Netflix has delivered anime adaptations of two incredibly noteworthy video games centered around dragons: Dragon's Dogma and DOTA: Dragon's Blood. Both have garnered significant attention upon release, featuring protagonists cursed by a mighty dragon which alters the course of their lives. Both are adult-oriented, mature fantasy, though the similarities from there start to diverge.
In a world with ever more content to watch, anime fans might not be sure which one to go with first. Despite their similarities and differences, it is fairly clear that one of these series is vastly superior to the other. To put it more bluntly, one series does what the other should have done -- at every turn.
2D vs 3D Animation? Best of Both
One of the clear differences between Dragon's Dogma and DOTA: Dragon's Blood is in their animation. Dragon's Blood incorporates relatively traditional animation that blends Western and Eastern styles. Studio Mir, the Korean animation studio behind Dragon's Blood, used 2D animation throughout the series, which allowed the creative team to fully realize an immersive fantasy world.
Dragon's Dogma's studio, Sublimation, opted for CG animation -- which tends to be controversial among anime fans. Some series, such as BEASTARS and Dorohedoro, manage to incorporate beautiful CG animation. Dragon's Dogma, however, is different from these shows. However, that's not to say the animation is bad -- the characters move in a fluid manner, with detailed facial animation. Even minor twitches are rendered beautifully. The fights, a core reason why someone would watch Dragon's Dogma, are epic in scope and incredibly fluid.
Unfortunately, Dragon's Dogma lacks memorable character designs. DOTA: Dragon's Blood's characters are relatively stock too, but Dogma's cast all look pretty samey. Where Dogma really excels is its memorable monster designs. Each one looks unique and intimidating, though some monsters are rendered with textures that differ from all the surrounding animation. Here, Dragon's Dogma sports great animation. It's a shame, therefore, that it fails to be compelling in any other regard.
Which Feels Like The More Imaginative Fantasy?
Both DOTA: Dragon's Blood and Dragon's Dogma are mature fantasy, but while DOTA balances its maturity with imaginative fantasy, Dogma feels mean-spirited and violent in a way that actually makes it seem immature. Dragon's Blood features tons of war, fantasy order, magic and the power of Gods. It feels undeniably like a fantasy with a vast scale and scope.
On the other hand, Dragon's Dogma uses fantasy as a vehicle to get to brutal, nihilistic violence and human cruelty. The episodic series showcases moral parables through fantasy adventures, all of which feature the various human sins as a cornerstone for each story. However, it's hard to find anyone in this story as "in the right," as Dragon's Dogma seems determined to paint its entire human cast as evil. They'll kill one another for a few golden coins, abuse power, starve the innocent, rape and assault.
Whereas DOTA: Dragon's Blood creates multiple societies with their own distinct qualities and values, every place in Dragon's Dogma feels identical. The episodes are only distinct for which monster the hero Ethan needs to slay. None of these foes, however, feel all that distinct beyond their designs. Dragon's Blood introduces fewer cultures and organizations, but they feel alive due to the level of development they receive. More thought was put into the world-building.
Dragon's Dogma Has A Character Problem
DOTA: Dragon's Blood does not have particularly complex characters, but they all come with their own motives, desires, needs, and personality quirks. Davion and Mirana have their own emotional journeys they undergo in Book 1. These stories aren't unique, but they are distinctly compelling. Even minor characters who appear briefly, such as the legendary Dragon Knight Kaden, leave an impression despite minimal screen time.
The same cannot be said for Dragon's Dogma, which suffers from a serious lack of well-crafted characters. The cast tends to be flat and boring, like the hero Ethan and his soulless companion Hannah. At worst, there are characters who lack consistent motivation, logical goals and needs or even a stable personality. It's hard to judge a character's goals or desires when they behave in ways that contradict what has been previously established.
There's also the misogynistic portrayal of women in Dragon's Dogma. There are those living and dying for the sake of their male counterparts, having no real drive outside of a man, or just being overly sexualized femme fatales who, again, rotate their entire character around the men. This is in contrast to DOTA: Dragon's Blood, which has multiple well-written female characters with distinct, fully realized motivations and personalities.
Which Anime Has The Better Story?
DOTA: Dragon's Blood and Dragon's Dogma have very different story problems. Dragon's Blood has a very densely packed story, with many plot threads fighting for supremacy over the course of eight episodes. Dragon's Dogma, however, has an episodic structure that leads Ethan on an unoriginal, bland revenge story.
What makes DOTA: Dragon's Blood's story compelling is entirely absent in Dragon's Dogma. Namely, that the audience understands what's at stake throughout the entire series. The characters want something, need something, and have something valuable they can lose if they fail to achieve their goals. There is moral ambiguity throughout. Nothing is as it seems and everyone is the hero of their own story.
In Dragon's Dogma, all people are evil. Society is doomed because no power structure seems to benefit humanity. There is nothing Ethan can do to improve the world or make it particularly worse. While each story features a hero cursed by a dragon, Davion's curse makes sense in Dragon's Blood's story, with real nuance that alters his relationship with other characters and the world. In Dragon's Dogma, Ethan gets his heart ripped out by a dragon just because. That lack of reason makes it feel vapid in comparison, making DOTA: Dragon's Blood the far stronger of these two fantasy anime.