8.5/10 – A Promising Start for a Small Screen Fantasy Epic
Netflix’s The Dragon Prince premiered last week with a 9-episode first season. Created by Justin Richmond (Uncharted 3) and Aaron Ehasz (Avatar: The Last Airbender), The Dragon Prince is a new fantasy epic centered around humans, dragons and elves with a touch of medievalism and a whole lot of elemental magic.
First, I’m going to address the elephant in the room. Since it’s premiere, this show has been constantly compared to Avatar: The Last Airbender (ATLA), Ehasz’ groundbreaking and beloved animated series from the mid-2000s… almost to the point of exhaustion. I get it. Ehasz has had a hand in the creation of both shows, but I haven’t watched the Airbender series so you’re not going to find that comparison here. I feel its incredibly unfair to compare the first season of The Dragon Prince to the entirety of ATLA, mainly because the latter has been examined as a whole while Netflix’s foray into animated fantasy has only just begun.
Now, back to The Dragon Prince.
At the start of the first episode, we get a Lord of the Rings’ type summary of this fictional world. In Xadia, there are dragons, elves and humans. There’s also magic, which sparks from six different elements found in nature: the sun, the moon, the earth, the stars, the sky and the ocean. Because humans are humans, they tampered with these sources to create a seventh type, dark magic, which harvests energy (i.e. life force) from magical creatures. Predictable, right? Pesky humans.
Anyway, the dragons and elves were disgusted by this newfound magic and drove the humans from Xadia to the western part of the continent. Thunder the Dragon King guarded the border between their kingdoms to enforce an uneasy peace, but it doesn’t last long.
The stories say the humans killed the Dragon King and destroyed his only offspring and egg, the Dragon Prince in retaliation for being exiled. We discover early on that the egg wasn’t destroyed, but only stolen by the kingdom of Katolis, the largest of the five human kingdoms. On the brink of all-out war, the series opens with deadly Moonshadow Elves on their way to assassinate King Harrow of Katolis as retribution for the death of the Dragon King.
The first few episodes take some time to set up the characters and their role in the story. We quickly meet several of the elite Moonshadow Elves who are on an assassination mission, including Rayla, the youngest, but most talented warrior of the squad. We also come across Ezran, the younger Katolis Prince and a lover of jelly tarts, and his older step-brother Callum, who’s unsure of himself, but has a compassionate heart.
Antics ensue, surprising relationships are formed and the trio of Rayla, Ezran and Callum eventually come upon the unharmed egg of the Dragon Prince. Realizing the importance of protecting the egg, they decide to take it upon themselves to transport the Dragon Prince back to Xadia and to the Dragon Queen, in hopes it will be the solution to brokering peace between their peoples.
And this is where their epic journey only begins.
Despite some grumbling about the animation, which I think is beautiful and something you easily get used to by the second or third episode, the show’s true strength lies in its storytelling, its characters and its action scenes. The story is humorous, harrowing and heartfelt throughout, pushes boundaries when necessary and doesn’t shy away from the hard stuff. The writers also seemed to be very intentional in their choice of diverse characters and genuine dialogue.
The trio of Rayla, Callum and Ezra (Ez) makes for entertaining and emotional, poignant moments in each episode. They come together in a mutual effort to protect the Dragon Prince, but the trust isn’t there right away and their relationship is tenuous because of preconceived stereotypes of humans and elves.
Rayla is easily the most complex character from the start. Although she’s an assassin it’s clear she isn’t an outright killer after she spares a human guard. Runaan, the leader of her assassin team, removes her from the mission, but because Rayla wants to prove herself, she heads to the Katolis castle anyway and ends up joining forces with Callum and Ezra instead.
While Rayla is overly adept at combat and protects their group on more than one occasion, Callum is the loveable dork that doesn’t necessarily know his place, yet. And although Callum is unsure of himself – who wouldn’t be as a teenager – his love for Ez is fierce and the step-Prince eventually finds the perfect way to show his worth. Ezran and his pet glow toad, Bait, are the cute, comic relief, but as the season progresses, you discover just how remarkable the young prince truly is.
But, I think this show hit a home run with its treatment of secondary characters.
Take General (Aunt) Amaya for instance. She steals the show whenever she’s onscreen, overshadowing many of the other characters in the best way. A capable, cunning General protecting Katolis’ border, Amaya is the deceased Queen’s sister and doting Aunt to Callum and Ezra. Amaya is also deaf and speaks with the help of sign language and her interpreter and reliable lieutenant, Commander Gren.
She is a kick-ass soldier (there’s an exhilarating fight scene at a winter lodge) and exudes an incredible sense of confidence and strength. It’s refreshing to see the beginnings of a well-rounded secondary character in an animated series like this. And I’m not even gonna talk about my thoughts on her and Gren. There are some moments where I ship Amayren, already.
Even though the moments are brief – each show is only 20-25 minutes long – I also appreciated the care in the writing for King Harrow, who’s obviously a king that’s conflicted with what has happened while he has been the leader. With Viren as his right hand and High Mage, it’s obvious Harrow has been questioning the merits of dark magic for some time, and we see that conflictive dialogue play out early on, with some unclear consequences that are never fully answered in the first season.
Overall, the most enjoyable parts are the more heartfelt moments of the show, where we see the characters showing deeper emotions or confronting something in order to grow. One, in particular, involves Callum and King Harrow, and let’s say tears were easily shed during that episode.
Through and through, The Dragon Prince’s first season is a solid start and a believable story with even more believable characters that don’t feel flat or out of place. We still don’t know whether The Dragon Prince will be renewed for another season, but it’s extremely promising and deserves to continue its story. We’ve only just seen a sliver of this fantastical world and what its magic can do.
I want to see the Dragon Prince get home.
(and more of General Amaya and Commander Gren, to be honest.)
All nine episodes are currently available to stream on Netflix.
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