Reviewby Carl Kimlinger,
Leaving the safety of allied lands behind, Zola's intrepid shadow-wielders make straight for the enemy stronghold of Grankingdom. The way is dangerous, but they are determined to retrieve the seven pages of the Book of the Beginning that were stolen from them. Deep in that shadowy land, under overcast skies and jags of lightning that herald his supreme evilness, Nene, the evil overlord of Grankingdom awaits them. Nene is displeased, and not just because the Laws of Evil Villaindom require him to be green, bald and saddled with an annoying evil pet. His forces are breaking against the might of the alliance of Good arrayed against him, and he has so far been unable to destroy Zola and her diminutive buddies. All that might just change when Shu and the rest of the shadow-wielders finally come face-to-face with ruthless General Logi and his brigade of evil Shadow warriors. Ready... Set... Shadow-box!
There are series that I love to hate, and then there's Blue Dragon. Criticizing Blue Dragon always feels a little like clubbing baby seals. It may be necessary (particularly if you're hungry or irritable), but you can't help but wish there were a gentler way to do it. It isn't as if Blue Dragon's awfulness is intentional or malicious (with the exception of the sadistically revamped opening sequence), it just is. Which is why this is possibly the easiest Blue Dragon volume to review yet. After all, there's finally something vaguely positive to say.
Prior to the first two episodes on this disc, Blue Dragon's positive qualities wouldn't fill a midget's thimble. By the time these two episodes have concluded, they could fill a normal thimble quite handily, and maybe even have a little left over. The hike in quality isn't magic, or even terribly unexpected; it's merely the product of the series finally allowing one-on-one battles (the strong suit of shonen fighting series) to extend past a single episode. The de facto tournament structure of the fight isn't anything new, and the inconclusive result is disappointing, but so long as the parallel fights are running, the series can actually hold one's attention for an astounding thirty seconds at a time without it wandering on to more pressing matters, such as the length of one's toenails or whether the closets need fresh mothballs. Compared to shows with proper characters and real dialogue perhaps that isn't much, but for Blue Dragon it's an improvement of Biblical proportions.
Unfortunately, after that, it's back to clubbing baby seals as the series follows the two-episode battle with a pair of well-intentioned but unbelievably misguided “serious” episodes. The first is of the “enemies unknowingly meet and bond together” variety, while the second is a straightforward back-story/character-building tale, but both make the fatal mistake of trying to inspire deep emotion with stupendously shallow characters. Jiro and Shu are so desperately one-dimensional that only Akira Toriyama's distinctive designs keep them from being forgotten even as the episodes run. Expecting them to effectively evoke bittersweet life lessons is plainly out of the question. And yet the series tries, even as it becomes obvious that its writers can't express themselves except in the broadest of platitudes. Watching the series attempt emotional pirouettes with its script of flabby clichés is kind of funny in its utter futility, but like a figure-skating sumo wrestler, mostly you just want it to take the leotard off and return to more suitable pastimes.
Aside from testing the veracity of the old “if you make that face, it'll freeze like that” adage, the volume's second half also makes it impossible to turn the brain off and enjoy the pretty pictures. Which is unfortunate, as the pictures, animated with surprising verve (if little panache) by Studio Pierrot, are quite pretty indeed—in a relentlessly cartoony kind of way. The painful ineptitude of those final forty minutes also renders moot the pleasures of the English dub (Kirk Thornton's dry Minotaur is a standout) and makes it all too easy to forget that a mere forty minutes earlier, Blue Dragon was demolishing all expectations with a two-episode action extravaganza that was darned near un-boring. What a terrible shame.
A short summary of the plot and a pair of character profiles (Jiro and Minotaur) provide the series' first extras.
Overall (dub) : D+
Story : D-
Animation : B-
Art : B-
Music : C-
+ Extended fights raise the first two episodes to heights of tepid entertainment that make the rest of the series seem pale in comparison.
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