Western Animation: The Reward

From Level Zero to Level Badass in 9:01 minutes.

"The Reward" is a short film that was created by students of the Danish animation school The Animation Workshop as their bachelor project. After its release in January 2013, it went viral within days of going online, gaining a lot of attention on Tumblr.

Its popularity is largely based on its epicness and play with familiar fantasy tropes. The awesome music doesn't hurt either.

The short can be watched in full length here

The Kickstarter campaign to develop the short's universe into a more complete and coherent narrative wrapped up on April 6th, 2013, and the creators are currently working to build "Tales of Alethrion" into a full-fledged series. After many delays, the next installment, The First Hero, finally came out in April 2015, and the campaign for more episodes succeeded in funding two more.

Tropes found in The Reward include:

  • The Ace: The titular Alethrion, the First Hero. Ruthless, unbeatable, and driven, it's fair to say that the only person that could defeat him was himself. And he did.
  • Action Girl: Amerath, though she was more focused on having adventures than getting into fights.
    • Sylvia and Tatiana as well.
  • Adrenaline Makeover: The two slowly grow into the role of Badasses over the adventure, and it's visible.
  • Adventure Duo: Self-explanatory.
  • Adventure Town: The heroes pass through a few, most notably the colorful tower city.
  • All There in the Manual: Word of God states that the protagonists' names are Wilhelm and Vito, respectively, Vito being the magician and Wilhelm the swordfighter. Their village is named Tohan. It's also stated that Wilhelm spends his time wasting his life in the small village.
  • And the Adventure Continues: Not only for the two kids (Mik and Ken) who "inherit" the map, but for Wilhelm, Vito, and the two cute girls they pick up — Sylvia and Tatiana — who already seem pretty solid on that Power of Friendship deal.
  • Awesomeness Is Volatile: The high-five that our two adventurers share when they realize that the greatest reward is their newfound friendship leads to an explosion of awesomeness so powerful it can be seen from space. Literally.
  • Badass Beard: Vito grows a damn impressive one.
  • Badass Longcoat: Wilhelm has one by the end.
  • Badass Mustache: Wilhelm grows one after he takes a level in badass.
  • Battle Couple: Wilhelm and Vito, naturally, of the Sword and Sorcerer type.
    • Alethrion and Amerath
    • Sylvia and Tatiana
    • Ken and Mik
    • Blenn and Jarna
  • Big, Thin, Short Trio: The three thugs from the City — Uruth as the foppish Big, Zit as the sniveling, toad-like Short, and Mira as the Thin and the leader.
  • Blade on a Stick: Mira wields one.
  • Book Ends: The story starts in Tohan with the unnamed hero (named Brühn later) passing the map on to Wilhelm and Vito (though seemingly by accident) and ends with Wilhelm and Vito returning as seasoned heroes, "accidentally" dropping the map to pass it on to the next generation of potential heroes.
  • Bounty Hunter: Don't let the moniker of "The First Hero" fool you. Alethrion's Only in It for the Money and you'd better have vast riches to pay him with if you want him to save your village from a monster. And if you try to pay him in anything other than riches, he WILL try to murder you.
  • The Cameo: Shovel Knight makes an appearance in The First Hero.
  • Casanova Wannabe: Vito at first. After he takes a level in badass his success with the ladies vastly improves and he becomes a Chick Magnet.
  • Convection Schmonvection: The narwhals seem to be pretty heat resistant, considering that they're swimming through lava.
  • Dance Battler: Uruth
  • Death by Irony: Not only is Alethrion mortally wounded by his own darker half, but he is unable to escape the other side of the mirror to get help because his treasure chest is weighing him down.
  • Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: Our protagonists slay a High God, among other impressive and monstrous beings.
    • Alethrion does one better by killing a whole pantheon.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: When villagers of a town he saved try to pay him in food instead of riches, Alethrion tries to murder them all.
  • The Dreaded: Humun, the banished god, who created humans, and set in motion the conflict between the gods, making him indirectly responsible for all the monsters that roam the land.
  • The Drifter: Amerath. She doesn't care for fame or fortune. She just wants to see new places.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: Immediately after the climax of the first episode's adventure, Wilhelm is possessed, fed upon, and almost murdered by a Nosferatu and is only saved due to the merciful actions of a larger and more benevolent creature of the night - a vampire.
  • Dying Alone: Alethrion.
  • Dying as Yourself: Alethrion.
  • Dynamic Entry: Alethrion introduces himself to Ameranth this way in the dance party, kicking another dancer out of the scene.
  • Enemy Without: Alethrion's greed.
  • Ensemble Cast
  • Eyes Always Shut: Vito. His son, Blenn, would appear to have inherited this trait.
  • Fallen Hero: Word of God is that Mira started out as an idealistic police officer who gradually lost faith in the system before becoming a thug. Especially after Brühn abandoned her upon finding out she was pregnant with his child.
  • The Fighting Narcissist: Brühn starts out as a regular one before becoming this.
