Season 3 Could Be So Much More If Netflix Could Just Give It More Time
Everyone wants to be the next epic fantasy. Television has only doubled down on these in the past five years. You’ve got House of The Dragon on HBO; Vox Machina, The Wheel of Time, and The Lord of the Rings series on Amazon Prime; The Witcher and Shadow and Bone on Netflix; then in animation, The Dragon Prince, Disenchantment, Arcane, and DOTA: Dragon’s Blood.
These are just a few listed off the top of my head. The tip of the content iceberg as of late. Since the pandemic began, what we witnessed was an animation revolution. A period where animated series, thanks to lower costs and better technologies, allowed for easier access to larger-scale forms of storytelling.
Need a large-scale war battle but don’t have the permits?
Doable in drawings.
Giant monsters and intricate close-ups without the hours of stunt coordination?
Can be done without any harm to any people or animals on set.
Epic dragon battles that break into a throne room right in the thick of a heavy dialogue scene?
Animation can pull that off.
In fact, since 2010, every single Marvel movie and big-budget blockbuster has been rendered in previsualization, a technique that scales every single bit of dialogue and action scene years before it’s actually shot. A mapped out scale before principal photography, Previs is in many ways, a fancier form of storyboarding. Though for all practical purposes, it’s just 3D animation.
There’s a case to be made about why animated series are more important than ever. Good animation doesn’t just appeal to the audience’s predilections, it challenges everything we know using a minstrel of colors.
Think about Into the Spider-Verse and how uniquely styled this animation was for its time…
Like a synesthetic harpsichord of possibilities, a good animated series shines vibrant noise like a piercing light reverberating against the shadow of uncertainty. It’s a gift that forces the viewer to rethink the genre by toying with the trope of expectations. This art, this byproduct of a consumer culture generation, nurtured on Saturday morning cartoons, comic books, superheroes, and video games, is by the finger that sits on the pulse of possibility.
Because a good animated series plays with this idea of what it means to grow up. But a great one? A great animated series rolls out the red carpet for our arrival as adults.
DOTA: Dragon’s Blood falls under that latter category. It’s a great animated series that just needs more time. A rare product that’s been around for quite a while—almost two decades since its custom map debut on Warcraft 3—it’s only now that DOTA’s story is being showcased and explored.
The Case to Renew DOTA: Dragon’s Blood
— Christian Angeles (@Xn_Angeles) April 21, 2021
Suffice to say, I’m a big fan of the series. Still, despite my love of the game and all of these characters that I am finally getting to see onscreen, I do think DOTA has been missing something. Like an awkward teenager, it just needs more time and room to grow, though I personally don’t know if it’ll get that chance.
Only Netflix could answer that call… But given what’s been happening with the company, I’m not sure they’ll answer. So I’ll plead my case to the company here.
The Writing Was Actually Kind Of Amazing
People might argue against this, but I think the endpoints and overall plot points have been stellar. Easily some of the best story beats you’d expect out of a good fantasy series.
You’ve got dragons, a princess, some chosen ones (whether you’re talking about Davion, Fymrym, or Mirana), warrior knights, magic users, an impending great war, class racism, shocking deaths, betrayals, and even… a polyamorous pod of elven lovers.
When I look at DOTA: Dragon’s Blood, I see loads of lore. Tales of endless possibility. It’s a wonderful testimony to the strength of its writers as the show was developed by Ashley Edward Miller, the writer of the original Thor and the X-Men: First Class movie. Though he wasn’t enough to capture the layering complexities of this vast cast of heroes. So you also, have a staff of veteran writers that worked on the show to thank for the lore, including Steven Melching, Ashley Halloran, Mitch Iverson, and acclaimed comics writer Amy Chu.
I can’t stress enough, that getting DOTA down is hard, since it’s a complex series not just focused on heroes. You’ve got Dragons, the religions of Mene and Selemene, the Invoker’s desires to revive his daughter, and the doom to come that is Terrorblade—stories all interlinking with the sun of creation/Mirana whom the Eldwurms worship.
