Dreamworks animated show Voltron Legendary Defender has come under fire recently for the use of the ‘Bury Your Gays’ trope.
Voltron is a show with an…interesting fanbase. Last year, a fan actually tried to blackmail the show’s creators to try and get their preferred relationship, or ship, dubbed ‘Klance’ made canon.
For many fans, shipping drama makes up much of the fandom – and, if the nearly 50 000 fan works on fanfiction archive AO3 are anything to go by, the two most popular ships are men who love men (mlm) – Keith and Lance, the above mentioned ‘Klance’, with 21 000 fanworks, and ‘Sheith’, Shiro and Keith, with 7579.
So, when it was announced that Shiro would be revealed as canonically gay in Season 7, which aired on Netflix on August 10, many fans, especially queer fans were over the moon – Takashi Shirogane, or Shiro, is an incredibly popular character with the fans – so much so that his popularity literally brought him back from the dead.
And then the season aired, and the long-awaited representation boiled down to a couple of flashbacks, in which there was no explicit confirmation that Shiro’s ex was anything more than a very good friend – who then proceeded to die in his second appearance.
Understandably, fans were angry – after having had the relationship built up, they never even got to see the present day Shiro interact with his former partner. Accusations of queerbaiting have been hurled at the creators, despite the fact that creators Studio Mir, and queer actor Bex Taylor-Klaus, who voices Pidge on the show, as well as Shiro’s own voice actor all pushed against the executives who wanted to eradicate even the small hints the show had.
Obviously, the show isn’t perfect. A villainous duo Zethrid and Ezor were confirmed as women who love women (wlw) by creators, then potentially killed off. (As Voltron loves to resurrect characters, I’m holding off on a second accusation of Bury your Gays until they have been confirmed dead.) This also received flack from fans – less for the potential murder of queer characters, but for the use of ‘homicidal lesbians’, as Taylor Krause referred to them. It’s not a great example in a show aimed primarily at young teens.
However, one wonders whether so much of the hate directed at the show has come from the fact that Keith and Lance both received more ‘straight ship teasing’ than usual this season. I really hope it’s not, but when those fans are the ones attacking the creators, you can’t help but wonder. Especially as some fans have allegedly unveiled their plans for a ‘reboot’ of the series focusing on thinly veiled versions of Keith and Lance.
Either way, the show still has one more season left, and it will be interesting to see if they can recover from this misstep, especially since so many fans have complained. And we’ve come a long way in the last few years – after all, Legend of Korra gets credit from some people for ending the show with the reveal of a wlw ship, even though the most Korra and Asami did was hold hands, albeit in a scene paralleling the final kiss at the end of parent series Avatar the Last Airbender. Yes, Shiro and Adam never showed physical affection on screen, but again, there is a series to go, and it’s worth noting that many of the staff on Voltron also worked on Korra and Avatar.
At the end of the day, Voltron did mess up with their handling of the reveal, and of other queer rep in the series. But as far as representation goes, Shiro is pretty incredible. It’s not every day that a disabled POC gets the limelight in a show and Shiro has continued to be incredibly badass and inspiring, throughout all the obstacles he’s faced.
I’ll be disappointed if the show doesn’t end with Shiro in another mlm relationship – or at least beginning one, given that he’s a bit preoccupied at the moment. But one thing I think a minority of fans lose sight of in the heat of the moment, is that the show has never been about romantic relationships. Rather, the platonic bonds between the paladins of Voltron and their allies take centre stage. Also: intergalactic space battles with giant robot lions.