The Dragon Prince grabs attention of animated fantasy audiences
Netflix’s track record of putting out good animated shows has been fairly solid, with titles like Dragons, BoJack Horseman, Trollhunters, and Voltron. Their new show does not break their amazing streak.
On the surface, it appears to be an Avatar: the Last Airbender copycat. And you wouldn’t be mistaken for making that assumption, Aaron Ehasz, the head writer and director for Avatar: the Last Airbender, co-created this show. And one would think that the chances of a show like this being anywhere near the level of quality that Avatar is known for would be slim.
But it’s not a ripoff of Avatar. It’s something else. Something wonderful and something just as impressive as Avatar. It isn’t a copycat; it’s a rival. The show genuinely impressed me with its quality, style, and substance.
Let’s start off with the only major negative complaint I have about this show: the animation. It tries a risky blend of 2D animation and CGI. The action scenes end up looking amazing, the character designs are gorgeous, and the overall experience is good; but there are times when the movements of characters and objects do look stilted, especially in the quieter moments. It gets better as the series progresses, but is still noticeable if you look for it.
But that’s where the negatives end—there’s a long list of positives.
First off, the action is downright stunning. It’s fast, well-choreographed, and mesmerizing to look at. Every action sequence, even one that lasted for a mere 10 seconds, is drawn seriously and beautifully. I can hardly think of any other modern animated series with the same caliber of animated action quality as this (although Trollhunters comes close).
The structure is good. Despite having just nine episodes, the first season doesn’t feel rushed. All the story beats and twists proceed in an orderly fashion; the series is never too fast or to slow. One reason that’s probably the case, is that The Dragon Prince doesn’t waste any episodes with filler material. There is some world-building, but the series relies on you to fill in the gaps with the stuff you already know about this genre of fantasy (presumably from watching Lord of the Rings, or some equivalent).
It’s also staggeringly dark, for a show that’s supposed to be watchable by children. While there is no blood, the series finds other, more interesting ways of depicting torture, pain, and death.
The season does a decent job of wrapping up some plot points, but leaving a lot open, so as to build anticipation for the upcoming seasons. I, for one, am more than excited to see that.
However, before concluding this review, we must discuss the very best part of The Dragon Prince: the characters.
Callum is our protagonist. He’s fairly talentless (and knows it), aside from some drawing skill and wry humor (which, he claimed, wasn’t even that wry). And while he does discover a powerful hidden talent for magic halfway through the season, he remains humble, likeable, and quirky.
Ezran is a lesson in how to do a child character right. He’s funny, cute, and childish without being annoying (except in the first episode, where he is very annoying). In the final episodes of the season, he doles out some fairly good philosophies, while never seeming like anything other than a child. They’ve got the balance just right.
Bait is a comedic animal, reminiscent of comedic animals in recent Disney movies and, indeed, in Avatar. He’s nice, and they don’t overuse him. That’s all there is to say about him, thankfully.
One thing to point out is that The Dragon Prince doesn’t seem to have a dedicated comedic relief character, like Sokka was to Avatar or Toby to Trollhunters. Each character in this show has their comedic and silly moments, but none seems like their sole purpose is comedy. In fact, the character who has the most comedic presence is probably the lead, Callum, which is rare to see. The series is extremely funny, despite this quirk.
The villain of the story is not thrusted at you in the first episode. It’s revealed gradually, and later on, I expect a backstory on this character. While they are never the main focus of season one, the moments we do see are intriguing and terrifying. This villain has potential.
And finally, the main female lead—Rayla—is the best character in the entire show. She is the most complex character in the show. In fact, she could almost be the main character, if it weren’t for Callum taking up more screen time during the first few episodes.
Her story is heartbreaking. Her struggle feels real, palpable, and brutal. Her personality is the perfect blend of likeability, virtue, and insecurity. Her fight against her inner demons wants you, begs you, to root for her. And the minor victory she gets at the end of season one, almost left me in tears. She might be the best female character in animation, ever.
Season one of The Dragon Prince was an experience that rocked me to my core. I thought it would be difficult for any piece of animation to make me feel something after BoJack Horseman Season five, but this does it. It is a worthy rival to Avatar: The Last Airbender, and I will wait in utter agony until Netflix releases more episodes.