Breaking the Prince’s Curse

A prince and princess kept apart, a suitor in the guise of the monstrous, a spell that must be broken so two opposing kingdoms can be united by compassion. You know the old fairy tale motifs. As Prince Lotor himself says, “Always they appear to keep me from her… I’m cursed! Even in my dreams, ogre guards protect her” (1). But in this case, the curse is cast by someone more than a wicked witch and the ogre guards aren’t just figments of the prince’s dreams. A refusal to innovate beyond 1984’s standard fare of tropes catered to boys and their fathers was enough of a spell to keep the prince monstrous for decades, as well as the iceberg that sank an entire final season, leaving only a ghost narrative to haunt the audience with a redemption that might have been.

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In 1984, Ted Koplar and Peter Keefe, who later had a falling out that led to a legal battle won by Koplar, created the original Voltron: Defender of the Universe (DotU) by editing Japanese animes Beast King GoLion and Armored Fleet Dairrugger XV (2). Prince Lotor’s introduction comes by way of a mission from his father Zarkon to capture Princess Allura’s homeworld, Arus. While there, he spots the princess and falls instantly in lust with her. At first he wants to make her part of his bevy of dancing girls, but upon rejection decides the princess is marriage material. Over the course of the series, Lotor conjures up various schemes to marry the elusive princess, gradually shifting from selfish fixation to moments of genuine selflessness. He even begins sharing dreams with the princess, and manages several times to put her safety above his own desires.

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In turn, although the relationship never progresses to something mutual, Allura comes to recognize her beastly enemy can behave in a more princely manner and, in a genuinely funny scene in which Merla claims he wears foam rubber shoulder pads (ah, the 80’s…) to make his muscles look as big as Allura has noted, the princess’s shocked reaction implies she finds her dark counterpart physically attractive.

In this series, Lotor and Zarkon begin with what seems to be a positive relationship, but as Lotor’s feelings for Allura progress toward something less beastly, he and his evil father’s relationship disintegrates. One can argue Lotor’s sudden turn back to pure evil at the tail end of the series resulted from the lack of further material to edit, but I suspect based on the series’ success, new animation could have been commissioned to continue a more sensical narrative flow. In any case, the series ends abruptly with Lotor making a 180 degree turn from gradual development of increasingly genuine care for Allura’s safety (standard fare for a positively developing Villainous Crush, irrespective of whether the fixation develops into something mutual) to the Drule prince deciding one morning, to hell with this; I may as well just blow her up.

Its animated sequel was 1998-2000’s Voltron: The Third Dimension (3), which ignored plot events from DotU Episodes 53-72, notably the narrative period in which Lotor undergoes the most positive character development. Instead, Prince Lotor, who is redesigned as a disfigured and monstrous looking one dimensional villain as a result of his last battle with Voltron Force, escapes Bastille prison and sends a series of monsters and ships to attack the team.

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He is still hell bent on marrying Allura, and in the episode “Bride of a Monster” (4) has Haggar cast a spell on him so that he appears handsome (but only to her). Neil Ross, Michael Bell and B.J. Ward once again voice Keith, Lance and Princess Allura, but Tim Curry replaces Lennie Weinrib as Lotor. Ted Koplar serves as one of the show’s Executive Producers.

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The next animated iteration, 2011-2012’s Voltron Force, was jointly Executive Produced by Bob and Ted Koplar (5). This series picks up several years after the events of DotU’s Season 1 and therefore prior to significant positive character development for Lotor, and revolves around the old Voltron members training a batch of new recruits. In this series, King Lotor is a one dimensional villain, especially monstrous and unattractive in appearance after being brought back to life by a mad scientist via the late Haggar’s dark essence. Par for the course, this incarnation’s fixation on Allura is a caricature of his DotU Villainous Crush.

