I know I said I would be focusing more on book reviews but watching The Dragon Prince Season 4 on Netflix, I came to realize something. This was one of the only stories that came to recent memory I could think of that incorporates progressive and inclusive values in a natural way that’s appropriate to the worldbuilding established. I was really impressed when, not only was it an engaging and fun story, it had managed to create a genuine and worthwhile example of representation in storytelling done right.
While the main cast and the villain’s arcs explore their trials, growth and consequences of what they’ve done, Queen Janai and General Amaya’s story gives a more real-life story similar to what we see in the real world. The difficulty Janai and Amaya are presented with test their resolve and present problems with not exactly clear solutions. It feels very much like a reference to problems we see in the real world that we think of and are more complex than right and wrong. Though they don’t change from the beginning to the end of the season, it still felt refreshing to see a couple work through what feels like an insurmountable problem together rather than just fight.
But the main story is really the main cast of heroes chasing after the antagonists. When we’re with the heroes, the main focus seems to be a bit scattered as the only real character arc to follow is the relationship conflict between Callum and Rayla (I’m a bit biased as I hate this trope but it’s relatively ok here). That being said, there’s still many character defining moments for all the heroes that, in those moments, showcase their growth and maturity over the years. While these moments are great, it’s unfortunate that there feels like a lot of time focused more on plot progression rather than character development.
But the antagonists of Season 4 are really where the character development happens. Viren is very much a different man after he’s been resurrected and, while not quite a shell of his former self per se, he’s certainly nowhere near as steadfast and determined as he once was. It’s fascinating to see how different he views things after having experienced death. But where he’s in a crisis of identity, Claudia is far more determined and focused after the time skip. She proves to still be dedicated to her father even when he isn’t himself. There’s hints in her actions and mannerisms regarding dark magic that show real potential for a darker story. Viren had always been an interesting antagonist as he was never just a simple evil villain but rather a misguided man trying to protect humanity and it feels like Claudia may follow in his footsteps.
The Dragon Prince is an interesting case of what feels like a plot driven story rather than a character driven story that’s done well. Though there are times where it feels like characters are being stubborn or headstrong just for the sake of conflict in some cases to serve the plot, it doesn’t take away from the overall story. Claudia feels like the driving force in the antagonist’s point of view and of the three plot lines that one feels the most character-driven. Callum and the gang seem to be following and reacting to the series of events in a “this is what we have to do” rather than a “I think this is what we should do/what I feel we should do” logic. In a sense, destiny is guiding their journey though there are still moments that are created by their decisions. But those feel small and more like solutions to an immediate problem/puzzle rather than guiding their journey. Queen Janai and General Amaya, however, feel like a character-driven plotline that mixes a character vs character and a character vs society theme. It’s really quite interesting and I don’t want to spoil anything about it as I really enjoyed that part of the season moreso than the classic hero’s journey.
This is what I appreciated the most from The Dragon Prince as it achieved something I wish a lot of writers would do, especially fantasy writers. In my previous review of Rings of Power, I noted that while I appreciated the inclusion of diversity, I found it rather lazy as it included people of colour but it felt lacking. They didn’t expand on anything culturally or show a representation of anything aside from what almost felt like token characters to fulfill a quota. While I still appreciated the inclusion, it felt like so much more could have been done, especially in a fantasy setting. Where Rings of Power failed, The Dragon prince does a really good job of creating diversity and representation without it being forced. The representation in The Dragon Prince adds to the overall worldbuilding rather than a sprinkling on top.
From a perspective of culture, I found it interesting how they approached it as they created cultures that can be loosely connected to real life yet feel unique to the story. Especially in Season 4 with the Sunfire Elves. Typically in most examples of fantasy, elves are usually depicted with a more European flavor akin to classic fantasy. Seeing the Sunfire Elves felt like a breath of fresh air in comparison as their design is unique to the world and feels like a better example of representation of darker skinned characters. Rather than designing the elves with more classic European features and then giving them darker skin tones, the features of the Sunfire Elves have more African inspiration to them. The variety of design choices that take inspiration from African cultures is great as it’s not just sprinkled in among random individuals in some kingdom but is what an entire kingdom and culture consists of. Proper thought and effort was put into the design to create this representation with respect to building up the world of The Dragon Prince without it feeling like checking a box.
But in addition to cultural diversity, there’s also a decent amount of LGBTQ+ representation and not just in the supporting cast of characters. General Amaya and Queen Janai’s romance got to take center stage as one of the main storylines we follow. Rather than it being a side thing in the background as many stories will do, it was the main focus and point of conflict for that part of the story this season though not necessarily the cause of the conflict. It’s really nice to see representation take a step forward and become one of the central storylines. This isn’t necessarily something new in The Dragon Prince as there have been previous moments of representation in earlier seasons. One of note was Rayla’s two adopted fathers that didn’t rely on any kind of stereotypes but rather showed two loving and caring parental figures that were core to her character development. There’s also a character in season 4 that may or may not be a trans character though it was more hinted at rather than outright stated. I’m curious to see how they approach it in Season 5 but I’ve been impressed so far with what I’ve seen.
I promise the next review will be a book review, I just really loved the worldbuilding of this show.