Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Sep 10th 2008
In a universe where once raged a battle between the forces of light and darkness, a young boy spends his days dreaming of traveling as an apprentice to a mighty warrior. His name is Shu, and he gets his chance when ruthless lady warrior Zola visits his hometown with her brusque preteen charge Jiro. Jiro and Zola rub spunky little Shu the wrong way, what with spunkiness being the natural enemy of brusqueness and ruthlessness, but when he discovers that his shadow houses the same anti-denizens-of-darkness power as theirs, he joins them. Accompanied by childhood friend and obligatory bad cook Kluke, they train, fight the evil Grankingdom, and seek out new shadow-manipulating comrades. Fascinating adventures ensue.
Instructions for watching Blue Dragon: Breathe deep ten times to calm yourself. Repeat to yourself five times that it is children's entertainment, each time making sure to remember that it is based on a video game and thus subject to different expectations of quality. Put the disc in your DVD player. Breathe deep ten more times and press play. Watch for ten minutes and realize that no amount of preparation or allowance-making changes the fact that it is total crap. Drink yourself into a stupor and finish the disc.
To be fair, only viewers exposed to the original—of whom I am not one—know exactly what, if anything, Viz excised when they turned the series over to their editing whizzes and music doctors, but no doubt the original wasn't any better than the kid-friendly version burned onto this disc. It may lack the mind-numbing repetitiveness of Vizkids' other staple, Pokémon, but it more than makes up for it with the sheer invention of its multifarious awfulness. Shu is an awful spunky-kid stereotype. Jiro is an awful smart-kid stereotype. Kluke is an awful feisty-girl stereotype. Zola is an awful mysterious-master stereotype. The bad guys are awful bad-guy stereotypes (there are at least five of them, each more awful than the last). And then there's Maru Maru, a pointy-eared, horned blob-thing whose awfulness transcends the power of words to describe.
And that's just the cast. The story is a standard epic quest—complete with evil overlord—upon whose skeleton clichéd developments hang like rotten shounen fruit: A rival arrives! Hero trains and powers up with amazing speed! Hero's latent powers emerge in the knick of time! Amazingly it even manages to botch the clichés. After much ballyhoo, Shu's latent powers blaze to life, revealing...a body-building dwarf genie with an oversized dragon noggin. Feel the awe. A certain restraint—it has the wherewithal to spread its worm-eaten tropes over several episodes instead of packing them into the first five minutes—and hints of humor set the series apart from the true offal of the shounen fighting genre, but just because something isn't emetic doesn't make it palatable.
The series' one saving grace is the design work by Dragon Ball creator Akira Toriyama. The CG artistry is sharp and surprisingly fluid, the backgrounds cartoony but effective, and the fights decently active—if anemic and often pointless—but it is Toriyama's bobble-headed, humorously blocky characters that account for what charm the series has. Now if only they had borrowed his offbeat sense of humor, disingenuous skill with likeable characters, and eye for martial-arts coolness. And maybe scrapped the plot, rewrote the premise, and hired a director with a talent for fight choreography.
Though then they'd just have Dragon Ball. Which, by the way, is an infinitely superior alternative if you're looking for some harmless action-oriented fun to keep your kids occupied. It is possible that kids will enjoy Blue Dragon—they are after all the only living creatures capable of surviving prolonged exposure to Saturday Morning Cartoons—but on the off-chance that you may end up trapped in the room with them, go with the Dragon Ball.
Viz's English adaptation—the only version available—is a gloriously hammy thing to which most of the series' humorous tidbits owe their existence. It has an appealing on-again, off-again sardonic edge, is well-cast, energetically acted, and utterly incapable of saving the series from itself.
A quick listen to the music proves that it isn't just Viz's English Pokémon songs that play Russian roulette with your musical sensibilities. Listen to the video-game bombast of the in-show score and you'll emerge intact, if bruised. Listen to the mild English ending theme and you'll escape with a bad fright. Listen to the wannabe heavy metal of the English opening and they'll be scraping your musical sensibilities off the wall. And while they're at it, maybe they can collect some of my narrative sensibilities; I'm pretty sure they're splattered somewhere nearby.
Overall (dub) : D-
Story : D-
Animation : B-
Art : B
Music : C
+ Flashes of mild humor; Akira Toriyama's character designs.
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