Today, Netflix debuts a new animated series based on a beloved property. This time, it's based on Capcom's cult hit action-RPG Dragon's Dogma. As a loud fan of the Hideaki Itsuno-directed game, I've been cautiously excited for the anime adaptation. Dragon's Dogma is a high fantasy story rich with drama, political intrigue, and climbing monsters big and small.
Helmed by animation studio Sublimation, who are largely known for helping other production houses with 3D animation, Dragon's Dogma is not a traditional 2D animation like the recent Castlevania Netflix series. Instead, it follows the trend of 3D anime, similar to the likes of other Netflix exclusives like Beastars and (shudder) Berserk. While Beastars is impressive in how distinctive it looks for being in 3D, Dragon's Dogma unfortunately resides in the latter's sad party in the aesthetics department, and I'm not a fan.
Characters move stiffly; the monster designs—particularly that of the titular dragon that takes away hero Ethan's heart in the first episode, dooming him as an Arisen—plainly don't look that detailed. The only time the animation looks really smooth is in episode three, when some gratuitous nudity decides to pop into frame. (Episode three is disappointingly misogynistic in more ways than one. Just as a heads up!) Worst of all, I've found my eyes narrowed in on Ethan's bod, in a "these-muscles-are-nonsensical" type of way.
Just look at those arms! They look like the arms of a man who could bench press Dragaux from Ring Fit Adventure! In a scene where he's walking around shirtless in the first episode, his shoulders are so swole that it nearly swallows his neck. At the start of the series, Ethan is simply a well-meaning hunter with a doting pregnant wife and young neighbor he cares for like a son. His distressingly fit shape doesn't make any sense, and seems to only serve enabling him as extremely primed to become the heroic, super-unhuman Arisen eventually.
However, my biggest issue with Dragon's Dogma thus far—I'm only a few episodes in, mind you—is that it seems to take itself way too seriously. The lightness of Dragon's Dogma has evaporated in this adaptation, at least in what I've watched so far. There is nothing akin to your Pawn just straight wrecking a foe while you stand idle. Though, there are nice nods to the game, such as in how Hannah the Pawn calls things out amidst anime battles. Yet in terms of the anime's approach to Dragon's Dogma, I can't help but think this is the Game of Thrones Effect; after all, it swaps the killer B'z theme song with just something orchestral for its opening credits theme, and there's now plentiful gore and sex.
One area where the Dragon's Dogma anime does succeed is in conveying the general bleakness of the world of Gransys. It's elevated by a solid English voice cast, starring Greg Chun (Judgment) and Erica Mendez (Aggretsuko). Even when Ethan and his Pawn, Hannah, help others from imminent, monster-involved danger, nothing ever ends well. Humans are inherently dumb and will always make poor decisions, Dragon's Dogma tells us. In the same breath, it shows the tenderness of humanity, as Ethan and Hannah wrestle with their own humanity-less fate to eventually slay a dragon.
For all that works and doesn't work, though, I just can't get over how hilariously muscular Ethan is compared to everyone else in the show's world. Perhaps that makes it faithful to the Dragon's Dogma experience as a whole—we all get a kick out of making our created characters look as out of place as possible, after all. Why not carry that onward for the anime hero with a tragic past's look? Perhaps that will always be the trickiest part of adapting something where there's no scripted character. While the arc of Dragon's Dogma's journey remains relatively intact here, it did have to conjure a fully-formed hero in the process.
I think my adoration for the original game will keep me invested in seeing the Dragon's Dogma the anime through to the end, as I chant "climb the monster like a Colossus!" at the end of each episode. I was hoping the anime would explore the wider world and lore of Dragon's Dogma a little more, rather than following the same arc, but alas. When I'm done, maybe I'll just boot up the game again, which I have restarted dozens of times over the years. Despite the anime's grossly muscled main man and not-stellar 3D art style, Dragon's Dogma has been by and large entertaining thus far, drive-by misogyny aside. For now, let us hope this adaptation is at least successful enough so that it wills a sequel into existence.