In 2005, the world was introduced to the highflying, element bending adventures of Avatar: The Last Airbender. A masterpiece that dared to address mature subject matters of eastern philosophy, the tragedies of war and the power of childlike wonder. All while making us fall in love with its complex and quirky characters. Not since its finale in 2008 have we laid eyes on an animated show of such calibre. Yes, not even Korra could live up to its forerunner. Perhaps however, now might be time to usher in its true successor. Since 2017, Last Airbender head writer Aaron Ehasz has started his own studio with Uncharted game director Justin Richmond to create yet another fantasy series. Moving away from Asian inspiration and into a more traditional archetype of western fantasy, Ehasz brings us The Dragon Prince. Will it be a true spiritual successor to The Last Airbender or is a mere pretender to the throne? Let’s find out.
The world of Dragon Prince is set in the continent of Xadia. Long ago the peoples of Xadia all lived in harmony (heh get it) but everything changed when a human mage discovered dark magic. A power that drains the magical essence and lifeforce of living things to empower its wielder. Horrified by what they witnessed, the elves and dragons drove mankind to the uttermost west of the continent. Xadia was torn asunder with the west belonging to the human kingdoms and to the east the elven lands. Guarding the border between them was the Dragon King Thunder until he and his only egg were slain using dark magic. A year after, the elves and humans are at risk of war that is until an unlikely trio happened upon the Dragon King’s egg that was supposedly destroyed. Now an elven assassin who has never killed and two princes of men must deliver the Dragon Prince to the Dragon Queen before Xadia is consumed by war.
Though Dragon Prince borrows a few elements from the world of Avatar, it does enough to distinguish itself from Ehasz’s previous project. Instead of the natural four elements, there are seven primal sources of magic: Sun, Moon, Star, Earth, Sky, Ocean and Dark. The title sequences segregate the different episodes into chapters of books… sound familiar? They even got the voice actor of Sokka in here? Nonetheless, the show never feels like its treading too much in old territory. The rules of this world are fairly unique and the quest that these heroes undertake is more of peacekeeping than military.
The characters here are fairly lovable thanks to the excellent writing on Ehasz and Richmond’s part. Sokka voice actor Jason De Sena is a perfect fit for the part of Callum, the stepson to King Harrow of Katolis. Much like his previous animated incarnation, De Sana brings his signature sarcasm, wit and charm to the character of Callum. He also sits comfortably at the front seat of The Dragon Prince as the lead protagonist. There’s a lot I could see developed in future seasons down the line with him. Paula Burrows as the Scottish-accented Moonshadow elf Rayla works wonderfully with De Sena’s Callum. Acting as the competent and focused yin to his naive and inexperienced yang. We do a get a few good funny moments from her though especially when she’s trying to “act human”. Rounding the band together is Callum’s stepbrother, prince Ezran played by Sasha Rojen with his adorable glow toad Bait. He serves as the heart to the group, caring for the egg while trying to keep Rayla and Callum together at least until they accomplish their task.
In spite of The Dragon Prince very much being a show for younger audiences, it still manages to touch on a good number of mature themes without compromising its lighthearted tone. One of them being how children inherit the sins of their parents. Callum and Ezran must try to undo the damage their father has done upon the world while Rayla seeks to redeem her parents’ past. It even goes into some pretty grim places when the children of the king’s scheming adviser Viron are forced to make choices that go against their moral code. Not quite Zuko level of intensity…for now. The show also discusses racial prejudice and how war dehumanizes us all with Rayla experiencing this discrimination firsthand when she is presumed to be a savage bloodthirsty animal by the human populace. She too believed that humans were corrupt murderers until she met Callum and Ezran.
Right, time to address the giant 3D rendered elephant in the room: the animation. Wonderstorm Studios seem to have created a hybrid between traditional 2D and 3D animation. Initially, I was concerned that character model movements would be stunted but all fears were quickly dispelled when I saw Rayla leap from tree to tree in the first episode. The visuals are sharp and beautiful making clever use of shading and colour that elevates Dragon Prince far above the likes of Star Wars: Rebels. That being said, some of the facial expressions at times do feel a bit odd and on a few occasions character interactions can seem a tad wooden but it’s not really noticeable. So far we’ve only seen a small portion of the land of Xadia, namely that of forests and castles. I look forward to seeing what new and wondrous locales we’ll see in the second season.
I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of The Dragon Prince. The characters are likeable, the show moves at a comfortable pace giving us enough time for development. The visuals are fluid and beautiful and the writing is fun and nuanced. There’s so much more to the world Xadia that could be explored in the second season and plenty to enjoy in the first. Is it as good as Avatar: The Last Airbender? No, but honestly I don’t care. Ehasz and Richmond have created a series with just the right about heart, humour, action and magic. It’s available on Netflix today!
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