TL;DR –A little convoluted yet strangely compelling ride through the expanded lore of one of the most popular video games out there.
Disclosure – I paid for the Netflix subscription that viewed this series.
DOTA: Dragon’s Blood Review –
DOTA is one of those video games that I know, but I have never been able to get into, and that is not from a lack of trying. It is this phenomenon that I have watched from a distance with this odd curiosity. While the game itself feels like an impenetrable mess, there is a lot of style and intrigue going on, and I know that there is a whole lot of lore built into the game that could be good to explore.
So to set the scene, we open with a huge info lore dump that you probably don’t need to understand fully. We then cut to the middle of a battle as many militiamen get ripped apart by a dragon that dives in and out of the ground. It is a losing conflict until Davion (Yuri Lowenthal), the Dragon Knight, enters the fray as his squire Bram (Josh Keaton) watches on. It is a glorious battle that dives in and out of the ground, and eventually, it is killed. It a moment of rejoicing. However, Frühling (Matthew Waterson), the captain of the guard, is less than pleased because an elder dragon still sleeps nearby, waiting to attack. But when he goes down into the lair of the best, he finds there is more terror there than he expected. Now from here, we will be looking at the season as a whole, so there will be some [SPOILERS] ahead.
There is a lot to unpack in this show, so let’s start with the central narrative. Throughout this first season, we have three different narratives going on, which inevitably collide together in the end. You have Davion contending with having the dragon Slyrak (Tony Todd) merged with him. He is trying to find a way to separate himself from his arch-enemy. Then, Princess Mirana (Lara Pulver) was banished from her home with her bodyguard Marci and beast Sagan because she let the lotus flowers of her god Selemene (Alix Wilton Regan) be stolen and is on a quest to return them. Finally, we have that of the elf Fymryn (Freya Tingley), who was the one who stole the lotuses and tried to complete an ancient prophecy by returning them to the Invoker (Troy Baker).
As far as a narrative for a short eight-episode Netflix series, having three arcs to keep track of is the right amount. Unfortunately, this is a show that likes to cram in lore at every opportunity, even if it is not essential to the story. These are obviously references to wider DOTA lore, and I know it would be great to see if you are a fan of the game, but they don’t add much to show. Sure it is interesting to know why the Invocator has a beef with Selemene, but it takes away time that needed to be given to building up the character of our core narrative. Thankfully it is not a significant problem, but it does slow down the show at times when it has to wade through this. Thought that being said, if we didn’t have these side excursions, we would not know that all elves are Australian.
Of the characters, I found them to be primarily nuanced and often compelling. I found the internal warning between the best within and who he wants to be in Davion to be an exciting struggle. It felt like we never really got a lot from Mirana, and unfortunately, I think her companion Marci who is mute, was the far more compelling character. Many characters come off very one-note, like Selemene, Invoker, Kaden (Anson Mount), and Luna (Kari Wahlgren), but that felt more of a consequence of the story structure. Also, for a show where one of the characters loses all their clothes nearly every episode and a show where blood rains down in action scenes, it almost chaste. It is a show that goes out of its way to talk about how elves live in pods but never explores what that means or how our lead positions himself near pieces of scenery as if he was in an Austin Powers opening title sequence.
One area where the show does shine is in the voice acting that was always interesting, which is why this show can get strangely emotional in moments. The first, of course, is nearly every dragon in this show. Starting with the wonderful Tony Todd, who captivates every moment he is on screen. Then we have Robert Englund, John Kassir, Andrew Robinson, Ashley Laurence, Doug Bradley, and Cassandra Peterson. They all provide such vastly different performances that you can’t help but get drawn in. This then flows onto all of our leads, who are all bringing something interesting to their roles. The show’s excellent voice work is often supported, but a fascinating musical score that nearly always engages me. As well as this, I did like the more traditional style of animation used in the show that fit the tone they were going for here. There were many nice touches, like the vignettes where they pan past a still image to create a certain mood.
In the end, do we recommend DOTA: Dragon’s Blood? Yes, yes, we do. If you are a fan of DOTA, then this is a no brainer choice, and you have probably already finished binging it. For those who are a fan of fantasy or that style of animation, I think there will be enough here to draw your attention. If you are none of those things, then I am not sure, but then I guess you already know if an animated series based on a video game is for you or not.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Dota: Dragon’s Blood
Directed by – Park So Young, Kim Il Kwang & Kim Eui Jeong
Written by – Ashley Edward Miller, Bryan Konietzko, Steven Melching, Ashley Halloran, Mitch Iverson & Amy Chu
Based on – DOTA 2 by Valve
Developed by – Ashley Edward Miller
Production/Distribution Companies – Studio Mir, Netflix
Starring – Yuri Lowenthal, Lara Pulver, Tony Todd, Troy Baker, Josh Keaton, JB Blanc, Alix Wilton Regan, Anson Mount, Kari Wahlgren, Stephany Jacobsen & Freya Tingley with Robert Englund, John Kassir, Andrew Robinson, Ashley Laurence, Doug Bradley, Cassandra Peterson, Nick Thurston, Amy Louise Pemberton, Matthew Waterson, Tara Platt, Liam O’Brien, Enn Reitel, David Shaughnessy, Ray Chase, Fred Tatasciore & Dee Bradley Baker.
Episodes Covered – What the Thunder Said, Princess of Nothing, Neverwhere Land, The Monster at the End of This Book, The Fire Sermon, The Knight, Death, and the Devil, Speak the Words & A Game of Chess.