Netflix Mini-review: The Dragon Prince: Book 3 – And We Have Lift-off

The series has finally pushed the pedal to the metal just in time for what appears to be the beginning of the second act. 

STORY SO FAR

Xadia is a magical land, but humans naturally screwed it up. For that, all the other races  (mostly elves) banished them to the far side of the continent with the only way back guarded by the Dragon King, the most powerful being in existence. That worked for a millennium and change, but then humans somehow killed the Dragon King, forcing the elves to attempt to assassinate the human leaders. One of the assassins, Rayla the Moonshadow elf (Paula Burrows), is sent to kill a human prince named Ezran (Sasha Rojen), but stops when Ezran’s step-brother Callum (Jack DeSena) discovers that the Dragon Prince was not killed with his father, but stolen as an egg. The three go to return the Prince to his mother in hopes of ending the looming conflict. In season 1, they managed to get out of the human kingdom and hatch the prince, now named Zym. In season 2, they managed to get to the Breach, the only passage to the land of the elves, but Ezran was forced to return in order to take over the throne from his late father. Meanwhile, Ezran’s Father’s Royal Advisor Viren (Jason Simpson) has been plotting with the banished elf Aaravos (Erik Todd Dellums) to start a war between all the human kingdoms and the magical lands.

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They’re all adorable. 

END RECAP

Rather than doing a summary and trying to avoid spoilers, I’m just going to say that this season finally started to pay off all of the clearly elaborate world-building that the creators put into this show. Every level of this world has been worked out and it pretty much all meshes perfectly together, something that allows a fantasy show like this (or like Avatar: The Last Airbender) to play out without having too much exposition. Yes, we get a lot of history lessons, but it’s mostly in the context of explaining how different cultures view similar events, so that doesn’t feel too forced. 

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Explanations on how magic works are reasonable, since humans can’t really use it.

The main thing this season confirms is that the last two seasons have been mostly a set-up so that the show can finally start accelerating and moving at a faster pace and on a grander scale. As a consequence, those episodes had often felt very slow and limited, but the investment is paying off now that all of the events and characters are starting to converge. In a way it does remind me of Avatar, in the sense that the show spent so much time focused just on our main group but still seeded all of the global-scale events that will eventually take place. 

I also like that they maintained Viren’s status as being the antagonist, but not a crazy and over-the-top evil one (at least until the end of the season). He is misguided and he is allowing power to corrupt him, but it’s also made clear that he does have reasons for why he believes the current state of the world cannot stand (even if they’re bad reasons that lack empathy). The fact that he so often comes off as reasonable is one of the show’s best strengths because it shows how what starts off as casual species-ism quickly devolves into violence when given actual power. 

Overall, this season made the show actually feel like it’s starting to live up to its promise and has set up the next season to be even bigger. The action sequences were better, the character interactions are more natural now, and the stakes are sufficiently high to justify more extreme decisions. Also, one of my ‘ships came in, so that was nice.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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Netflix Review – The Dragon Prince (Book 2): A Little Slow, But Picking Up (Spoiler-Free)

Some of the team from Avatar: The Last Airbender continue to remind us that they are capable of amazing amounts of complexity and emotion from animated characters.

SUMMARY

Azymondias or “Zym” the young dragon prince has been born at the end of the last season… and he is freakin’ adorable. Seriously, look at this little guy.

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Between this and Toothless, animated dragons are getting adorable.

But, back to the plot.

Rayla, Callum, and Ezran (Paula Burrows, Jack DeSena, Sasha Rojen) are resting at the home of Lujanne, the illusionist elf of the moon (Ellie King). Callum, having sacrificed his primal stone to save Zym’s life, is depressed that he can no longer do magic, as humans cannot connect to any of the elements. While they rest, Claudia and Soren (Racquel Belmonte and Jesse Inocalla) catch up to them. Claudia shares some romantic moments with Callum and tries to convince him of the merits of her form of magic, Dark Magic, but he refuses to learn it. Ultimately, Claudia and Soren reveal that they’re still trying to take the three back under the orders of their father, Viren (Jason Simpson). The trio manage to elude the pair and continue on their quest towards the land of the Dragon Queen.

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Amaya continues to be amazing.

END SUMMARY

This season was pretty solid. With all of the basic introductions out of the way, you’d expect the show to pick up a little, but instead the first few episodes are about expanding all of our characters’ connections. While we’ve gotten some emotional moments between all three of our leads, we get to see how much they’ve grown over the last season and how that’s affecting how they feel about each other. This grows further when we see Claudia and Soren, who haven’t really interacted with the characters since the beginning, try to deal with the fact that their targets are also people they care about, which brings me to one of the best points in the show.

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Perhaps more than just care about.