  • Field of Blades: Alethrion sits in the middle of one in the opening credits.
  • Fingore: To Wilhelm, and quite unexpectedly so.
  • Fist Bump: Shared by the two when lying in bed together snuggled against a monster in its lair.
  • Gag Penis: Uruth's bulge. Good lord. To an equal or greater extent with Alethrion.
  • Girl Of Five Seconds: Vito and Wilhelm go through quite a few ladies over the second half of their adventure.
  • Greed: Alethrion's primary motivation, his greatest vice, and his ultimate undoing.
  • Gross-Up Close-Up: Under the wrong lighting, angle, and magnification, Alethrion looks rather sleazy. The weird noises he makes don't help.
  • Half-Human Hybrid: Vito's half-lizard bastard son, Blenn.
  • Heel Face Door Slam: Alethrion.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Arguably so. They're shown to be very popular with the ladies once their adventure gains momentum. On the other hand, the two share a few touching moments and are shown lying in bed together, naked or at least in their underwear by the looks of it, bumping fists.
  • Hollywood Homely: Underachiever that he is, Brühn prefers to go after "okay-ish" girls.
  • Homoerotic Subtext: Being a bromance this trope is played with. Especially at the part with the dragon cave...
  • It's the Journey That Counts: The whole theme.
    • In The First Hero, Amerath understood this from the get-go while Alethrion did not. By the time he did, he had quite literally doomed himself.
  • Keet: Mik seems to be this to Ken.
  • Kid Heroes: Mik and Ken.
  • Kissgusting: Not in the short, but in a comic drawn by the directors by way of a Magic Kiss.
    • Alethrion and Amerath's make-out session borders on this, both in-universe and out.
  • Knife Nut: Ken.
  • Love Redeems: For the greedy Alethrion. But too late.
  • The Mirror Shows Your True Self: Whether you're an epic adventurer at heart, a benevolent god, or greed personified, the Mirror of Truth will show you.
  • Macho Camp: Uruth, with his flamboyant Dance Battler moves and obsession with his appearance.
  • Manly Gay: Uruth, according to Word of God. In fact, he was exiled from his village for it.
  • Mood Whiplash: Alethrion's lonely and tragic demise is immediately followed by his map falling into the hands of a sunbathing and cheery Brühn.
  • Muscles Are Meaningless: Brühn has invested a lot of time in attaining and maintaining his impeccable and impressive physique to wow onlookers with feats of beauty and strength, but he's not all that good at fighting, so much so that he's easily bullied by people half his size.
    • Conversely, Wilhelm is practically a stick figure by comparison, and yet is one of the mightiest characters in the series.
    • Averted with Alethrion, who had a Heroic Build, and near-limitless power to match.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Alethrion's reaction upon seeing himself in the Mirror of Truth.
  • Panty Shot: When Brühn tosses a pretty girl into the air at the beginning of The Reward.
  • Physical God: One in The Reward, and several more in The First Hero. It seems to be the way of this world for gods too to have physical forms. They all die.
    • Word of God states that the gods seen so far were not the only ones.
  • Purple Is Powerful: When Vito comes into his own as a sorcerer he wears purple colored lenses and his spells cast a purple aura.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Vito is Red Oni to Wilhelm's Blue Oni.
    • Alethrion and Amerath
    • Mik and Ken
    • Zit and Uruth
  • Schedule Slip: The second episode missed more than one release date before finally coming out.
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: Alethrion's reflection which he trapped in his bottomless treasure chest; the same one shown at the end of the original short.
  • The Stinger: After the credits it turns out that if our heroes had just looked behind the mirror...
  • The Stoic: Wilhelm.
  • Supernatural Is Purple: Vito runs into a cave that spews magenta-colored smoke — and has to be dragged out of it by Wilhelm. But then, his own magic manifests as purple...
  • Super-Powered Evil Side: The reflection of the Alethrion.
  • Tears of Joy: Vito does it something serious when Wilhelm wakes up after collapsing from blood loss.
  • Terrible Trio: Mira (later replaced by her daughter, Tira), Uruth, and Zit. Also overlaps with Big, Thin, Short Trio.
  • Time-Compression Montage: How the two protagonists turn from young boys to older, epic heroes.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Wilhelm and Vito are far from seasoned adventurers when they start out. But once they realize The Power of Friendship they conquer everything with an unstoppable amount of badassery.
  • Traumatic Haircut: Wilhelm cuts off Uruth's pompadour. He is so shocked of this that he leaves himself open for more attacks.
  • Treasure Map: What sends our protagonists on their epic journey.
    • It was originally just a map Amarath made to keep track of her travels until Alethrion repurposed it.
  • The Vamp: The leader of the thug trio. (A Kickstarter comment mentions that her name is Mira.)
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: At first, at least.
  • Walking the Earth: They may be following a map, but Wilhelm and Vito seem to get into a lot of side quests.
    • For Amerath, this is the whole point of her travels. Of which she documents in a series of maps.
  • You Killed My Father: Mother actually, as it is in Tira's case. Never mind that she was a bandit that tried to rob and murder Wilhelm.