This Week in Anime - Does Dragon's Dogma Deliver the Goods?

3 weeks ago 14

In 2012, CAPCOM released the Dragon's Dogma hack-n-slash video game and it went on to sell over a million copies. This new Netflix anime series shares almost nothing in common with it except for the "Mature" content rating. Will our embittered protagonist Ethan manage to overcome the sinful monsters in front of him or will he be devoured by the dragon growing within?

This series is currently streaming on Netflix

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Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.

Y'know Nicky, I've been pretty critical of Netflix's attempts to wade into the anime landscape, especially with their glut of forgettable CG paste. But I have to admit that I'm starting to come around on their new "originals" now that they've taken such a daring turn as making an entire anime series based on my favorite episode of Monster Factory.

Finally, the world will know the glory of Randy Johnson and her sweet boy Panpan.

By the gods, I wish. So many anime would increase in quality with the presence of a random Dr. Phil in them.

Yeah, sadly we don't get anything as fun as Dr. Phil throwing fireballs at wolves. All we have is the Skeleton Gang in the opening.

My life would also improve if I were a skeleton. They're pretty much the only ones who know how to truly live it up in this show because everyone else is a drag. Based on the video game produced by CAPCOM, and surprisingly NOT produced by Polygon Pictures for once, Dragon's Dogma is a 3DCG animated series based on the video game of the same name.

"Based on" being a very generous phrase here. While my main interaction with Dragon's Dogma is through the aforementioned McElroy goofs, I've garnered that this TV series is only loosely connected to the story of the games. The only connective tissue seems to be they both star a person whose family gets killed by a dragon, and so they go out seeking revenge. Oh and the dragon literally eats their heart for some reason.

"Based" is used in the loosest of terms here. I also don't have much experience as I've only heard murmurings, but as far as I can tell, whatever existing story or lore basically amounts to a coat of paint thinly slathered on a story of generic D&D-style fantasy man-pain. A genre I will now further refer to as "Mantasy". The rest of the story beats in Dragon's Dogma are so predictable that I could use them to play drums like it's Rock Band.

Yeah let's not bury the lead here. While DD isn't like, horrible it's a wholly unremarkable bit of dark fantasy that is so generic I'd swear it's using pre-made CG assets for some of its monsters. And I KNOW it ripped its opening from Black Sails, in case the bone bros up above didn't give it away:

All the production values are pretty competent. It's got all the direction, sound, and style to try to make you feel like you're in an epic story. It definitely has enough flourish to be entertaining for seven episodes. If you're down for a kind of generic "mature' fantasy story with some heavy action, this might do it for you. But, you still have to overcome the fact that it's a CG anime and that most of the main character's expressions are just this strange little half-snarl.

There are good CG anime out there, but this is one of those that never overcomes the hurdle of making the characters not look like highly articulated action figures. And that's still better than the fucking PS3 cutscene looking monsters this show parades out.

Just look at that goofy ass griffin. Even it knows it's a mistake.

Actually, the PS3 monsters might be my favorite part of the show. They're faces only a mother could love.

I don't want to meet the mother that gave birth to this thing.

Speaking of mothers, every Mantasy has to have an origin story. This is Ethan and his wife, Olivia. They don't got last names so I'm gonna have to refer to them as the Dogmas. They're a happily married couple in Ye Ole Fantasy Town just minding their own business with their adopted orphan boy and baby in the oven.

They're such a loving family and I'm sure nothing bad will happen to them despite constantly asking very leading questions about the future.

Oh gosh darnit, you jinxed us kid!

For his crimes, the child gets vored first and is NEVER SPOKEN ABOUT AGAIN.

Y'know this show is no Monster Factory but damn if it doesn't have some great comedic timing.

RIP PANPAN. WE HARDLY KNEW THEE. No really. We didn't know him that well.

Remember kids, always look both ways before crossing the street! That's just one of the many important life lessons Dragon's Dogma has to impart on its audience.

