‘Dragon Prince’ Season 2 Review: Bigger, Bolder, but Not Quite as Breathtak
The momentum of Season 1 never truly carries over into an otherwise excellent follow-up.
When it first arrived, The Dragon Prince felt like magic. Nine nearly perfect animated episodes that seemed to materialize out of nowhere, introducing fans to a sweeping fantasy world, complex characters, and an epic journey. It was an overnight success, and just six months later, The Dragon Prince is back for nine more episodes that attempt to expand the show’s universe in a variety of new directions.
The good news is that The Dragon Prince Season 2 succeeds by almost every account. It might not take the same running leap we saw in Season 1, but it methodically and gracefully builds out this budding universe in more ways than you may realize after a first viewing. Returning characters feel deeper, while new ones show up fully formed and brimming with personality. The mythology of this world feels bigger and bolder, introducing new monsters and mystical forces at a staggering pace. The stakes are higher, the jokes are funnier, and even the animation looks better (a sore spot for some fans who complained about computer-generated characters in Season 1).
The only bad news? Season 2’s nine short episodes pass by far too quickly. Just when the story really starts heating up, it’s over, and the wait for Season 3 begins.
Don’t let that deter you, though. After watching all nine episodes and speaking with Dragon Prince co-creators Aaron Ehasz (head writer on Nickelodeon’s Avatar: The Last Airbender) and Justin Richmond (director on the critically acclaimed video game Uncharted 3), I can’t think of a single reason not to jump headfirst into the show’s impressive second season.
Season 2 picks up moments after Season 1 ended — with Callum, Ezran, and Rayla (plus a newborn baby dragon) on the run as Claudia and Soren track them from a distance. While the ensuing nine episodes offer an impressive amount of world building, character development, and jaw-dropping action, they never achieve the impressive momentum the first episodes of The Dragon Prince fell into so seamlessly.
There’s less physical traveling (at least in the show’s present day) and more sitting around and waiting. After everything that unfolded in Season 1, it makes sense that the characters might need a beat to simply process what happened, but at the same time it’s easy to feel like the plot isn’t always moving forward fast enough (or at all).
For the show’s creators, that’s partially by design. While Season 1 of The Dragon Prince needed to quickly thrust viewers into an exciting new world, Season 2 deals with some of the consequences of all that plot.
“Season Two was our first chance to get a little deeper into these characters and see how they feel,” Aaron Ehasz tells Inverse. “To really test their relationships and their own identities.”
In some cases this new focus on depth means action-packed fight scenes, as brewing tension between various characters comes to a head in Season 2. Elsewhere, we get long emotional sequences. Ezran grapples with his newfound responsibilities, while Callum searches inward for a way to reconnect with his magical abilities. There’s also a budding romance between Callum and Claudia, which builds for several episodes before vanishing in an instant.
It’s telling that some of the most exciting moments in The Dragon Prince Season 2 come in the form of a flashback, which offers our first look at Callum and Ezran’s mother while sketching out a fascinating new chapter of this world’s history. Told in segments as a secondary story stretched over several episodes, these scenes are thrilling enough to stand on their own as a short animated film, but they do an even more impressive job of fleshing out the Dragon Prince world in unexpected ways.
As for the animation, which sticks to the combination of hand-painted backgrounds and computer-generated characters, both aspects have been improved. You might not notice the changes at first, but it quickly becomes clear that The Dragon Prince looks even better this time around.
The show’s creators say they took fan criticism to heart, especially when it comes to the frame rate, which can feel closer to Japanese anime than Western style. In Season 2, they think they’ve found a “sweet spot” that maintains their original vision while also addressing fan criticism.
“We listened and we learned and we we understood that some of the choices about the frame rates and things like that were affecting some people’s experience,” Ehasz says, “and so we basically worked to smooth out a lot of the animation and increase the frame rate in a lot of places.”
Justin Richmond adds that as soon as The Dragon Prince was renewed by Netfilx, the team immediately began thinking about how they could improve the show’s animation in Season 2.
“We spent a lot of time going back and looking at places where we could improve the animation improve how the lighting works, improve how the background paintings, work, all that kind of stuff,” he says. “We hope that people see that.”
Don’t expect a total overall, and definitely don’t expect The Dragon Prince Season 2 to look like Avatar: The Last Airbender. Still, everything really has been improved, from the beautiful backgrounds to the pitch-perfect fight scenes.
Speaking of which, the action here is particularly impressive, with even bigger battles, set pieces, and creatures than we saw in Season 1. It’s thrilling to see a full-sized dragon in combat, and that’s just scratching the surface of what Season 2 has to offer.
That said, for all these improvements, both visual and thematic, you may still feel deflated at the end of The Dragon Prince’s second season. There’s nothing wrong with these nine episodes. Really, they’re a pure joy to watch, but while Season 1 left us excitedly wondering what would happen next, Season 2 never seems to actually get around to answering that question.
In Season 1, we moved through this new and fascinating world, but in Season 2 the world moves around us. Emotions, motivations, and allegiances may shift, but the backdrop rarely does. It’s a different kind of experience, one that shows the range The Dragon Prince is capable of achieving, and it’s also sure to leave you just as exhilarated and hungry for more.
The Dragon Prince Seasons 2 hits Netflix on December 15, 2019.