These are all not just tales of heroes and religious ideologies and kingdoms, but conflicts of interest bouncing against each other. An epic that brings about the entirely rich culture of DOTA.
It works well in the sense that all of this lore gets explored through the eyes of Davion, Mirana, and the crew. It lacks, sadly, in that because everything feels so packed into a short 8-episode season of 30-minute episodes, it’s hard to follow this ensemble of heroes and their journey.
But when I look at DOTA: Dragon’s Blood as a show, both as a critic/game critic and as a screenwriter, I see loads of lore, a tale of heroes, and an endless possibility for stories. Because if DOTA fans like myself were willing to see our beloved franchise go from free playing custom to a decade’s worth of valve online MOBAs, you have to admit, we’re a very loyal fanbase. And if Netflix wants to continue bridging the gap between games and streaming video content for IPs such as The Witcher, Castlevania, Resident Evil, Tekken, Assassin’s Creed, Cyberpunk, League of Legends, Tomb Raider, Sonic, The Divison, and Far Cry, then they should keep trying to maintain their gaming-related IPs. Especially if the future goal is to pivot toward streaming video games.
The Fantasy Settings
One of the strange things about this season was its release timing, as the series launched oddly close to Witcher season 2, which shared many similarities.
The Dragon Hunter’s Keep looked very reminiscent of The Witcher’s Kaer Morhen in that it was an isolated mountain stronghold. Atop of this, the blood of Davion being used for experimental purposes is also very reminiscent of the experiments done with the bloodline of Ciri in Witcher season 2. For those reasons, and the fact that both fall under fantasy on Netflix, the parallels felt strong.
That said, the artwork for this season is amazing and it’s really after we leave the Dragon Hunter’s Keep that the story gets a bit of life. The Helio Imperium is easily a place of awe and a wondrous contrast to the grim tones of the series.
Cleverly, this kingdom of the sun also contrasts greatly with the tones of the dark moon order of the silver woods, all of which, sets up for a long-anticipated battle between Mirana versus Selemene in a duel between Goddesses that I think fans are dying to see.
Speaking of which, the battle sequences are epic in this season. Whenever they could fit in fights is where the team behind Studio Mir really shined. Whether it be Invoker and Terrorblade’s verbal chess matches like in episode 4 or Lina’s fight against Slyrak/Davion, it’s just a lot of fun to watch. It’s not as violent as Castlevania though not as directionless as Blood of Zeus. It’s just something fans of DOTA have been waiting for years to see – spells like Sunstrike or Laguna in action!
Where it goes from here though, between Slyrak’s battle against Terrorblade, Invoker needing to prepare against Selemene’s wraith, and the fate of the Helio Imperium’s inevitable battle versus Selemene, it all leads to a promising end if we can get there.
Anyone who watches this show does so out of love of each of the Heroes. While this season sees the main trio often off on their own, you do get a lot of fun bits with everyone regarding their growth and development, including seeing Davion going full Naruto in that he’s often losing control to Slyrack this season.
The biggest highlight of the season was Mirana’s backstory. Finding out how she lost her parents, along with her unique status as a Godlike being, oddly ties together a good chunk of the lore. Making hers and Davion’s love story ever-complicated. But the best beat of her journey in season two was in finally seeing the Marci and Mirana origins story and finding out Mirana activated something in Marci that gives her super-strength.
Heroes of Deserving Highlights
Frost Wyvern Auroth
Auroth is simply amazing this season and is easily one of the best new characters. Essentially a manic pixie dream dragon, her odd marriage/not marriage with Bram sees growth for both characters. With Bram finding courage, and Auroth finding poetry and the best glimpses of human mortality. It’s strange how her storyline of life and poetry not only has the best B-plot in the series, but also is the very thing that gave it a serious amount of heart.
