In an unprecedented turn of events, Valve, famously known in the DOTA 2 community for not marketing their million-dollar game, finally made something akin to an advert or promotional material for their long-running MOBA (Massively Online Battle Arena). I have been a fan of the game since 2012 when it was still in beta and have logged an embarrassing 5,000+ hours into the game. The game's main appeal has never really been its narrative, since most of what is available are short character bios and item descriptions. Some of these tiny story elements connect, but the greater threads have mostly been fan canon. It is therefore with great pleasure and anticipation that I watched this long-awaited official lore dump. Viewers who skip the credits probably would not know that this anime is based off of a video game though, as it's just a slight anecdote in the opening and ending of each episode.
Dragon's Blood tries its best to straddle the line between fanservice and introducing new audiences to its world. There are multiple little nods spread across the whole show that fans of the game will recognize, such as the Gem of True Sight or the usage of teleportation scrolls. Some familiar characters and lore elements show up as well, but the characters that carry us through this journey are brand new, allowing a completely new audience to enjoy the story even without prior knowledge of the game.
DOTA: Dragon's Blood's eight-episode story follows two characters, Davion the Dragon Knight and Mirana, in the latter's quest to retrieve the stolen lotus flowers that have been infused with the spirit of her goddess, Selemene. The main crux of the story plays out like a typical fantasy adventure featuring Mirana and her party members going through different towns and braving gangs, dragons, and tumultuous environments in search of a MacGuffin. It's a tried and tested story structure, but it does a decent job of easing viewers into the lore and characters of this world.
A good adventure story has to have an epic narrative and memorable characters, and Dragon's Blood at least succeeds in the latter. The overarching plot is unfortunately quite convoluted and most of it is rather clumsily revealed through exposition. However, the show shines when the characters are given time to breathe and have their own quiet moments. For instance, Davion's backstory is a classic Shakespearean tragedy filled with irony. He becomes infused with the thing he swore on his life to kill, constantly battling with what his true nature is in both physical and emotional senses. Mirana, a devoted follower of her goddess, is forced to confront her once unrelenting belief in her deity's kind nature when she finds out that the Guardian of the Dark Moon may have committed some atrocities.
For me, the most memorable character thread in the show is the one of the great sage in the tower and his daughter. The sage, also known as Invoker, is fabulously brought to life by veteran voice actor Troy Baker, and he steals the show in every scene he is in.
The meat of the story lies in the conflict Mirana faces and the implications around that. The predominantly human believers of Selemene drove the elves, who believe in the old goddess Mene, away from their home in the Nightsilver Woods. These two factions have mostly lived in peace since then until Fymryn, a devoted elf and follower of Mene, steals the lotus flowers in an attempt to revive her goddess. The writers attempt to portray how the fragile status quo between these two societies would erupt if tampered with, and erupt it does!
If the character moments don't capture your attention then perhaps the action will. The show is gory, bloody, and has more than a few F-bombs dropped across its episodes. While exciting, none of the fight scenes feel truly epic or are exceptionally animated, until the final fight. The juxtaposition of the dragon CGI and the 2D animated humans does take some getting used to, though. Mileage may vary on that, but I found it was pretty well implemented in most scenes.
The show does its best to sprinkle in some moments of levity and humor as well as an atrocious attempt at a love story between the two leads. I couldn't help but my roll my eyes every time Mirana and Davion flirted – maybe that was the reaction the writers wanted? The English voice acting is generally serviceable; Yuri Lowenthal does a fine job as Davion and the choice to distinguish the elves by giving them an Australian accent was a nice touch, if a little funny.
Overall, as a fan of the game, I enjoyed seeing these characters come to life. The Invoker, Terrorblade, and especially Kari Wahlgren's menacing Luna. As an introduction to what is most likely going to be a new franchise, Dragon's Blood does a great job of leaving us in suspense and anticipating what else is yet to be revealed.