Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Dragon Half [Omnibus]
Sixteen-year-old Mink is just your average teenage girl – cute, fun, happy, totally obsessed with pop sensation Dick Saucer – and the daughter of a red dragon and the knight who was sent to kill her. Since Dick Saucer is a dragon slayer as well as a singing god, Mink wants to find the Pido Potion to turn her into a full human, and her friends Lufa and Pia decide to go along to help her. But with Princess Vina and the king gunning for her, does Mink even have a chance?
Anime fans of a certain age will remember the 2000 release of the two-episode Dragon Half anime even if they didn't find it particularly funny, because it marks one of the most bizarre stories many of us had experienced at the time – and if your video store was anything like mine, one of the few non-adult titles in stock. The show itself dates to 1993 and its original manga to 1989, and it was unavailable in English until just now. Seven Seas is releasing the seven-volume series in two-volume omnibuses, and if you've been wondering what ever happened to Mink after the tournament since that old VHS, your time has come.
The heroine of the series and eponymous Dragon Half is Mink, a sixteen-year-old girl who finds her parents kind of irritating and is nursing a major crush on pop singing (and sword-slinging) sensation Dick Saucer. Mink's parents are kind of unusual – seventeen years ago her dad, a knight, was sent to kill her mom, a red dragon, but instead of doing that he fell in love with the beast and now the two of them are married. (Her mother can take on human form if you're concerned.) The king who initially sent Mink's dad on his mission isn't thrilled with this situation, mostly because he really wants the hot dragon-lady for himself – at least, until he learns that she has a hot daughter who wears a lot less clothing. Thus the king begins sending minions out to capture Mink for his delectation, never mind that she's about the same age as his daughter Vina.
This sets the stage for Mink's wacky adventures. Along the way she ends up getting to meet her idol Dick Saucer and decides that she wants to be fully human for him, so her quest morphs into one for the mysterious Pido Potion, which can do just that – but then somehow that quest turns into defeating and imprisoning the demon lord Azetodeth. Mink also has to keep her friend Lufa, an elf sorceress, from spending all of their money on clothes, dodge the attempts on her life by Damaramu, a man with a very compact brain, and just generally cope with wackiness. With all of the deliberately zany elements, this book runs the very real risk of being too overtly silly to carry a plot through, and there are a few places where it's definitely just spinning its wheels, mostly in the first volume in the omnibus.
Fortunately creator Ryusuke Mita can largely pull off humor that runs the gamut between situational, slapstick, metafictional, and parodic to that even when the story feels like it isn't advancing, there's something funny to enjoy. One of the running gags, that Lufa is a lesbian, or perhaps bisexual, but is desperately trying to deny/hide her attraction to women, treads on dangerously outdated and potentially offensive ground, but Mita handles it with a light enough touch that it really isn't much of an issue apart from the first moment of being startled when it occurs. Mink's incredible strength is a major factor in the volumes' humor and it is used to good effect whether she's hunting or competing in the delightfully titled Deadly Martial Arts Tournament. The gag about Dick Saucer and the laxative is a nice use of lowbrow potty humor, and the reveal about Vina's heritage is still amusing even if you're already familiar with it from the OVA. What's particularly nice is that there's no truly mean humor in the story. There are some jokes that aren't nice, but none are at the specific expense of someone's insecurities or designed to make us laugh at a cruel situation. Dragon Half is light-hearted and goofy, and that's a large part of its appeal.
It is, however, also very dated in terms of the artwork. Dating to a time when the preferred anime face was rather pointier and involved much larger eyes, it is clear just from a glance that this is not a contemporary work. That shouldn't be a deterrent, however, once you get used to the style, because Mita uses it well in terms of humor, action, and fanservice. Mink and Vina both subscribe to the “battle bikini” style of armor, which leaves Mita with ample opportunities to draw barely-covered crotches and expansive thighs. (This is definitely more a hips book than a boob book.) Monsters are creative if a bit reminiscent of Akira Toriyama's creatures, and the generic “fantasy” setting works well to emphasize the parodic elements of the story. This is something that Mita is largely aware of – with Pia's parents being named Mario and Peach and Lufa's dad's name being Link, it's pretty obvious that there's something deliberate at play.
Seven Seas' edition is a nice one, with plenty of color pages that include a gallery of promo art with Mita's commentary. Mita also comments on each chapter, which is fun to read, as well as on the original covers of the books. On the inside covers are special compatibility tests, one for guys and one for girls, so that you can find your ideal Dragon Half match. The translation is largely free of time-specific references, which is nice because it doesn't feel like anyone's trying to actively make an older series funnier for a contemporary audience, even if some updating has been done.
Dragon Half's first omnibus is a truly fun book. Aspects of its art feel a little dated and the plot stutters a bit in the beginning, but all in all it's funny and fills in not just what happens post-OVA, but also some of the little details that were left out of the anime adaptation. If you like fantasy humor, you really can't go wrong with giving this a chance.
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : B
+ A funny story whose English translation doesn't try to “update” the humor
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