Yeah, just listen to the important lessons extolled by the ghost of Ethan's Dead Pregnant Wife.

He sure takes that to heart. The next six episodes are Ethan living his life as a humble farmer in the middle of nowhere. End of Story.

What Ethan actually hears in that is "dedicate your life to killing the dragon, and also pick up a new chick to take care of you and LITERALLY GIVE HER OUR UNBORN DAUGHTER'S NAME WHILE YOU'RE AT IT, HONEY."

Credit where it's due, most Dad Fantasy stories wouldn't be THAT obvious about making the female lead the hero's daughter stand-in, but Dragon's Dogma dares to squat where other shows would stand.

Your forgot that Hannah was also Ethan's mother's name, making it EXTRA Freudian.

Don't worry, the show never actually goes anywhere with that, since Hannah exists entirely to be our exposition machine to tell us what every monster we encounter is, and also the party's DPS since she can shoot laser beams.

She basically just shows up out of nowhere and nobody really bothers to explain what a Pawn is other than that they serve Arisen, people who have been chosen by the Dragon. To what end we'll talk about later. But Hannah is pretty much a shell with nothing other than the power to stoically observe how illogical human's are and the power to kill whatever problems arise in any given episode. The show basically functions on a monster-of-the-week type structure. Hannah and Ethan on their way to kill the dragon encounter a problem, kill a monster, and marvel at the ugliness of humanity. Each episode is themed and named after one of the seven deadly sins. Not very subtle, is it?

That could maybe be a solid pseudo-anthology series, but the individual episodes amount to like, Dark Fantasy after school specials. The most complex it ever gets is "Gluttony" where a mayor uses a cyclops to extort food from his villagers. Ethan of course kills the monster and exposes him, but then is disappointed when the starving peasants form an angry mob and fight over the hoarded food. Because gosh darnit humans are just so foolish that way, I guess.

I found it's cynicism to come off as extremely, for lack of a better term, "Both Sides"-ish. Many of these episodes are about humanity indulging in their baser impulses and it comes off as rather juvenile because it's not anything new. None of this comes off as particularly shocking or deep and at the end it'll exploit platitudes that the audience has likely already heard before. I'd be more shocked if one of these stories showed people actually acting with kindness and forethought in a crisis. It's a bit having its cake and eating it too.

Doesn't help that its concept of humanity's greatest sins are like...being kind of an asshole. Like yeah, it's a shitty thing to cheat on your husband because he's too much of a weenie, but I wouldn't consider that a horrible crime on the same scale as feeding children to your pet monster.

Ah, Humanity's greatest sin: Cuckolding. It's such an MRA-level episode. Every time that woman was on screen I expected the phrase "She said boobily" to follow. The show is also not great at how it handles sexual assault and violence against women. It tries hard to make it a tragedy but it still openly oggles women getting assaulted by goblins, women being murdered, and women getting choked to death. All for the sake of men's pride. They're not necessarily badly written characters, but that's still all that they amount to.

Also the entire premise is that the other dude just isn't manly enough to kill a horde of orcs on his own, and that makes him a bad husband. Which is...a take, let's say. Something tells me this show was written by a Wife Guy.

r/relationships post: "I married my(30F) husband(30M) for money but then he lost it all and he has no other redeemable qualities. What do I do?"

Bonus: he does this hilarious rare double anime fist-clench.

Anyway, the moral of the story is that if your wife cheats on you, don't kill her, because that will ironically convince her you're man enough to have always deserved her. I guess.

The thing is, I'm not even sure if this is the worst one. Most of the writing is like slightly above or below this level.

The Anti-Drug PSA right after it is also pretty bad, yeah. Like it manages to go beyond "drugs are bad, kids" to "drug addiction is a singularly moral failing and anyone who suffers from it has only themself to blame. Better to die miserable and proud than to ever smoke hookah."

