Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
In the country of Ansullivan, people nurture orphaned dragons within their bodies in order to form bonds with them. This enables the two to become a team – the dragon trusts its surrogate parent enough that the person is able to become a “dragonar,” or dragon rider. Students study at Ansullivan Dragonar Academy to become dragonars and to learn how to raise their precious steeds. Ash Blake is a Senios (senior) there, but despite this his dragon has yet to hatch. When she finally does, the dragon takes the form of a beautiful young girl! How is Ash supposed to become a dragonar without a physical dragon? And can he protect her from scientists who want to vivisect her to figure out why she's humanoid in the first place?
Dragonar Academy's first volume opens with the line, “First I see her breasts.” While that does not necessarily dictate the quality of the rest of the book, in this case it is an indication of the volume's general focus – it will be more about fanservice than building up the world and characters. If this is what you look for in a manga, Dragonar Academy certainly delivers; if you would prefer that your boobs come with a solid story, you are more likely to be disapointed.
The line in question is part of hero Ash Blake's narration of his recurring dream: he sees a beautiful, naked, horned woman who tells him that they will soon meet. Ash isn't sure what all this means, but frankly he's more interested in worrying about when his dragon will hatch. In the world of the story, humans aspiring to be dragon riders, the titular dragonars, have orphan dragons implanted in their arms beneath a star mark in order to forge a bond that will allow them to work with the beasts in the future. Ash not only has a crazily large and elaborate marking, but he's also become a senior student without his dragon hatching. While he's glad that he has the unheard of ability to ride other people's dragons, he's also concerned about the future of his. When she does finally make an appearance in the form of a (naked) human girl with soft baby dragon horns, Ash is still concerned – how is he supposed to be a dragonar without a dragon who wears a dragon's shape?
As far as plotlines go, this one is very interesting and has a lot of potential, as well as the possibility of a lot of off-color “riding” jokes. Unfortunately it does not come with enough backstory to hold it up. Ash's classmates, the ultra-tsundere princess of Allendia Sylvia and the busty student council president Rebecca, clearly have a history with him that we as readers are not privy to. With Rebecca we can work around it, but there's a definite sense of missing something major with Sylvia that hampers the story. Ash himself also doesn't progress beyond a blank-slate harem lead, which is a detriment to the plot. How can we care about his relationships with the girls or his worries about being a dragonar if we know virtually nothing about how he feels? Given that this is an adaptation of a light novel, it seems likely that this information was present in the original text. In fact, most of this book screams for you to read the original novels (there are fourteen as of this writing), or perhaps assumes that you already have. This nagging sensation of not getting something pulls the book down considerably, which is a shame.
Ran, whose Maid War Chronicles and Mao-chan manga were released in English by Del Rey, provides the artwork, and clearly enjoys drawing the female form. The pages are filled with balloony breasts, barely covered behinds, and a surprising amount of underage nipples, and if that is something you look for in a manga, that makes this much more of a winner for the art alone. While there is a fair amount of physical implausibility going on, Ran's women have lots of lush curves and a definite sense of motion. The artwork is very heavily toned, which can obscure things at times, but everyone is distinct and Sylvia even changes her hairstyle, which is not something we often see.
When you come down to it, Dragonar Academy is a book with an intriguing premise that fails to deliver. The idea of raising one's own orphaned dragon implies some interesting things about the nature of the beasts and the relationships between human and dragon, and the mystery of why Eco has a human form is worthy of exploration, but ultimately these things get lost in the sense that we are missing some important information and a lot of butts and breasts. While these can be attractive, the lack of a solid story drags the book down, and readers are left with the sensation that they've just read a summary of something that really could have been good.
Overall : C-
Story : C-
Art : B-
+ Neat premise, interesting world. Ran draws a variety of different body types and distinct characters.
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