2:30 pm EDT, September 7, 2018

‘The Dragon Prince’ is the best new Netflix show of 2018

Is The Dragon Prince on Netflix your newest animated obsession? Two Hypable writers agree on the answer.

There are a lot of overlapping obsessions here at Hypable, but sometimes the love is so strong, it’s just got to be shared. The Dragon Prince is one of those times, and so Hypable writers Donya and Michal have teamed up to break down everything that makes this world of myth and magic so marvelous.

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Great characters, strong relationships

Donya: Knowing, heading in to The Dragon Prince, that the bulk of the narrative of the show would need to be driven by the central trio of Princes Callum and Ezran, as well as Moonshadow elf, Rayla, the first three episodes were faced with a monumental task — as an audience, we needed to be invested in their story, their potential, and their relationships, early on.

By the end of episode three, the dynamic of the trio was something that promised a rich and complex story moving forward through the remainder of the season.

Ezran — who I was concerned might be difficult to connect with, for an older audience finding their way back to Aaron Ehasz’s storytelling, since his time on Avatar — was sweet, though not as naïve to his world as others around him might want to believe, which added a surprising depth to his actions that was deftly handled. Ezran’s interactions with Bait — his glow toad — were also heart-warming, though it became clear, very quickly, that the two are prone to mischief when left to their own devices.

The elder prince, Callum, tested the depths of Jack DeSena’s voice work. Callum is kind, soft-spoken, but also understandably frustrated by situations that are seemingly beyond his control — which leads to some instances where he lashes out, and his words cut deep. And, though the two brothers clash, in the way that siblings often do, Callum undoubtedly cares deeply for Ezran. This was illustrated by one moment in particular, which may cause hearts to beat a little faster, and also suggested just how far Callum might go in order to keep his younger brother safe.

In fact, those familial connections, between Callum, Ezran, and their father, Harrow, was one of the most compelling relationships through the “prologue.” King Harrow loves both of his sons, unconditionally, but is pragmatic about the world in which they live, and so does what he can in order to protect them. There is some friction, particularly from Callum’s side, in how he fits into that dynamic, which seems as though it will continue to play out throughout the show — most notably in the way that others within the court treat his legitimacy, in respect to how he is related to King Harrow.

(Rayla, in her own way, also fits into that familial dynamic, when the trio eventually begin to work together — akin to a third sibling, in some respects, adding another layer to the kinds of family that will be represented on the show.)

Michal: Another great thing about The Dragon Prince is that much of the cast exists in shades of gray, with moral alignments either conflicted or left ambiguous. This starts at the top — King Harrow is clearly a loving father to Callum and Ezran, but he is haunted by a bloody past. Rayla and Runaan, the super-assassin Moonshadow elves whose murderous mission kicks off the series, are a fascinating blend of badass killage and genuine righteousness and honor. As an extra twist, Rayla is quickly forced to reckon with that righteousness, as her instincts war with love for her people and what she has been taught to believe.

And then there is the royal support system. Lord Viren, the king’s advisor and wily master of the forces of dark magic, should be the unambiguous villain… but The Dragon Prince takes a more nuanced approach. Viren may not be afraid to get his hands dirty, but he too acts with his own sense of honor, his motives nuanced and real. By the same token, Viren’s daughter Claudia is a prodigy at dark magic, ruthlessly determined in her actions… and a total dork, who is a genuine friend to both Callum and Ezran.

Like the best of stories, there are delicate layers to every character in The Dragon Prince. Most of these have yet to be peeled back and explored, but the first three episodes are almost more exciting for what they suggest than what they reveal.

A wide and interesting world

Donya: The world of The Dragon Prince was immediately compelling. Its introduction, through an extended history of how the human kingdom of Katolis, and the one from which the elves and dragons hail, Xadia, fractured and came into conflict suggested a rich and complex, background upon which the series was built. Eking that information out, slowly, as the story unfolds is something that elicits a genuine excitement, as by the time the three episodes end you have barely even begun to scratch the surface.

