Reviewby Casey Brienza, Aug 28th 2009
St. Dragon Girl
The martial artist Momoka Sendou and the Chinese magician Ryuga Kou have been friends—and sparring partners—since childhood. One day, in a bid to gain more power, Ryuga summons a dragon…and the dragon ends up possessing Momoka by mistake! Her union with the dragon is permanent and irreversible, and it makes Momoka well nigh invincible, but only Ryuga can seal and unseal the dragon's powers. With either a touch or a kiss. Looks like they're going to be spending a lot of time together fighting demons and other assorted bad guys and supernatural creatures from now on! Is this the perfect opportunity for these two most unusual high school students from Yokohama to get over their childish bickering and take the next proverbial step in their relationship?
Okay, somebody please tell me that Natsumi Matsumoto has never heard of the “dragon lady” stereotype, a women-hating caricature of the castrating Asian, and especially Chinese, female? 'Cause it's awfully hard not to wonder if she has whenever Momoka, nicknamed “Dragon Girl” by her peers even before she was ever possessed by a proper dragon, takes out her rage on bullies and perverts by beating them to a pulp. Even if the mangaka does not know what she is doing, it is vaguely offensive.
Oh, and speaking of vaguely offensive stereotypes found in this ostensibly inoffensive manga, those familiar with East Asian international relations might cringe a bit at seeing the profoundly unrealistic, yet bizarrely cavalier, way in which characters of Chinese descent living in Japan are depicted. No no, nothing about how other Asians living in Japan are treated like second-class citizens…except, whoops, they don't usually become citizens. As far as this manga is concerned, Ryuga's just another local heartthrob. I hope you're good at suspending disbelief—St. Dragon Girl requires lots of marathon suspension.
Fortunately (or unfortunately), this series boasts numerous other non-stereotypical irritations to distract one from the intruding realities of prejudice, both major and minor. First of all, what's up with this “saints” business, anyway? Those who have been around the anime and manga block a few times probably recognize the usage in other contexts: Saint Seiya, for example, retitled Knights of the Zodiac for the U.S. release (in grudging acknowledgment that the use of the word, “saint” isn't appropriate English in the native speaker context), or the more recent Saint Young Men. To make a long story short, it's “Engrish” for deity…but do not hold your breath waiting for this insipid shoujo manga to make that fact transparent for you.
Secondly, and far more dire, is the extreme repetitiveness of the series. Question: How many times does Matsumoto need to explain that 1) Ryuga and Momoka are childhood friends, 2) Ryuga is a magic user while Momoka is a martial artist, 3) they have taken it upon themselves to protect Ryuga's cousin Shunran, 4) Momoka is possessed by a dragon that Ryuga summoned, and 5) only Ryuga can unseal the dragon so that Momoka can wield its apparently invincible power? Answer: Every single clichéd and painfully repetitive chapter, apparently. Four volumes in, and it's getting awfully tiresome.
In fact, it's not until the fourth volume that you get even a lukewarm effort in the direction of a multi-part subplot. Volumes two and three are more of the same saccharine tripe overflowing from volume one—one-short stories where our two heroes take on the Bad Beastie of the Day and emerge victorious. Without exception, they are so unremarkable—it's what comes from having a heroine with invincible powers, after all—that you will find yourself forgetting what you have already read mere seconds after you have turned the page. The lame attempts at humor are not particularly redemptive, either. Even the chapter involving an unlikely combination of fortuneteller and transvestite merits barely a laughing pause.
Volume four's long story involves an ancestral enemy of the Kou family who is trying to reawaken a “black dragon” imprisoned beneath the family's Yokohama estate. Who the enemy, named “Yutengenyo” is really is one of the unsubtle attempts at an ongoing mystery…but Matsumoto's attention deficit disorder is so severe that “ongoing” in her world means less than two-hundred pages. Never mind that the ending is so strained in its cheerfulness that you almost (but not quite) forget how one-dimensional all the characters are in the first place and how hard it is to give a cracked penny whether they live or die.
Matsumoto's artwork is most similar to that of Arina Tanemura (Full Moon O Sagashite, Gentlemen's Alliance), with whom she shares a similar creative profile. Some of her busy, fantasy-laced layouts are reminiscent of CLAMP's Mokona Apapa or former CLAMP member Tamayo Akiyama. But unfortunately, Matsumoto's illustrations, though imaginative and richly detailed, entirely lack the effortless charisma and naturalistic grace of any of these better known mangaka. Moreover, her characters' bodies are often so grossly and inconsistently out of proportion that no amount of costume drama frills can make up for the deficit. Readers are left feeling like the got stuck with the second rate knock-off when they thought they were signing up for the real thing.
In short, St. Dragon Girl is not really some unholy combination of Saint Seiya-style “Engrish” and ugly “dragon lady” stereotypes about assertive Asian women. But in all honesty, it might actually have been improved if it were doing something that blatantly and ridiculously “wrong”…'cause as banal shoujo puffery, it just isn't doing much of anything right. Don't give it a second thought.
Overall : D+
Story : D
Art : B
+ Every once in awhile, the artwork manages to be pretty.
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