Images courtesy of IMDB.com
Aaron Ehasz, writer and producer of Avatar: The Last Airbender is back with a new series on Netflix, The Dragon Prince. Given the enormous reception and following Avatar: The Last Airbender procured over the years, spawning the spinoff series Legend of Korra, a regrettable live-action adaptation, and a quantifiable butt-load of fan art, the high expectations for this show cannot be understated. I was excited about this show as soon as I heard about its existence, and I have not been disappointed.
The story follows two step-brothers, Callum and Ezran, and their guide, a Moonshadow Elf named Rayla, as they attempt to return a dragon egg to its mother and head off a war between the Humans and the Elves before it starts. Assassins, evil mages, and age-old animosity between Humans and Elves come between them and their goal.
For fans of Avatar: The Last Airbender, several similarities between these two shows will began to surface. Most notably, the plots of both revolve around the fate of the world being left in the hands of a small group of traveling children (plus one or two animal companions). Greatness is thrust upon them, and they must rise to the challenge to end a world-scale conflict that some evil adults incited and perpetuate for their own gain. This should already sound familiar.
Fans of Avatar: The Last Airbender can also expect to find the same quality of character in The Dragon Prince. Developing several characters–and doing a good job at it–while also developing a group dynamic amongst those characters is a balancing act the writers of both these shows have done exceptionally well. In Avatar: The Last Airbender, Aang and his friends all have deeply personable characters. Yet, their group dynamic, or who they are when they are together, is just as compelling.
The characters in The Dragon Prince develop a similar dynamic over the course of its short nine-episode first season. What I am excited to see is how these characters mature and are forced to confront flaws in each other and in themselves over the course of seasons to come. We catch a glimpse of this in season one, and since we know how well these writers have done it before, I think we have a lot of good storytelling to look forward to in subsequent seasons of The Dragon Prince.
But How Are They Different?
What sets The Dragon Prince apart from Avatar: The Last Airbender? Whereas Avatar took place in a fantasy world heavily influenced by Eastern imagery and lore, The Dragon Prince more closely resembles the archetypical Western fantasy world with elves, knights in shining armor, castles, evil wizards, and–of course–dragons. It’s an epic fantasy, and it has the four-minute long prologue to prove it.
The magic system of Avatar: The Last Airbender was–and remains–one of the coolest and best integrated magic systems ever written. With The Dragon Prince, the writers have again written a nature-based magic system, but there are some big differences. Magic doesn’t appear to be related to nationality as it is in Avatar, at least not for humans. In Avatar: The Last Airbender, any old farmer or roadside bandit in the fire kingdom could end up being a fire-bender. In The Dragon Prince, magic is a discipline practiced by mages, people in fancy robes who have magical artifacts and study magic as an almost academic pursuit. The magic in this world is a bit vaguer than it is in Avatar, and it will be interesting to see how it is developed in the future of the show.
The animation takes some getting used to. If anyone reading this has not yet watched the show, I hope to temper expectations regarding how the show looks. This is not the same kind of animation as Avatar: The Last Airbender. The Dragon Prince has computer generated characters against hand-drawn backgrounds, so the visual quality is not the same. The cool thing about animating the show this way is since they aren’t drawing the background in every frame they have the opportunity to use beautifully hand-painted backgrounds. The downside is there are times while watching the show when the character animations seem choppy as though the frame rate of the digital characters is just a little too low. This has no effect on the story, however, and shouldn’t dissuade any potential viewers. It’s just something to be aware of.
Representation in media is important for a lot of reasons, and plenty of studies have been made that support this idea. Television shows marketed to children have rapidly progressed toward better representation in their characters. The last episode of Legend of Korra is one example, and other shows such as Steven Universe have been revolutionizing representation in the media. The Dragon Prince has likewise taken big strides toward representing a broad spectrum of peoples. The character King Harrow, ruler of all humans, for instance, is a black man. General Amaya, a powerful human warrior who guards the border between human and elf nations (and a total badass), is a deaf woman. And based on the illustrations that accompany the end credits of every episode and hint at future plot points, there is reason to believe that the Moonshadow Elf Runaan who leads an attempted assassination against King Harrow is gay.
The Dragon Prince is not Avatar, nor should it be. There are a lot of reasons to watch it, even if you’re unfamiliar with Avatar. But if you are a fan of Avatar: The Last Airbender, let me tell you that its writers have found a new sandbox to play in, and it has the potential to be just as compelling as the first one. On a scale from one to binge-worthy, it is up there. I, for one, cannot wait for the next season.