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 is a three episode fantasy OVA from the late 90s. It's kind of an obscure one too. I couldn't find much information for it. I'll be honest, the only reason it even caught my eye was because I saw the title and thought of the playstation classic, Legend of the Dragoon, although the two works aren't related in the slightest. This is based off of a different game that I've never played. Still, I like fantasy as a genre. So, let's give it a shot.
We open with a battlefield where a naked woman emerges from a dragon machine that bears more than a slight
resemblance to Chrono Trigger's Dragon Tank. Don't ask me why she's leaving an armoured machine and making herself vulnerable or why she's piloting a hunk of metal completely starkers. Anyway, that short intro ends and we cut to a different time where the same woman is being transported somewhere. She escapes after being threatened with rape and she's found lying naked in the snow by Sedi, our protagonist. He takes her somewhere safe and warm, but can't be bothered to find her any clothes, and asks why the soldiers are after her. She can't remember because of that old RPG cliché, amnesia. She only knows that her name is Myuu. The pair eventually go on a journey to discover who she is and why the Empire is pursuing her.
The biggest issue with the writing in this is just that it's incredibly generic. Every single major plot point: the invading Empire, the amnesiac with a mysterious power, the son of a hero going on a journey to come into his own, the character seeking revenge for their destroyed home, the evil minister who holds the real power in a monarchy... These are all common elements to not only RPGs but fantasy stories in general. And they've all been in works where the execution was vastly superior to this. This one just doesn't do anything new or interesting with them. Rather, it reduces them to their most basic, bog-standard usage. It doesn't help that the OVA also has plenty of moments that are just kind of stupid. The aforementioned dragon tank thing is one. Sedi randomly gaining new abilities because he's given his father's sword is another. No, he doesn't just have them because he's been training with his dad for years. He gains them because his dad levelled up his sword. The prince being unable to do anything even when he has proof that their minister is evil is another big one. Yeah, the minister has the real power but you'd think having proof he was aligned with the enemy would be enough to take that away from him.
There are some elements of this series that could have been promising. The mystery surrounding Myuu's identity had promise. The way it mixes magic and machinery has potential. The indirect connection Sedi has with Bashua could have worked. All of this generic stuff has been used to great effect in other works. But using it well requires clever writing, taking some risks and subverting some expectations at times to keep things fresh. None of which are on display here.
As surprising as this may be for an OVA with bland writing, the characters are completely trite. We have the hero, the mysterious girl who will serve as a love interest, the one who's royalty (male variant), the tricky one and so on. There's never a character you look at and think “well, that's different” or even “that's an interesting take.” No, what you get is just boring.
The artwork looks more like it was made in the early 90s than the late 90s. What I'm getting at is that it's a bit dated, even for its time. But the big issue is with the fan-service. It's like some knob decided that if they couldn't have interesting characters or writing that was compelling in any conceivable way they'd make up for it by throwing in gratuitous boobs. Which they do a lot. Myuu spends long stretches of time nude. Lilith takes off her clothes at one point for no good reason and has a long bathing scene. We even see statues of topless women. It's like they're afraid that if they don't show some tits every five minutes the audience will all fall asleep. Which may not be unfounded but you fix that by writing something interesting, not adding boobies to your generic schlock.
This is one element I can give the OVA some credit for. They did get some good actors. Our leads are voiced by Ishida Akira & Kouda Mariko both of whom can deliver really good performances. We've also got Koyasu Takehito, Imai Yuka & Ootsuka Akio. All of whom are really good. And their performances in this are perfectly passable, which is about the best you'd expect given what they have to work with. The best part of the music is Imai Yuka's theme tune performance. The rest is, and I know this is super hard to believe given how innovative this series is, pretty standard fare.
There's a scene where Millie randomly gropes Myuu. But there's nothing about their dynamic to indicate it means anything. It's almost like it was just tossed in for fan-service. But would this series really just toss something in for fan-service besides the egregious number of exposed breast scenes and some up-skirt shots and...
Dragoon is an OVA, and probably based off of a game, that hasn't an original thought in its head. Rather, it tries to make up for it's lack of interesting content and dull characters by throwing in a bunch of tasteless fan-service. Which, ultimately, makes it a below average viewing experience. The final rating is a 4/10. Next week I'll review Dirty Pair Flash. Which I'm sure has no fan-service based problems whatsoever. Well... maybe it makes up for them with something good.
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.