I started screaming in Kotaku Slack when my fellow weeb (and staff writer) Isaiah linked a screenshot of Dragon Age: Absolution. My favorite western fantasy RPG is getting an anime adaptation? Sign me up. But then I started watching the trailer, and my enthusiasm deflated immediately. Absolution doesn’t look like a show produced for the fans of the source material.
Dragon Age: Absolution is a six-episode anime that’s set in the Tevinter Imperium, a nation where mages rule over people without magic. Netflix promised that it would feature an all-original cast and remain faithful to the lore. The show will be animated by the same studio behind Netflix’s The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf.
I wanted to like this so bad. But as the camera panned over incredibly generic looking buildings and characters, I grew despondent. There’s striking geometry to how BioWare designed cities in the games, and the Tevinter concept art would show its architecture as narrow and claustrophobic. If you told me that I was watching a trailer for DOTA: Dragon’s Blood, then I would have believed you. I didn’t see anything that tells me this is a Dragon Age adaptation.
I bought the Dragon Age: Inquisition art book shortly after the game came out, and I wish that Absolution’s characters looked anything like Inquisitor concept art #24. Even cloaked, I associate the game’s characters with strong silhouettes. I didn’t see a single memorable character in the entire trailer. It was so dire that I started to wonder if I would be able to tell two mages apart. Voltron: Legendary Defender had similar problems with uninspired character design.
Of course, I’m not blaming the staff here. The studio’s Witcher anime looks significantly better than the Dragon Age trailer. It’s a rough time for Netflix animators right now, and shows are definitely affected by how much budget they’re given. Netflix recently laid off 70 people from its animation department last month, and animated projects such as Wings of Fire, With Kind Regards From Kindergarten, and Antiracist Baby were cut entirely. Even if Absolution does well, we might not see a season two. Just look at what happened to Tuca and Bertie.
In the end, it’s just a trailer. Maybe Absolution’s story will make up for how lukewarm I feel about the visuals. But anime is a powerful medium because it strives to marry narrative with visual storytelling. Absolution already feels hamstrung right out the gate.