This year, Voltron: Legendary Defender released a second season with much fanfare. The general consensus, I’ve seen, is that it seems to be neither overwhelmingly good nor bad. It’s a fun time with several quirks. Yet as I watched, I started to notice a disturbing trend that manifested itself most clearly in this show: the prevalence of heroic sacrifice.
First note that I’m not denouncing the trope as a whole; it definitely has a time and place in media, and it has incredible emotional weight when used appropriately. The death of Pentecost at the end of Pacific Rim was a major blow to both the characters and the viewers. It was necessary to demonstrate the sheer tension and risk of the situation, and if given a chance to, I wouldn’t dare take that away from the narrative.
On the other hand, martyrdom has to be handled with more care than one might think (as I noted in my previous post). In my youth, I was an enthusiastic stan of Puella Magi Madoka Magica, a popular anime in the magical girl genre. As much as it was entertaining and inspiring to me, my impressionable self came away with the idea that self-sacrifice is the only truly “good” action that a person can do. It’s how characters are redeemed, it’s how they’re established as a perfectly selfless figure, and it can be done with as much effort as the snap of a finger–no pesky, extra character development required. So when Voltron killed off three named support characters in season two, all in the name of “the greater good,” it was concerning to say the least.
Why was it necessary for Ulaz, our introduction to the mysterious Blade of Marmora, to send himself to his death in the same episode he first appeared? What kind of message does this tactic send, that one is only useful or interesting when they give up their life for a cause? In favor of the plot, it is similar to the Pacific Rim example above in that the scene clearly shows the consequence of the Galra Empire’s reign. It shows that not every Galra is the same. However, why should we care about these tragic, fanfare-filled deaths if they happen again and again? Why should we get attached to support characters if we know that they’re just going to die?
Personally speaking, an alternative would be that the Blade members have near-death situations that they then barely recover from. It would still demonstrate that there are “good” Galra that won’t defect at the face of danger. It would allow us, the viewers, to have more interesting Galra characters that aren’t either miserable dead ends or villains, as well as to have more information from the other side of the story. Death doesn’t always have to be the big mic-drop moment.
Readers, this is my 10th blog post as well as the end of the school year. Having this blog has taught me a lot about myself as a person and a writer, and it was a much-needed motive to write more analytical posts, even if it was difficult at times. I still hope to post more content, even if it is reduced; the grades may stop, but critical thinking does not. Onward and upward.