Judge Sandra Dozier nobly resists puns about a dragon named Urassis in her review of this enjoyable anime.
It was only supposed to be a game, but now it's become more real than anything Reiji knows!
Dragon Drive takes the trading card/virtual universe anime genre to a different level with its engaging and enjoyable story line, characters, and action. Reiji Ozora, Rei for short, is a former slacker who has found his passion: Dragon Drive, a virtual reality game where Rei and his dragon fight opponents in D-Zone, the virtual game zone where their avatars come to life. Along with his best friend, Maiko, and reluctant pal Daisuke ("Dice," who resists being Rei's friend because of his obsession with Maiko and his fear that Rei is a romantic rival), he puts 110% of his effort into being the best player he can be.
At least at first, this isn't as simple as arranging a few battles and getting to know an opponent's strengths and weaknesses: When his dragon is created through a personality and skills match based on his own profile, Chibi is pint-sized and has a flat-lined stats chart! Rather than feeling discouraged, however, Rei just sees this as his cue to get busy and start training. Although he should be losing every battle, Chibi exhibits glimpses of amazing power against far stronger opponents, making Rei wonder what hidden talents his little buddy possesses.
His determination also impresses other strong Dragon Drive players: Kyoji (who is the super-suave big man on campus at school) and Sayaka (who seems to have a crush on Rei). They follow him when he, Dice, and Maiko get sucked into Rikyu, an alternate Earth, and discover that the Dragon Drive game is actually a sophisticated system for evaluating players. RI-ON, the company that created the game, wants to find skilled players who can go to Rikyu and obtain a special, but dangerous, dragon that has been imprisioned in Dragonite there. Hikaru, an aloof regional champion who went up against Rei before he disappeared from Earth, is working for RI-ON, and it seems that Miss L, the game coordinator, is too.
Dragon Drive, the anime, doesn't seem that remarkable on paper. The story line isn't very showy or original, but the series has a strong foundation of action, humor, and good character interaction that makes it an enjoyable diversion and gives it an edge over some of its more cookie-cutter brethren. Characters are thrust into serious situations, but the story never gets bogged down in drama or angst—the action is fresh and lively, and characters keep each other in check before anyone gets to maudlin (or too full of themselves).
In Volume Three, Rei and the gang are on their way to "Dragonic Heaven" to compete. This is where things get really tough, as they go up against the best and brightest fighters. It's no longer a virtual world but a very real one, where their lives and reputations are on the line. Creepy twins Sue and Lin show up again to make trouble for Dice and Rei during the qualification round, and Rei learns an important lesson about the source of Chibi's power. Later, Rei is put into a difficult position when he is forced to help a former enemy escape a terrible fate, and his bond with Chibi grows ever stronger. Meanwhile, Rockaku takes it easy, preferring to let Rei and Dice make their mark in Rikyu.
The animation for Dragon Drive is middle of the road, neither especially flashy or appallingly drab, with a muted color palette and a focus on active fight scenes. I do like the way otherwise ordinary scenes are enhanced with shadow and shading changes, even when expressing body language and expressions, so there is a bit of variety and depth to the animation that makes for a pleasing visual. 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 Air Blast, Kyoji's graceful dragon. 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, and it also makes a cool pinup.
I'm looking forward to future volumes of Dragon Drive—the escapist entertainment value alone is worth it, but I also enjoy the story and characters enough to keep coming back for more.
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