Michiko NeyaAyane SakuraTomoaki MaenoAi Kakuma
Dragonar Academy
Also known as: Seikoku no Dragonar
Episode 1 also reviewed here: Anime 1st episodes 2014: D
Medium: TV, series
Year: 2014
Director: Shunsuke Tada, Tomoyuki Kurokawa
Original creator: Shiki Mizuchi
Actor: Kouji Takahashi, Mariya Ise, Ai Kakuma, Asami Shimoda, Asuka Ogame, Aya Endo, Ayane Sakura, Genki Muro, Haruhi Terada, Kana Hanazawa, Marina Inoue, Takehito Koyasu, Tomoaki Maeno, Yoshiko Ikuta, Yu Kobayashi, Yui Sakakibara, Eiji Miyashita, Fumi Hirano, Kazuma Horie, Michiko Neya, Nozomi Nakano, Rika Sasaki, Takaya Hashi, Takaya Kuroda, Yuka Aisaka
Studio: C-Station
Keywords: anime, boobs, fantasy
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Format: 12 episodes
Url: http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/encyclopedia/anime.php?id=15707
Website category: Anime 2014
Review date: 23 February 2015
Watching that was a mistake. There's potential here, but it's outweighed by the stuff that's mediocre, badly written and/or pandering.
Ash Blake is studying dragon-riding at Ansarivan Dragonar Academy, but he has no dragon. That's a problem, obviously. As part of the fairly complex worldbuilding in this show, we learn that dragons are normally born from their dragon breeders. Ash's hasn't emerged yet. He's touchy about this and indeed about anything that he perceives as a slight on his partner-to-be, aka. his "parr". Eventually a dragon does come forth, but to everyone's surprise in the form of a human girl.
This show's fundamental problem is that it's aiming for the same audience as a harem anime. Without that, it would be quite good. Unfortunately though it's anime for otaku who don't have a girlfriend and aren't likely to find one while they're watching stuff like this.
On the upside, the plot's not openly built around a competition for Ash's romantic attentions. It's about dragons. There's also international politics, with the Academy belonging to a small country sandwiched between two empires that used to be at war. There's an oft-mentioned character who got executed ten years ago for the ultimate taboo of dragonslaying, which you just know is going to become significant. This show has a decent storyline and a spectacular finale, albeit a sequel-hunting one that sees all the baddies escaping to set up the presumed season two.
There are also lots of significant names from mythology and folklore of various countries, some fairly obscure. As well as lots of Arthurian references like Avalon, Gawain, Mordred, Lancelot, Excalibur, etc. we also have Irish mythology (Cuchulainn, Gae Bulg), Old English (Beowulf), Norse (Yggdrasil), etc. To be honest, though, I'm not sure it's clear that any of all that means anything.
However we also have girls. This is the real point of the series. Girls, girls, girls. Lots of girls, offering various combinations of huge boobs, terrifying decolletage and/or some level of romantic interest in Ash Blake. The silly fanservice can be unintentionally amusing, but more damaging is the fact that these characters are being written as otaku-pleasing types rather than as people. We have:
(a) Eco, Ash's dragon in human form. This is complicated. She's my favourite character, but also the show's most problematic element. On the one hand, she makes me laugh and her relationship with Ash Blake feels like one of the few emotionally honest elements in this show. She's a child. She's bratty, super-rude and addicted to sweet things (specifically crepes). She's dependent on Ash, but she abuses him at every opportunity and regards him as something between a cockroach and a stupid, annoying pet. Since she looks about twelve, this is funny. However, at the same time, the two of them are capable of having quiet, sincere moments that feel truthful in an often insincere show, helped a lot by the lack of anything sexual in their relationship. In this show, that's a breath of fresh air. She's a child. She's naked all the time and neither she nor Ash ever seems to notice, with Ash's only response being to tell her to get dressed.
(This too is amusing, especially when Eco's proudly announcing that dragons are superior and hence don't need clothes.)
Unfortunately there are two problems with this. Firstly, she's underwritten to the point of being out of character. Ash is the show's hero and Eco gets repeatedly ignored. She's a dragon! She's ridiculously strong! The latter is so underused that I actually forgot about it and was surprised when it got briefly resurrected in ep.11. Similarly, there's a story arc about trying to communicate with an aggressive but dying dragon, Gawain, and no one ever thinks to ask Eco. She's a dragon. She can talk to other dragons, surely? That would have been a logical way of exploring her character and giving her cool stuff to do... but no, she's sidelined again and used only as a supplier of magical armour to Ash. I spent three solid episodes snarling "where's Eco?" I really like the character, but I hate the way that the show shoehorns her into the story role of "loud-mouthed useless child who needs saving".
