Based on a world-famous action RPG set in an open world, Dragon's Dogma from Capcom will be brought to life as a Netflix original anime series. The story follows a man's journey seeking revenge on a dragon who stole his heart. On his way, the man is brought back to life as an "Arisen." An action adventure about a man challenged by demons who represent the seven deadly sins of humans. (Source: Netflix)
What is the best way to conceive an adaptation? There is no right answer, whether from graphic novel to movies or video games to anime. But unquestionably, all of them are prone to displease different kinds of people. A faithful adaptation that transcribes all the original essence of a feature film or classical literature into another medium tends to be better received by the audience. Just look at Coen Brothers’ No Country for Old Men. Taking personal liberties with the source material can bring a wide range of results, and usually, the worst of them are the most remembered. Nevertheless, a significant positive precedent of something radically different and much more acclaimed than the original work in anime does exist. Of course, I’m talking about Satoshi Kon’s Perfect Blue.
However, there is also a distinguished approach to adaptations. That is, using the universe and central concepts of the source material to tell an original adventure. And that’s what this anime based on Capcom’s homonymous medieval fantasy action role-playing game does, to the delight of some and displeasure of others. Both the general public and hardcore fans do not view video game adaptations favorably, and when it comes to anime, the medium is full of material originating from visual novels. Among all the games with the potential to be translated into animation, why did Netflix choose Dragon’s Dogma? Even after watching it, I still can’t answer this question. The acclaimed RPG—directed by Hideaki Itsuno almost a decade ago—is not precisely known for a well-written story or memorable characters (aside from Grigori, of course). I mean, it’s a passionate game with some fascinating ideas and themes, but that’s not where its brilliance is. The magnificent gameplay, especially the satisfying combat, made Dragon’s Dogma an outstanding game. The cult hit influenced by Kentaro Miura’s beloved Berserk—just like Dark Souls—has captivated many players, who have continued to ask for a sequel since 2012.
Our main character is Ethan, the Arisen. He is a man who had his heart stolen by a Dragon and somehow survived. Now, accompanied by his loyal pawn, Hannah, he must seek revenge against the mighty beast, which eagerly awaits him. Except for the characters mentioned, this is the fundamental premise for both the game and the anime. The first episode itself follows the game—in the anime context—rather straightforwardly. However, from that moment on, Ethan and Hannah will embark on their original adventure, even though they fight against powerful monsters taken directly from the source. The series follows an episodic and straightforward structure: each episode will show the main characters involved in circumstances exploring the seven deadly sins theme. Seven episodes, seven sins, you get the gist of it. When the focus is on lust, both sexuality and perversion become prominent. In the conflict involving gluttony, the disparity of food between the corrupt despots and the famished population at the mercy of destiny is the focus. And so on.
The overall focal point will always be on showing the—usually dark—nature of humanity through a predictable route, typically ending with a tragic resolution—sometimes forcedly—that “teaches” a lesson to our heroes. As the first episode itself makes clear, Ethan’s journey may make him gaze long into the abyss, which will bring about drastic changes in the personality of the initially valorous protagonist. That is not the only predominant aspect throughout the anime that is evident from the start. During the Dragon’s destructive attack that takes countless lives, death scenes present themselves in a crudely and shocking way. Dragon’s Dogma is a rather violent and sexually explicit anime. From sex sequences and nudity in abundance to even a random sexual assault scene that exists only as a narrative tool to impact the audience, although it doesn’t work as expected. Goblins are involved—it seems like something taken directly from Goblin Slayer, and it’s downright shameful.
That’s right, this is an edgy anime, which is an eccentric change compared to the game. Dragon’s Dogma does not have this level of explicit content, and the depiction of violence was much less gory. Berserk is a significant influence on the source material, but the anime goes deep into it. I couldn’t stop thinking that I was watching the poor man’s Conviction Arc. Amidst the parables about sins and human nature lies a big problem—much of what happens along the way seems to be more side quests than main missions that contribute to our leading stars’ actual purpose. The characters mention that they are deviating from the final destination, and the script tries to diegetically insert these detours, even though they exist purely for thematic purposes. When you have a series with just seven episodes, I don’t believe that’s a good idea, since half of them end up looking like filler. The ending feels abrupt, and its divergence from the game may not please some fans.
There is not much to be said about the characters. Ethan and Hannah are the leads, the others being cannon fodder, and nothing more. Ethan is the classic medieval hero who, when fighting the monster, has to avoid becoming the monstrosity himself. He has a sad generic backstory and does develop his personality a bit throughout the plot. The protagonist is not a well-written character, but I can’t say he is terrible either. Hannah is a pawn. Her raison d’être is to serve the Arisen. While she is not human and does not fully understand our nature, Ethan’s partner exhibits a particular fascination with humankind’s behavior. She is initially an emotionless character, but successfully fulfills her role in the plot. Our leading duo has good chemistry and contrast. The secondary characters are unpredictable, in the wrong way. At any given time, they can do something stupid or convenient to the story and thematic progression, which is often disheartening. Some moral conflicts they get involved in are interesting, but there is little time to develop anything remarkable, and a couple of episodes later, you won’t even remember their existence. Hannah’s character design is lovely and stands out the most among the rest.
Let’s talk about the elephant in the room, the controversial use of 3DCG. If you are a person who hates this animation style, be aware that this is not the anime that will change your opinion. It’s not appalling—the animation is surprisingly decent, but it certainly will not satisfy those who have no affection for the technique. Dragon’s Dogma features a visually beautiful mix between 3DCG and 2D, including several backgrounds portraying its medieval fantasy world with a vibrant color palette. Still, there are some significant problems, such as framerate drops. All the beasts models are awful—including the Dragon—which is a huge disappointment. Lighting and visual effects, especially when it comes to Hannah’s spells, add more flavor to the mystical atmosphere.
The fun admittedly resides in the overflowing amount of action scenes, capturing one of the best things from the original game, combat. The direction is competent in establishing the battles’ sense of speed, and Ethan even climbs on the large monsters throughout the bloody fighting, bringing good memories for old fans. And that is not the only thing that will arouse a smile on your face. After all, right in the first episode, there is a conflict with several wolves. You know, they hunt in packs. The producers’ effort to bring Tadayoshi Makino—one of the composers for the original game—to create the soundtrack for this series should be appreciated. Although undeniable good, the songs are not exactly memorable—they are a jumble of generic epic orchestral tracks. Still, Makino efficiently conveys the battles’ greatness, which is enough.
Within what it set out to do, is Dragon’s Dogma a good adaptation? Well, no. I mean, in a few moments, sort of yes. Despite the lack of a well-written story or memorable characters in the game, the lore is rich and compelling. Therefore, this short anime series is a noticeable downgrade. However, when it comes to action, the battles manage to capture Dragon’s Dogma’s spirit in raw fashion. The problem is that these sequences are not interactive, so playing the game remains more fun than watching the anime. If you enjoy medieval fantasy and are a fan of the game like me, it will not hurt to give this anime a try. It’s short, and the first few episodes give you a good idea of what’s to come. Newcomers might even get interested in going after the game and trying it out. Loremasters will likely not appreciate several changes, but most will fondly welcome the numerous winks to the source material. Otherwise, if you are the type of person who favors an emotionally engaging series with multiple well-developed, relatable characters, stay away from this anime.
Dragon’s Dogma is a forgettable journey, although it’s more entertaining than it has the right to be—that is, except for the moments between the neat action scenes. And no, they didn’t use “Into Free” in the intro. Yeah, I know, this is kind of unforgivable. But perhaps I cooperated with the development of Dragon’s Dogma 2 by watching this.