clearly, we haven't seen fit to cover at all yet. But at SDCC this year, they debuted a set of die-cast lions, with no real information about them ahead of time - they're not an exclusive, just available there first, but you can also get a five-pack of the entire team at Target.

The Blue Lion's water powers make it a must-have for any battle, ready to kick it into high gear.

The new Voltron was created by Lauren Montgomery and Joaquim Dos Santos, who both worked on Avatar, which may explain why the Blue Lion's pilot, Lance, is basically Sokka - brash, boastful, self-aggrandizing... he just has a different haircut. The Guardian Spirit of Water is one of the medium-sized lions, and the design looks like a gray body under blue armor: there's the blue head, of course, but then a big shell around the chest and back, a plate on top of the butt, and more on the hips.

The fiery Red Lion is incredibly fast and, as the right arm of Voltron, wields the Blazing Sword!

One of the changes the new show makes to the '80s setup is that it keeps the pilots (here known as the Paladins) in the lions that match their suits - you'll remember that in the original, the red pilot, Kieth, drove the black lion, while the blue pilot, Lance, had the red. It was all very confusing, but this time the carpets match the drapes! The Guardian Sprirt of Fire is a small lion, and its armor is more rounded than the blocky blue lion's.

The leader of Voltron, the Black Lion's incredible power is known throughout the universe!

Another difference between past and present Voltrons is that Shiro didn't get his name changed to "Sven," and he didn't get put into a grave coma. The Guardian Spirit of Sky is the largest lion, even before you count the big red wings on his back! He's also got the heaviest armor, with giant pods on his shoulders, and upper legs that are fully encased rather than just shielded. His tail is different from the others', coming to more of a spear point, and his larger head allows for more details, such as the sculpted whiskers on his cheeks. Technically his golden ears should only fold up when you're going to Voltron form, but on this toy they're up permenently.

Representing the power of nature, the Green Lion guards and protects by creating Voltron's shield!

Does the Green Lion create the shield, or does it just hold the shield? Because those are two different things? It has a shield on its back, but that just stays on Voltron's shoulder while the shield is formed from Black's wings. The Guardian Spirit of the Forest is a small lion, meaning that in addition to the joints in the legs, which all the lions have, it has a spring-loaded jaw and a sideways hinge in the waist.

The Yellow Lion is the toughest and strongest lion, with powerful armor and claw attacks!

While the other lions all have squarish chins with a single bump in the center, the Guardian Spirit of Land reverses that, having a big frame with a gap in the center - in other words, a cleft chin, that trait of all fictional tough guys! Despite being the same size as the Blue Lion, Yellow's armor is heavier and more squarish, adding to the impression of strength. Both the legbots have joints in their necks that allow them to look side-to-side slightly, and all four lions' tails look like braided cables with rocket boosters on the tip.

Changing the lions to limbs is not a difficult process, but modern toymaking standards mean that it is slightly more complex than old versions. For instance, the chests on Red and Green open up, so that their forelegs don't just fold up against the body, but actually store away inside the frame in robot mode, making for a smoother look. All their tails retract into the body as well, though it's tough to make them fit, and they ended up getting scraped the first time I did it.

The assembled Voltron stands 8⅜" tall to the tips of his horns, though the wings add a bit more to that, depending on how you pose them - the back of the box shows them in a horizontal pose the toy can't actually achieve, and on the show they usually just stick straight down.

While the broad strokes of Legendary Defender's design are the same, there are definite differences. The limbs are less like boxes, and instead have a flowing, almost anatomical look to them. There's no longer red armor on the chest, having been replaced by a blue V insignia with a gold spot in the center. The black (and the gold) should continue up onto the top of the chest, rather than it just being silver, but that's hardly the only missing paint app and it's not obviously a mistake, so we can overlook it.

Voltron still has his defining feature, a lion's mouth around his head. On the old version, this ended up looking like a knight's helmet, but here, it's a tighter fit. More military, or sporting. Some future sport, where you wear a full-head helmet that hugs your face tightly. Add the fact that the Green Lion's shield moves up to become a pauldron for the big guy, and you've got a nice modern take on a classic design. While all the lions have ladders in their mouths, Black Lion just has a human face with gold eyes and blue stripes on the cheeks.

The articulation is okay, but it's not without its flaws. Voltron moves at the shoulders, biceps, elbows, wrists, hips, thighs, and knees. He's got no waist, no neck. The joints that allowed the Blue and Yellow Lions to turn their heads side-to-side function as rocker ankles here, since you can't get his legs straight up and down. The way the Red and Green Lions' rear legs fold up prevents the elbows from bending as far as they should, and the design of Blue Lion's head keeps it from bending as far up as you'd want it to (at least until the robot's weight is on it). The leg lions' legs don't tuck tight against their bodies, because they need to act as "heels" to support the big guy; but in that case, shouldn't they be more secure, not less?

You can't turn Voltron's wings into a shield, sadly, but the set does include the Blazing Sword, which in this incarnation is more like a saber than before. Both hands are spring-loaded, so when you open the lion's jaw, it will close around the hilt and hold it securely.

Voltron: Legendary Defender is a terrific cartoon, and it deserves good toys. This is merely an okay toy. Despite being significantly smaller than the previously released combinable Voltron, the fact that this one uses die-cast metal means it costs nearly the same, even having less articulation and fewer accessories. This is a nice idea, if you want a simple, no-frills Voltron, but for a "toy" toy you might want to go bigger.

-- 08/15/17

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