So far, this show has managed to avoid falling into any cliches about good and evil. Claudia is a witch who literally sucks the life out of small things in order to do magic, but she doesn’t view it as being inherently evil, merely as a tool no different than a sword, which can be used for right or wrong. Soren is an extremely friendly soldier, who also is under orders from his father to kill his friends if he needs to. Viren, who is clearly the biggest villain in the series so far, is trying to do what he believes is right to save the kingdom, because in the past the only way for the humans to survive was to use forbidden magics. He just also is completely blind to how well he can actually administrate a kingdom or how succession works or how much people just don’t like him. Still, it’s impressive that all of the villains are portrayed less as blatantly evil, and more as people with different visions of how to do the right thing.

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Viren literally uses the heart of a rare, probably sentient monster… to save thousands.

I think that Callum’s journey over this season is a particularly well-crafted narrative. Over the last season he was trying to learn how to be a magic user, something that is rare within the world of the series, but now that he’s lost it he’s having to question what his role is now. It’s not that he misses the power as much as missing having a thing that he really felt was his chosen path. He’s spent his entire life failing at almost everything, only to find one thing where working on improving at it felt right. It’s such a relatable thing that I really love how they cover it.

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Also, there’s a blind pirate. I love him.

Overall, I thought that this was an interesting season, because it’s less of an advancement of the plot but more an exploration of the characters and the world. I think it was a step-up from the previous season and I look forward to seeing where the series goes from here.

Netflix Review – The Dragon Prince: Book 1 (Spoiler-Free)

Comedy. Action-Adventure. Child-friendly. Dramatic. Long ago, the four animation show types lived separately. Then, everything changed when Nickelodeon ordered a new series. Only Avatar: The Last Airbender, master of all four styles, could revive their animation department, but when the network needed it most, the show ended, gloriously. A sequel series followed a new Avatar, a waterbender named Korra. And although a lot of the elements were there, it never quite lived up to its predecessor. But I believe the team can strike gold again.

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Shut up, I spent like 5 minutes on that, that’s more effort than I usually spend on one of these jokes.

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Asshole. Anyway, Netflix hired Aaron Ehasz, who was the head-writer (but not creator) from Avatar: The Last Airbender and also a Futurama writer (including “Future Stock”, one of my favorite episodes). He and Justin Richmond (director of Uncharted 3) created this show. So, is it as good as you’d hope? Well, not quite yet.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free)

A long time ago, there were six elements (this feels f*cking familiar): Moon, Sun, Stars, Earth, Sea, and Sky. These were the sources of magic, which were used by the humans, the elves, the dragons, and whatever else populates this world. Then, a human created Dark Magic which apparently causes nothing but destruction. Angered by this, the elves and dragons banished the humans, dividing the continent in two. The humans live to the West in their kingdom of Katolis, the magic creatures live in the East in Xadia, and the border is watched-over by the Dragon King. Then, the humans killed it and smashed its egg. This meant war.

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Exactly HOW they took the Dragon King down is not yet explained. Because damn.

The show opens with a group of elves, including Rayla (Paula Burrows), trying to assassinate the human king for the death of the Dragon King. She is tasked with also killing his young son Ezran (Sasha Rojen), who is accompanied by his artist step-brother Callum (Jack “I’m Sokka” De Sena). The trio discover that the King’s advisor, Viren (Jason Simpson), had not actually killed the Dragon Prince, but had stolen his egg and kept it. Realizing that this means there is a chance for peace between the peoples, the three join forces to return the Dragon Prince’s egg to its mother, the Dragon Queen.

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Mage, Assassin, Kid with backpack. Perfect adventuring party.

END SUMMARY

Okay, so, let’s pro-con this thing.

Pro: The writing’s pretty great, the characters are interesting, the world has enough rules to feel internally logical but not too many to eliminate crazy surprises, and the designs are excellent.

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The magic system seems well-planned.

Con: The animation is 3-D but is cel shaded and uses a reduced frame rate to make it feel more like a traditionally animated show. It threw me off a bit. The show also starts a little slow and doesn’t even really get going during this season, which, to be fair, is only 9 episodes. There are some pacing problems, though, to be sure. Oh, and a LOT of it is going to make you think “this feels like Avatar.”

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A few of the gags take too long, too.

Okay, it seems like I wrote more in the Con column, but that’s not really true. The things that this show have going for it are that it’s already demonstrated it can balance dark and adult themes with having children as main characters, something that many shows can’t handle. The creature designs range from adorable to horrifying. We don’t know too much about dark magic yet, but the implications are unnerving and I want to see them played through. Mortal danger is pretty constant for the protagonists, as is suffering and loss.

One particular stand-out in the show is General Amaya, the boys’ aunt, who is both an unparalleled warrior and also deaf. There aren’t a lot of deaf characters who are depicted as both fighters and leaders, so I was pretty happy about it. She also has the best lines, even if they’re actually spoken by her Commander, Gren (Adrian Petriw).

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Oh, and she fights with a giant shield, because she’s amazing and my new hero.

Given the way that the seasons of the show are being named, it’s implied that this season is only one-sixth of the total story. It hasn’t really gotten going yet, but it’s got enough set up to build pretty rapidly from here. Here’s hoping it does.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.