In many science-fiction stories about a future Earth, from Blade Runner to Mad Max, life is always bleak. Resources are depleted, chaos reigns, and somebody has all the marbles. But that’s not so in Voltron Legendary Defender. In fact, a throwaway line from one of the main characters hints at a utopian Earth of the future.
That’s a vision shared by the showrunners. We just haven’t seen it yet.
The sixth season of Voltron Legendary Defender premiered on Netflix last friday, capping off a two-year era for showrunners Lauren Montgomery and Joaquim Dos Santos. The series is a stunning reboot to the ‘80s anime Voltron: Defender of the Universe, a Saturday morning classic in which five color-coded pilots controlled colossal (and bizarrely mis-matched) robotic lions.
In the episode “Razor’s Edge,” Lance (Jeremy Shada), the smooth-talking pilot of the Red Lion, is heartbroken over his crush, Princess Allura (Kimberly Brooks) and her new romance with archenemy-turned-ally, Prince Lotor (A. J. Locascio). Away from the rest of the team, Lance confides in Allura’s adorable little space mice, as if the DreamWorks-produced series were a Disney movie.
“She wouldn’t take me seriously anyway,” Lance sulks to the mice. “I don’t have anything to offer. I’m just a boy from Cuba, not a space prince like Lotor.”
Aside from Shiro, Voltron’s team leader whose name is unmistakably Japanese (as well as a callback to the original GoLion anime), Lance’s line about Cuba is the first time race has ever been brought up in Voltron Legendary Defender. Dig deeper, and what Voltron says about race reveals a much more open Earth, free from the confines of national borders.
“We discussed an Earth where borders weren’t a thing anymore,” Montgomery tells Inverse. “Everyone travels freely. We like this idea of a much more peaceful Earth where countries are open.”
“We never dove deep into it, but we had conversations about how we see the world in the time of Voltron,” adds Dos Santos. “Earth stands united. Inner Earth fighting and borders, all these B.S. constructions we come up with, are a thing of the past.”
“More than anything, he’s saying, I’m not a prince. I’m just a guy from Earth,” he adds. “Geopolitically, we didn’t think too far into that.”
Though Lance’s complexion is darker than fellow Paladins Keith and Pidge, the hybrid art style of Voltron — which blends Japanese anime with western cartooning — makes the ethnicities of the Paladins very vague. It was very intentional.
“Lance being from Cuba doesn’t mean the only genetic material that makes him is Cuban,” Montgomery says. “It’s not us crying, ‘This guy is Cuban!’ and that’s all he’ll be. It’s his past, a past we gave him, and he’s speaking to what he knows.”
She adds that the Voltron team imagined an Earth where the majority populace is of mixed race as a result of travel being more free. “We’ve fantasized that our characters are very mixed race and have many different countries in their background.”
Cuba may as well have been picked out of a hat by the writers, but its mention in Voltron is a compelling thought considering its role in 20th century politics. It’s been only three years since former U.S. President Barack Obama began to thaw U.S.-Cuban relations. Right now, current President Donald Trump’s unpopular “zero tolerance” border policy has seen the strict policing of the U.S. border from Central American migrants into the detention of thousands of children separated from their parents.
There is a crisis of ethics on the American conscience that brings reality one step closer to the dystopia of so many science-fiction stories. But in Voltron, Earth exists as an ideal, even if the planet has not been explored in-depth in the show’s 50 episodes thus far.
And based on what transpires in the Season 6 finale, that will change as Voltron embarks towards Season 7. “We’re moving on to a new chapter,” Montgomery says. “There’s a lot of closure.”
When I ask what will happen when the Paladins bring Voltron to Earth, they’re careful not to reveal what will go down. “Those are all questions we hope to answer. This is uncharted territory, and questions we want fans to ask.”
“We’ve seen how the Galaxy Garrison has handled business before,” adds Dos Santos. “There’s many moving parts to Earth.”
Voltron Legendary Defender Season 6 is streaming now on Netflix.