It's the biggest mech LEGO has ever made and its sheer size, weight and transformation complexity presented unique challenges to the designers that took time to overcome, which I suspect was the cause of much of the delay.
Was it worth the wait?
Voltron: Defender of the Universe is a cartoon that first aired on US television in 1984.
It follows five members of the Galaxy Alliance that are given control of mechanical lions so that they can protect their planet. When in danger the five lions combine to form Voltron, a huge robotic warrior.
These stills have been taken from a video of an episode from a later version of the series on YouTube:
It was after my time so I've never watched it and in fact I'm not sure if the original series ever aired in the UK given it would have been pre-satellite and cable television.
I'm no expert, then, so I'll be approaching this review as a LEGO fan rather than a Voltron one.
Box and contents
As you'd expect for a 2321 piece set, the box is huge. Here it is with Elsa BrickHeadz for scale.
The back shows the transformational capabilities of the model, from five lions to one giant mech.
Parts are in numbered bags, from 1 to 16 so, thankfully, there's no rooting through thousands of parts during construction.
There are six instruction manuals, one for each of the lions and another larger one. This contains interesting information about the the TV series, Leandro Tayag, the fan designer, and also the design process and the difficulties that LEGO's designers had to be overcome to turn the fan model into something that is stable and buildable.
What's cool about this is that it makes it possible to build the lions concurrently, perhaps as a family, or a speed build.
The yellow lion forms the mech's left leg. First you build its rear end.
Then add its head, which is clipped in place underneath and held there with an axle.
Finally the legs are added. They look a bit spindly compared to the size of the beast but I guess that was a compromise that had to be made in order to get it to transform into a leg.
The 2x2 round tiles on the hips are printed. The same design is used on all five lions.
The size of the lion gives an early indication of just how big the mech is going to be!
The blue lion is the mech's right leg so construction is much the same as for the yellow one although there are enough differences to keep it interesting.
Here you can see the front and rear sections before they combine. The front part it is complex for a reason: it needs to rotate to form the foot, as you will see later.
The lions are numbered, 1-5, on their backs. These are the only stickers in the set.
The black lion is the largest and most complex of the five. It forms the mech's torso and head.
Again, the rear end is built first.
The front legs and hips are clipped onto the five bars on the side of the body. To transform the lion to the torso they are unclipped and rotated.
The Technic turntable on the side will be used to connect the arms to the torso. This particular part of the model is mentioned as one of the challenges the designers had to overcome. Around 30 different shoulder joints were tested before one that utliises the friction of a ball joint multiplied through a gear ratio was chosen, which creates a strong yet smooth joint.
The hind legs are attached to the Technic pins and, like the front legs, are detached and rotated during transformation. A clever technique has been used to connect the top of the leg to the hip at an angle.
The head and face is particularly complex: the lower part of the jaw rotates to become the mech's head, which is entirely brick built apart from a mouth printed on a 1x3 double inverted slope, the first time such a piece has been printed on, apparently.
The red 'wings' on its back look a bit daft when on the lion but if you sit the lion down, adjust the head and spread them out it becomes apparent what they are for.
The red lion forms Voltron's right arm so it's much less bulky than the leg and torso lions. Note the double joints used in its body and to attach the head. These are necessary to allow the arm to be articulated at elbow and wrist, while also supporting the weight.
The green lion is similar to the red one but, again, with enough differences to keep things interesting.
Construction ends with Voltron's Blazing Sword and shield. The shiny parts are drum lacquered silver and look great. There are one or two other such pieces used throughout the model, on the torso's chest and lion's heads.
Making the Mech
Now we've built the five constituent lions we can fit them together to make the Mech. Book 6 of the instructions shows you how.
When in 'lion mode' the head is kept in position with a bar and clip inside the body. Twisting the head up disconnects that joint to enable it to be turned by 90 degrees, and affixed to the body using a different pair of clips once fully rotated.
The lions' legs are rotated and positioned so that they are out of the way.
The black lion's transformation is the only one that involves a bit of deconstruction. The hind legs are removed and reattached so they are straight, and the shoulder assembles are removed, turned upside down, then re-clipped. The jaw and head are then adjusted to expose the mech's face.
Once done, the legs are attached. Cleverly, there's a hole at the tops of the lions/legs large enough to accommodate the black lion's hind paws, which prevents the need to remove them.
Transforming the arm lions is simply a case of twisting the legs a bit and arranging the paws so they are tucked away.
Pins of the bottom of the lion's bodies are used to attach them to the shoulder joints discussed above.
To complete the model, the sword and shield are attached to the lions' mouths with Technic pins.
The completed model
It's huge -- 45cm high and about 22cm across its feet. It's also very colourful. The drum lacquered silver parts on the chest and the shield catch the light and look fantastic.
Unfortunately, there is little articulation. The shoulder, elbow and wrists can be adjusted but only in one plane, and the head can be twisted side-to-side. That's it. The legs and waist are fixed. It's likely that this will disappoint some of you but given the heft of the thing it's not really surprising that it wasn't possible to implement more joints and keep it stable and robust.
The arm joints, though, are very secure and once posed they won't flop about.
It doesn't look too bad from the back, considering.
"The LEGO Voltron pushes the limits for what is possible within the LEGO building system" claims Niek van Slagmaast, the model's designer, in book 6. Once you've built it and appreciated just what's been achieved, you will believe it.
Not only is it the largest mech LEGO has produced but it's one that's made from five subassemblies that themselves are pretty cool models. The transformation from lions to mech is clever and done in such a way that disassembly is kept to a minimum, which very cool.
It's not perfect, however, and a number of compromises have had to be made in order to facilitate the transformation of five separate models into one and to keep the mech stable. The lions' legs are a bit weedy, particularly below the knee, and perhaps the thing that bothers me most is that Voltron's feet are not flush with the ground. The lack of leg articulation will also be an issue for many.
Clearly LEGO did its market research before deciding to produce this set but I do wonder who will buy it. It will certainly appeal to those that grew up with the show, but that's a very specific demographic of those of a certain age who live in a country where it aired on TV. I'm not one of them, so while I can appreciate what a great model it is from a AFOL's perspective, it means nothing to me otherwise.
And, great though it is, there are countless other equally great sets available this year at about the same price, so unless you are a huge Voltron fan or have an unlimited LEGO budget, I suspect you'll look to spend your money elsewhere.
21311 Voltron will retail for US$179.99 / £159,99 / 179,99€ / 1499DKK / AU$ 289,99 and CA$ 229.99 when released to VIPs on 23rd July and everyone else on 1st August.
Thanks to LEGO for providing the set for this review, which is an expression of my own opinions.