"Dances with the Dragons" is a show that shows moderate potential but fails to deliver fully on that potential, resulting in a thoroughly mediocre show. The plot introduces threads out of nowhere, and there's more loose threads at the end than a ball of yarn that went through twenty cats.
The story is the worst link in the show. I'm not sure if this is handled with the same amount of grace in the original light novel, but the story has approximately four major plotlines that converge together at two separate points awkwardly like the wreckage from a two-car collision ramming into two other cars creating a flaming storytelling four-car pileup. The serial murder and "peace talk" arcs that take place in the first five episodes are barely related, and due to there being no apparent link between the Urmun and Maga-something-Japanese-I-forgot arcs at the beginning, I'm confused at what location they even are at sometimes when it shows them going through border control and then back at their agency in one simple cut.
Also, episode 11 and 12 are the textbook definition of "awkward pacing".
There's also a bunch of convenient things that happen to Gigina and Gaius that go completely unshown before showing up. X shows up and saves their asses? Welp, it's actually never mentioned that they were there.
I still don't know where that huge fireball Gaius shot out in episode 10 came from.
Here's a nice idea: instead of four plotlines and focusing on none of them -- it'd be easier to focus on one plotline and commit to it.
The original light novel obviously has a very complicated and delicate setting -- it's the only way I can justify all the incredible facts about the world I'm supposed to know. Eridana is split into half between the Dragon Empire and Seven-Cities-Alliance? Oh, they never mention it in the show as far as I can recall. Nidvolk's orb? The poison? The other damn countries that are offhandedly mentioned? Good luck finding exposition.
The setting normally won't be such big of a deal, but when sociopolitical-maneuvering seems to be your only constant thread within the show, it would be nice to get some exposition on the world.
Art and character design:
I like the character designs, and the art is serviceable. However, the fight scenes lack motion (dragon fights don't actually show the characters with sword swinging and excess movement much), and when it gets dark, it gets really dark. Like some others mentioned, I had to turn up my screen's brightness just to see what was going on.
The music in this show sound closer to a JRPG soundtrack -- noticable and a bit obtrusive. It's good enough though, and the vocal flourish at the end of the opening theme is a nice little moment to get your blood pumping.
Characters are given time to develop, but not enough to make them stand out as good characters. Gigina and Gaius have almost no chemistry apparent at first, but instead of showing why they butt heads, it just tells you to accept that they do. Their relation improves of course, and they actually share one or two quite funny moments at the last few episodes of the show.
Of the support characters, Jivanya is probably the only constant one throughout the series as Gaius's girlfriend. Her character is never given enough time to develop as well. Moldeen could count as well, but his goals and motivations are so illusory it's hard to grasp his character at the end.
I got a lot of enjoyment out of watching Nidvolk and Jivanya's lady-parts.
But seriously speaking, there aren't many enjoyable or despicable moments in this show. Things happen, and the viewer is swept along. It's not bad enough to make you unable to watch, but there isn't much of anything that actively engaged or interested me. No well-developed characters, a plot with horrible pacing and a bit of mediocre comedy -- it's not exactly a recipe for maximum fun.
Oh, I guess Norio Wakamoto is here, so if he's your thing (he should be) he'll provide some fine entertainment.
The plot is confusing, the characters only barely there. What's there to like? The art is a resounding "meh", the sound and music passable. Nothing here's bad enough or crazy enough to be interesting, and the only thing that seemed like it had potential -- the setting -- was laid to waste by a lack of exposition and a lack of screen time.
Meh. It wasn't that bad. I guess. "Decent" works.
Recommended to no one but fans of the original light novel or its manga adaptation. Maybe if you are one, you'll get more mileage out of this than me.