Dota 2 Anime Review: Davion’s Excellent Dragon Adventure
Since Dota 2 now has an anime, it’s time for me to watch it and give you a review. I binged the whole show the day it launched, but I wanted to give it a few days to digest, talk to one or two other people about it, and let it sink in. There have been some pretty negative thoughts about it on the internet because, of course, there are. I’m going to give it a fair look, though, and being frank; I enjoyed it. It’s not without its problems, but it’s an excellent start to what I hope becomes an ongoing series on Netflix. I think perhaps the thing that harmed it the most? Time.
Many of the Dota 2 lore, several items, and a handful of recognizable characters go around. Perhaps it is detrimental, as we don’t have enough time to learn about it all. Luna comes across as a fanatic, violent devotee to a very demanding goddess, for example. There is more to it. We just don’t truly get to experience it. The focus of Dota: Dragon’s Blood is Davion, the Dragon Knight. He winds up very quickly stuck between forces he cannot possibly comprehend, meeting incredible friends and worse foes.
I will do my absolute best to avoid spoilers of the major variety.
What Is Dota: Dragon’s Blood?
In the world that Dota 2 inhabits, there are two primal, cosmic forces: The Radiant and The Dire. Everyone, whether they know it or not, is on one of these two sides. With no shades of grey, everyone is ultimately on a side. This is the of many references to the actual game world. From the Foulfell (a plane of existence) used as a Dota 2 map to items like the Town Portal Scroll and Gem of Truesight,
Despite being quickly introduced to our main antagonist of Book 1 (the first season), we see very little of him. Terrorblade is a powerful Demon trying to exert his influence on the world. All you have to do is let him in. He exists as a parallel to the weakness of man, giving in to their greed and frustration. There, Terrorblade shows up to make things harder on normal folks. The Dota 2 anime, as I review it, turned out to have a gorgeous world. The art style is bright and vibrant.
A major focus of the story is the Dragon Knights. A mysterious order, they do exactly what the name says: they kill Dragons. This turns out to be not such a great idea, for reasons that become clear in the story. One of the other positive qualities about the show gets revealed early: the dialogue. The witty back-and-forth banter is easy to digest, and frankly, feels real. It’s not a kind world, filled with things that can (and will) kill innocent people.
We learn our hero, Davion, is not just a bants-machine. He comforts a young child whose father died to a dragon and offered him a path forward when the child gets older. The world of Dota: Dragon’s Blood is very fleshed out, perhaps to the show’s detriment. A lot is going on, and we’re very quick to rush to Davion’s curse. In the Dota 2 game, Davion, the Dragon Knight transforms into an Eldwyrm (Slyrak), so we expected it. How we get it is fascinating and a scene worth watching.
I said this is all to the anime’s detriment though there are too many storylines. As the eight episodes go on, so many things are happening. While I liked this, it can be frustrating to more casual viewers and even long-time Dota fans. From Invoker’s quest for peace/revenge, the interaction between Mirana and Luna, Davion coming to grips with his fate, and the constant machinations of Terrorgaze, there’s so much going on. It shifts seamlessly between these plot points, leaving us open to many possible adventures in Book 2, assuming it happens.
Fortunately, it’s not inundated with references to Dota 2 terminology. This lets casual viewers/anime fans get into this gritty, grisly anime without any problems. The anime might be called Dota: Dragon’s Blood, but there are far more threats than that. Dragon’s Blood is an apt name. The Dota 2 anime is a gore-fest, with buckets of blood to go around. Studio MIR did an excellent job of animating all of this content, that’s for sure.
Radiant or Dire?
One of the better things about this show to me is how few True Heroes seem to be. Sure, Invoker aids the heroes, but he does it only for his motives and goals. Terrorblade is evil; that’s true. He’s True Evil, though. It seems like almost every character that fights for a good cause has something about them that isn’t quite right. It doesn’t sit with the motives and goals of something called The Radiant. You’ll see what I mean pretty early on, too.
Perhaps most interesting of all is the mysterious goddess, Selemene. We know very little of her from playing Dota 2, only to know she exists. She’s a powerful goddess, worshipped by some of the elf clans. One of the major strengths of the Dota 2 anime I would like to highlight in this review is this. When we think of “Good Gods,” we imagine them being helpful, kind. Sometimes stern, but always there for their worshippers. Selemene is something different. She abuses, gaslights, and leads her followers down a dark path. If they don’t worship and love her, they may as well not live.
It’s a large part of the show how Selemene treats her worshippers. It’s more fascinating than the sort of ham-fisted racism allegory of the Elves. That’s something common in fantasy (anime or literature) anyway. The Elves are not treated well, despite not seeming violent or evil (for the most part). One thing that may surprise viewers is that the Elves appear to exist with some form of polyamory. It’s only shown once in the show, but there are hints of a unique form of romance in the race.
We see quite a few major characters, and they are represented well. How slowly they build Selemene’s character arc is interesting and worth watching. As a friend pointed out, Selemene is more like a Greek God. Capricious, cruel, existing for their whims.
The existence of the Dragons (Eldwyrms) and how they are connected to the planet’s primal forces is really interesting too. It’s one of the things that make the Dragon Knights seem good at first. It feels like there are no heroes left in man. Davion is a solid protagonist, but few other characters are truly good. Even Davion, the Dragon Knight has his issues to work through.
Stream or Skip: ⅘, Stream It
As my final verdict of the Dota 2 anime is, it is a must-stream. It has strong language, violent combat, and a very compelling story. Each of the characters is out for their objectives. Davion wants to kill the dragons, Mirana is recovering Selemene’s stolen lotuses. Luna aims to do whatever her goddess tells her, and Fymwyn just wants peace and safety for her fellow elves. Invoker’s aims aren’t clear at first, but it all becomes clear by the end of the series. His story is probably the most tragic of all. Dota: Dragon’s Blood has plenty of references to the game to give Dota 2 fans something to look for and is a grim quality anime for fans of anime in general.
I also have to ask, “Will Dota: Dragon’s Blood” lead people to try the game? I know of several people in my life personally that watched the anime and immediately went to Twitter to ask about getting into Dota 2. Since the game just launched a more beginner-friendly system, I would like to think the answer is yes. It should hopefully also then lead people to watch the esports side of Dota 2. As someone who already has plenty of hours in Dota 2, it made me think I should update the game and dive back in despite being bad.
In my estimation, Dota: Dragon’s Blood is not just a shallow violence fest. It has a ton of depth, and the characters all feel well-developed to me. The studio made sure to leave it open to tell far more stories in future Books, should Netflix pick up more seasons. Dota: Dragon’s Blood asks, “Who is good, who is evil?” and perhaps more important, “What is good? What is evil?” The anime feels bleak and dark, but that’s what I like about it. In no way did Dota: Dragon’s Blood disappoint. If anything else, it leaves me wanting more. What is next for these characters? Will we get a different point of view in Book 2? Don’t leave us waiting, Netflix!