Deadly Monsters and Murky Lore: A Review of "DOTA: Dragon's Blood" Season One
I actually watched the first season of DOTA: Dragon's Blood when it first came out a year or more ago. I even started drafting this review while still living in Japan, where I watched it, but got distracted by other things. Oops!
Based on the game DOTA 2 (DOTA standing for "Defense of the Ancients"), a Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) game, the show has an immense task before it--telling a compelling story based on its source material (and as far as online battle arena games go, I'm not sure how much story is there to begin with). Having never played the game or literally knowing anything about it, I jumped into DOTA: Dragon's Blood as a total newbie, looking forward to what I thought would be a high fantasy set in a world of dragons and knights, filled with magic and lore. and lovely animation. It's pretty much what I got.
A conflicted yet courageous Dragon Knight must use the power of the dragon within to stop a deadly demon in this epic fantasy based on the online game.
Story: Davion is a dragon knight (an illustrious dragon hunter) who gets possessed by the dragon Slyrak and is drawn to an even larger conflict than dealing with the monster within: the demon Terrorblade has appeared, ready to remake the world in his own image; there's a violent religious conflict between the elves who worship Selemene and Mene; and a mysterious elven Invoker who seems to have his hands in all of it.
That's the simplest way I can describe what's happening. There's kind of a lot, and I can't make sense of all of it, I'm embarrassed to say. But that's the general gist of the situation we're presented with.
The story is kind of all over the place because there's just so much that has to be accomplished. I think the creators were mostly successful, but once the series gets into the larger lore of things, it gets convoluted pretty quickly. The series functions best when it focuses on the intimate details of the characters...a father mourning the death of his daughter; a man struggling with his inner demons; a woman torn over her roles and responsibilities...I like the smaller, more personal struggles. The bigger picture--fighting a demon who wants to take over the world (nay! the universe!)--is a bit of a mess.
But the thing is, despite these faults, I do like the show! Each episode is an improvement on the other, and I like the characters and want to know what will happen to them. The show has a lot of mysteries that are keeping me curious, and that curiosity has me glued to the screen. So even though I have my criticisms, I do think this is a good show, and I'll keep watching it.
Characters: Typical of epic fantasies, there is a huge cast to contend with. I had a hard time narrowing down which characters to feature here, and it's still a lot, so bear with me!
Davion (played by Yuri Lowenthal), I think, is a typical quest hero sort of lead. He's heroic, has enough charm to romance the ladies, is a tough and talented fighter...and he seems to respect his prey (like how he treats some of the dragons he's hired to kill). What makes him interesting is the struggle between his beastly (dragon) side and his human side. It's a common trope to become a monster in order to fight monsters, and in Davion's case, he becomes the monster he's had no qualms over killing.
Davion is pretty mindless in his demon dragon form except when Slyrak is speaking through him. Basically Davion launches into hyper-violence mode whenever he takes on his dragon form. If he does speak, it's often in two voices: Slyrak's and his own.
Overall, what do I think of Davion? He's kind of hard for me to get a read on as the hero. I think his inner struggle is interesting, but most of the time it seems like he's being used to get through plot points. Let me facepalm for a second, because yes, that's what characters do...so what do I mean? A lot of stuff seems to happen to Davion, and he's always moving to the next thing...I haven't gotten a close look at who he is as a person in depth because of all of the action to get through. It's my hope in Season Two we get an even closer look at him. I think he has a lot of potential and Yuri Lowenthal does a good job playing him, and I know Davion is not only a heroic hero, but he's meant to be a romantic lead as well...I want to see more of that.
I wonder if Davion is not supposed to be so clear-cut on purpose. From what I remember, Mirana sort of hounds him about hiding his true emotions and true self, and they share some points of contention about it even as they start to fall for one another. So, maybe that's part of Davion's mystery--he's finding himself, so viewers are finding him, too.
Mirana (played by Lara Pulver) is a princess who serves the goddess Selemene. She's on a quest to retrieve the sacred lotuses that were stolen. These are no ordinary lotuses--they are considered part of what gives Selemene her power. Considering Selemene is a character that isn't clearly good, it makes you question why Mirana is so loyal to her...which in turn makes you wonder if Mirana isn't going to entirely be good, either.
But we don't really see this in Season One. Mirana is as heroic and good as they come.
I like Mirana. She's not a typical "princess" that ends up being a damsel; she has cool magic and is a great shot, and she doesn't take nonsense from anyone. She's deeply committed to her cause but also is humane in the treatment of others who technically would be considered her enemy as a supporter of Selemene, like the elves known as the Coriel’tauvi, who worship the goddess Mene.