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While cartoons tended toward flattening Lotor into a more monstrous version of Zarkon, comics preferred to return the prince closer to his more well rounded DotU origins. The Devil’s Due Voltron: Defender of the Universe comic (Dan Jolley with Marie Croall, 2003-2008), known fandom wide as simply Devil’s Due (6), begins with this backdrop: “Zarkon’s ruthless son Prince Lotor – once Allura’s childhood friend but now dangerously fixated on her – unleashed a dreaded Robeast on planet Arus.”

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In this story, Lotor, who is physically abused by Zarkon on screen, takes on a dark side space monk mystique and seems equally if not more fixated on the “right timing” for his villainous actions than on blunderingly pursuing Allura.

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The comic also, interestingly, often juxtaposes scenes from two love triangles. In the first, Allura vies for Keith’s attention while trying to gently let down a smitten Lance. The second features Merla pursuing a decidedly uninterested Lotor.

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The last issue before the 2008 Omnibus edition, which hurriedly attempted to wrap up loose ends left over from the series cancellation in 2005, ends with none other than Allura’s “childhood friend” finally appearing aboard her ship.

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Next came the 2011 Dynamite Comics Voltron by Brandon Thomas (7). In this series, which pushes ethical boundaries for a Teen rated comic with a sex scene between Keith and Allura, Lotor is depicted as a conflicted, morally gray politician who orders Merla to attack their own homeworld in order to gain Voltron’s alliance against a far greater threat in the universe. To bolster his unethical decision, this Lotor asks Haggar to shapeshift into the princess to talk him into giving the order. Instead, the scene not only depicts non-consensual exposure, but implies Haggar forces herself on Lotor in the form of Allura routinely. The series was discontinued after the last issue revealed Allura knew of Arus’s not so righteous involvement in a secret pact with the Third Sphere and, against her late father’s wishes, has decided to come clean about this to Keith and unite against them.

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2013’s Teen rated Robotech/Voltron crossover comic by Tommy Yune (8) depicts perhaps the most sympathetic of the Lotors, who is portrayed as youthful and comely. The premise is that Voltron has disappeared from the universe. This series returns Lotor’s backstory closer to its Beast King GoLion roots: His mother Lara, a blonde Arusian similar in appearance to Allura, is murdered onscreen by his father, Zarkon, in front of young Lotor.

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Before her murder his mother tells Lotor, who appears to be no more than five, the Arusian tale of the Love Bridge as first told by Allura in DotU. It is the story of two worlds, vastly different, but bridged by the love of two star-crossed lovers. As King, Lotor has it all: Voltron is no more, he reigns supreme in his father’s stead, and he has an abundance of wine, women, and wealth at his disposal. During his conquests, he happens upon a mural of Allura and determines, against Haggar’s warning, to find the sleeping princess. This effort returns the king to his former place as a prince under his tyrant father’s thumb, relentlessly pursuing a woman who loves another man. Rather than exist in a universe without Allura, Lotor ties this story’s conclusion to his mother’s story of the Love Bridge. However, the young prince – ever the survivor – takes a page from Scarlett O’Hara’s book and determines tomorrow is another day, implying he will continue his pursuit.

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Two brief Epilogue comics were posted to Robotech’s Facebook in 2015 (9). The first depicts two fans fighting over whether the comic should have ended by returning the world to the status quo or whether the arcs should have gone on. The second depicts Allura’s mice reading the comic, with one mouse imagining that Keith and Allura are kissing. A second mouse seems to think this idea is ridiculous, making fun of him, and the two fight. In both humorous Epilogue comics, two characters disagree about story direction and end up in a physical altercation.

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The next animated venture, 2014-2018’s Voltron: Legendary Defender (10), rated Y7-FV, returns Lotor to his complex roots for the first time in animated form since DotU. Bob Koplar serves on the team of Executive Producers for Seasons 1 and 2, prior to Lotor’s Season 3 arrival. Featuring a tonally serious treatment of child abuse, the story unfolds to reveal the seemingly monstrous Prince cum Emperor was neglected and abused by both parents, culminating in a morally gray decision to save his race (and the universe) from annihilation by his tyrannical parents through the still narratively unclear means at his disposal, sacrificing the few to preserve the many.

