Jess Thomas reviews the second season of the animated series from Netflix.
The Dragon Prince is a fantasy caper set in the magical lands of Katolis and Xadia, two countries bound in an ongoing cycle of revenge and violence. The second season, much like the first, continues to follow Callum, Ezran and Rayla in their quest to return the, now hatched, Dragon Prince to his mother in Xadia. There are also various side narratives that twist around and sometimes intertwine with the main story. This multifaceted narrative is pulled off with great finesse as each of the stories contributes to giving the viewer an insight into the bigger picture of the show and the world in which it is set. Each of these threads also contribute to the show’s overarching themes of the arrogance of man, and humanity’s lack of care for, and connection to, the world around it.
Early in the season we see Claudia and Soren catch up with the main group. Claudia with the intention of bringing the princes, both human and dragon, back to the castle, and Soren following his secret mission to kill both Callum and Ezran. These two sets of siblings, now side by side again, really put the ideals of humanity and the ideals of the group into stark comparison. Especially Callum and Claudia’s differing opinions on the practice of dark magic.
Where Claudia has grown up with dark magic being held as the way to fix any and all of your problems, Callum has been shown by Rayla, and his practice of primal magic, that it is a perversion of nature. This is also an allegory for how Viren, and Katolis in general, are always looking for the easy way to fix their immediate problems without thinking about the long term consequences for their society or the world around them. Instead of focusing on diplomacy, Viren’s magic had cause King Harrow to become dependent on it to solve his problems. It was this that caused Harrow’s death and the princes’ current quest.
This moral thread is particularly poignant as it deftly uses a fantasy narrative to put across a message that is very much relevant to the real world. Humanity really does have a tendency to take the easy road rather than put in the time and hard work that it takes to make social change happen.
The narrative is also critical of being reactionary when there is no need to be. Later in the season, when Callum opens Harrow’s letter to him, Harrow talks about taking the time to find your own path and being free from history, learning from it and letting go. This is again done in a way that doesn’t feel preachy, as it easily could, but rather the framing of a father passing down knowledge makes the advice feel more sage and important. Where Katolis and Xadia have been reactionary in their anger and revenge, the rest of the narrative, both implicitly and explicitly, encourages the characters not to act without considering the consequences.
When I first heard that The Dragon Prince was going to be done in 3D animation I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. But this change in style does a good job of further separating the show from its spiritual predecessor, Avatar: The Legend of Aang. However, while the landscapes of Xadia are varied and breathtaking, the characters aren’t always as on point. It doesn’t happen often and I have mostly seen it in the human character models rather than the elven ones, but there are some cases of the animation slipping into the ‘uncanny valley’. Every now and again there is an eyebrow or a hair line that just doesn’t sit right and I can’t quite explain why. Now, while this doesn’t really bother me in the grand scheme of things, it is a little jarring when it happens but is gone just as quickly as it arrives so doesn’t get in the way of the pleasure of watching. But, if you are someone that is particularly invested in the aesthetic and animation quality of a show, then this may be a major distraction for you.
Overall, this season of The Dragon Prince is a wonderful and smooth continuation of the first. It builds on the narrative and moral messages that had already been established, whilst also bringing in new challenges so as not to allow anything to stagnate. The more intense themes are also dealt with in a way that feels neither pushy nor insensitive. Learning from and moving on from the past while also caring for others is a message so implicitly written into every pixel of the show, that even the points of blatant exposition weave together smoothly with everything else. And the humour surrounding these serious themes give the show a balance that makes it fun and relatable as well as heartfelt. In a flurry of narrow escapes and epic battles it leaves a feeling of satisfaction and an intense excitement for more.