Voltron 21311: An Idea Whose Time Has Now Come [Review]

From days of long ago, from uncharted regions of the Universe comes a Legend: The Legend of Voltron, Defender of the Universe! A mighty robot, loved by Good, feared by Evil. As Voltron’s legend grew, peace settled across the galaxy…. 

During this review, we will build the lions, form Voltron, consider the lessons learned and finally , compare it with a prebuilt Voltron toy… 

IMG_2751I was excited to be offered the opportunity to review LEGO Ideas 21311 – Voltron .  As I previously confessed, Voltron was not a major part of my upbringing. However, I have been catching up in recent days with the 1980’s cartoon series ( which in turn was based on the Japanese Anime ‘Beast King GoLion’). Others may prefer to take in the current Dream Works Series, Voltron: Legendary Defender, for a more contemporary tale, with a reduced serving of cheese.

After a quick revision of a parallel childhood, I felt qualified to look at the box.

It is a good sized box: similar in size to that which contained the Saturn V Ideas set, released just over twelve months ago. This box, however, contains 2321 elements, waiting to give a hefty dose of nostalgia to any child of the 80’s. In fact, you don’t have to wait to open the box for that feeling: the box art cries out 1984, with the background artwork shading from red to purple to the blue of a startled, with an underlying grid drawn in for good measure. Voltron, the giant, compound super robot almost fills the cover.  In fact, it is printed slightly smaller than actual size. The back of the box shows how Voltron is made up of the individual Lion elements, as well as highlight the sword and shield. The process of the LEGO Ideas program is also outlined.IMG_2757.jpg

On opening this set, I had a pleasant surprise. Many sets that I have opened this year seemed to have had their ‘contents settle during transport,’ with many boxes being barely half full of LEGO Bricks. This box appeared to be almost 80% full.  Excitedly, I emptied the box over the floor revealing the bags inside: all 16 of them!  These came with six manuals: One detailing the construction of each lion, and the final one showing how to build the shield and sword,  transform the five robot lions into Voltron, and provides some background information on the television series as well as some notes from the design team and the fan designer. The manuals came in a sealed plastic bag with a sticker sheet.  This sheet however, only had five stickers, for numbering the lions (as occurred occasionally in Voltron: Defender of the Universe, but not the original Japanese series). For the purposes of the review, I did not apply them. You could argue in favour of using printed elements here, but I suspect many will prefer the look without stickers.

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Nicely packed: the 6 manuals for Voltron, as well as the relatively minimalist sticker sheet.

In the cartoon, each of the lions is piloted by a human, and it is a little disappointing not seeing the pilots represented here. However given a variable crew roster, and uniforms not matching up to the colours of the lions, not to mention the relative scale of the lions to a human, a minifigure representation might not be entirely appropriate.  Indeed, there is not even space inside the heads of the lions to contain a microfigure. I’m sure someone out there will develop a creative solution.

Construction:

I will look at these sections together into feet ( the Gold and Blue Lions); the Torso/Head/hips/Shoulders (The Black Lion) and the Arms ( Red and Green Lions).  There are a number of elements that occur for the first time in this set, and many others which are new for 2018 – either new moulds or new colours.  I will only mention them in passing, as I suspect these aspects will be well covered by The New Elementary in the near future.

The Feet: Gold and Blue

The Gold and Blue Lions each have 3 bags involved in their construction, following the format of:IMG_2783

  • Body
  • Head
  • Legs

Each of these Lions features a common core, with subtle variations, possibly related to the parts palette.  IMG_2814

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We start by building the Gold Lion. In fact it is bright light orange.  The build starts up with the core of the body utilising 1×16 technic bricks. This is their debut in bright yellowish orange. We progress to start nesting arched bricks, to represent the shoulders of the lion.  Of interest, here we encounter some teal/Bright bluish green 1×2 plates.  While returning this year, after a long absence, any element in this color is welcome.  There are thirty eight present in this set, just waiting to be substituted with parts already in your collection, so you can get those teal parts into use.  We also start to find silver inked 1×2 tiles (element 6217492).  We encounter a number of new ‘Drum Lacquered’/ink covered elements in this set, in both silver and gold. but more on that later.