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The series also dynamically shifts the narrative by transferring Lotor’s standard Villainous Crush to Lance in the form of a Subverted Nice Guy trope while making itself the first and only iteration thus far to turn Prince Lotor and Princess Allura’s relationship into a mutual Dating Catwoman (an Enemies to Lovers arc between a hero and villain) trope. It is the only iteration to shift Allura from side heroine and token female to the main protagonist on a Heroine’s Journey, taking Keith’s usual place as the hero. It is also the only iteration to see the story through to narrative closure of a sort, although that closure seems at least partially due to upfront contracting of a set number of episodes. My prior meta Death of a Dark Youth and @leakinghate’s metas Chasing the Ghosts of Season 8 and Seek Truth in Darkness thoroughly explore what appears to have happened to Lotor’s arc in VLD’s final season based on narrative convention and editing errors so blatant as to detract from the show’s visual flow for even casual viewers. I suspect if 78 episodes had not already been contracted, the final season would have been cancelled rather than suffer the fate it did. Dos Santos and Montgomery even expressed during the March 4th ABTV interview (11) and on the March 28th Let’s Voltron podcast they considered leaving but stayed to ensure some semblance of their intended messaging got through.

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The various iterations of Voltron certainly do not constitute the first time a series’ narrative has been abruptly altered due to external factors and internal disagreement. Aaron Ehasz, head writer of Nickelodeon’s Avatar The Last Airbender (ATLA), recalled part of his team’s insistence on pursuing the live action film as the major factor resulting in a fourth season, complete with further writing plans for a secondary dark youth’s redemption arc, never coming to fruition.

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VLD fans will recall the comparison of Prince Lotor to Avatar’s Princess Azula in a Entertainment Weekly article dated June 15, 2018. The VLD showrunners said (12):

Montgomery: I think we knew all along that this was going to be the character everyone wanted to become the good guy of the Paladins, and we knew we weren’t going to let that play out. We would happily tease it and take it down that road, but ultimately, the worst side of him was going to be the thing that got the better of him.

Dos Santos: We kept saying in the room, because we all come from Avatar: The Last Airbender, “We’re going to get him right to Zuko, and then we’re going to pull it away.”

Montgomery: And then he’s going to go straight Azula.

However, let’s take a closer look at an April 1, 2019 Twitter thread by Ehasz (13):

I always intended for #Azula to have a redemption arc in the story of #AvatartheLastAirbender. Longer and far more complicated than Zuko’s. She had not bottomed in the end of Season 3, she had further to go. At the deepest moment in her own abyss she would have found: Zuko. Despite it all, her brother Zuko would be there for her. Believing in her, sticking by her, doing his best to understand and help her hold her pain that she can no longer hold alone. Zuko – patient, forgiving, and unconditionally loving – all strengths he gained from Uncle Iroh. That’s how she would have gotten out, and changed. With the faith and love of someone she had hurt, but who stuck by her anyway. Just as he had been saved by faith and love from someone he had hurt, but who stuck by him.

Ehasz goes on to say this in response to another Twitter user:

Yes I always believed there would be a 4th season… Truthfully, there was a moment in time when we all thought we would do a 4th season of #AvatartheLastAirbender. Then along came M. Night… Though to be clear, M Night wanted us to do a 4th season, but Mike and Bryan wanted to focus on the movie.

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To be fair, Azula’s Season 3 fate, while somewhat odd for a youth in a modern fairy tale, is not completely out of the norm. Classic fairy tales often depict the punishment of unrepentant siblings who skew toward evil. Still, Azula’s treatment is certainly no comparison to the little cinder girl’s wicked stepsisters, whose eyes are pecked out by birds. Showing Lotor, who in every iteration skews closer to the (Ro)beastly youth in the Bearskin narratives, as an abused Cinder Boy/Snow Purple then punishing him with a melted corpse that is then desecrated by the wicked witch-mother is so far out of fairy tale and children’s fantasy norms as to be nonsensical, especially given Dos Santos’s prior statement (14), “But ultimately, you have to be a bit sympathetic to all the things that [Lotor’s] gone through to arrive where he has arrived. So I don’t know that anybody, save a few, are really beyond redemption.”

