The Other Side of Animation 215: Dota: Dragon’s Blood Review

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Heads Up!: I was able to view this early with a screener. Thank you, Netflix!

(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com/camseyeview. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

Video games have always been notoriously difficult to translate into other mediums. There have been some success stories like the very first Tomb Raider, the original Mortal KombatDetective Pikachu, and to some degree, 2020’s Sonic the Hedgehog. Still, even with those few successes, it’s not like a lot of them couldn’t have been better. Even the better video game films still have flaws that raise them to mostly entertaining and not much else. Some video game films are just liked because of how bad they are. Some adaptations, however, do seem to put in the effort to trying to capture the magic, the lore, the characters, and so on behind the property, and don’t treat it like it’s another gig. However, one of the biggest challenges is to grab the attention of the viewers who are not familiar with the brand. If you can grab people who don’t play your game or read your book, then you should be on the right track. What direction does  Dota: Dragon’s Blood go into?

Based on the hit Valve series, specifically Dota 2, this “anime” series is created by Ashley Miller and produced by Ashley Miller, Ki Hyun Ryu, Eugene Lee, and Steven Melching. The show came off of the heels of 2020’s Dragon’s Dogma, which to many, was a failure of capturing that video game’s spirit. Luckily, one of the bigger selling points outside of being a show based on a popular video game, is that it was produced by Studio MIR, the same studio behind Avatar The Last Airbender, Netflix/DreamWorks Voltron, and helped out with the best cartoon of 2020, Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts. So, does the show succeed in being faithful and good to newcomers? Well, let’s pick up our dragon-slaying swords and take a look! 

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Our main story involves Davion, voiced by Yuri Lowenthal, a famed Dragon Knight, who, well, specializes in slaying dragons. After coming to the savior of a town in dire straits of getting attacked by a dragon, Davion and his cohort encounter a woman, well, a princess in hiding named Mirana, voiced by Lara Pulver. While making sure she and her compatriot get out of a situation at a bar, Davion then hears the word of the captain of the guards going deep into a pit where a supposed Eldwurm, basically a dragon that rules over others is hiding. As he finds the captain of the guards, Davion realizes an evil force known as Terrorblade, voiced by JB Blanc, has taken the captain over and wants to possess an Eldwurm known as Slyrak the Ember Eldwurm, voiced by the Candyman himself, Tony Todd. Davion and Slyrak defeat Terrorblade for now, but the fight leaves Slyrak in a dire condition. Davion decides to give him the warrior’s death, but Slyrak pulls a last-minute move and ends up bonding with Davion. Luckily for Mirana, she and her right hand find Davion in a forest at a later point with no memory of his actions. The three then go on an adventure to do a few things including helping get Davion his memory back and to get back these special lotus flowers that were stolen from Mirana. The plot gets even denser when the story gets entangled with a cult-like group, a sorcerer that lives in a hidden tower, and so much more. 

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Yeah, that is right off the bat, the biggest problem with this show. For the first eight episodes, they build up a very Game of Thrones-style world-building with it focusing on a few heroes from the game, but filling it up with heavy amounts of lore, backstories, and multiple plot threads going on all at the same time. It gets to be a touch overbearing. It has a much more interesting world than say, Netflix’s previous anime based on a fantasy video game, Dragon’s Dogma. While Dota does have a familiar fantasy setting, it’s not as rampantly sexist, misogynistic, or filled with flawed ideals like feudalism and slavery are a good idea, and redistribution of wealth to the poor is bad actually. Yeah, Dragon’s Dogma didn’t have a great story and these elements flew past me because of how boring Dogma was. Anyway, major elements that the show introduces early on are either pushed to the side until the last episode or are sidelined for other story beats. For example, Terrorblade only shows up in the first and last episode. When I got to the final episode of the first season, it hit me that this was a season made to set up everything for the next season more than make the first season more impactful. There are no real satisfying arcs for the main characters and it ends on a fairly annoying cliffhanger for a second season. 

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Now, this isn’t to say there weren’t any story beats or characters I liked, but when it feels like the story isn’t going anywhere, or is going down another side path instead of sticking to the main road, then it feels grating to binge. However, I do like the characters. While they might be the more familiar and safe characters to base a series on, they are more compelling and likable than a lot of dark fantasy show heroes like in Dragon’s Dogma, where Ethan is a fairly bland and unlikable lead character. I know it’s not fun or fair to drag another show through the mud because it subjectively failed, but no matter what criticisms I have for Dota: Dragon’s Blood, it does what Dogma should have but didn’t do. I like Davion as a typical male swordsman, Mirana is a solid level-headed archer, and her right hand Marci is the best character in the show. There seems to be a bit more energy put into the characters and they aren’t simply trying to be like Game of Thrones. I want to be around these characters, and when the show focused on the drama of said characters, you can understand their point of view of why they are doing what they are, well, doing. 

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Animation-wise, I think it was smart to get a studio like Studio MIR on board with this project. The combination of 2D and CGI for the larger monsters makes for some great animation. The action is well-executed, and the characters are very expressive. You can even get subtle little details through some of the more unique characters like Marci who is one of the most expressive characters who doesn’t even say a single word. The English dub is also pretty good. Doesn’t hurt that you have a stellar voice cast that includes Yuri Lowenthal, Josh Keaton, Lara Pulver, Tony Todd, Troy Baker, Kari Wahlgren, Freya Tingley, Stephanie Jacobsen, Anson Mount, and JB Blanc. The music composed by Dino Meneghin is solid, but I wouldn’t call it the most memorable soundtrack. It kind of has a Game of Thrones and familiar fantasy-sounding tunes, but they get the job done. 