As we progress with our build, we build up the shoulders of the lions, through the use of nested arches. Both of these lions feature multiple up and down brackets on their sides, to allow application of the panels which are integral to their construction.  We are reminded here that 2 plates, plus the bracket, are the equivalent of one stud wide.

The head and body sub builds are attached via an axle. It is around this axle that the ankle joints of Voltron form. The legs are connected via a friction ball to this axle as well. The technique is quite clever, and is reminiscent of techniques seen in some dragon sets previously.

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The end of each body has this arrangement of clips and bars, which are essential for forming Voltron.

We go on to build the legs, and it is important to follow the instructions here, as each leg is is just a little bit different to the next, with the rear knees folding in the opposite direction to that in the front. This matters when you come to transform. IMG_2810The legs also feature a new round 2×2 tile, with silver printing.  This has been thoughtfully designed by graphic designer Mark Tranter to be useful in future sets and MOCs. The lions are reasonably posable, and can maintain balance on three legs. The joints connecting the legs to the body are remarkably firm, due in part to a friction ball tucked away under the covering plate.

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In these lions, an inverse tile is used in conjunction with a brick with bar and clip to help hold the bodies of the lions steady.  These can then open up, to allow formation of Voltron’s Ankles. The pivot occurs around an axel at the hub of top go the legs.

The Gold Lion took a few attempts to transform properly, as the alignment of the barrel (representing the lion’s energy weapon) can be a little tricky. Once appropriately lined up, it clicks into place, nicely.

The Torso: Black

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The Black Lion is the largest of the lions, and forms the torso and head.

The first bag builds the lower part of the torso, This is a block constructed with studs facing the front/belly of the lion.  Ultimately, the bricks with pegs that provide for attaching the legs are below the belt. The red 2×2 tiles with 45º cutoff are a new color in this set.

The next bag brings us some shiny elements in both silver and gold, as well as some new colors in variations of 2×2 plates: one with 2 studs, and one with a corner cutoff.  As well as building the attachment points for the shoulders, we also fashion Voltron’s chest plate.  A pearl gold ‘mechanic’s kit’ is supplied, and the cross brace is used in the centre of the crest.

IMG_2968During the next bag, we build the Black Lion’s front legs, which also form Voltron’s shoulders.  They are colour coded, to ensure the correct shoulder is connected to the correct side of the chest. The front legs are attached using two small ball joints for each leg.  This limits movement to back and forward only.

IMG_2848
We remove the shoulders that were just attached and rotate them when we transform, but more on that later.

On the outside of the attached shoulder if the attachment for Voltron’s Arms (ultimately formed by the Red and Green Lions.)  This is formed using a technic turntable, which is meshing with a small 12 tooth gear.  A friction ball, in a socket joint provides resistance to the arms slipping, but still allows the arms to swing backward and forward.  This movement is much easier when using the arm as a lever to provide the rotation.

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IMG_2852The next bag adds the tail, head and wings of the Black Lion.  Amongst the new elements we find here are some gold cheese wedges, as well as the double inverse slope, 1×3, with the lower part of Voltron’s face printed on. There are also some pearl gold 1×1 plates, and the round plate with bar.  These are new in this colour.

The head of the Black Lion also features a printed ‘Nexo’ tile.  The top of the head folds down, to allow the formation of Voltron’s face when transforming.  the level of detail achieved in such a small space is quite cleverly done.

The wings are folded away the Black Lion’s back, but can be deployed whenever Voltron is formed:

The final bag of the Black lion is used to build the hips.  One of the major challenges for the designers was to ensure that the model could withstand prolonged periods of display, as well as play, and as such, the hips are fixed. However, the legs are attached to the pelvis by 3 technic pins, and can be removed and rotated as required.

One of my favourite parts of the build was seeing the way that the legs are held slightly apart:  using a plate with rounded ends, some curved tiles and a hinge, a sturdy position is maintained. The setup is repeated in a second layer, ensuring adequate strength. For the record, that is around 13º on each side. The technical word is adduction.