As a richly dynamic antagonist standing opposite the franchise’s princess and heroine, Prince Lotor fills a unique position within Voltron’s framework. His place is such that he MUST evolve or the story suffers. In every iteration in which Lotor’s moral complexity and physical appeal is hacked away to recreate a one dimensional, cackling villain, Princess Allura is forced to become a paragon of purity, and the plot quickly fizzles to simplistic external conflict with monsters of the week until cancellation. Yet curiously, in every iteration in which Lotor is depicted as appealing, conflicted, and layered – with his heroic opposite afforded her own complexity – the series abruptly ends with seemingly more story to tell. The original VLD Season 8 came the closest to breaking that curse; so close to the sun, in fact, that the final product suffered third degree burns. As Montgomery and Dos Santos expressed in their March 28th Let’s Voltron episode (15), perhaps one day someone will be able to fix the mess. Somehow though, between an IP holder insistence on marketing the franchise toward six to eleven year old boys and their dads and a history of cancelled or abruptly finished plots, I doubt the prince’s curse was cast solely from their hands.

Thank you to everyone on #TeamPurpleLion for generously supporting me with research, beta reading, and camaraderie during the production of this meta. @crystal-rebellion @leakinghate @dragonofyang @voltronisruiningmylife

References:

1. Wikipedia (2019). Voltron (1984 TV Series). Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voltron_(1984_TV_series).

2. Voltron: Defender of the Universe (1984). The Sleeping Princess. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/L3K-kbF0AIw.

3. Wikipedia (2019). Voltron: The Third Dimension. Retreived from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voltron:_The_Third_Dimension.

4. Voltron: The Third Dimension (1998). Bride of the Monster. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/aNA5AroTQ0I.

5. Voltron Wiki (2019). Voltron Force (TV Series). Retrieved from https://voltron.fandom.com/wiki/Voltron_Force_(TV_series).

6. Jolley, Dan & Croall, Marie (2003). Voltron: Defender of the Universe. Devil’s Due Publishing. Comic. Retrieved from http://vlcomic.com/read/comic-voltron-defender-of-the-universe-eng/1.

7. Thomas, Brandon (2012). Voltron. Dynamite Entertainment: New Jersey. Retrieved from http://vlcomic.com/read/comic-voltron-eng/11.

8. Yune, Tommy (2013). Robotech Voltron. Dynamite Entertainment: New Jersey. Retrieved from http://vlcomic.com/read/comic-robotech-voltron-eng/1.

9. Robotech (2015). Facebook. Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/robotech/photos/a.305749158284.148480.234880208284/10153570943943285/?hc_location=ufi.

10. Voltron Legendary Defender (2014-2018). Retrieved from https://www.netflix.com/watch/80103554?trackId=3623124&tctx=0%2C0%2Ce3cc37b2-6bae-495e-9756-134499fa5180-22815958%2C%2C.

11. Afterbuzz TV Animation (2019). Voltron Full Series Review With Showrunners in Studio. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/om_t8A99WJo.

12. Agard, Chancellor (2018). Voltron bosses promise ‘a new energy’ after climactic season 6 finale. Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved from https://ew.com/tv/2018/06/15/voltron-season-6-postmortem/.

13. Ehasz, Aaron (2019). Twitter. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/aaronehasz/status/1112814662393847808.

14. Lovett, Jamie (2018). ‘Voltron: Legendary Defender’: Is Lotor Redeemable? Retrieved from https://comicbook.com/anime/2018/06/24/voltron-legendary-defender-can-lotor-be-redeemed/.

