Join us for this week's episode in which Judge Sandra Dozier makes a surprising discovery: Good things come in mass-marketed packages.
It was only supposed to be a game, but now it's become more real than anything Reiji knows!
In the seemingly endless parade of trading card/virtual game universe animes, Dragon Drive hardly stands out by description alone. Kids control dragon avatars and fight opponents in a virtual universe called D-Zone. They meet in a super-cool underground arena where everyone games, hooked in via virtual reality.
At first, the plot follows a standard MO: Career slacker Reiji Ozora discovers a hot new virtual universe game called Dragon Drive and starts playing. Turns out he's a whiz kid. It's probably about the only thing in his life that he excels at, other than being Tardy Champ at school. His first trial is to be matched with a dragon. As the game calculates his match, he envisions huge, powerful dragons with mouths full of sharp teeth, who come out of the box raring to go. Instead, he ends up with a pint-sized white dragon that is more of a cutie than a killer. Everyone has a good laugh about this, but Reiji isn't beaten—he intends to make Chibi (Chibisuke, the name of his dragon) into a strong fighter, by hook or by crook. In his first few matches, Chibi shows flashes of extraordinary power when cornered, even though his stats don't reflect it at all. Rei is perplexed but pushes on, determined to get better.
Rei is initially clued in to Dragon Drive by his best friend, Maiko, and manages to form an uneasy friendship with Daisuke, a fellow player who loves Maiko fiercely and sees Rei as a rival for her affections. Breezy, oblivious Rei doesn't understand that "Dice" hates him, and he goes on about the business of trying to hang out with him all the same. Meanwhile, cool kid Kyoji and siren Sayaka (who may or may not have a thing for Rei) are his stiffest competition in D-Zone, the virtual universe where they compete.
What Dragon Drive has going for it is a healthy helping of humor and action. Rei himself is naturally a hyper kid, and playing Dragon Drive gets him wired up so tight that he's constantly bouncing off the walls and doing outlandish, Three Stooges-type physical comedy for the enjoyment of the viewer. Maiko, true to formula, has no idea of Dice's feelings for her, even though he's always calling her "My Sweet Honey" (perhaps she doesn't understand him, since he says these words in English on the Japanese track). This pair alone is always good for some laughs. And action? If the competitions and dragon fights aren't enough, the action really gets going in Volume Two, when a from-left-field plot twist changes the ballgame completely.
I have to admit, I was lulled into a sense of security about exactly where the plot of Dragon Drive was going. The words Pokemon and .hack //SIGN drifted across my mind—entertaining, maybe, but firmly formulaic. However, in Episode Five, the gang is sucked into Rikyu, an alternate Earth, where they discover that Dragon Drive is not just a game, it's a Last Starfighter type of test engine to find powerful players who can go to Rikyu and locate an evil dragon lord that has been imprisoned in Dragonite. As Miss L says, the goal of Dragon Drive is to find players who can draw out 100% of their dragon's power. It seems that Rei, along with snobby regional champ Hikaru, is just such a player.
If you think I've just spoiled the whole disc for you, don't worry—there's another twist that happens when the players reach that world that pretty much guarantees the rest of the series is going to be a smokin' good time.
Don't get me wrong—there's nothing here that is so innovative and original that I'm left gasping for air, but I do appreciate the way things get shaken up in pretty much every episode. Dragon Drive is genuinely enjoyable to watch, the sort of rainy-day entertainment that can be watched several times without a sense of boredom setting in.
The animation for Dragon Drive is average, with a muted color palette and a focus on active fight scenes. I do like the way shadow and shading is used to good effect in this animation, especially during otherwise ordinary scenes when expressions and body language are emphasised with shadow and shading changes, so it isn't completely cookie-cutter. Video and audio transfer for this series is good, with a generally vivid picture and clear, robust sound. Volume Two comes with a lenticular (3-D) pencil board featuring Thunder Volt, the dragon of one of the new characters introduced in Rikyu. A pencil board is a stiff plastic page that is slipped under a piece of paper so you can write on it and not leave marks or indentations on the pages beneath. This neat little extra is fairly heavy-duty, with a smooth, finished side for writing on. Thunder Volt is attractive enough that it also makes a nice pinup if pencil boards aren't your thing.
I'm looking forward to future volumes. The escapist entertainment value of Dragon Drive makes it fun to watch, and the action scenes and tongue-in-cheek humor keep things hopping.
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