The Hero’s Journey in Animation

I’d been meaning to watch this for a while now. I should have had this review completed back when The Dragon Prince came to AFNYCC, but alas – sometimes the things we intend are just not so.

When I heard that season two would premiere on Netflix February 15th, I knew I had to get at it.

And boy, it did not disappoint.

The Dragon Prince takes place in the far off lands of Xadia, where magic rules within six primordial sources. Or at least, it did until one human eons ago decided to create a new energy source: dark magic. The mage gone rogue is implied to have ruined the natural balance for all, causing the Elven citizens along with other magical folks to split the kingdom.

In the latest schism, the dragon guardian of the border had its heir murdered. As this creature only hatches once every thousand years, the magical kingdom seeks revenge on the human king and his heir – Ezran.

This is where our story begins.

Let me just say that the Avatar: the Last Airbender nostalgia hit me hard. I’ve been meaning to rewatch that series, especially with the oddly timed announcement of the live-action Netflix adaptation. I don’t want to make too many comparisons to the show because it is its own separate entity, but seeing Claudia reading “Love Amongst the Dragons” in episode one really gave me a good laugh.

For those of you who don’t remember, Prince Zuko’s mother, Ursa, enjoyed taking her family to see the Ember Island Player’s rendition each year when he was young. According to Zuko, they always botched it.

Aside from ATLA head writer Aaron Ehasz creating and producing the show, we also have Jack De Sena (ATLA’s voice of Sokka) playing Ezran’s half-brother, Callum. Director Giancarlo Volpe is also on the executive production team.

Taken from Tumblr User kaf-kaf-kaf

Arron Ehasz and his wife Elizabeth Welch Ehasz were arguably the driving force behind the ideas that lead to what made ATLA so memorable. A feminist Katara who had a strong sense of justice, a strong-willed Toph who could take on any foe and ( was arguably) stronger because she was blind. An emotionally complex Prince Zuko, and a Princess Azula who was the prodigal younger sibling instead of a male brother.

“10-Year Anniversary” Interview with Newsweek, 07/19/2018
“10-Year Anniversary” Interview with Newsweek, 07/19/2018

The married duo just may have saved the show from being one-dimensional characters with no depth…or whatever it is the characters devolve to in the graphic novels.

On ATLA’s future, IGN 06/09/2007

Sadly, team Ehasz did not join the production team for The Legend of Korra. I will not solely blame Bryke for the low favorability of that sequel series as Nickelodeon played a huge part. I will say, that they were allegedly talked out of the Aang – Katara – Male Toph love triangle in the first series and without surmountable opposition, we got the horrible Asami – Mako – Korra nonsense for at least three books in LOK.

But, enough about that. Let’s go back to the human kingdom of Katolis.

The show seems to be following the Hero’s Journey formula along with its TV Tropes.  I wonder if they will diverge from this in season two.

Let me explain:

Popularly coined by Joseph Campbell, The Ten-Phase Formula of the Hero’s Journey is something most fantasy epics follow. Lord of the Rings is one series that comes to mind. Harry Potter is another contemporary example of this. Anything that features an orphan is also a typical archetype in this genre.

I am not going to delve too deeply into the exploration of these themes since with my writing style, we’d be here all day. Instead, I am just going to point out what I consider as interpretations of these stages, or passages.

The 10 stages can be interpreted as followed:

I. Beginning and Breach

This is an introduction of the world. In the shows first few minutes, the world’s current issues and history (war with Xadia, dark magic) are explained. The breach serves as a catalyst of current events: so the “death” of the dragon egg, of the Dragon Queen, and the old world’s status quo. All of this causing the moonshadow elves to seek immediate revenge.

II. Departure

With the death or departure of the old world’s status quo (the dragon and its heir, King Harrow’s rule) there is a departure, or journey of the hero to reestablish homeostasis. The young Princes Callum and Ezran are forced to leave their home in an attempt to not be completely overtaken by the new order – i.e. die. In this stage magic is introduced to the core plot of the story, hinting at a new beginning or metamorphosis. Rayla joins the group and proceeds to tell stories of Xadia, Callum learns he is a mage and capable of sorcery.

III. Outerspace or the Forest

The journey into another realm or state that has laws and regulations foreign to the old world. I will view this interpretation a bit more loosely, as the trio travels by land and by river. River or water symbolism in general aside (a source of life, rebirth and constant motion in itself) Rayla has not traveled much by water and dislikes it. She also has to play the villain at the winter lodge in the woods. This begins her proverbial journey of becoming the “embodiment” of the “villain” or “outsider” which in turn, makes it easier for her to adapt to Katolis’ customs and perceptions when later entering the other human kingdom’s village.

Rayla adjusts to the human mode of transport, and upon seeing it was not difficult allows herself to boldly “blend in” once more. The boys likewise learn the propaganda at play surrounding the magical residents of Xadia and how to travel through the forest and hike up mountains. They learn to traverse in the forest as Rayla has. They also leave their human food – bread – behind, which besides the tracking plot point for Viren’s kids (or the assassin), leaves Ezran and Callum open to tasting food native to Rayla’s nation.

