Review From the Vault: Dragon Drive (Manga)

[Originally posted on Comics class discussion board on January 31, 2014]

All of the comic reviews I’ve done thus far have been so positive that it’s almost sickening. I feel like I’m just gushing about my favorite things, but, while I do like to do that, sometimes you just need to point out the flaws in something and shake it about while screaming “YOU COULD HAVE BEEN SO MUCH MORE!” As such, Dragon Drive.

This is actually a pretty low-key Manga as far as I know. I’ve never heard anyone say a word about this manga in the past, so what got me interested in it? Well, years ago I was subscribed to Shonen Jump Magazine, which was a monthly magazine filled with the latest chapters of various manga, plus various art corners, behind-the-scenes stuff, and random other articles like various ones about the Yu-Gi-Oh! card game. Some issues began with the first chapter of a new manga, which would be a one-off for the magazine and sort of a sample for those who were interested in buying the manga. Personally, I loved leafing through the new stuff, and some of those previews led me to my two favorite mangas of all time: Eyeshield 21 (Which I’ve already gushed over) and Beet the Vandle Buster (More on that in a future review, perhaps). So, when I saw this preview for an interesting little manga called Dragon Drive, I got hyped and started buying it. While it started on a good note… well, let’s just disuss the story, shall we?

Dragon Drive is about a secret underground gaming operation for kids where players use virtual reality technology to enter a game called Dragon Drive, a dule-style battle game where each player gains control of a dragon to battle their opponent. Okay, I’ll admit it, that concept alone was what made me start buying the manga, but the first volume really was an exciting journey. The story follows a new player by the name of Reiji Ozora who sneaks away from home to play this new hot game. Entering the game, he finds himself partnered with a pathetically small and weak dragon which he names Chibi. However, after a close battle, Chibi reveals a great power within him, a power which could make Reiji the most powerful player of Dragon Drive.

I’m going to be honest, I initially thought that this series was going to take the Beyblades approach. That is to say, the story would be about Reiji and maybe a team of a few others traveling the world and battling the greatest teams from across the globe towards a championship of sorts. I still think that would have been the smarter, if safer and maybe less rewarding in theory choice. Instead, the series completely throws the reader for a loop and takes a hairpin turn right down Digimon Alley. Yeah, they start to throw a lot of jargen at you about a “Virtual World” which Reiji, Chibi, and Yukino (The obligitory female best-friend character similar to Anzu in Yu-Gi-Oh! or Mamori in Eyeshield 21) and to be completely honest, I never quite made heads or tails of it. Even trying to read through it again to get a clearer idea for the review, the idea of plowing through all 14 volumes again just completely killed my will to do it. Regardless, unlike Digimon, the virtual world stuff just kind of staggers around a bit before getting resolved and they all live happily ever-oh balls there’s a second arc, isn’t there?

Yes, the second arc picks up a few years after the first arc, if I remember correctly. Dragon Drive is still huge, and a new player named Takumi arrives to tear up the scene. With his dragon Raikoo (surprisingly large and not-worthless like Chibi initially appeared), Takumi makes a splash like Reiji did. It’s at this point that I’m starting to get hesitant about buying new volumes, but with the arc reset I get a surge of hope that the writer finally takes it in an interesting new direction. No such luck, I’m afraid, as the second arc plays out very similarly to the first arc with the primary difference being that now the real world is in danger because of stuff from the virtual world (I believe there was an arc in Digimon very similar to this one, if you recall watching that you probaby have an idea of where it went). Honestly, at this point the series was just staggering on grasping at straws to try and keep the reader interested by constantly upping the ante. At this point, the only reason I continued to read was becuase I was still incredibly optimistic about the series getting better. Around Volume 12, I was about to just give up when my issue of Shonen Jump Magazine, in the “Upcoming Manga” section, detailed that Volume 14 of Dragon Drive would be the final volume. Being somewhat OCD about my collections, I decided to tough it out to the end. Unsurprisingly, the end was also very bland, with it just trying to make an epic ending that came off as very predictable (Sort of a “BY YOUR POWERS COMBINED I AM CAPTAIN PLANET” sort of “Final Power Attack” thing).

Honestly, Dragon Drive reminds me quite a bit of another manga I read called Legendz. I rather liked that series compared to Dragon Drive despite it having a similar premise because, being only 4 Volumes long, Legendz kept things moving and fresh and was gone before it overstayed its welcome. Dragon Drive, on the other hand, got stale fast and never really evolved beyond what it was, which was (if I haven’t already made it clear enough),  a cheap Digimon knock-off. Give a pass on this manga. If you’re interested by the premise, go read Legendz instead. It’s the shorter and sweeter version of this story.

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