How to Train Your Dragon introduced the world to Toothless, the Night Fury. Toothless easily won hearts with his unique blend of pet-like traits. In spite of him having truly terrifying moments, he was instantly the mascot of the series. Or perhaps it was because of that. All the dragons of the How to Train Your Dragon world are portrayed as majestic and terrifying animals, even after becoming companions for the characters.
The series approached the characterizations of the dragons as a real suborder of animals within the world. Each dragon species feels like they could truly exist in a world where dragons were a thing. How to Train Your Dragon drew on real-world animals for inspiration to make their dragons believable as animals. Even with the fantasy element dragons are known for, the fire-breathing, the series provides a grounded explanation.
With the exception of a few moments, the series has veered away from anthropomorphizing the dragons. At least this was the case until the trailer for How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World was released. The trailer introduces the Light Fury, a subspecies of the Night Fury. The Light Fury’s revel came with a wave of backlash and controversy from the internet. She had a marked difference in her design from most of the dragons. She had a softer, more streamlined shape. She’s smaller than Toothless physically. Her scales weren’t as visible. Most notably her color scheme was drastically different. Her hide color is made of whites and pale blues and has a visible shimmer to it.
It’s something that commonly occurs in animation with non-human characters. The addition of features that are traditionally perceived as overtly feminine to ensure a female character isn’t confused as a guy. It happens most often with characters who are introduced as the love interest (looking at you Ice Age franchise).
Prior to the Light Fury How to Train Your Dragon hadn’t perpetrated these clichés. Out of the main five dragons, there are two females, Stormfly and Meatlug. One would be hard pressed to pick those two out of a line up as the females of the group. No one was even aware Meatlug was a girl until she had eggs. Stormfly and Meatlug have no marked difference to any other dragon in design or personality.
The Light Fury’s design, on the other hand, is a departure from the design of dragons in the series. This could be a product of making her overtly feminine as a love interest for Toothless.
However, the world of How to Train Your Dragon has shown enough variation in dragon species to make her design, as it exists, plausible. As a subspecies, the Light Fury doesn’t necessarily need to have much in common with the Night Fury. Another set of subspecies dragons, the Whispering Death and Screaming Death have a similar body type, but vastly differ in size, color and abilities. Likewise, the Gronckle and Hotburple (yes, that is what they are actually called) are species that are closely related but have different traits.
One of the strongest arguments against the Light Fury’s design is the color. Night Fury’s are completely black for stealth at night, hence the name. But, Toothless is the only known Night Fury in the series. No one encountered in the movies or the television series has seen another Night Fury outside of Toothless. Even someone like Valka, who spent two decades living among dragons, has never encountered another one in the species. Taking this lack of knowledge into account, it’s possible other Night Furies were other colors, especially considering several dragon species don’t have set colors. Also Dean DeBlois, in an interview, explained the Light Fury can cloak itself by superheating their scales causing light to refract off it in a mirror-like way. This could explain the luminous nature of the Light Fury’s skin.
The softer edge to her design could be a result of her habitat. In the trailer, they seem to encounter the Light Fury in a coastal area. While it’s hard to say definitively as of yet if this where she resides, if the Light Fury is frequently swimming, that could provide a reason for a more streamlined design than their Night Fury counterparts.
Yet, in spite of all this, it’s impossible to ignore animation’s history of unnecessarily feminizing characters creators wish to be perceived as female. It’s something that has existed for far too long with far too many examples to be able to overlook it now with the Light Fury. While the case can be made in defense of the Light Fury’s design, one could argue there shouldn’t need to be an argument made in the first place. All of these features and abilities could have existed on a non-glittery dragon. Nor did have to be smaller than Toothless. How to Train Your Dragon never perpetrated these clichés in the past, so I don’t believe it’s asking too much that I need not defend them now.