IV. Secret Society

The descent up the creepy mountain. This is the hero’s entrance into the otherworld, where mythic and primordial beings of cosmic balance reside. A place similar to ATLA’s spirit world, with figures that have “a shadowy look, ghostly ability to disappear and reappear across space, magic powers”. Think of the imaginary spider that leapt across time and space. The Dune-esque creature that drains blood from its victims. Rayla’s vision or hallucination of the mummified corpse speaking.

“The secret societies are the gatekeepers of the mysterious world, ensuring that the undeserving doesn’t pass.”

On the mountain underneath the tree, we are able to meet Lujanne, the Elven illusionist who literally admits these psychological barriers are a way to keep the mountain safe from those who seek to do it harm. In order for the heroes to meet her, they have to go through trials and persevere to prove their intent.

“By trying and improvising, the hero must discover the language of communication with the groups of unknown beings.”

Ezran reveals that he is an empath and can communicate with animals and other beings. He realizes the illusion for the benefit of the group and helps them advance onward.

“If the hero passes all the tests, meet all the challenges, and solves all the riddles, he or she is accepted, hence gaining a temporary community…”

Lujanne tells the trio the conditions a dragon needs to hatch, and Callum is able to conjure them using the storm orb. Once Azymondias hatches, Rayla is “rewarded” by the mythic universe and freed from her bonds by her lands protector. I also find it interesting that the pact was made just before the full moon, and was released again under the moon in different circumstances.

V. Taboo and Violation

This phase relies heavily again on the “symbolic forest” but also can include mountains, which I’d like to focus on. Basically, let’s consider Claudia’s spell in the cave turned underground cavern basis for this explanation. As that can literally be considered her conducting dark magic in an underworld – or underground before climbing to the highest peak with Soren.

“Many barriers shield the path toward new knowledge, which must be protected. Falling into the wrong hands, it may damage the Homeworld.”

So, let’s talk about Mr. Evil McEvil pants, the dark sorcerer himself – Viren. From offering King Harrow an asp a la Cleopatra’s death, to sucking the life force out of magical butterflies, to stealing souls and imprisoning them in currency (is he collecting for Charon, who ferries the departed?), to sowing seeds of doubt through subtle manipulation of his children to pin them against one another…this dude is evil.

He even looks like an undead corpse after stealing Runaan’s soul. Maybe this denotes the price high leveled dark energy propagates? An unnatural balance of one’s spirit in a Voldemort horcrux sort of way; which is why the Xadians were so against it.

I’m all over the place currently writing for this site, trying to get my other (author) site off the ground, and working on books. Hopefully though, I can explore phases six through ten in another post and speculate on the story (and my headcanons) further before Season 2 premieres. The remaining phases are:

VI. Punishment/Abyss: Death and the Dragon

VII. Otherstate/Dream

VIII. Donation or Sacred Instruction

IX. Reward and Return

X. Incorporation and Bliss

This has been a lot of fun tonight, albeit me trying to cut down details due to a pre-desired length for this post. I also might post something tomorrow regarding thoughts on diversity and accurate portrayals of this world that I planned on adding to this post, but it didn’t flow well enough.

Also, if you hadn’t noticed, Rayla is my favorite character. From her lovely Scottish accent to her Naruto run, I find the moonshadow elf quite endearing. I am also super excited to see Xadia, which Rayla makes out to be quite beautiful. Hopefully for one reason or another, it hasn’t been destroyed or its entry been blocked by the time the trio visits. Or, there isn’t another conspiracy to make the dragon prince disappear on their end….either way, I will be tuning in to watch!

Do you also find yourself comparing The Dragon Prince to Avatar: The Last Airbender, or other shows like Voltron? What do you think General Amaya signed at her sister’s memorial? Did you find any of the show’s easter eggs? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below, I’d love to hear from you! Also be sure to follow us for more animated show reviews!

Book referenced and quoted: Fictional Worlds: Traditions in Narrative and the Age of Visual Culture by L.A. Alexander.

Author: In Asian Spaces

I write in my personal time and I haven't published much at all. I don't know if that qualifies me as a writer or not, but I'd like to change that. I have a deep passion for travel, cinema and (mainly) East Asian things, but I plan on writing various things to keep it spicy. Let's prosper together ~ よろしくおねがいします。

3 thoughts on “The Hero’s Journey in Animation”

  1. Excellent analysis! I’m also working on my own Hero’s Journey through animation. The thrill of using an animated series is that you’re not limited to a 2-hour movie or even a trilogy. Characters can have a lot more time to grow and develop, such as Prince Zuko who needed a LOT of opportunities to learn to change himself.

    I’ve yet to watch “Dragon Prince” but “Avatar” does follow the Hero’s Journey with a unique style of mixing Western storytelling with Eastern culture. At least to me (confessions of a Jewish American princess!) that’s what I’m digesting as watching the show. Looking back, one can tell the writers worked hard on all of their characters. While Aang is the protagonist and the hero, all of his friends also go through their own journeys to become better forms of themselves: Katara learns to forgive Zuko, Toph takes down her barriers, Sokka gains wisdom and warrior skills. But Zuko is by far the most fascinating character for me, having been introduced as a villain, being briefly an anti-hero, and then becoming a hero–the person he was meant to be after all.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Zuko is my favorite too (=

      I think you’ll really enjoy The Dragon Prince! I really need to re-watch ATLA, I couldn’t remember if they followed the Hero’s Journey there as well. I’m going to check your blog out (=

      Thank you for your comment! It was a joy to read (=

      Like

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