Viceroy Kashurra’s story is a pretty weird reveal. He’s a bad guy in a twist that comes out of nowhere. A somewhat lovable guidance figure until it’s revealed just how twisted he is.
Kashurra is a corrupted dragon-like Auroth, but with a much worse effect on the events in the story. If Auroth’s character is meant to showcase themes of wisdom, love, and life, I think Kashurra’s was meant to be the opposite. In that, his was one of destruction and hoarding the source of life itself for itself.
Ryai the Crystal Maiden
Rylai the Crystal Maiden is awesome and I think fans unanimously wish there was more time for her. In the story, she seems to be in a relationship with Kaden. She’s little more than a side character as seen thus far, though there can be endless possibilities with what she’d do next given all the loss she suffers in season 2.
Lina the Slayer
Lina is epic in this season and is easily the most compelling combatant in the series. For fans of the character, Lina was originally modeled off of Lina Inverse from the acclaimed anime hit series Slayers, at least, before the retconning in DOTA 2.
Meeting her for the first time, and just really seeing her kicking ass, is such an homage to fans of the character. She’s been a favorite of many for a long time. It’s also really heated that her specials are of the fire element similar to how Davion is the avatar for the fire dragon king. So there’s a bond here that doesn’t get fully explored.
Though it’s a personal fan theory, I feel like the original plotline here might’ve had Lina and Davion be in a romantic side story. Because there’s definitely a jealous tension between Mirana and Lina over the Solar Throne. Given that so much of the latter arc is in seeing Davion’s support for Lina over Mirana, it feels natural (in a YA fantasy way), that there could have been a romance-gone-wrong story here that was never written out. A love-triangle between Davion and the future rulers.
Vanari (Possibly Drow Ranger)
Just going to throw this quick one out there: Vanari isn’t called out but I’m convinced that she’s the Drow Ranger. She’s got unique arrows and a hood, plus screams absolute badass with agile attacks and abilities. If not Drow, then I’m convinced she was possibly originally drow in early designs. In the same way I’m convinced Kaden was probably/or is the Chaos Knight. But these are both theories.
The season picks up well from where it left off in the finale. The Dragonkeep’s issues are resolved and episode 2 just featured some great moments of dark flashbacks absolutely carried by Terrorblade. Given how much lore needed to be stuffed in, learning about Davion, Bram, Kaden, and Fymryn, along with their traumatic histories in the second episode, made for some very promising character explorations. All for a strange yet intimately dark introduction to this season.
But whereas the first three episodes see a lot of fleeing for survival after the aftermath of the fall of the Temple of Mene, episode 3 is also where it gets tricky. A lot of new heroes get introduced in a short time span, along with the entire kingdom of the sun. It’s entertaining for longtime fans, but also completely jarring for any newcomers who aren’t in love with the heroes that we’ve grown to love. The biggest complaint of this season is too much seems to be happening in a short 30-minute episode runtime.
Episode 6 is where it all really falls apart. It just seemed like the show was ending just as soon as it began. That one in particular just saw too many plots and subplots, and while it’s interesting to see political intrigue unfold in a very Game of Thrones kind of way, the last two episodes of season 2, all but jump ahead to the aftermath of what was—at least I’m guessing—an outline whose middle beats never found the breathing space to develop.
That said, I loved the speech by Davion about why we fight. Even more so, I loved the final battle with build-ups, stakes, battles, and cameos of each hero doing pretty badass things. That the ‘Sunbeam’ nickname for Mirana meant the actual physical embodiment of the sun is kind of awesome… and that it took Marci’s loss to unlock her inner-being is tragic. It’s good writing, just not paced the best.
That said, the loss in the series was heartbreaking but in a good way to rebalance. Because everyone loses something by the end of the season. Whether it’s the Dragon Knights’ deaths, Lina’s Death, Auroth’s Death, or even Marci’s Death. So much loss this season feels like a good chance for the heroes, and the show really, to rebalance its priorities and focus in on specific characters.