Thanks! D.A.R.E. Cop Ethan. That sure is kind and not condescending as fuck. Ethan often notices that people are in a bad situation but like he never offers anything helpful other than to kill shit. Part of it is that he sees it as none of his business but part of Dragon Dogma's problem is definitely in the show's framing of said issues. In this episode, the woman, Lennie gets rescued from the belly of the hydra and is able to leave shitty opiumville with her shitty, supposedly changed, boyfriend. But it even calls it out that she might still just be following the path of least resistance like before.

And in a show with complex characters or nuanced themes that might make for a bittersweet conclusion. But instead it's mostly a cheap way for the show to be like "well I guess humans just suck" while Ethan gets possessed by Dragon Rage.

But am I like, supposed to feel sympathetic for them still because they're humans like anyone else? It's a hard pill to swallow when the show barely goes out of it's way to show such characters as actually redeemable.

By the half way point I think the writers just ran out of ideas for how to even make conflicts for this theme. Like the next episode is all about "Greed" but the message ends up being "Don't get possessed by a gold-hording lich, dumbass."

The first half of the episode is actually pretty fun! Fighting an army of cool skeletons might be one of my favorite fights of the whole show. Added bonus is that Ethan doesn't really do anything and it's mostly Hannah defeating the enemy on a gamble.

It also has the closest thing to likable, human characters in this show. Sure, 80% of my affection for Balthazar is that he looks like Dimitri FireEmblem, but he and his jock boyfriend at least have some rapport.

Still, they get more character development than like 90% of the cast because they show up for TWO episodes and they make jokes. But then don't think about bemoaning your place in life cuz suddenly that's BAAAAAAAD.

Yeah the fatal flaw that lets Balthy get possessed is that he wants to use the lich king's money to...better his life? And possibly help the families of the soldiers that died fighting with him? Which I suppose counts as being greedy in this show's moral compass.

Ethan, while holding the possessed coin actually says a bit of truth here but it's framed as being the words of the devil.

Like, How dare you even think about taking some of the money that they earned and distributing it to those that might need it? Instead of what? Letting the rich reap it all?!

Again, it seems like DD's vision of righteousness is to die destitute and miserable, while taking pride in the fact that you never did anything to better your situation. Anyway they're both dead now so time to move on like every other tragedy in Ethan's wake!

Bro, Bro, we are dead bro. Let's be Scrooge McDuck in the afterlife, bro. This was probably the closest I ever got to having a feeling in this show.

What, you mean you weren't enthralled by the episode about a woman who fucks people to death?

I actually didn't hate this episode as much as that premise. It's actually mostly about exploring Ethan's past and his relationship with Olivia. Ethan and Hannah go to a town to rest because Ethan is determined to make himself even more of a zombie by refusing to take care of himself. While he's there a succubus comes to him in the night masquerading in the image of his wife, having the audience reminisce on his past while she seduces him.

"This is not my beautiful house. This is not my beautiful wife!"

And you may ask yourself, why choose 6 episodes in to actually develop our main character's only significant relationship? And the answer is the writers realized they didn't have a good way to fit "Lust" into a story.

We got hints here and there of Ethan's relationship to his father and how he starved and dehydrated himself so that his son had a chance to survive out at sea. But uhh, this is pretty much the only development we get of his wife outside of episode 1.

But we never really get anything out of Ethan from it other than him being emo.

And the development is that she loves him. Great revelation that really makes their relationship feel real, I gotta say. Eat your heart out, Kentaro Miura.

Why does she love him? We don't know!! Heterosexuality, everyone!

Also this is as good a place as any to mention I watched this with the English language track, and props to Cristina Vee as Olivia for being the only actor brave enough to NOT try a terrible fake British accent for this show. Like full respect to the crew on this, they're trying, and Greg Chun is solid enough as Ethan. But everyone else sounds like Shakespeare in the Park understudies.

Anyway, after Ethan realizes that his wife doesn't have wings or talons, he celebrates like he's Emiya Kiritsugu on Father's Day and chokes her out in bed because this is a DARK and MATURE fantasy story.

Thanks for using the most TASTEFUL image we could use of that.

