Overall, we're seeing a gradual rise of video game adaptations throughout both the series- and movie industries, and it's not just the volume that's increasing, but the quality and general respect for the source material too. Detective Pikachu, Sonic the Hedgehog, even Rampage, but overall, the company seemingly most interested in the video game space, and adapting these stories, is Netflix - without question.
They currently have a Resident Evil animation series, an Assassin's Creed series, Cyberpunk: Edgerunners, a Splinter Cell animé-style series, a Beyond Good & Evil series, a Tomb Raider series, a Final Fantasy live-action series from Hivemind and a The Division film, and these are just some of the upcoming projects currently being worked on.
This is partly because video games in general are becoming a broader part of mainstream culture, but also because particularly Netflix has seen success in this space before, primarily through the Castlevania series. And, it seems to be that that has inspired them to pick up another big video game IP, DOTA, which specifically has resulted in DOTA: Dragon's Blood, a violent, mature take on the popular MOBA game, made in collaboration with Valve and the animation studio behind The Legend of Korra. What can go wrong?
Well, quite a lot as it turns out because while certainly pretty, filled to the brim with exciting set pieces and as mentioned previously, a genuine interest in conveying the astonishing depth of the DOTA universe, it ultimately does not convey that in an interesting way.
Like so many fantasy series before it, Dragon's Blood is told from several characters' viewpoints, as they move about the world, edging ever closer to one another. It's a separated narrative that slowly ties its loose ends together throughout its brisk 20-something runtime in each of the eight episodes. While familiarity does breed contempt in storytelling, it's ultimately not the separated nature of the overarching plot that proves cumbersome, but more its uneven pacing, and its lack of properly fleshing out why this particular fantasy world is different from any other. Davion, a dragon knight, is cursed, and turns into a dragon himself on occasion, and he must rid himself of this, but he also has to stop a secret war. There's also elves that for some reason search high and low for magical flowers, and a goddess on a quest to be worshipped. All of these arcs are, as stated above, separate, and inch closer to one another as we move through the episode.
It's in fact so brisk, that you quickly develop quite the apathy towards the world, which should be DOTA: Dragon's Blood main selling point, and something that has, in the games, been described as deep and detailed, suddenly seems superficial and wholly unoriginal. Maybe if the separated threads had combined into a more focused, less broad tale, maybe then we could've had the breathing room to fully realise how enchanting the world of DOTA actually is.
When that's said, Studio Mir has done a great job of creating some awe-inspiring set pieces, with swift, violent action taken straight out of Castlevania, or Blood of Zeus. It looks great, it really does, popping with colour and forceful determination.
In fact, the show really does look great all throughout, with brilliant use of colour and contrast, and the animation style itself does seem to fit the brief overall. But, after eight episodes I couldn't even tell you why the elves search for the magical flowers - it's an exaggerated example, sure, but it can't be helped when fans highlight the originality of the world in DOTA, and yet here it comes off as the most run-of-the-mill fantasy tale. This season is called "Book One", and so it stands to reason that this is the first of a sequence of series, and hopefully what Studio Mir, Valve and Netflix will do, is slow down a bit, re-centre its narrative focus and take more time to construct a world that's interesting.