It might, at times, feel somewhat overwhelming — and also, at times, veer into the territory of info-dump — but it is entirely necessary. The politics, magic, and warring factions of The Dragon Prince are layered on top of centuries of history. There is so much more than we already know, and that potential — and how it directly affects the characters — is palpable.

Michal: Yes, make no mistake, this is a complicated world. With elves, dragons, humans, six forms of magic, and multiple kingdoms at stake, The Dragon Prince is edging into Too Much territory. But luckily, amidst all the names, magic, and politics, the world of The Dragon Prince is ultimately grounded in real and palpable conflict.

Characters question each other, but more often question themselves. Conflict breaks out between opposing thematic forces — negotiation versus action, compassion versus revenge, deception versus confrontation, and more. The worldbuilding of The Dragon Prince may seem labyrinthine, but it is not haphazard. Time will tell if all of the many separate pieces will prove their worth, but signs so far are very encouraging.

Much magic, good magic

Donya: Often, a fantasy world can live and die by its magic systems. Though the idea of it is, by nature, fantastical, it still needs to be rooted in its own logic — there are rules it must play by, otherwise it becomes a MacGuffin.

In The Dragon Prince, the magic is already operating under some interesting concepts. Yes, it is largely based on the elements of its world – of which Moon is one, and the overarching element of the first season — but it also has some limitations. Runes come into play, as well as objects that serve as a channel or conduit for abilities. There are certain elements, specifically dark, that appear to bypass these internal rules, but it is not without its consequences — something that is stressed quite heavily, as they start to take their toll.

Though, as complex as those internal rules may be, the first three episodes introduce a way in which the audience can naturally learn about them, without having to be subject to too much information at once. But that is a moment that is best left to the audience’s own discovery.

Michal: With six (err, seven) separate sources of power, much of the magic system remains mysterious in the early episodes of The Dragon Prince. But what does appear is promising, especially when the invisible invincibility of the Moonshadow elves meets the dark magic of Viren and Claudia’s preference. You may not have realized that watching a teenage girl morph her spirit into charging beasts of purple smoke was something you badly needed in your life, but I can assure you that this is definitely the case.

Themes up to our eyeballs

Donya: The one thread of The Dragon Prince that intrigued me, almost immediately, was how it plays with the idea of family. There is a lot, across all three episodes, that has narrative potential — but family remains at the heart of it, and what that means. How that will play out across the remainder of season 1 — especially considering how the third episode ends — remains to be seen, but it stuck with me for days after screening the episodes.

Family of blood, the order of succession, legitimacy, and how disparate characters come together to make their own, makeshift, found family are all introduced, and have the potential to get messy. (As always, keeping secrets? Especially ones that could, and will, alter someone’s world view, or even be seen as a betrayal? Not. A. Good. Idea.)

One relationship that falls under this theme that has me theorizing and wondering just how it might all shake out, is the one between Viren and Callum. There is a one-sided resentment and almost vicious edge to their interactions that speaks to a much larger story to unfold, and it is one that I cannot wait to see.

Michal: What distinguishes The Dragon Prince to me is its commitment to ideas. The story is shot through with powerful themes delivered in the gorgeous mechanism of fantasy, without sacrificing either force.

The Dragon Prince wants you to laugh at a magic toad as it considers the devastation of cyclical violence. It makes you consider the consequences of choosing “the lesser evil” while cheering the people who represent that choice. It’s about getting stuck between family loyalty and the perilous logic of justifying awful means with virtuous ends.

Overall, The Dragon Prince makes harmony out of conflict, blending strong characters, intriguing magic, and profound ideas into a compelling story. Binge it fast and hard, with friends and family of all ages — you won’t be disappointed.

All nine episodes of Netflix’s The Dragon Prince will be released on Friday, Sept. 14.

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