The Summer 2016 Anime Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
Puzzle & Dragons X ?
What is this?
Peaceful Vienna City is about to see more action than usual when a strange object crashes into the sea just off the island's shores, drawing both the military and a young man clad in blue to the bay. They're both looking for what the military calls a meteorite, but the young man seems to think it's something different. His name is Lance, a Dragon Caller known as the Ice Prince, and he's there with his companion Devi to help take care of a couple of dragons. Meanwhile in town, a boy named Ace has realized that he's able to see unusual things: small spheres in the sky known as “Drops,” along with an aura that tells him what food is freshest. He's just going about his daily business when he suddenly realizes that he can also hear the voices of animals – his friend Hal's cat Happy calls to him for help when she's stuck in a tree. The Drops indicate that he has what it takes to be a Dragon Caller like Lance, but that isn't something he particularly wants. It seems like it's going to happen anyway though, because he hears a voice calling his name that evening, and when he follows it, he discovers a huge egg floating in the water. Just as he brings it home, a fire dragon attacks Vienna City. Unable to evacuate with the rest of the people, Ace and his egg find themselves face-to-face with both Lance and the dragon! Is Ace's future as a Dragon Caller about to begin? PUZZLE&DRAGONS X is based on a video game and can be found streaming on Funimation, Mondays at 6:55 AM EST.
How was the first episode?
Being the first mobile game in history to top $1 billion in revenue and being enormously popular in Japan practically guarantees an anime adaptation/companion piece at some point. Hence we have this series, and hence we have the reason why puzzles are in the name of the series (the source game is a puzzle-type game at heart) even though they are not evident in the first episode.
The dragon aspect certainly is, though. A battle against a dragonlike creature plays out during the opening credits and other dragons pop up before the episode is over. The series has individuals called Dragon Callers who can summon these beasts and power them up using apparently-magical orbs called Drops, which can generally only be seen by Dragon Callers. And the one full-fledged Dragon Caller that we are introduced to in the first episode also has a devil-like mascot tagging along. Hence the comparisons to Pokemon are probably inevitable. The youth of the main characters introduced so far also invite that comparison, as does the character design style.
However, I think that this could probably better be characterized as a family-friendly show rather than a pure kids' show, and the fact that the game is so popular in Japan that it undoubtedly has a significant adult following supports that. Whichever way you look at it, though, the first episode is a competent but largely unremarkable production. The hero-to-be Ace is about as run-of-the-mill as young male heroes in this kind of series can be: friendly, helpful, talented, and in general all-around likable, while the Dragon Caller is the fairly typical gruff, businesslike type who will either end up showing Ace the ropes of being a Dragon Caller (he's not officially one yet, but given the talents he's showing, you have to think that is coming) or his main rival. Naturally there's a girl Ace's age who is hanging around who is going to get involved in all of this dragon business, too.
The one thing that the series does have going for it are some pretty good technical merits. The action scenes aren't done cheaply, adult characters look normal rather than being caricatures, and quality control is high. There's also an interesting-looking bird-like woman who is shown briefly, too. The only downside in this regard is that the dragon designs prioritize style over actually looking intimidating.
Overall, the first episode does what it needs to do to establish the series and get people interested. Not a glorious effort, but a passable one for what it is.
Puzzles & Dragons is undeniably a kids' show - the last act of this episode serves in large part as an advertisement for the card-collecting app the show's trying to sell, and the narrative never rises above standard “young boy discovers his secret power” beats. Ace is the upbeat go-getter, Lance is the cold and cool one, each of them will eventually have mascot characters that repeat their own names. If you're looking for truly sharp writing or anything that'll surprise you, it's probably best to look elsewhere.
That said, kids' anime often end up nailing the fundamentals a lot more consistently than their late-night brethren. There's nothing thrilling about this premiere, but there's also nothing wrong with it - the characters are likable, the plot is clear and builds in momentum throughout, and the system of magic being employed already seems more coherent than, say, Fate/stay night. As far as charming fantasy adventures go, Puzzles & Dragons is a confident articulation of its genre.
On top of that, the show's aesthetics are also relatively impressive. The designs are pretty standard stuff, but the episode opens with a dragon-on-tank battle that's actually one of the animation highlights of the season so far. The mix of mechanical motion, great effects work, and traditionally animated dragon movement make for a dynamic visual setpiece that's framed more for horror than awe - a difficult note to strike in animation. At times, all of those elements even converge into single shots, as the dragon smashes through buildings, prompting rubble and dust to billow around it as soldiers frantically reverse their vehicles. It's only one isolated sequence, but most premieres don't even get that much top-tier animation.
That said, the episode's conclusion ends up rendering the next major dragon in CG, meaning this episode's highlight may just be a one-off attraction. But if you're looking for a simple but professionally executed fantasy, and don't mind the concessions implicit in a show aimed at a younger audience, Puzzles & Dragons is a pleasant enough time.
I'm generally leery of game adaptations in almost any format, especially when the game is something that doesn't necessarily have a story-based premise in the first place. What can I say, I read too many Magic: The Gathering novels back in the day. But I was really pleasantly surprised by Puzzle and Dragons’ first episode. While it does have a very kid-friendly flavor, it also presents an interesting world where fantasy and science fiction connect and if it hadn't started flashing game combos up on the screen, I might have stopped thinking of it as a strictly game-based program.
The ostensible hero of the show, Ace, is a fairly normal kid who has the ability to see “Drops,” which appear to be indicators of supernatural activity and ability. If you can see Drops, you have the potential to become a Dragon Caller, since dragons seem to be the main type of wildlife in the story's world. Whether or not Ace is totally aware that he has this gift felt a little unclear – he mentions that he recently became able to see sparkles around the highest quality food at the market, but he doesn't’ seem to be comfortable with that ability. Possibly this is because his best friend Hal (a girl) really wants to be a Dragon Caller but can't see Drops; he might feel like acknowledging his power would hurt her feelings. On the other hand, he really might not know that his food sense and sudden ability to hear animals talk are related to Dragon Calling, because he really seems surprised when he hears Hal's cat/squirrel call for help and then later the voice of an egg assumed to be, or at least labeled by the government as, a meteorite. At this point it feels like perhaps the military isn't hugely thrilled by dragons and Dragon Callers, and the one Caller we meet, Lance, doesn't look like he's a fan of the military either. (Or people for that matter – his “Prince of Ice” nickname may not be for his affinity.) It may just be that they have opposing philosophies about how to handle dragons. Lance seems to tame them while the military is all about the firepower, so there really could be a question of ideology in play.
If that seems a little highbrow for a kids’ show, that just makes it more easily enjoyed by those who might not normally watch something like Puzzle and Dragons. It also gets fairly dark in its second half, when a fire dragon begins rampaging through beautiful Vienna City, burning and destroying everything. Ace and the egg he rescued (and shoved down his shirt, making him look like a pregnant preteen) are smack in the middle of it, and the military is totally unaware of that. Luckily Lance and his little mascot dragon Devi are also present, and it's clear that this is going to be where Ace confirms his status as some kind of legendary Dragon Caller. Even though it feels predictable, it's still pretty intense. The abrupt change in the color scheme helps to enhance it, going from bold primary colors to dark reds and blacks – with the shining exceptions of Ace's white egg with its yellow star and the yellow star mark in his hair. Symbolism!
The character designs may be simple in a kiddy show kind of way and I'll likely be forever wondering if Lance has half a hoop skirt in his cape, but Puzzle and Dragons is actually a decent amount of fun. It's a definite must-watch if you like Pokemon, but if you just need a fun, fast-paced fantasy, it's worth checking this out.
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