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Most of the way through the first season, I was struggling to sort my thoughts out, and the comparison occurred to me: "This is the kids' version of Game of Thrones."
So why am I so much less impressed with Prince than I was with Thrones?
Some of it is that fanservice. I'm just too old to appreciate blatant fart jokes anymore. Some of it is the uneven tone, with Prince lurching back and forth between cartoonish hijinks and moments of (genuine, earned) emotional pathos. Part of it is the season's incredible brevity; at only 3 hours, it's less than half the length of an A:tLA season, giving us less time with the characters. Part is the lack of world-building, instead focusing on character arcs. (It's not that I'm some sort of grimdark snob; for my money, Avatar is a better show than Game of Thrones.)
Fundamentally, the problem that I had was the show's lack of direction. Even when A Game of Thrones first came out, one book of seven, you could get a glimpse of the story's overall arc arc. Dragon Prince has no such momentum. I want this show to go somewhere — especially since it has a lot of cool places it could go.
This show is bad. Not just bad for its pedigree, but just bad in general. I doubt anyone would have given it a second thought if its creators weren't attached to Avatar. The most immediate flaw is that the animation looks unfinished. The frame rate is sluggish and absolutely nothing flows together well. Poor animation, even animation this bad, would be forgivable if the story was good, but it utterly fails to be interesting.
At first the conflict seems quite nuanced, with both sides seemingly having a point, but that quickly vanishes as character's are sorted into good and bad sides.
The voice acting is passable, but the dialogue the actors are forced to use is completely salvageable.
Of the main characters only Rayla has an arc that's any way captivating and that's marred by her being needlessly bitchy and unwilling to share information (highlight needlessly). It's also ludicrous she was even involved in the plot to begin with given her experience and job requirements.
The pacing is good in the first three episodes, but then comes to a dead stop as the characters achieve basically nothing for the rest of the series.
Lastly, the comedy is absolutely atrocious, and the show knows it, but lampshading bad comedy doesn't make it good.
Avatar: The Last Airbender was one of my favorite shows growing up, so naturally I had to take a look at this. After binging the entire first season, here are my impressions. Spoilers to follow, though I'll do my best to avoid them.
The art is gorgeous. The character designs, costumes, monsters, landscapes, and environments are all beautifully done, and special attention should be paid to the magic, which is dazzling from start to finish. The cel-shading does a great job giving the series its own unique look. The only real art-related criticism I have is the reduced framerate. Apparently it was done to make it look more like a 2D-animated show, and you do get used to it, but it can be pretty jarring at times.
The writing is also definitely solid. The younger main characters manage to keep it casual without going Totally Radical and the adult characters make their enigmatic fantasy dialogue work without going full-on Sword And Sorcery cheesy. The worldbuilding is simple but effective, and exposition is mostly managed without too much Info Dump (barring the opening narration).
Now let's get to the characters and voice acting. Our main heroes, Callum and Rayla, both give it their all, but Rayla's less-than-stellar Scottish accent can be distracting. Besides that, though, their delivery and emotions definitely sell the lines and characterization. Callum's Character Development and discovery of his own powers is deftly handled, and Rayla's emotional turmoil challenging her own misconceptions and sense of self really shines throughout the season. Ezran is a bit of a weak link at times; he's not annoying, but sometimes he sounds unenthusiastic. The Big Bad is actually handled with a surprising amount of subtlety and finesse; he's not Obviously Evil, and he initially appears to be mostly a Well-Intentioned Extremist, but as the season goes on it becomes clear his motivations aren't completely selfless either. Soren and Claudia, meanwhile, more than pull their weight as the comic relief Those Two Guys.
Overall, The Dragon Prince is a fun, no-BS fantasy romp with a colorful cast of characters, beautiful art, sophisticated writing, and good voice acting. If fantasy or animation appeals to you at all, definitely give this a watch.
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