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Monday, 8 February 2016

Dreamworks' Dragons S4: Race to the Edge, Part 2.

Dreamworks' Dragons
Series 4
Race to the Edge, Part 2. 

File under things I didn't know before: How To Train Your Dragon 3 has been delayed until 2018. While that sort of makes sense - it'd mean that there's four years between each films, and time for two more series/one more storyline in the animated series (which is how many Jay Baruchel says he'll do) because the eventual end of the franchise, it's still a little bit sad. I shall be an old, decrepit skeleton by the time the third film comes out.

Picking up roughly from the end of Dreamworks' Dragons S3, the second part of Race to the Edge introduces a new set of villains - the Dragon Hunters, seafaring criminals and the original owners of the Dragon Eye, led by expert dragon huntsman Ryker Grimborn, and directed from the shadows by the mysterious Viggo. Allying with Dagur's Berserkers and a turncoat Heather, the group begins causing trouble for Hiccup and the Dragon Riders, as they attempt to reclaim the Dragon Eye for themselves.

So, we can run down the list of things that were good about series three and essentially tick off the boxes. Good animation, check, in fact I'd go so far as to say it's maybe even a tiny bit better than most of the third series. Nice music, check, although it sometimes seems like they deliberately scale back how nice the music is so as to avoid any risk of overshadowing the films. Well-paced if somewhat formulaic storylines, check, and we do occasionally get episodes that break formula quite nicely (one of the best two-parters in the series, actually, completely breaks formula, exchanging the 'there's a new dragon' formula for 'there's an all out siege on our base'). Strong voice-acting, with good performances across the board.

Our villains, minus Viggo.

Particular voice-acting props go to Alfred Molina, who makes his entrance in the last two episodes as Viggo, lending the character a relaxed, cool sense of menace as he wanders around plotting and scheming. His performance gives the character a weight that it might not have had otherwise, and hammers in the idea of Viggo as a chessmaster par excellence whose intellect outmatches that of the Dragon Riders'.

As far as plotting goes, it's also worth mentioning the Heather-as-a-double-agent plot. While it maybe doesn't get as much focus as it could, the series does well by having Heather seem like a genuine villain for most of the story, only revealing that she's working as a spy later on - it's a plot twist that works partly because you can see the hints scattered throughout the story, and while the reveal does come at a slightly odd moment in the story (a not-massively-plot-relevant episode in the latter half of the series), it works well nonetheless, and it ramps up the tension for the final few episodes, as the Riders now have to deal with keeping Heather safe.

(The tension is also ramped up by the fact that approximately nobody is afraid to casually discuss death. "They're going to kill [x character]," is a common phrase to pop up in dialogue, and while nobody actually dies (or, really, is in much danger of dying), that it's even presented as a viable threat without being wrapped up in euphemisms is a refreshing change from the tack of most children's shows from the US.)


That ramping up of tension - both by introducing Viggo and by adding in the complicating factor of protecting Heather's cover - is important, because to be honest, by that point in the series, the Dragon Hunters had failed so many times that they were starting to come off as incompetent, a fate that had befallen the Berserkers prior to them.

Speaking of the Berserkers, they are essentially relegated to being the Hunters' sidekicks in this series, with Dagur being the only one we even really see. That's a little vexing, since it renders their involvement in the third series almost pointless, as they had no arc or particular storyline, but at the same time, the Berserkers had, by the time the fourth series started, lost any villain cred they ever had.

Heather, and dragon.

The series ends on a cliffhanger, with the team having resoundingly lost to Viggo, losing the Dragon Eye and inadvertantly letting him activate it, which means it's safe to say that there will probably be a series five, a 'Race to the Edge Part Three', if you will. I will eagerly look forward to that, even though it unfortunately hasn't been announced yet. Still, this is a very solid series, a technically strong production that fits well into the action-comedy children's show niche. I'll be interested to see where the series goes from here, and to be honest, I'll be surprised if the fifth series drops any later than the end of this year. 

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