15. Morrell, Marc and Tyler, Greg (2019). Let’s Voltron! Episode 175. Retrieved from http://www.letsvoltron.com/.

10 thoughts on “Breaking the Prince’s Curse

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  • May 7, 2020 at 1:06 am
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    I read source 12 and both LM and JDS state firmly that they wanted to subvert Lotor’s redemption in a way to mimic Azula’s own breakdown. Obviously yes Azula was meant to be redeemed as stated by Aaran Ehasz the head writer (although whether that was the EP’s intention is called into question with recent statements on Azula and the never-to-be-made s4) however regardless of the writers’ intentions on Azula’s character direction AFTER her breakdown it seems to me LM and JDS are saying that they picked Lotor’s condemnation as Azula’s was in-show. They state in that interview quite explicitly that they always planned for Lotor to end up like Zarkon, how they thought that was a good idea I honestly don’t know but there it is. Are there any quotes, statements or anything else after this interview that contradicts this?
    Just inquiring because it does seem like against what I hope (that Lotor was supposed to be redeemed) they really did always want Lotor to go down.

    Reply
    • May 10, 2020 at 4:15 am
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      Now some of this is going to come down to a difference of interpretation, but the key here is realizing where they were at the time they made these comments. This interview was conducted prior to Season 6’s release and released shortly thereafter. The context of these quotes is specifically talking about the events in season 6’s finale. At the same time as they’re being asked to comment on one twist, the EPs are having to avoid spoiling the second twist that’s coming with this character in the future seasons. They’ve got the additional complication that they can’t let on publicly that this isn’t the end of Lotor’s story. They were directly disobeying the will of the IP holder by redeeming Lotor.

      Now they don’t say that they planned for Lotor to “end up like Zarkon”. What they are saying is that they’d always planned to have Lotor experience a breakdown like Azula did at the end of ATLA. They in no way say that they intended that to be the end of his arc. This is a case where they’re not technically lying, but they are omitting key parts of the truth. Listen to the language they use in these answers. They’re proud of the twist they pulled off, and they’re anticipating pulling off another twist. They can seem uncharacteristically flippant here, but you have to realize that from their point of view, they know what happens next. At this point, they don’t know that the dominant reaction to season 6 in the fandom is going to be one of pain and revulsion. Compare these answers to any of the interviews done after they’ve heard the feedback from s6’s premier, and the rapid tone-shift is remarkable. They didn’t realize what fans would see when that 6th season was all we had. A writer is omniscient where a fan has only a limited perspective.

      Reply
      • May 10, 2020 at 6:38 pm
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        That’s actually really true, the interviewer asks whether they always wanted him to end up like Zarkon and they don’t actually state that; oversight on my behalf ahaha! Their answer is very carefully phrased, they don’t state that this is where it ends but then after the question about him “becoming Zarkon” draw even more attention to his moral ambiguity. Most interestingly “there’s an element of truth to everything he says” and “his intentions are true”, which is true when you go back to the show and carefully watch his interactions with anyone.
        It’s kind of a moot point anyhow I just realized since Leaking Hate’s meta literally proves on more than one occasion with physical evidence that Lotor is present in s8, in places where the paladins are (be it Allura, Lance or Shiro) so it’s obvious just from that on its own that he would be redeemed.
        I guess my inquiry was more just to understand your perception and reasoning behind that particular piece of evidence, since it’s quite divisive (like Azula and Lotor themselves) but when you pay attention it’s true; they only state they want to “take him to Azula” and that they knew “he would be the character that everyone wanted to become the good guy of the Paladins” but his “worst side” was going to get the better of him.
        I think this idea is itself kind of Zuko lol, Zuko has his own pull back to the bad side in The Crossroads Of Destiny, but fundamentally Lotor in character is not technically speaking Zuko; he’s pragmatic like Azula and actually isn’t requiring a redemption arc in the traditional sense because he doesn’t do anything wrong to get his condemnation, the wrong comes from his reaction. When he is introduced to us he’s morally ambiguous but I don’t think there’s anything he does that could be labelled as bad unlike Zuko who does do plenty of bad things in s1. He challenges the paladins, but doesn’t hurt them. He uses them to get the comet but nothing more, and the colony getting harvested for quintessence wasn’t on him.
        Sorry I just went off on a bit of a tangent, the above could be a good meta in itself to write….I might just write a piece on Lotor himself, outside of the s8 debacle.