The Arms: Red and Green Lions

These are the smallest lions that form Voltron, and they have very different forms. With each lion only involving two bags, I wondered if it was likely to be an uninspiring couple of builds? I was wrong.

IMG_2867
A random camera jiggle made this picture a little more blurry than anticipated. Before I could correct it, the bags were opened, and the moment had passed.

The Red Lion forms the right arm of Voltron. The arms require a little more articulation, requiring an elbow and wrist: so the head moves from side to side, as does the body of both these Lions.  These joints are built in two different ways: one involves the use of a new double friction ball element, while the other uses two technic friction balls held together with an axel to achieve a similar result.

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The Green lion forms the left arm, and has a significantly more organic shape than the red lion.  In the series, the Green Lion lives under a tree, and the natural curves in its construction fits in with the arboreal environment with which it shares an affinity.

The curves are contributed to by the use of curved windscreens, appearing in green for the first time.

The arms also need to hold the sword and shield, so there are holes for Technic connectors in the mouth to facilitate this:

The small size of these lions allows a small ball joint to be used for the connections of both front and rear legs. However, the way in which they are recessed means that there is relatively little wiggle room from side to side.

These lions attach to the shoulders via two technic connectors underneath their hind body. The turntable offers sufficient resistance to hold the arms steady in any position, but moves easily with just a little pressure on the attached lion’s body.IMG_2988

The Sword and Shield:

IMG_2891Voltron’s sword and shield are built up from the final bag.  This bag is a treasure trove, with so many new silver elements: 1×8 tiles, 4×4 quarter circles, triangular signs and the Nexo cockpit, previously seen in earth blue and transparent fluorescent green. There are also a couple of new recolours in light bluish grey.

IMG_2892The final effect, with the shield decked out in silver, with bright light orange highlights, and the overly complicated sword is that of a giant robot with whom negotiation might not be entirely possible.

When the sword is placed into Voltron’s hand, he looks complete.

The Transformation

As well as the sword and shield, book six also provides us with details about the model, as well as some of the steps that the design team went through to reach the final product.  And then there is the transformation, from Lions to Giant Robot.

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“Form Legs and Feet!”

“Form Arms and Hands”

“And I’ll form the head”

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“Connect Dynatherms…”

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So, what did I learn?

Recently, I built the NEXO Knights Tech Wizard Showdown, and learned a few new things about building mechs as I went.  With Voltron, this is taken to the next level. So, what did I pick up?

First Lesson: Select joints to deal with the load they need to bear.

  • The arms are the smallest lions: their legs are adequately supported by small ball joints, BUT they are limited in the degrees of movement they are allowed.IMG_3005
  • The leg joints in the larger lions (Legs) need to be a bit stiffer in order to support the  weight of these heavier models.  The use of the friction ball inside the hub of the hips and shoulders here is similar to the technique used in some of the larger elves dragon sets ( Particularly 41179, Queen Dragon’s Rescue)IMG_3012
  • For joints that will have a large, static weight applied, such as the shoulders here, perhaps proper engineering should be usedIMG_2988
  • Finally, If the hips don’t flex, they can’t buckle!  The solution to moving the hips: removing them and rotating them results in a sturdy construction, that won’t just collapse under its own weight.IMG_2976

Second Lesson: The value of a ‘skeleton’ or core in a model.

The Lions making up the legs have many things in common – and are indeed built around a near identical core, with the final shape of the lions being addressed in the outer layers of plates.  This was similarly seen with the upper limb pair.  The addition of curved elements to the Green Lion give it a much more organic look, when compared to the Red Lion.

You cannot have too many brackets going up and down on the sides of a model!

Third Lesson: Make some ‘non-LEGO’ angles.

Go off the grid if you can! There are a couple of nifty technique used to create interesting angles:  the upper legs, and the arrangement of hinge plates to create the outline on Voltron’s chest.

 

Final Lesson: If at First you don’t succeed

There is a reason this set took so long to reach the market. The team designing this set worked tirelessly to see it come to fruition. However, with a set of such size and mass, it posed a number of significant technical challenges.

I reached out to Niek Van Slagmaat, the set designer. He said that it was the ankle joint that represented the biggest breakthrough: “Every version before it showed severe bending at the ankle, with all the catastrophic consequences of that.”

