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‘Dota: Dragon’s Blood’ Book One Review – A Character-Driven Medieval Fantasy

Medieval fantasy is a genre that’s thrived in a game setting, but it doesn’t have to end there. The mountains of lore that go into the crafting of these games essentially makes them the perfect source material for adaptations. Yes, there is well-founded doubt around the actual quality of these adaptations, but Dota: Dragon’s Blood actually makes a good argument for giving them a shot regardless.

Drangon’s Blood is a co-production between Netflix and Valve for another Netflix original anime. Animated by Studio Wir, the studio that worked on The Legend of Korra, and created by X-Men: First Class screenwriter Ashley Miller, this new series is an adaptation of Dota 2, a multiplayer arena game by Valve. Dota was originally a popular mod for the game Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos, though the popularity inspired Valve to attain the rights to the series and craft a fully-fledged standalone game out of it, which became Dota 2.

Simply put, Dota’s story is based on wars between factions, mystical creatures, and ancient beings. And while you may play the game with an understanding of how to control characters in a complex world, the anime takes a much more streamlined approach in conveying the lore behind its story while still crafting tales and characters of its own that pack several surprises. Though dragons are very cool to begin with, they are not the only mythical creature at play here.

Davion in ‘Dota: Dragon’s Bloodcourtesy of Netflix

In the first episode, which is co-written by Avatar: The Last Airbender’s Bryan Konietzko, it is revealed that Dragon’s Blood is centered around Davion, a renowned Dragon Knight voiced by anime dub veteran, Yuri Lowenthal. Davion is a brash protector who wishes only to slay dragons. At his side is his partner, Bram, who’s voiced by fellow Spider-Man voice actor, Josh Keaton. One day, the two discover that an adult dragon, an Eldwyrm, is sleeping close to their village base. Reluctantly, Davion is forced into a battle with not only the dragon, but also a demonic entity called Terrorblade. The battle throws the Dragon Knight’s life and future into disarray. Unfortunately, the downside of this disarray is that Keaton’s Bram and his sidekick charm are sidelined for most of runtime.

Along the way we are introduced to several figures, some enigmatic and some laid bare. Over the course of eight episodes, our heroes and threats are made clear as several journeys converge into one story that isn’t as straightforward as our characters may believe. Tragedies lead to self examination across the board, and each character is going through unique trauma that proves to be telling of their characteristics and motives. To say the least, a lot of ground is covered in a short amount of episodes. Characters are established, and the lore propping up the plot is explained properly and not thrown in the face of those who aren’t familiar.

While Lowenthal effectively steps into the role of Davion, channeling both Spider-Man and Sasuke Uchiha, arguably his most iconic performances, there are a number of other outstanding performances from this tremendous cast, and a voice cameo that you wouldn’t think to expect. Though we won’t spoil that cameo (hint: it’s a talking dragon), we can say confidently that the cast helps to carry this already engaging story. To name some: Lara Pulver’s clever performance as the shunned Princess Mirana, Troy Baker’s sullen portrayal of the Invoker, and Tony Todd’s intimidating lines as Slyrak the Eldwyrm. There’s also Freya Tingley’s charming and rebellious Fymryn.

Fymryn in ‘Dota: Dragon’s Bloodcourtesy of Netflix.

Behind the top-notch voice work, the writing and dialogue is very entertaining and aids a lot in helping to understand the dynamics that these characters have with one another. There is a balance of clever quips and darker melodrama that you would expect of characters in this brazen setting. Rather than keeping comedic relief and serious characters separate, the two archetypes are merged for most characters, so every character is taken seriously to a certain degree rather than having a few choice characters be a punchline. Having fun and being haunted by grief go hand-in-hand for the series.

The first season of Dota: Dragon’s Blood further proves that Netflix has gained a strong grasp on the anime medium, and also proves that with care, video game adaptations don’t have to be limited to the big screen. Boasting gorgeous animation and a talented cast of writers and actors who bring these very likeable characters to life, the stylized ‘Book One’ of this show is a strong start to a story that should satisfy both casual viewers and longtime fans of the games. Its best strength and worst flaw is that it immediately leaves us wanting more.

★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2

Dota: Dragon’s Blood debuts on Netflix March 25

Follow writer Eric Thomas on Twitter: @AGENTZETABEAM

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