WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Dragon Quest: Adventure of Dai Episode 4, "THE DARK LORD HADLAR'S RETURN," now streaming on Crunchyroll and Hulu.
In the previous episode of Dragon Quest: The Adventure of Dai, we learned that the Dark Lord had been resurrected, which is why the monsters of Dermline Island went berserk and Avan the Hero Tutor came to the island to train Dai. But we haven't really felt any consequences from this villain being back on the scene. Until now, that is: for no sooner has Avan begun to help Dai, he's cruelly killed off by the Dark Lord. In heroic fashion, of course.
Episode 4 begins where the previous episode left off -- the fight between Dai and Avan in his new dragon form. The difference in power is made clear right away, as Dai can't even seem to scratch Avan with his knife. Dai realizes his normal attacks can't harm his master but remembers the next step in his training: learning the Water Slash. If learning the Earth Slash meant emphasizing strength, then Water must mean emphasizing speed. Knowing what he needs to do, Dai readies himself for the next wave of flames Avan releases at him. In a quick burst of speed, Dai slashes the flames while also piercing Avan's scales, reverting him back to normal.
But as Dai's group enjoys a brief respite, they are suddenly thrust into immediate danger. Someone much stronger than the gargoyles has broken through the barrier Avan put over the island. The person reveals himself to the group, and Avan recognizes them to be no other than the Dark Lord, Hadlar.
It's then revealed that Avan was actually the original hero from 10 years ago that defeated Hadlar. This revelation comes as a shock to the group, but what's more shocking is how Hadlar came back to life. Apparently, the Dark Lord struck a deal with the Dark King, an underworld being with great power who resurrected Hadlar in exchange for the atrocities he'd commit in the Dark King's name. With his students not yet ready to face such an ultimate power, it falls to Avan to defeat Hadlar by himself.
Hadlar comes off as the cruel evil JRPG final boss he's based on, but beyond that, there isn't too much else to his character. Except, that is, for one interesting snippet that Avan uses to taunt him. When Avan calls Hadlar a "servant" of the Dark King, this greatly upsets Hadlar. The egomaniac is likely ashamed of himself for having to rely on someone stronger for help in order to get revenge.
That being said, Hadlar overwhelms Avan with ease. Avan's fire spells have little effect on Hadlar and even his greatest technique, the Avan Strash, isn't enough to finish off the Dark Lord. Grandpa Brass points out that because Avan used "puff" to turn into a dragon, his magic must be greatly depleted, meaning he's been fighting Hadlar with only a fourth of his remaining strength.
Realizing his master to be in danger, Dai rushes in to help, despite Popp's protests that he'll only get in the way. Unfortunately, his effort is wasted as Haldar makes short work of the future hero just as easily as he did Avan.
The meek Popp goes to retrieve unconscious Dai, but as he does, Hadlar notices something strange. One of Dai's attacks has cut his finger. Realizing that if he lets his nemesis's pupils live, he could potentially surpass him one day, Hadlar decides to simply eviscerate them both on the spot with "Sizzle." At the last moment, however, Avan ducks between them, taking the blast to protect his students and ending the episode with a nervewracking cliffhanger.
Although the banter between Avan and Hadlar is well-executed, and Avan's self-sacrifice is a good twist, it seems as though there was a missed opportunity in this episode to develop Popp. Up until now, Popp has acted as a cowardly foil to Dai, only ever hiding his intent at wanting to keep up with his younger fellow pupil. Popp doesn't even want to stop the Dark Lord in the same way Dai does as his cowardice is still holding him back. So, wouldn't it have been more interesting for Hadlar to give Popp an ultimatum? Leave Dai behind so that he may kill him and, in exchange, he won't kill Popp.
Popp didn't engage with him once during the whole fight, thus missing an opportunity for him to step up as a hero. Hopefully, this will be rectified by an arc that transforms him into a braver mage, particularly if Avan will no longer be around.