In the great Garubado Empire, a lethal weapon is in the process of being manufactured, but is stolen and subsequently lost in battle. Now the Empire is looking for this weapon: a girl that can call forth the "Dragoon" power. She has amnesia and is found by a wandering swordsman in training by who vows to help her find out who she is and why she has such a strange power.
Dragoon, not to be confused with the easier to find Panzer Dragoon, is an anime spin-off of the Japanese Playstation/PC-98 RPG Ryuuki Denshou: Dragoon. As such, this three episode OVA features all the trappings and familiar cliches you'd expect from both a JRPG and a nineties fantasy anime.
The story follows Sadie, a young swordsman who finds a naked girl unconscious in the woods. In a completely original twist for the genre, she suffers from amnesia, remembering only her name, Miu, and is therefore completely clueless as to why she's being pursued by an evil empire. Blessedly, Sadie's the strong-willed, chivalrous variety
of protagonist (I find the classical genre alternative of strong-willed but dimwitted protagonist to be annoying) so he doesn't hesitate to protect Miu and aid his newfound (and newly clothed) ward in escaping the clutches of their malevolent--and generically faceless--pursuers.
The young duo's flight from the Garubado Empire leads them on an exciting journey in which they encounter all the classic genre trademarks of betrayal, imprisonment and escape, ambush, and fighting overwhelming opponents with old family grudges. Along the way they find likeminded allies in the form of a healer, a mage (who doubles as a thief), and a prince, forming the kind of well rounded party you would need for such an epic adventure.
Despite the seemingly generic predictability of the show's structure, the character archetypes work for it. I found the interplay between the cast to be charming, and the growing relationship between Miu and Sadie gave it depth, especially as Miu comes to question whether it's really in her best interest to regain her memories.
The show bears the mark of its era, as well. As one would expect from a 90s OVA, there's a decent share of needless nudity to set it apart from children's cartoons. Not too much, but enough that some would consider it ecchi by modern standards--every female heroine has at least one scene in the buff.
The enigmatic scenes of villains speaking cryptically about their plans really showcase old fantasy trends: evil empires use pauldrons to denote evil like the Catholic Church uses hats to denote holiness--I suspect the reason nefarious villains always know teleportation magic isn't to make them seem enigmatic and omnipresent, but because trying to fit through doorways would be too embarrassing for somebody wider than he is tall.
The animation style, likewise, is reminiscent of the times, and really adds a nostalgia factor for those partial to the generation.
In fact, while the list of cliches may make this sound like an unfavorable review, the truth is that, as any JRPG fan knows, some cliches are common because they work for the fanbase. All these elements came together to make an enjoyable experience for me, and in the end, while Dragoon certainly isn't on par with Berserk, I quite liked it, and found it a good deal more enjoyable than Record of Lodoss War. . .
Except for a single, fatal, flaw.
The show is unfinished.
The script is not a three episode OVA worth of story; it's a normal length series worth of story of which only three episodes were made. It doesn't even feature an open ended ending, but rather the third episode ends as though fully anticipating more. . . which don't exist.
I don't know if this was done to publicize the game, or simply generate a little extra revenue by franchising it, but it will leave viewers unsatisfied with mysteries unanswered, and a quest which is only beginning rather than being brought to a satisfactory conclusion.
For those who know the language, I'm sure this serves the intended purpose--I am now even more eager to play the game--but those who can't continue the story elsewhere and want resolution from the anime itself will find themselves even more annoyed, or even angry, the more they enjoy it.
In summation: if you like the fantasy genre and nineties anime, Dragoon is a hidden gem. But you must go in knowing beforehand that you -will- be left hanging.