Mirana is lucky as she has also been given some really excellent scenes in the show. The weird episode where she ends up in the cavern with the undead and hallucinates (though the vision admittedly went a little over my head) is one interesting scene. Then soon after she has one of the best action sequences in the show, where Slyrak takes over Davion and returns to his full dragon form to attack her. The fight goes through a variety of landscapes as the edge closer to the Invoker's tower, and it's a thrilling scene.
The only thing I didn't care for with Mirana was when she was jealous Fymryn and Davion hitting it off so well initially. That felt kind of out of place with her character, but I guess it was another way to show that she has feelings for Davion.
I know there's something more significant about Mirana than what we've seen in Season One, and I look forward to diving into the role she plays in the events to come.
The Invoker (played by Troy Baker) is a mysterious character. First of all, we don't get his real name. Second of all, he is a former lover of Selemene, but there's still some conflict and attachment there as the story progresses. Third, his role in the show isn't quite clear. He's a manipulator of events, shares some of the story's lore, and appears to be both heroic and villainous. It seems he wants to help people (he heals Mirana and Marci after their fight with Slyrak, he helps return the lotuses), but at the same time, Mirana believes he will bring about the apocalypse. And at the end of Season One, we see that the Invoker struck a deal with Terrorblade to get him the Eldwurm's souls (dragons who are the Pillars of Creation with ties to the eight elements) in exchange for Selemene. That is no small thing.
Why would the Invoker give Terrorblade what he wants? We have to go back to when the Invoker was younger. As I said before, he was Selemene's lover, and the two had a child together, Filomena. Filomena was ill with an incurable disease, and Selemene, as a goddess, had the power to heal her, but she refused when Filomena would not worship her as a goddess, instead choosing to only love her as a mother. So, Selemene's pride and warped understanding of love let Filomena die, and the Invoker has never forgiven her.
This is actually my favorite storyline of the entire show. It's emotionally compelling and it's interesting to see how a father's sorrow can drive him to do unspeakable things.
Fymryn (played by Freya TIngley) is an elf who worships Mene, the moon goddess who was killed and replaced by Selemene, and is the one who steals the sacred lotuses.
She's a sympathetic character given the tragedy her people have suffered for worshipping Mene, and the murder of her entire pod (a polyamorous grouping the elves partake in). She's another character where I can't tell entirely where she's going to end up, but she's interesting to watch.
Marci is Mirana's bodyguard. She is a silent character but she's pretty expressive, and she's absolutely very tough and good at her job. We don't know much about her character, only that people regularly underestimate her, and she's a loyal companion. I find her entertaining, like when she gives Davion a hug and a weapon right before he's about to face off with a bunch of bandits...kind of like, "Here you are, don't die, but if you do die, goodbye!" I hope to see more of her as the story continues.
Selemene (voiced by Alix Wilton Regan) is a seductive character who has godlike powers, but she seems to be primarily in it for the worshippers, and her catchphrase would be, "Do you love me?" She comes across as very selfish and had left her own daughter with the Invoker to die after her daughter refused to worship her. At the end of the season, her words are turned against her ("Do you love me?") by the Invoker in a very dramatic ending that made me want to find out more!
Voiced by Tony Todd, Slyrak is a dragon who likes to taunt Davion even while Slyrak is speaking through him. He often likes to call Davion a "little mouse" to show how little of a threat Slyrak considers him to be. I don't have much to say about Slyrak's character, other than he is an interesting dragon and I love Tony Todd's voice.
Terrorblade is one of the worst names for a villain I've ever heard. There. I said it. I have not much to say about Terrorblade except he is a sort of devil-like character that taunts characters and encourages them to give in to their darker sides, often manipulating them and controlling them. While Slyrak may be one of the "villains," the real bad guy here is Terrorblade, who is pulling the puppet strings for a bigger cause.
Animation: Studio Mir, a Korean animation studio and one of my favorites (they've done Voltron: Legendary Defender and My Adventures with Superman), did a gorgeous job with the animation as usual. The dragons look great, as well as the backgrounds and opening sequence.
Voice Acting: I think the voice acting is top-notch and everybody was well cast. While I wish I could hear more of Tony Todd by himself (sometimes he and Yuri Lowenthal speak together when Davion is possessed), I understand why the creators did what they did. I've always liked Yuri Lowenthal and Troy Baker so it's nice to see their work here. Alix Wilton Regan is a particular standout for the way she seduces followers with her voice.
Low Points of the Season: The lore. The lore is absolute gobbledygook. I couldn't tell you in coherent sentences how this world was created because I just didn't understand it myself.
High Points of the Season: I have enjoyed how the characters interact with each other, and I like Mirana and Davion together, which I felt was inevitable. The animation is lovely and there's plenty of action.
Final Thoughts: If you can get over the cluttered worldbuilding in the prologue that sets everything up, this is a good show to watch, if dragons and epic fantasy are your thing. I'll definitely be watching the subsequent seasons on Netflix. Let me know what you think in the comments!