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While flawed and a bit too ambitious for its first season, Dota: Dragon’s Blood is a solid fantasy action series. It has a small selection of interesting characters, a great voice cast, good action scenes, and an interesting lore-filled story. I’m not entirely sure if it’s loyal to the source material, but if you want something to raise your spirits after a lot of mediocre fantasy epics from recent years, this show is one of the better ones. I mean, you can argue it’s not great, but does your series have Tony Todd as a giant red dragon? Of course not. Next time, I have another screener for a Netflix film! You will have to wait and see what it is! 

Thanks for reading the review! I hope you all enjoyed reading it! If you would like to support my work, make sure to share it out, and if you want to become a Patreon supporter, then you can go to patreon.com/camseyeview. I will see you all next time!

Rating: Rent it!

The Other Side of Animation 165: Promare Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com/camseyeview. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

When celebrating my 4th year of reviewing animated films, I wanted to pick something that would be special. It’s an exceptional review, and a yearly special should be about an interesting film. Well, what did I pick for this year? I chose Studio Trigger’s first feature film, Promare. Directed by Hiroyuki Imaishi, Promare is an accumulation of what you get when you give a Japanese studio known for high-octane action, a feature film budget, and total unapologetic passion. It’s the right kind of project that most passion projects could only dream of becoming. Let’s dive right in!

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The film takes place in a world where one day, people started gaining the ability to manipulate fire! They were labeled the Burnish. After almost wiping out all of the earth, 30 years pass, and we come to the beginning of the film where the major Burnish threat was taken care of. A Burnish fire breaks out, and a team of specialized firefighters called Burning Rescue is sent to take out the Burnish threat and save the innocent lives. Our main hero is Galos Thymos, dubbed by Billy Kametz. He’s the rookie member of Burning Rescue that ends up encountering the leader of a terrorist group called Mad Burnish. The leader of this terrorist group is named Lio Fotia, dubbed by Johnny Yong Bosch. After Galos captures Lio and his two grunts, things unfold into chaos as maybe the Burnish are not the bad guys, and something might be up with the governor of the city, Kray Foresight, dubbed by Crispin Freeman.

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I want to start gushing about the film, and there is nothing any of you can do to stop me! Anyway, the animation is downright gorgeous. Sure, it might be a mix of 2D and CGI animation, but, and I mean this with all sincerity, Promare might be the best Japanese-animated film that combines the two. The color choices are so perfect. All of the colors, even the darker ones are bright. The blues, the reds, the whites, the blacks, the neon pinks, the yellows, and you get the idea. Even with such a bright color palette and cartoony designs and movements, there are some beautiful shots and serious moments that never feel out of place. This film’s visual direction is on point.

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Now, in terms of action, it’s Studio Trigger. They open up with one of the most exciting sequences that you will see in 2019, and the action ramps up from there in true Studio Trigger fashion. It’s well-choreographed, exciting, never too busy to miss out on what’s going on, and it’s so earnest and aware of how absurd the fighting is. The dialogue during the animation is so aware of its epic nature, that it constantly calls itself out.

Even though the film is advertised as this epic action film, Promare does take time to let the story breathe, tackle themes about discrimination and nature, and let the characters flesh themselves out more. I found myself rooting for the good guys and the Burnish in their ideals and reasons for doing what they do. It might be loud dumb fun, but it has a heart, and that’s what keeps it from being a style-over-substance problem that we see in many passion projects. It knows when to push the pedal to the metal, and it knows when to chill for a moment.

In terms of the dub, I adored the cast they hired. You have some veteran voice actors like the always awesome Johnny Yong Bosch, Kari Wahlgren, Neil Kaplan, Crispin Freeman, and my man Steve Blum, but everyone was well-cast and put in five-star performances. Everyone was on the same page, and I didn’t see one actor who was left out. While anime voice acting can have its challenges, I bet everyone had a fun time getting to be boisterous, loud, and entertaining. Seriously, Billy Kametz, Erica Lindbeck, Matthew Mercer, Melissa Fahn, Mike Pollock, Alyson Leigh Rosenfeld, and Yuri Lowenthal were all fantastic. The music as well was perfect. It was grand in scale, epic, and it kept me and the audience excited throughout the entire film. Composer Hiroyuki Sawano put in a soundtrack that I could hear myself listening to anytime I’m about to go to work or getting ready for a physical workout. It’s just so beautiful, and I got pumped up and was ready for the next scene.

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Now, I could talk about how maybe some of the absurdity was a little much, or how the majority of Burning Rescue characters don’t get much screen time or development, but you know what? That doesn’t matter for this film. It’s meant to be this big fun movie, and that’s what I got. It had great animation, exciting action sequences, likable characters, awesome music, and was a blast from beginning to end. If you can find a theater that will be playing the dub or sub version of this film, go and watch it! For now, I think it’s time to look at one more Japanese feature before we watch DreamWorks Abominable. How about we make a return visit with our favorite anime thief, and check out Lupin the 3rd: Goemon’s Blood Spray?

Thanks for reading my review! I hope you enjoyed it. Make sure to like and share it! If you would like to support my work, you can become a patron at patreon.com/camseyeview. I will see you all next time!

Rating: Criterion/Essentials