Thursday, July 26, 2018

Voltron: Legendary Defender (Re)Watch 6.3, "Monsters & Mana"

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Something of a diversion presents itself as the Legendary Defender presses on in the quest to save the universe.

6.3, "Monsters & Mana"

Written by Mitch Iverson
Directed by Steven In Chang Ahn


Pidge and hunk run through a fog-shrouded forest, arrayed strangely and chased by what appears to be an ogre. After a fraught chase, they are able to defeat their pursuer, gaining a reward and continuing on a quest to save Hunk's village. They come to an inn, finding it full of fantasy medievalist tropes.
This scene looks familiar...
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.

The Paladins confer with the innkeeper, finding information about an evil wizard, Daken, whom they must defeat. And they find a dark stranger who seems willing to help: Shiro, a Paladin. They confer about their circumstances and backgrounds, with Shiro explicating his instruction in a knightly code and mission for revenge. He joins them in a bit of a rush, only to have an attack from a giant rodent follow immediately.
It does seem to be of an unusual size...
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.

A fight ensues, and the scene shifts to the players rather than their character--and discussion of the game itself. Coran explicates his history with the game, bringing the other Paladins into the experience as he explains the concept of the role-playing game. The circumstances allowing them to play are explicated, and play resumes with an expanding party.

New characters are introduced, with Allura saving her compatriots and introducing herself in a dramatic monologue. Lance follows similarly, with Pidge's character background emerging, as well. The quest continues, with no few role-playing game tropes (arguments over equipment, puzzle-solving, out-of-character references, metagaming, and game-master hijinks) pervading the continued action.

After an adventuring montage, the characters come across a treasure hoard that offers them much of use.
Among the offerings is a strangely familiar sword...
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.

But it is at that point that the party is attacked--by the putative innkeeper, who reveals himself as Daken. Battle is joined in fine role-playing game style, with the players facing great difficulty in their efforts but ultimately prevailing--and realizing solutions to their immediate circumstances in the resolution to the game.


Medievalist, not medieval, to be sure.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
As a loving and evidently well informed call-out to Dungeons & Dragons, the episode is inherently medievalist; the game referenced is itself noted for its medievalist origins, borrowing extensively from Tolkien and from various military and political histories of the Middle Ages. Borrowing from it, in turn, is a continuation of the trope it embodies--one that itself pervades medieval literature and art, with the frequent appropriation and refiguring of characters and whole stories by other creators in other times and places. (The retelling of Chaucer's Miller's Tale in Heile van Beersele, per Frederick M. Biggs's 2005 Review of English Studies piece, "The Miller's Tale and Heile van Beersele," offers one example. The accretion of myth around King Arthur, beginning in Gildas and Nennius and extending through Geoffrey of Monmouth through Malory, offers another and more extensive. There are any number of others.) And that medievalism is evident even from the beginning of the episode, with Pidge's armor and Hunk's monk-like attire (and tonsure!), as well as in no few other touches throughout the episode. Shiro's seven-fold knightly code is an obvious one, evoking Malory's Pentecostal Oath (which can, itself, be read as offering seven commands).

Older guy, hooded and in the dark. Looks like Aragorn to me...
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Similarly, like Dungeons and Dragons, the episode borrows tropes from Tolkien--in this case, from Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings movies. The oversized innkeeper and the shadowy introduction of Shiro both call back to the Prancing Pony in Bree. And they, themselves, call to mind an idea, admittedly romanticized and with some anachronism, of the tap-rooms and taverns that inform not only medieval literature (Chaucer's Tabard comes to mind), but also medieval (and later!) histories. In so doing, the episode connects itself to long narrative traditions, situating itself and the series in which it exists within them, linking a fictional story of the far future to a historical and legendary past that continues to enrich all who would attend to it.

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