Remember when you watched a kick-ass cartoon and thought, "Wow, this would be a cool game"? Judge Sandra Dozier wants you to know that dreams can come true.
"Dragon Drive…D-Break!"—Miss L.
I enjoyed watching Dragon Drive, a recent entry in the "trading card / virtual game universe" genre of anime. I expected to be bored, but this series delivers more than light entertainment and game tips.
Facts of the Case
Dragon Drive is about a career slacker, Reiji Ozora, and his best friend Maiko Yukino's last-ditch attempt to get him interested in something other than being Tardy Champ at school. That something is a virtual reality game world called D-Zone, where he can command his very own dragon that is created based on his own personality and physical profile. In D-Zone, he can fight other players and their dragons.
The trouble is, Rei's dragon is a pipsqueak! To the amazement of everyone watching, the adorable but featherweight Chibi has the lowest stats on record and a fondness for sleeping. Needless to say, Rei instantly becomes everyone's favorite target as they predict an easy win; if his self-proclaimed rival Daisuke Hagiwara ("Dice," who loves Maiko with a consuming passion and who resents Rei's relationship with her) isn't running him down, it's the ultra-cool Kyogi from his class, or one of the other game champions.
However, it isn't just the unusually low stats that attract everyone's attention; his dragon soon starts exhibiting fantastic abilities that are far beyond even the most advanced player. But something is going on…Rei isn't earning any experience points, and Chibi isn't getting any stronger, stat-wise, so how can they keep blowing everyone away?
Dragon Drive won't win any awards for originality, cutting-edge animation technique, or story, but it does offer solid entertainment, which already puts it leaps and bounds beyond similar tie-in anime such as .hack//SIGN.
The reason? One word: humor. The classic clueless dunce Rei stumbles through life alternately dazed and jumped up higher than a hyperactive ten-year-old who just ate a box of pixie sticks. The fact that he has friends at all is only due to his infrequent but stunningly noble deeds. He'd step in front of a bus for his friends, which is why they remain loyal.
There's also mystery—what is going on in D-zone, and how does Chibi figure into things? The writers manage to keep the answers just out of reach but tantalizing enough to keep the viewer interested, with plenty of eye candy (dragon duels) and humor as filler.
Finally, romance. Daisuke's nearly obsessive devotion to Maiko is both comically sweet and sadly pathetic. In other words, a perfect unrequited love story.
Clearly, the show's creators are having fun with the concept and story, and they have created a kick-ass game world to stomp around in. Dragons…fighting…hit points…might makes right? Sign me up! Dragon Drive is the kind of game that I would have sunk $20 worth of quarters in as a kid. I guess now I could just buy it for GameCube.
Fans of Ranma 1/2 will recognize Brad Swaille, the voice of Mousse, in the title role. His perpetually-on-the-edge-of-puberty voice and talent for playing clueless sugar junkies serves him well in this role. English voice dub is right on the money, with each lead role perfectly cast. The animation is clear and colorful, with crisp lines—a fairly standard Pokemon type of style. The video transfer is fair, with a bit of scanning interference that makes the image slightly soft, but it isn't too bad. Sound quality fares a little better, with a fairly active 2.0 surround field and clear transfer. There's not much in the way of extras, just an illustration gallery and some previews.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The fact that Dragon Drive is just the latest meat for the grinder of video game knock-off anime is probably its most damning quality. It inherits a certain blandness as a result, a sort of mass-produced, sanitized appeal that is, in the end, an unfair characterization. If Pokemon is oatmeal, Dragon Drive is Frosted Flakes with extra sugar on top.
Watch Dragon Drive, have fun. Don't watch Dragon Drive, the world continues to revolve. Still watching .hack//SIGN instead of Dragon Drive? Time for a change. Besides, super-cute dragon beats cute but vaguely scary cat-thing any day.
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