The Dragon Prince Season 2 delivers a bite-size punch of everything we wanted it to be. It is emotionally jaw-dropping in the depth of its character development, captivating in its unique visual style, and engaging in its hand-crafted world-building. But is the nine-episode Netflix mini-season enough? The old aphorism “always leave them wanting more” is probably apt here, but the new normal of less-than thirteen episodes just isn’t enough for me. First, let’s gush about this gorgeous love-letter to high fantasy in all its narrative appeal.
The story of Callum (the ordinary boy-who-would-be-wizard), Ezran (the animal-talking prince-who-would-be-king), Rayla (the assassin-who-would-be-freedom-fighter), and friends picks up in a very Tolkien-like “rest at Rivendell” place as the gang continues its journey to deliver the baby dragon prince back to his home and his family.
In the style we have come to love from the crew that joined The Dragon Prince from Avatar: The Last Airbender (ALA), spiritual ancestor to The Dragon Prince, heart-warming cuteness and quirky humor breaks are exuded by the whole season.
The animation style which began in ALA as a sort of homage to anime takes on a cell-shaded life of its own and brings this magical world to life. The shapes are familiar, but the animation takes the colorful world of magic to new heights. It is an especially enchanting effect as the hand-drawn magic flourish animations contrast the fuller cell-shaded world to give it an otherworldly feel.
The humor is also consistently well-timed. The Dragon Prince would have the ability to be embarrassingly melodramatic if not for these tension breakers. They straddle the line between cute and awkward but always drive the narrative forward without letting the drama overwhelm. The drama is there—this show deals with incredibly deep themes—so the humor helps to palette-cleanse the storytelling. When it does decide to dive fully into the sad or melancholy or morally depraved, those moments feel earned and highlighted on the backdrop of the levity.
The second season of The Dragon Prince also continues the excellent work Season 1 did of walking a great line between beloved fantasy tropes and dealing with relevant and new subject matter. One of my favorite examples of this is the way that The Dragon Prince boldly but kindly deals with disability in a fantasy world. They do this in a way that never seems pandering and is always compassionate, but also doesn’t sugar coat what disability would look like in a world that has magic and dragons. Fantasy and science fiction are the best vehicles for humans to work out and think through difficult and complex social issues. Star Trek is an excellent example of seeing how racism impacts the human soul. It helped us to look at prejudice in a way that didn’t overtly accuse or intrude on anyone because the spacemen being racist toward green skin helped us to ask better questions on how we deal with people with more earth-toned skin colors.
Regarding disability, there is a range of opportunities for us to ask ourselves how we treat those in our worlds who are differently-abled than us. My favorite example in the show is the total butt-kickery of the deaf General Amaya. She is the leader of an armed force of hearing subordinates and probably the best melee fighter in the show. She has the respect and love of her soldiers who, at least those she directly commands, have all learned sign-language to communicate. It doesn’t hamper or impede her success at all. There are other examples such as the amputee wolf Ava and one other very important example that comes up at the end of the season. I don’t want to spoil it. But I want you to watch for it and ask yourself what you would do in that situation.There is a beautiful upside-down truth which is that these moments of purest strength appear as weakness to those who do not know better.
On the tropes end, I’ve loved watching Callum’s growth as a magic-user. In this world, only elves can use natural magic. Humans are only given the option to use magic through the use of animal sacrifice. It is dark and seductive. Callum’s main story arc deals with overcoming this challenge (perhaps this is a disability in this world) in a way that won’t sacrifice his own soul. This is a tried and true fantasy trope that delivers a hero’s journey in a classic way on the backdrop of a new world and magic system.
Another trope—and my favorite—which is just barely starting to develop in this story is the time-honored tradition of shipping. The “ships” are starting to develop, and I really hope they don’t hint around them, but give us this aspect of human (and elven?) life. The best part of TLA for me was the love triangles. My hope is that this continues in a way that isn’t predictable but still a little tropey. Because I’m a tad sappy. And Claudia is bae.
Finally, my favorite part of this show is the depth of nobility it is striving to engender in us. Fantasy has always inspired me to be a better person. I learned courage and cleverness from this genre, and now The Dragon Prince is using fantasy to teach me compassion. The noble King Harrow who died in season one leaves a letter for Callum which is read in episode six. King Harrow struggles with his failures and evaluates his life as he takes a moment to teach his step-son the most vital lesson: compassion. Harrow writes “I now believe true strength is found in vulnerability, and forgiveness in love. There is a beautiful upside-down truth which is that these moments of purest strength appear as weakness to those who do not know better. For a long time, I didn’t know better either. I asked you and your bother to reject history as a narrative of strength and instead have faith that it can be a narrative of love.” Isn’t that exactly what the world needs right now? I can’t help but see the Gospel painted all over that letter and we all really need a dose of that.
The biggest downside to Season 2 of The Dragon Prince is its length. I know the world of Netflix is changing the way narrative arcs are told, but nine episodes per season is not cutting it. That works for a Season 1 introduction to this world, but for Season 2 there simply needs to be more time. This show strives for depth and complexity. There will be characters who are evil that become good and good characters who do evil things. With all the world-building and character development that they want, they need to invest more time in the story if progress is to be made. My biggest concern is that the show will lose our attention spans by only giving us these tiny tastes of story. We are binge watchers after all, and you can hardly call a little sip a binge. I don’t think nine episodes is sustainable unless the production schedule gives us two seasons a year.
This second season delivered the promise of the first and I fall more in love with this show with every episode. I can’t wait to watch the relationships and topics deepen and evolve, and I hope it survives the next Netflix culling. Give it a watch to keep it going and cross your fingers that we won’t have to wait as long for Season 3.
So, how is it?
Season 2 of The Dragon Prince is a fresh, new world to explore while holding the hand of familiar and comfortable fantasy expectations. If you need quirky humor and compelling character drama, The Dragon Prince delivers consistently.