Eighteen years since the first DOTA first launched, a player base of millions in tow, and an income that dwarfs entire studios. Now, Valve’s MOBA has followed in the footsteps of LoL’s K/DA and Castlevania in vaulting the barrier between mediums to bring us a brand new Netflix anime, DOTA: Dragon’s Blood. While our own some of our team are DOTA 2 fans at heart, yours truly hasn’t seen the jungle for a while now. However, it’s likely that Netflix and Valve announced this collaboration in an attempt to emulate the success of the aforementioned 2017 Castlevania series with a new gaming franchise that will pull in both gamers and anime fans alike.
While DOTA: Dragon’s Blood plays on many of the tropes and concepts present throughout DOTA, don’t expect this to be a straight play on your much loved online adventure. To craft a tale that stands in its own right you aren’t going to simply watch the lore behind this multi-million dollar gaming behemoth. Instead, anybody grabbing a remote control instead of a keyboard is set to follow the trail of Davion, a Dragon Knight who is flung into the middle of ancient conflict, corruption, demons, and dragons. Cursed with incredible power, as this dragon slayer finds his world unravelling he’ll forge new bonds and fight to save the world from the terrifying power of Terrorblade.
For the Fans
As you might have already guessed by now, Dragon’s Blood does leisurely borrow from DOTA’s existing Lore, using names like Davion as a blueprint for what they will ultimately become on screen. Davion and Mirana, essentially our two player characters, are fantastically translated from 144Hz display to big screen LCD. Deep in battle, of which there are plenty, each of the two still retain the general look and feel of their in-game counterparts, with an early nod to Mirana’s Starstorm skill setting this tone. This is largely replicated with many of the characters you might recognize, but where these two protagonists really shine is in the slower moments. Yuri Lowenthal is clearly in his element as a boneheaded Dragon Knight barely in control of his own destiny. Having dipped into both anime and video games in his time, Lowenthal seems as much at home in the overstated world of Promare as the somber moods of The Last of Us Part II. While this isn’t always the case, and some of the Scottish accents grate on my northern ears a bit, Davion and Mirana are both compelling in their roles.
This mix of lore and new ideas, which goes far deeper than character names and weapon stats, effectively gives fans of the DOTA franchise something sufficiently meaty to geek out on, while less ardent fans aren’t going to get left behind as each character comes into their own. For Davion, what begins as a simple adventure for our central Dragon Knight and his squire, quickly goes sideways as the aforementioned Terroblade creeps into the world of the living. I almost expected an animated Witcher, but fans of DOTA will likely realize that is never where this series was going to land. The world begins to unravel almost before the first episode is over and when Dragon’s Blood picks up speed, it takes a lot to slow it back down.
A dance with a dragon, death, destruction, demons, betrayal, zombies, gods, monsters, and a light joke or two all leave the head spinning as Dragon’s Blood romps through its first few episodes at a breathtaking pace. There’s little room to sit down and enjoy the view, or even dwell in the tragedies that are inflicted upon many of the players. This clearly means that while you have to enjoy the ride, some character motivations just have to be taken at face value, actions left unexplained, or emotional bagged dropped off and forgotten about because there simply isn’t enough running time for Dragon’s Blood to dawdle and look around.
I do sometimes wish things did slow down more often because the view is utterly breathtaking. Studio Mir established themselves as a force to be reckoned with when they moved on from JM Animation, the studio behind Avatar, and put together The Legend of Korra. Their ability to seamlessly blend handcrafted animation and in world CGI camera effects to deliver breathtaking combat sequences is reminiscent of Ufotable’s work and is right on target for this tale. An early sequence that mixes a knight, a dragon, and an array of magical powers proves this point, but you’ll have to wait until episode 4 of this 8 piece run to find out what I’m talking about.
This aesthetic is accompanied by an unexpected, but equally compelling soundtrack from Dino Meneghin. While Dino’s portfolio of work might not immediately scream anime or video game, the Teen Wolf Composer manages a mix of traditional bombastic battle music with weird synth elements that firmly root Dragon’s Blood in more than one camp. The obvious fantasy battle tropes are present that set Dragon’s Blood apart from the traditional Visual Kei prog rock of so many Shonen, while the more experimental ideas really work when speaking to the unnatural magic and unexplained darkness that hides among the world. There’s as much information in a character theme from Meneghin as there is in their dialogue, which is a good thing in an anime with so little fat.
Ultimately DOTA: Dragon’s Blood is a solid entry for a video game adaptation and yet more evidence that on-screen revivals of our digital heroes should be left to animation studios like Mir. While the writing is sometimes hampered by a need to keep going faster, some great ideas don’t seem chained back by their origin. I can’t wait to see if we find queue up for another season of DOTA inspired animation, although we better not ever see Hoodwink brought to life. You can find out more about DOTA: Dragon’s Blood over at the official Netflix site before DOTA: Dragon’s blood begins streaming via Netflix on 25 March.