I don't even like the deeper emotional material they eventually give her. She's supposedly conflicted about her dual nature as a dragon in human form, but the show's never made any attempt to show us this. Have we ever seen her try to test her own limits, abilities or psychology? Have we ever seen even a hint of self-doubt, or any attempt to explore her own nature? Have we even seen her spend any meaningful time with dragons, beyond a bit of playful dragon-riding with Silvia Lautreamont? That would have been good, but nope. Instead, what sets her off is harem girl anguish on realising that Ash will one day get married to a human (i.e. not her). Grrr. Worse still, though, is the tearful scene in ep.12 in which she's suddenly discovered humility (from where?) and has lost all her self-esteem. "Why should Ash come to save me, when I've only been a burden to him?" I didn't believe a word of it. Horse manure, every syllable. It's codswallop, imposed because it's an anime cliche rather than because it's even remotely credible for Eco. Where's her arrogance gone? The usual Eco bitchiness would have been both funny and more truthful for the character.
What does Eco actually do in most of this show's episodes? Act like a spoiled brat and eat crepes. Admittedly that's more entertaining than you'd think, but it's still a betrayal of the character's potential.
That's problem one. Problem two is the sexualisation. Cute little girl characters in anime can classically fulfil one or both of two purposes. The first is to be lovable and to make the audience genuinely care about them (e.g. Shinobu in Love Hina). When it works, this can be staggeringly effective and personally I'm a sucker for such characters, which is part of why I love Black Bullet. However the other purpose of underage anime girls is sometimes to be sexualised for perverts in the audience, which is the case here. Eco's clearly underage. We see her naked an awful lot, but she's got Barbie doll anatomy (he says, having watched the censored TV version) and no one notices or cares. However later episodes start building up sexual tension between her and Ash, which is something that, um, isn't going to play well with all viewers. (Apart from the screamingly obvious reason, it's not even as if the show isn't simultaneously pushing Ash towards other women.)
The other female characters are less problematic, but also less interesting.
(b) Silvia Lautreamont, a haughty princess who will end up getting considering Ash as a marriage prospect. Another high-and-mighty female tsundere. I'm spying a pattern here. She's less abrasive and more socially competent than Eco, while furthermore she has quite a well-developed existence beyond her relationship with Ash. She's probably the show's most rounded female character. She's an heir to her country's throne, but she's sworn to become a Dragonar and she's terrified of her merciless older sister. This is theoretically interesting.
Unfortunately, though, Silvia's big episode involves a heroic speech that's unwittingly hilarious because she's delivering it naked, while doing something pointless and suicidal. She's deliberately exposed herself to the terrorist who's itching to kill a royal. Does she have a cunning plan? Does she have anything clever up her sleeve at all? Nope. What happens is that the baddie cuts her clothes off with a sword swipe (for the second episode in a row), after which she delivers a speech. That appears to be her plan. She doesn't die because... um, I think it was a deus ex machina. Uh huh. Furthermore, that's the most heroic incident this anime can come up with for its bravest female warrior.
(c) Jessica Valentine, who wants Ash to get her pregnant. Admittedly it takes her a while to learn his identity, but when she does, she jumps on him in her underwear and tries to have sex with him on the spot. In a church. In public. (One of the onlookers knocks her unconscious.)
(d) (various characters) huge boobs and stupid stripper costumes. No one would wear those without being paid.
(e) (various characters) huge boobs and nudity.
(f) (various characters) huge boobs and fanservice in the bathing suits episode.
It's tedious. It's as if the universe is conspiring to break logic and make people act out of character. In ep.1, the sultry Rebecca offers a date with herself as the prize for a school contest and the room goes wild, but it's not a single-sex school. Why aren't the girls complaining about this? The show includes tentacle porn, although of course it's only softcore. Girls have an important meeting in the bath, with Ash present. The frustrating thing is that everything bad about this show is fundamentally a result of this objectification of the female characters and that even as it stands, there's enough good stuff to keep the show watchable.
I finished the show. I even quite liked a lot of it. The Lucca-Gawain story's quite good. Silvia's dad (the king) is funny. Eco's more flamboyant insults made me laugh too. I appreciate the fact that the show includes the less well-off and other ethnic groups, ameliorating the more fairy-tale fantasies of dragons and blonde princesses. I skipped the opening and closing credits, mind you. Fundamentally, though, I'm irritated by the show's determination to revolve around Ash Blake, defining female characters in relationship to him and giving him all the big hero moments even when they're not rightly his. I don't hate the guy himself. He's a decent chap. It's just a shame that he's in a badly written, unconvincing anime.