What can I say, didn't have time to photoshop tiny dragons over all the nipples in this episode.

At least I can post Ethan's elusive man-titties and not feel bad.

Speaking of feeling bad, who's ready for 30 minutes of a dragon talking about how killing him to stop him from annihilating villages on the reg makes Ethan just as bad.

Dragon: Humanity suuuuuucks, you all suuuuuck.

Okay, Ethan Dogma, show me on the path where you actually learned this. I'm scramblin' here. Was it the druggie town?

That whole speech from Ethan would ring more true if I felt the showrunners believed it at all. But as-is there's nothing in the presentation of the stories beforehand that makes me think they have any clue what any of the morality they're playing with entails. But who has time for crafting effective episodic stories? We need a 10 minute speech from Uncle Dragon about why he's VolCel.

AFAIK, this is also absolutely NOTHING and NOT NEARLY AS INTERESTING as the actual ending of the game. This anime could've tried to incorporate any of the games politics or story to make something interesting but instead it just choses to make the most straightforward and rote thing possible.

It is intensely tedious, since the entire moral is just "if you fight a monster, then you ALSO become a monster!" which is a cool twist if you're 12 and have never read a comic book before. But as an adult with the capacity to understand concepts more complicated than Violence Bad, fuck this Dragon and his Dogma.

It's an incredibly not-deep metaphor for the cycle of violence and incredibly sad given the original is a MUCH more interesting statement about duty and servitude. Hannah even throws the GODSBANE, the sword that you get AFTER killing the dragon in order for Ethan to go all rage mode and slay the beast. With no other explanation of what made him stronger than before other than his hate?

Honestly the only coherent part about that fight was when Hannah used ice beam, since it's super effective against Dragon types.

Everything else is just CG camera wank and bankrupt philosophy.

Well good news for Hannah is that because Ethan reaps what he sows, he's now selected to become the next Dragon to Terrorize Humanity. Having apparently gone from Emotionless Husk to A Person-Like Object throughout the show, Ethan prompts her that he's going to be burninating the country sides so humanity needs a new protector and it's her.

While it's true she does seem to get a little more keen throughout the show, it's like not really a wide margin.

Also just gonna point out that Ethan literally becomes the EXACT SAME DRAGON CG RIG because who cares anymore?

Thus Dragon's Dogma ends by delivering both parts of its title in the least entertaining way imaginable. Honestly after sparing it this much thought I think I have to revise my saying this show wasn't horrible. It in fact sucks a good deal.

It's less of a dark fantasy story and more like what aliens or a machine-learning program think a dark fantasy story is.

The only redeeming feature is that it's short, but even then you could go watch 7 episodes of Vinland Saga in the same amount of time and get an actual good version of these ideas. In fact just to that. Go watch Vinland Saga. Hell watch the CG Berserk seasons if you're hard up. Do something better with your time than this.

Even just on Netflix, you'll have a much better time watching The Witcher series if you're desperate for a video game adaption. I'd even rather people watch the messy but fun Rage of Bahamut Genesis if you want an anime with cg dragons.

And just so it doesn't seem like we're being too harsh, remember we're doing what Ethan wants:

But dark fantasy, doesn't necessarily have to mean tragedy porn. Having a mature story doesn't have to be gritty and edgy in order to be realistic and as I've aged and experienced more, real-life closely resembles stories where the opposite can be true and I find more value in the stories that go out of the way to show that beautiful side of humanity as well. Dragon's Dogma talks a big game about this, but can't really make a heartfelt argument to save it's life.

Now more than ever I'm open to some deeply cynical takes on the human condition, but this show doesn't even have that. Its perspective is too half-baked to take seriously, like a 13-year-old trying to hack out his first angst fic on AO3, but without the charm of constant spelling errors and goth-rock lyrics. This show wishes it had the emotional complexity of "Crawling" by Linkin Park.

Verdict: Make like these random soldiers and fuckin' run! Run from the terror of Dragon's Dogma! ahhhhh

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