Let’s be honest: this quarantine has many reaching for the comforting predictability of old shows in the wake of uncertainty. So when Netflix dropped Avatar: The Last Airbender in April, it was no surprise that millions tuned in to watch an old favorite.
Personally, ATLA has a special place in my heart. Streaming it now reminds me of the hours my brother and I spent playing the show on our mum’s laptop the liminal summer we moved back to Nigeria. As an 11-year old with bedtimes and TV restrictions, the show felt like a million hours long, but at 21, with the combination of stress-binging and quarantine-boredom, it wasn’t long before I watched the final end credits roll. And like many, I asked in admiration, is there another show like Avatar?
No really. Is there another show like Avatar?
That’s debatable. But when I heard that the head writer of Avatar and the actor who played Sokka had worked together on another project, I knew I had to check it out.
I give you *drumroll* The Dragon Prince.
Before you close your screen and continue scrolling through Zutara memes, just hear me out. This show is good.
The Dragon Prince takes us to the a land divided into the magical land of Xadia and the human kingdoms. When the Katolis rulers kill the Dragon King along with his egg, war threatens to loom in the land. The plot follows human princes Callum and Ezran, as they journey with a Moon elf in an attempt to restore peace to the land after discovering that the dragon egg is, in fact, alive.
One of the first things that struck me about the show was how diverse the kingdom of Katolis was. In the first episode, we see a Black king and his biracial family. And although King Harrow’s on-screen rule was very short—leading me to briefly wonder if the show was really about to hit me with the “Black dude dies first” trope—as the series develops, we get to see and understand more of the wise and caring king he was. Not to mention he has locs, which have sometimes attracted negative comments associated with being unkempt, and, well, not regal. So it was nice to see our man King Harrow disrupting that narrative.
The show also offers moral complexity—in the first episode we encounter Rayla, a Moonshadow assassin who spares the life of her first target. She later abandons her mission to assassinate our protagonists Callum and Ezran. I won’t reveal too much, but over the course of the show the writers handle the theme of moral ambiguity really nicely. They do this in part by showing many of the younger characters looking beyond the biases of their predecessors’ generational conflict, and making up their own decisions about what is right.
This mature characterization isn’t something you often see in children’s shows (heck, even some adult shows don’t do this). It’s great watch these characters wrestle with the narratives of the past while creating their own future.
Don’t even get me started on Aunt Amaya, the princes’ aunt who is the Katolian army general. Oh, and she’s deaf. The show’s creators spent time researching with people who are deaf, as well as several organizations that raise awareness around deafness in order to create an authentic character. They also used ASL interpreters to ensure that her sign-language communications were accurate. And let me tell you, Amaya is. a. boss.
This is not a woman you want to mess with. Between single-handedly defeating battalions, to standing up to Viren, Amaya is one of the fiercest characters on the show. And fans have raved about how the portrayal of Amaya’s character in such a way that her deafness is a part of her, but isn’t the only defining thing about her .
The show isn’t perfect; the first season begins with some shaky animation (it gets better though!), and there are some arcs that could be improved. That being said, The Dragon Prince reflects one of my favorite things about fantasy and animation. When the world-building is good, you don’t have to question the feasibility of every aspect of the story. And that means that the characters, no matter appearance and ability, can be whoever and do whatever they want.
The king can have locs, a young queen can have two mums, and the general can be deaf. And nobody can say anything about it, because it’s their world.
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