Review

by Theron Martin,

Dances with the Dragons

Blu-Ray

Synopsis:
Dances with the Dragons Blu-ray
In Gayus's world, advances in quantum mechanics have led to the development of magic-like powers called jushiki and brought people into contact with other worlds and races. In a city where various races blend, Gayus makes his living as a high-level offensive jushiki user, which basically means he's a troubleshooter. His partner is Gigina, a Draken warrior strong on bluster and short on the ability (or care) to think anything through beyond his precious furniture. Together they team up to handle a variety of cases, whether it be dealing with literal dragons who have violated treaty lines to cause damage, stopping vengeance-driven killers, confronting terrorists, or dealing with more common criminals.
Review:

This 12 episode anime from the Spring 2018 season did not get a lot of attention in the West, perhaps in part because its source novels (29 in all since 2003) do not have even full fan translations into English, much less official translations. The series also did not make the cut for episode reviews on this site that season. Now its Blu-Ray/Digital release by Funimation gives the series at least a chance to gain a new audience. Whether it deserves that audience or not depends on what you're looking for in a light novel adaptation.

In anime form, Dances with the Dragons has three defining characteristics. The first is a central duo of two very handsome but also very different young men who have an oft-strained partnership. One is a hotheaded, melee-oriented combat freak with a very, very bizarre obsession with furniture (he even goes as far as calling some of them his “children”), the other is an analytical womanizer who more emphasizes ranged attacks. As a team they are quite the powerhouse, though they rarely coordinate their attacks to any great degree and are constantly bickering with and jabbing at each other. A combative relationship with a duo like this can work and even be popular, though this story pushes the limits of what can be done with such a relationship and still be tolerable. There is also no hint of BL play between them; one occasionally hits on other women even though he has a steady, regularly-appearing girlfriend and the other is at times shown with a harem of female lovers, so any shipping going on here is pure wishful thinking.

The second defining characteristic is the combative use of magic. The introduction in the first episode cycles through some gobbledygook about how quantum mechanics engineering has produced the effective equivalent of magic, though dragons and other races also exist. (Gayus's girlfriend is, essentially, an elf, for instance.) Such a scientific and technical underpinning for jushiki never comes up again in the animated part of the series, so just thinking about it as magic is probably simpler. The result is a steady stream of flashy action scenes which seem more at home in a pure fantasy series than one that pretends to be a modern world. However, that doesn't make the series any different than a plethora of other titles out there which do the same.

The third characteristic – and the one which gives this series a little separation from others of its kind – is its remarkably dense plotting. Both of the major arcs covered by these 12 episodes feature multiple levels of political maneuvering and intrigue, though more behind the scenes than shown, and lots of name-dropping and arcane geopolitical references are sprinkled liberally throughout the content. This can make the series hard to follow at times, although in most cases understanding all of the references is not necessary for getting at least the gist of what's going on. The second arc also engages in telling a multi-part flashback without revealing until more than halfway through that it actually is a flashback, which is about equal parts neat misdirection and annoyance. Most (but not all) of the last episode is also a flashback, although it is at least up front about what it is, with an epilogue for the second arc following; that part is handled better. Multiple references to something happening to a past associate without are also dropped without ever explaining what happened, although presumably that is detailed later in the novels.

On the technical front, the series looks its best in its CG displays of magical circles and blast effects, though it also features some dashingly handsome male character designs. (It doesn't do badly with its female character designs but they impress much less.) It does not put much effort into visual racial diversity or otherwise visually developing distinct cultural elements that might be beyond Earth norms; Gayus's girlfriend is completely human-looking except for her ears, for instance. While the series tries to visually creative with its weapon designs, they mostly just come off looking like stereotypical overblown fantasy designs, ones whose practicality would, in some cases, be questionable if they were not enhanced by jushiki. The supporting animation effort is a wholly ordinary one, with fights rarely providing much flow or visual spectacle; they are passable as action entertainment, but that's about it. Quality control is also very suspect at various times in the series.

The series does a bit better on the musical front. Takashi Ohmama's eclectic score angles for vaguely Middle Eastern themes at times amongst its diverse collection of cuts, but they typically work well to set the tone and/or enhance the tenseness of action scenes. Opener “divine criminal” by fripSide is a wholly unremarkable number, but closer “decadence,” with its upbeat rock sound and sweet vocals by Maon Kurosaki (Drifters, A Certain Magical Index, High School of the Dead) is a much more memorable number.

The physical release by Funimation comes on Blu-Ray only with accompanying digital rights. Its Extras are sparse, consisting only of cleaner opener and closer and some promo videos. However, it does at least include an English dub. Most major recurring cast members are not household names in English dub circles, but the casting choices are nonetheless good ones and most vocal styles fit the characters well; Josh Bangle does especially well portraying Gigina's arrogance. Delivery can sometimes be a little choppy, especially early on, but those problems disappear by the end. Scripting is mostly fine, though surely something better than the awkward-sounding “offensive jushiki-ist” label for what Gayus and Gigina do could have been come up with?

Overall, the story arcs driving the series wind up being more involving than they looked like at first, and that elevates the series from utterly forgettable to a barely passable supernatural action entry. It just doesn't look sharp enough, sexy enough, or coherent enough to merit a recommendation.

Grade:
Production Info:
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C+
Animation : C+
Art : B-
Music : B+

+ Complex plot, some good action sequences
Geopolitical references can be hard to follow, world-building makes little effort to distinguish itself

Music: Takashi Ohmama
Original creator: Labo Asai
Original Character Design:
Miyagi
Zain

Full encyclopedia details about
Saredo Tsumibito wa Ryū to Odoru: Dances with the Dragons (TV)

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