I can’t stress enough again that episode 6 should really have been 3 episodes… because it’s a travesty the kind of treatment Lina had gotten by the end.
Yes, she’s the fire… but we’re really never given a chance to know why. The Sun kingdom also has some sort of political drama between powers that sees Lina become regent and Davion, and go nuts after killing the emperor at the Helio Imperium. All while Lina gets support from her political rivals, at the same time, Mirana conveniently awakens, only to lose anyway due to politics. AND THAT’S JUST AN EPISODE!
Again, they’re not bad plots. But it’s exhausting to get through.
That said, I loved the Invoker story and Fymryn arc. The Devil really just wanted life to return to the way before with his daughter, which is easily the simplest yet most straightforward of the stories (oddly, for its most complicated character). It feels like it’s paced properly, as Invoker and Terrorblade both manipulate their game of wits to try and gain favors to achieve their very different goals.
That said, it should be noted that this series features voice talent that’s some of the best in the business. Yuri Lowenthal (Davion) and Troy Baker (Invoker) are easily two of the hottest names in voice-over, but to also somehow contract actresses Lara Pulver (Mirana) and Freya Tingley (Fymrym), two of the most talented and well-ranged actresses on stage and TV, was basically committing talent larceny. All four of them deserved more screen time together, as it’s the core 4, that I believe make the true face of the series.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment I’d found in the series was Davion’s journey regarding the weight of his actions and all the bad he did. He definitely feels more reactive than proactive in the season, and it’s a bit hard to swallow given everything he’s lamenting over, happens in episodes 5 and 6. So much of Davion’s guilt felt unearned because we weren’t paying attention… as we were lost in the confusing political intrigue. It also didn’t feel that Davion and Mirana were separated for that long despite not seeing each other until midway through. The time skips really did no favors to the pacing of the story.
Which again could’ve been resolved if they’d just given it 3-4 more episodes in that middle.
This year saw Netflix drop to its lowest price since 2018. Subscriptions have slowed, largely due to hiked prices and a crackdown on password sharing. If that wasn’t enough because the company is stretched thin with the ridiculous amounts of content it’s producing, the series got very little promotion. Let alone, attention. This is strange given the company’s dedication to wanting to hit the gaming community members.
I really hope Studio Mir gets more time and more budget for the third season. I just feel like DOTA: Dragon’s Blood’s potential was not fully realized due to its constraints in time and money.
In fact, a long time ago I’d written about another great animated show on Netflix called Glitchtechs. They were also an amazing animated series that had fantastic development teams and a story that really stood out there. One that hit all the right demographics in that it was about gamers, a whole lot of fun, and littered with easter eggs and talented animation.
I’d argue both just did not get enough support from Netflix. Because after a 2 season drop Glitchtechs was also on hiatus, leading to many fan campaigns for those seeking a new season. Netflix sort of has a problem in that their best works tend to go undermarketed or let go before having a chance to shine.
The Final Conclusion—DOTA: Dragon’s Blood Season 2
The original DOTA was a place where gamers such as myself, now in our 30s, could escape playing a bunch of characters that beat each other up. These avatars of our prime ages and the hours that turned into years spent with friends playing, ganking, and overall pawning other noobs? That’s what we loved about DOTA.
It was about Ventrilo chats and internet trolling. The budding years of MMORPGs and MOBAs. The Dungeon and Dragons-esque universe formed out of all of these stories and the fandoms and the conventions and the inevitable invention of E-Sports.
DOTA wasn’t just a game. It was our social circle. It was our life. It was our escape. The things that grew out of things like DOTA, and the people that played, are the same who are watching this show. We’re the ones who fell in love with this type of gaming universe. We would be happy to see more… but only so long as the series gets made the right way it deserved.
A season 3 with a 12 Episode story arc, Netflix.
Do it and I promise you won’t regret it.