“The shoulder joint was the other challenge: I built so many, including some which didn’t have to pop off to transform: but the long term testing ate those like breakfast.  The final shoulder is a balance of simplicity and a rigid construction”

LEGO Versus Other Toys:

For reasons I can’t quite explain, one off our LUG Members had a regular Voltron toy with him at a recent meeting.  This is how the Legendary Defender Toy ( typically around $30-40/lion compares, aesthetically:

I found the transformation from Lions to robot was slightly more fiddly with the non-LEGO toy.  While there was greater realism to the Current Voltron shape in the other toy, it was certainly not as simple to put together, or as stable to have stand on the table.  At close to $150AUD for this tor in total, the LEGO Version is looking very favourable.

Should you buy this set?

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Cardboard cut outs and sticky tape simulate the box art.

This is unique amongst LEGO Ideas sets that we have seen to date.  It is both a unique display piece, and a collection of five individual toys, each with their own poseability. I have few worries about recommending this set to an eighties kid, with a desire for nostalgia. If you are looking for a collection of parts, there are over 2000 of them here, averaging around 7¢ (US) each.  I personally think cents per part is a lousy metric in principle,but given the number of new(ish) elements present in this set, especially the new printed elements, and the silver tiles, it is a pretty reasonable price.

What did I like?

I loved the pseudo-nostalgia I gained from this set: Voltron wasn’t a part of my child hood, but it was for many of my younger friends. The lions are great models in their own right, and their faces are quite individual, despite the same foundation.  The variation between. Each of the lions was appealing. And the use of a common core for the legs and arms was a good reminder.  The technical challenges that had to be overcome to complete this set were significant. There is no doubt that this is a behemoth: it feels unexpectedly heavy when in robot form.

The extremely small sticker sheet was appealing.  So much so that I left it intact.  The printed elements are always appreciated, as are the newly introduced recolorings.

Finally, I appreciated the colour coding: it makes it easy to ensure the correct lion gets parked in the correct place when forming Voltron.

Is there anything I didn’t like?

IMG_2909
A quick twist of the telephoto lens during a long Texposure gives a great 80’s “Form Voltron” effect.

The biggest issue I had with Voltron was it’s size, when assembled in robot form: It was so hard to get a good photo with appropriate lighting.

A nod to the pilots in figure form (even micro figures) would have been fun, but unnecessary for the build itself.  I can understand why we do not have flexing hips or knees.  I have seen the engineering going into some of the huge mechs with great poseability, and it would not be possible for the price point required for this type of set.

From a construction point of view, I found the Lion’s legs hardest to get right: I had some back legs put together the wrong way.  There are a couple of other small challenges: I mentioned the position of the barrel on the Gold Lion while trying to convert it into the Foot.  The other niggle I have is with the feet.  I often found the click hinges on the legs and feet come off if I tried to move them a little far. I have now got my average down to one displaced foot or knee per transformation.  Hopefully I can improve this as time goes by.

The smallest disappointment is that in Voltron form, the model cannot fit back in the box – because of the length of the feet.

All of these drawbacks are in fact pretty trivial.  Overall, this was an enjoyable build: and one you can share with friends if you wish, as every lion has its own manual.  As a parts pack, there is good variety of elements across a wide range of colours. I give this set four and a half out of five (4.5/5) Arbitrary Praise Units. If you are looking to rebuild an icon of your childhood, you will enjoy it. If you enjoy looking at interesting problems that you might not have previously considered, there is something here for you. If you are looking for a big parts pack, the value isn’t bad: lots of variety in colour and elements. Voltron looks good on the shelf, and the lions are robust enough to play with.

What do you think of Voltron? A vital part of your childhood? Or an expensive parts pack? Will you buy it early, or wait until you see it on sale? Why not leave your comments below. If you have enjoyed this little read, why not share it with your friends and follow the Rambling Brick on Facebook.

I would like to thank the LEGO AFOL Engagement Team for sending me an advance copy of this set to preview: all opinions are my own.

Until next time,

Play Well !

 

One thought on “Voltron 21311: An Idea Whose Time Has Now Come [Review]

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