Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Puzzle & Dragons X
BD/DVD Part 1
Young teen Ace dreams of becoming a Dragon Caller – a person who can control the “drops” that represent the natural powers of the world in order to form pacts with various monsters and maintain the earth's balance. His dad, who vanished while on a mission when Ace was little, was a great Dragon Caller, which has influenced Ace a great deal. But he also has a great affinity for the drops and the monsters, and after a chance meeting with Lance, one of the most famous Dragon Callers around, Ace finds himself on the path to following in his dad's footsteps. With his friends Tamazo and Charo, Ace is ready to face the perils ahead!
There's a stigma around anime series based on games that could hold particularly true for Puzzle & Dragons X. It's based not just on a game, but on a Candy Crush-style match three cellphone game. That makes it all the more impressive that not only does this show manage to use the game's mechanics to its advantage, but it's able to tell a story that's easy and entertaining to watch, though perhaps not exactly compelling.
The story follows Ace, a roughly twelve-ish kid whose dad vanished years ago. His mom talks about him like he's dead, but Ace has never been sure – after all, his father was a great Dragon Caller, a type of sorcerer who can use the powers of the natural world to team up with monsters and keep the planet's ecology in balance. That's Ace's great ambition too, one that seems destined to come to fruition when he finds and hatches a large monster egg. Out of it comes Tamazo, a white cat-egg-dragon hybrid who implicitly believes in Ace's abilities. That's a good thing, because Lance, one of the most famous Dragon Callers in the world, is decidedly more skeptical. Despite this, Ace teams up with his new friend Charo and along with Tamazo, they set out to learn how to join Lance's ranks.
This first half of the series (thirteen episodes) focuses on their efforts to become Dragon Callers. For Ace, it's a much easier road to follow – he's already got the requisite equipment handed down from his absent father, a major ability to see and summon the colorful “drops” that encompass the world's energy, and he's got Tamazo, whose existence seems to impress people even if he's not all that helpful. Charo, on the other hand, mostly has his ambition and a good heart. He can see drops, but not well; he doesn't have the necessary equipment, and people don't seem to think much of his chances. That ultimately makes Charo's journey more rewarding in this set; we never have any doubt that Ace will prove Lance and his other detractors wrong to become a great Dragon Caller, but we want Charo to be the one to succeed.
Not that Ace isn't a likable character on his own by any means. While this is very clearly a kids' show (violence isn't frightening or bloody, bright colors and simple shapes abound), Ace is a nice guy who seems like he'd be fun to be friends with. This is amply helped in the English dub by Josh Grelle's delivery of his lines – they give Ace a bit of an edge that makes him feel more like a regular kid instead of the super talented protagonist of the show. The entire dub cast is strong, as we've largely come to expect from Funimation, and it even manages to render Devi and Tamazo (Devi is Lance's black cat-egg-dragon thing) infinitely less annoying. Sure both Tia Ballard and Alexis Tipton can get squeaky at times, but Chika Sakamoto and Tomoko Kaneda are ear-piercing enough to make the dub a better viewing option. All of the other voices are about equal (although Grelle's Ace feels a bit more relatable than Takuto Yoshinaga's), and it's worth mentioning that Lance's voice is oddly deep in both language tracks.
While Puzzle & Dragons X is a children's show, it still has some moments that older viewers are likely to find funnier than the younger set. Episode three features an entertaining subplot about Lance dealing with the joys of bureaucracy, and episode ten's murder mystery spoof is also pretty great. Episode five features some references to old-school 1970s shounen that will likely be more entertaining to older viewers in the west. Other elements are very firmly in the kiddie camp, such as the gross jelly dumplings bearing a distinct resemblance to frog eggs (which would have been thrillingly icky when I was seven) and the adorable Pokémon-knockoff designs of the monsters. Those designs do take some odd turns at times, with the “trolls” looking like unicorn/bear hybrids, but for the most part, you could swap the cuter monsters out for almost any other similar show's beasts. The action is suitably engaging enough to be fun no matter your age, and the fights aren't so easy that victory is always assured.
There are some darker threads running through the show, such as the increasingly obvious fact that of the two humanoid races, the dragonoids (humans with horns and often wings and other draconian features) have a low opinion of boring old humans. This appears to be at the heart of Lance's dislike of Ace and Charo, and it comes up in several different plot points, most notably one where a human and a dragonoid are both in the running for a prestigious and powerful Dragon Caller position. While it never gets too heavy, it's an interesting thematic element that bears keeping an eye on as the series heads into its second half.
Puzzle & Dragons X manages to take a storyless cellphone game and turn it into something that's not just watchable but also fun. While it retains amusing elements of its origins (Dragon Callers have to line up three drops of the same color to power up their monsters), it also gives us a group of protagonists worth following and a story that doesn't hesitate to throw in some darker moments while maintaining a lighter plot. This set doesn't offer many extras – just trailers and clean songs – but it does have a good dub and it's easy to watch. It's the kind of show that you could easily marathon on a stormy day to escape for a little while.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : B-
Animation : B-
Art : C
Music : C+
+ Good dub, fun characters and story, something for both older and younger viewers
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