Dragon Crisis Episodes 1, 2, and 3 – The Fire Inside
Great series tend to show their greatness immediately; horrible series are also easy to identify. It’s the lines between poor and mediocre and between mediocre and decent where things can get blurry. Partially because—as we’ve complained multiple times on antiotaku—anime plots are so often rehashes or slight variants off of previously used ideas, the line between a solid show, an ok one, and a just plain forgettable one is distinguished only by little details in the execution.
Dragon Crisis bears all the hallmarks of the now well-established action/romance/urban fantasy series centered around a high school protagonist who uncovers some special power in himself, and the slowly growing armada of attractive superpowered girls who come into his orbit. It’s become a staple of popular light novels, as seen most recently in A Certain Magical Index; the trend arguably reached its breakout moment with Shakugan no Shana back in 2005. The combination of action, superpowers, and a quasi- or flat-out harem setup has obvious appeal to nerdy teenage boys.
Of course, copycats of successful series tend to be soulless, by the numbers affairs; there haven’t been too many ripoffs of Shana which left a major impression in my mind. (Index is an exception, but it’s not really a Shana ripoff, and the impression it left with me is not completely positive.) Dragon Crisis, to its credit, does not seem soulless. But that hardly means it will be good.
Ryuuji Kisaragi is your average generic Japanese high school student—clueless to a classmate’s crush and abandoned by his parents. His life is turned upside down when his beautiful and bossy second cousin Eriko Nanao interrupts class one day, freshly returned from America, to forcibly recruit him into the relic hunting business. Seeking magical artifacts called “lost preciouses” (yes, it is always said in English), she drags him along to “liberate” one such item from the crime boss who is smuggling it into the country.
Putting aside for the moment the irresponsibility of dragging a 10th grader into confrontations with armed criminals (an issue my coblogger discussed at length yesterday), the pair successfully liberate the smuggled item only to discover the cargo is a girl; specifically a beautiful blond girl who is a young red dragon. (Dragons can only take on their real form as adults.) And for some reason said girl, whom Ryuuji names Rose, is immediately attracted to him.
I should give credit for Dragon Crisis for eventually providing some reason for this; far too many shows have the male lead be irresistible to girls just because. But the reason is even more headsplitting: Ten years ago Ryuuji was accompanying his parents on a trip to Europe looking for lost preciouses and discovered Rose’s egg just as she hatched. She thus, it is later theorized, imprinted on him.
This provides a perfectly convincing explanation—and then leaves plot holes massive enough for Smaug to comfortably fly through. Why would it take Rose take ten years to follow after Ryuuji, get captured, and brought to Japan by smugglers for completely unrelated reasons? How was it that Ryuuji, by pure chance, would happen to recover Rose on his very first mission as a relic hunter? Why has Rose not seemed to mature at all over the past ten years, to the point where she hasn’t learned a language yet? (In a nod to E.T., it takes her a few hours of watching television.) The set-up of the show is contrived beyond belief.
The next two episodes deal with the machinations of Onyx, a fully mature black dragon who had Rose kidnapped and brought to him as a potential bride. A dragon’s power is amplified in partnership, for some unexplained reason, and he wants Rose as his partner. After she’s been kidnapped (again), and Ryuuji comes to rescue her, Rose ultimately bonds with Ryuuji instead, and the two of them together force Onyx to retreat.
It’s a serviceable introductory plot, marred by mediocre action scenes and a certain lack of dramatic tension. The lines are too telegraphed and the events too predictable to inspire interest by themselves. With mostly uninspired fights and a lack of distinctive style in the animation, it just doesn’t feel like there’s much to recommend.
There are two things to Dragon Crisis which keep me from dismissing it out of hand. The first is the comparative restraint the series has in presenting its setting. Dragon Crisis presents a world where there are opportunities for technobabble lurking behind every corner. Yet the show is careful to drop bits of knowledge in easily digestible chunks, and only when it would make sense for the characters to ask. There’s no long, drawn out exposition where the characters discuss something they already should know.
That means, of course, it’s easy for an inattentive viewer to get confused; it’s not until the second episode that it’s mentioned that Ryuuji is a “level 10 breaker”—and even then no one explains what that means. But it also forces a narrative style which is far more “show” than “tell” (which is always nice to see), and the lack of clunky exposition dialogue is, in a tale like this, both surprising and welcome.
The other saving grace of the show is the relationship between the leads, the one aspect of the show which doesn’t feel halfhearted. Rie Kugimiwa has plenty of experience with childish characters like Rose, but she’s clearly not phoning in a performance here; whether due to good direction or her own skill, she manages to convey Rose’s unbridled affection for Ryuuji without being forced or cloying. This is a particular accomplishment given that her lines for the first part of this arc consist of nothing more than saying his name over and over again.
(Ironies abound in casting choices: Rie Kumigawa was of course the eponymous Shana in the granddaddy of all these shows, and she played a diminutive girl in love with a boy named Ryuuji in Toradora—and in both shows Ryuuji’s name is meant as a pun on dragon in Japanese. Of course, Shana and Toradora were both better shows that this.)
Ryuuji also deserves some credit for not being the clueless wimp that protagonists of this type of show (or anime in general) typically are. His powers are hardly the worst coincidence the show throws at us, and he quickly acknowledges and accepts Rose’s affection. While the show, by its opening and ending sequences, shows every indication of introducing a bevy of female characters and thus potentially turning itself into a harem show, Ryuuji’s prior and open commitment to Rose should allow that to develop in interesting, or at least tolerable, ways.
Such, at least, is the hope. The mere fact that Dragon Crisis devoted three whole episodes to establishing Rose and Ryuuji’s relationship is a good sign, but that could just as easily be an outlier. The best possible scenario is that the collection of beautiful girls who make up the rest of the cast will only serve, as Ryuuji’s cousin has so far, as decoration, while the main relationship remains unchallenged. Alternately, the girls could make their affection for Ryuuji known, but with their interference only serving as a catalyst to bring Rose and Ryuuji closer together.
Of course, the writers could also succumb to the temptation to negate or ignore Rose and Ryuuji’s established relationship in order to maximize the harem scenario. And even if the show keeps Rose and Ryuuji together, the action is already rather lacking and the plot ho-hum, so the show could easily fail on other merits. There’s plenty of things that can go wrong here.
Thus far, though, Dragon Crisis manages to keep itself just barely above water. It wouldn’t be the best show of the season even in a more lackluster season than this one—and in a season as exceptional as this one, it’s barely noticeable—but it’s clearly not the cold, mechanical production that characterizes the work of obvious hacks. There’s some spark here. The question is whether it will catch flame, or be snuffed out.
You can watch the show here.