        Reply
        • May 10, 2020 at 10:12 pm
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          No worries, their word choice has always been calculated, it’s very easy to misunderstand the first time around. And it’s good you asked! It means you’ve got sharp eyes! It’s always good to scrutinize and question what you read, and to investigate for yourself what’s actually said. We’re big supporters of going straight to the primary source whenever possible, since what is said and how often illuminates more than expected, especially with a piece of literature as complex as VLD.

          Comparing Lotor to Azula and Zuko is always a fascinating topic. Not only does his arc share similarities to theirs, but the very staff had a hand in shaping each of those characters, so it’s interesting to analyze the ways each character differs, especially since Ehasz confirmed that Azula was meant for a redemption of her own. If you decide to write an analysis on the subject, we’d love to read it!

          Reply
          • May 11, 2020 at 3:20 am
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            Ah thank you! I’m a literature student, so I do try to approach things like this very analytically! It’s so much more complex than I thought when I first got into the show, this fandom was actually my first foray into current media analysis and I’ve gained such a big appreciation for the work that goes into creating a good show.
            I am very tempted I must admit, have been since I first noticed a tumblr post on comparing Azula and Lotor after I watched ATLA for the first time last year. Also it struck me exploring the metas on here that while Lotor and his redemption are involved or at least mentioned a lot, there’s not much specifically dissecting HIS character down independent of the s8 issue and his relation to other characters.
            There’s really 2 essays I’d be fascinated to write, one specifically breaking Lotor’s character down in relation to Zuko and Azula’s characters and one breaking down his character within the context of the show and in relation to Allura; there’s a lot about how he is her equal and challenges her to grow but my question is what about what she does for him, how does she challenge him?
            I think I definitely will write them, it’s a really rich subject area.

          • May 12, 2020 at 2:27 am
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            Awesome, you’re in good company, most of the team studied literature extensively on a university level! VLD is probably one of the most complex stories I’ve followed, and I certainly have come to appreciate and understand its depth much more over the course of this campaign, and I’m not the only one! There are so many layers that go into every episode title, and it really is a story where no detail is left unattended to.

            And actually, now that you mention it, we definitely have been missing analyzing his character in full! We’re planning on properly analyzing him in a manner similar to “Heroine with a Thousand Faces”, though to really understand Lotor’s role we also have to analyze Keith’s as an archetypal Hero, since Lotor acts as a Shadow figure to both him and Allura. The three of them influence and reflect each other in incredible ways, and we absolutely want to see your thoughts on the matter!

          • May 12, 2020 at 11:47 pm
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            I’ve not yet studied literature at a university level, I don’t know what you’d classify it in America but I’m currently at sixth form level in the UK, so I don’t know if I could analyse his character as in-depth with as much reference to literature theories and character archetypes as you have already but I will definitely try to the best of my ability! He’s my favourite character and it’s been a long time since I’ve seen such an interesting and nuanced character, VLD does have a lot of flaws as a show but its strongest point has always been the characters.

          • May 13, 2020 at 1:50 am
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            Oh, so you’re pretty close then! In the US that’s just a couple years away from university, and honestly, a lot of our analysis is just going back down to the basics, looking at and listening to the show and doing close readings of dialogue. I highly recommend getting a copy of Maureen Murdock’s The Heroine’s Journey for your use, it’s an enlightening read. It’s a very approachable text, it builds the Heroine’s Journey from the bottom up, and it’s practically the story bible for VLD. Lotor’s our favorite as well, and the more we delve into VLD the more we grow to love him and the rest of the characters. Best of luck with your analysis, and we’re always happy to help if you need anything!

          • May 14, 2020 at 4:03 pm
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            Thank you so much for the advice and support, I will definitely be getting a copy of The Heroine’s Journey, it sounds like exactly my kind of read as well as a good guide!

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