Dragon’s Dogma & the Nostalgic Pleasures of Old-School Mythical Fantasy – Anime Review

Dragon’s Dogma is a 2020 Netflix Original seinen, dark fantasy anime adaption of the video game of the same name. It revolves around a man named Ethan who returns home to his village to find that it’s been decimated by a vicious dragon attack. Overwhelmed with grief and rage, he pursuits the dragon, who feels amused by the human’s desire for vengeance. In an effort to teach Ethan a lesson on the principle of revenge, he subjugates Ethan to a horrifying assault and then challenges the man to come find the dragon on his own turf so he can obtain that which he seeks: retribution.

When I first decided to watch Dragon’s Dogma, it was about three in the morning and I was having trouble sleeping, which isn’t abnormal for me as I suffer from chronic insomnia. I had no idea that it was an adaptation of a video game as I had never heard of the game before. It wasn’t until I saw Capcom listed somewhere in either the opening or the ending credits that I realised what this anime was. Even so, it didn’t deter from me from checking it out because I really fucking love dragons. To me, they are gargantuan, wizened cats with scales. Noticing it was only seven episodes long, I decided to go ahead and binge it until I fell asleep.

While the anime won’t win any awards for its animation or storytelling dynamics, as they’re both rather average across the board, the one thing I did very much appreciate about the series was how much nostalgia it exuded with respect to old-school fantasy shows, and that became the beauty of the whole damn thing.

I grew up on Hercules: The Legendary Adventures and Xena: Warrior Princess and God of War. They were some of my favourite things to watch and play, and helped me to become fascinated with mythological stories and folktales, as well as magical creatures, and eventually the fantasy genre in books (granted, I didn’t know what fantasy was until I was much older). Dragon’s Dogma takes all of the elements that made those sorts of shows fun and addicting, and applied it to an anime, which I hadn’t really experienced like this before.

We have a man who is deemed to become a hero, slaying the humongous beast that has been going around devastating one village after another, ruining families and wreaking havoc. As most heroic fantasy tales necessitate, our would-be saviour suffers a great tragedy of his own that inspires him to take on this magnificent fight. The journey ahead is long and full of incredible challenges and obstacles that is supposed help the hero to grow and become stronger and wiser. These are all marks of classic fantasy narratives. However, Dragon’s Dogma takes these things and puts a slight antithesis type twist on ‘em that helps to combine the nostalgia of classic saving-the-world goodness with the fallacies of humanity.

As Ethan sets out, going from one town to the next, following the wreckage that’s being left in Dragon’s wake, he also ends up saving the people from other mythical creatures and terrible tragedies. Each episode is named after one of the Seven Deadly Sins (hence seven segments), which helps to provide the audience with a basic idea of what Ethan’s next encounter shall incorporate. This is a big part of the entertainment aspect of Dragon’s Dogma, seeing conventional monsters that aren’t typically depicted in the medium combined with inherently Euro-centric ideas (i.e. The Seven Deadly Sins are a classification of vices that are inherently Christian).

For example, there’s a big ass Cyclops who accepts regular human sacrifices in exchange for sparing an entire village, which is really just a mask for governmental corruption and power plays. Then there’s another episode with a succubus who alters her appearance in order to have sex with and devour men. She offers them what they want most as a compromise for her own survival, which work as allegories for some interesting concepts (I won’t name them to avoid spoilers). Then there’s Ethan himself who epitomises the human desire to ignore a state of helplessness that stems from debilitating grief and loss via the notion that “vengeance will absolve the negative emotions and the suffering that stirs within.”

If you think about the classic fantasy genre, everyone the hero helps memorialises one or more of each of the seven sins, along with the branching consequences that trickles down in their aftermaths. What I like about Dragon’s Dogma is that this is done via cheesy mythological beings like griffins and hydras, and it doesn’t shy away from being extremely on the nose with whatever it’s trying to convey. All of that is exceedingly reminiscent of the stuff that I grew up with. It allowed me to latch on to something that was familiar as much as it was new and unknown, especially with Ethan who tends to represent the ideals of each sin in one way or another.

Ethan is more of an anti-hero than a hero because he really doesn’t give a rat’s ass about saving anyone. Circumstances just happen to have things work out that way (ah, gotta love fantasy), but he honestly couldn’t care less. He has extreme tunnel vision for vengeance and he will kill or bulldoze anything that stands between him and said vengeance. There’s also slight twists to how he handles each situation that separates the tropes from the old-school stories of yesteryear; an antithesis as I mentioned earlier, which becomes far more apparent with the arrival of the finale. This is the characteristic that made the whole bloody series such a wild ride for me.

The show gets a lot of shite because it does utilise CGI animation styles, and rather poorly at that, which makes everything pretty inconsistent from one episode to the next on a visual scale. The moulds that it fills go beyond traditional cheesy (for some folx) to be almost cringingly bawdy. Additionally, it’s tossback to the vintage 80s-90s style of the genre also makes it ridiculously predictable, until the final segment (if you’re completely unfamiliar with the game and franchise, as I was). Here’s the thing though: because Dragon’s Dogma doesn’t seem to give a shite about being blatantly obvious with what it’s depicting, that recoiling hot mess of animation doesn’t feel out of place or unwarranted in the least.

The beauty of bad of entertainment is usually how much it can remind us of the things that made us fall in love with specific tropes, genres, character classifications, and much more. The appeal is in finding the very essence of what’s entertaining in a muck of things that wouldn’t be considered artistic with respect to cinema. If we strip away all of our fancy ass expectations for what anime in the modern age “should” entail, Dragon’s Dogma isn’t really that bad at all. It’s not perfect, but it has good bones and an interesting foundation that is marvellously contemplative in its own right. Yes, it’s precise and brazen with its storytelling, but there is also dimension beneath what can be construed as disappointing, and that is what truly makes the anime so damn thrilling.

All in all, I would RECOMMEND Dragon’s Dogma to folx that like old-school cheesy fantasy that isn’t afraid to embrace its corniness with darkly fun violence and mayhem.

Native: ドラゴンズドグマ
Source: Video Game (A-RPG, Hack and Slash)
Demographic: Seinen
Genre: Dark Fantasy
Season: Fall 2020
Episodes: 7
Created by: Capcom
Studio: Sublimation
Director: Shinya Sugai
Content Warnings: Graphic violence including body mutilation and dismemberment. Graphic blood and gore. Strong language. Strong nudity, sexual innuendo, and sexual content. Attempted rape. Drug abuse. Mass killings and death. City devastations. Depiction of poverty and hunger. Anime deaths.
AniListDragon’s Dogma
Streaming: Netflix

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3 thoughts on “Dragon’s Dogma & the Nostalgic Pleasures of Old-School Mythical Fantasy – Anime Review

  1. LOL!

    My children grew up on Hercules and Xena. As a family we watched those shows almost religiously.

    OTOH, I grew up on Twilight Zone, Outer Limits, and later on, original Star Trek. Toss in a bit of Lost in Space and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. Early 60s was not a time of old school fantasy, mostly science fiction.

    • I bought the boxed sets for them at the beginning of the year and I’m looking forward to watching through them again. They’ll always be my faves haha. It’s been years since I’ve seen the original Star Trek, but that’s another one I’d like to revisit.

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