Video game adaptations can be a chancy business, but Blue Dragon is a fun little series that gets off to a good start.
What They Say
Shu is a spirited boy with big dreams, but nothing he's dreamed of can prepare him for the world of magic and danger he's about to enter. When he awakens a legendary shadow named Blue Dragon, Shu finds himself thrust into an epic adventure as he and his new comrades seek to stop the evil Gran Kingdom from dominating the world...
Contains episodes 1-5:
The Shadow Comes Forth
A Fateful Decision
Shu and Jiro: Rivals in Training
A Member of the Devee Tribe
Front-Line Base Assault
Blue Dragon is presented English language option only, which is a logical move considering the audience Viz is aiming for with this release. The stereo mix is straightforward but effective. Effects and dialogue are balanced nicely and when the larger action moments pop up the audio doesn't let the material down. The dubbing is pretty good as well, so the loss of the Japanese track isn't <i>too</i> keenly felt.
This is a very recent show, originally airing during 2007, and in its classic fullscreen aspect ratio, it looks it. Colours are fantastic, and Toriyama's simple, fun designs are great to see in motion, as they nearly always are. The transfer is as clean as it ought to be with a pretty short running time and no significant extras: image clarity is superb and even dark areas look nice and solid. I did notice some very rare and limited jaggedness along certain lines during movement; but that's really just nitpicking. There's no cross-colouration or any other distracting problems. On my setup this is close to flawless just about all of the time.
Blue Dragon is presented, appropriately enough, in a blue transparent case. The cover image is a good face for the kind of show this is, with all the characters grouped together in energetic poses and the eponymous blue dragon hovering above them. As anybody would expect, the Toriyama/Dragonball Z angle is played up, in the form of a short strip across the lower right corner of the image. The back has the usual combination of writeup and stills from the show, and lays out all of the technical information across the bottom. (Though the runtime is actually located separately on the upper right hand corner of the case.) The transparency of the case isn't fully exploited, but the reverse side of the cover has a dragon pattern that is at least more interesting to look at than a plain black piece of plastic would be. No insert is included.
With no language or subtitle selections to make the menus don't have a lot to work for, but they get the job done just fine. The main menu is a static piece except for some animation from the show playing in a small round frame on the left side of the screen while the options are lined up on the right waiting for you to choose them. In addition to the the "play all" function there's a single submenu screen for choosing episodes or parts of episodes, and it's nice to have it all there in one place for convenient access. There's also a "Book of Blue Dragon" option where the extras are housed. This part of the menu has some really nice movement with the book opening, etc. and the clips playing next to the character profiles that makes it look a step above the other parts of the menu.
The brief extras are listed under the menu option "The Book of Blue Dragon" and consist of a short text scroll of background information to the world the series is set in, and a couple of character profiles. Nothing too special, but they are well produced and look good.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The XBox 360 is not a platform I would have expected a Japanese RPG to originate from, but such is the soil in which the roots of Blue Dragon are struck. A video game adaptation isn't the easiest thing to pull off, judging from past experience, especially when the game already has an established storyline. Fortunately Blue Dragon isn't a series you need to come into with any kind of deep knowledge of the source material. It's a show that's pretty easy to get into even for people like me, who had no idea that there was any such thing as a Blue Dragon video game. In fact, if the cover hadn't told be this was based on a video game, I don't think I would have figured it out. There are some small hints you can pick up on if you're looking for them, but nothing that'll jump out at you.
The five episodes presented here have to get a 50+ episode ball rolling, and they succeed at that pretty well. Character introductions and background history alternate with spontaneous and effective battle scenes. We meet Shu, the young, spunky hero and his friend Kluke and watch them join up with a pair of adventurers. Zola is a silver-haired woman who has a nifty piratical look to her design, and is by far the oldest member of the group, making her its natural leader. She travels with Jiro, a boy with a lot of the same attributes as Shu, but with a totally different personality, something that makes him a natural rival and gives Shu somebody to compete against and occasionally butt heads with.
A ragtag band of heroes going up against an evil overlord bent on conquest won't be an unfamiliar situation to anybody, but it's working out well enough so far, so I'm not complaining. The advantage of a setup like this is, of course, that a good fight is never too far away - there's never any shortage of enemy soldiers to battle or villagers to protect - and fighting is something Blue Dragon knows how to handle. The wrinkle here is that most of the fighting is handled by creatures or spirits called shadows, which are controlled to varying extents by the humans who can summon them. (At least, they're supposed to be controlled. Shu's shadow turns out to be a little too strong for him and mainly drags him around by the feet.) The thing I like about the shadows is that they are to some degree independent. They can disagree with their summoners and offer advice, and that makes them a lot more than just battle puppets or animate weapons. They each have their own forms, styles of fighting, strengths and weaknesses, and individual personalities - some of which clash with their controllers, to good dramatic effect.
The fantasy setting is some ways apart from your average generic medieval-type world. Like Dragon Ball, the show isn't afraid to toss in some mecha when the situation calls for it, and the architecture has a distinct style. Guns make appearances from time to time without adding any unnecessary violence, e.g. Kluke has a hilarious one that shoots pink fists instead of bullets. The emphasis on shadows in combat allows the show to be exciting while still keeping things light. Buildings can be pulverised and scenery smashed, but you don't have people getting seriously hurt.
Blue Dragon looks to be the kind of show that's going to take its time to build, and that could be a plus or a minus, depending on how the next couple of volumes play out. There's at least one major character still to be introduced, and (one hopes) there's plenty more story yet to come. Right now I'm leaning towards it being a plus. I'd rather the show set up the framework it needs than rush through the introductions and then settle down into filler. But whether it turns out for better or worse, there's still a good combination of questing and fighting and comedy in these initial episodes to make me look forward to more. It's a fun and inventive beginning, and there are signs that it'll get even better as it goes along.
At first glance, Blue Dragon shows itself a pretty good show in a Saturday morning type of way. There's plenty of action and comedy, and suggestions of a larger story in the background that Shu and his friends will eventually converge with as they get further along on their journey. I'm intrigued by this fantasy world and the bits of its history that we're shown. And I'm looking forward to the point where the setup will be over and done with, all the characters will have been introduced, and the plot can really start to get in motion. But until that happens there's still plenty to keep me entertained.
English 2.0 Language, Book of Blue Dragon Character Profiles
Sony 35" KV-35XBR88 SDTV, Sony SLV-D370P DVD Player (via generic component), Yamaha RX-V550 DD/DTS Receiver, Infinity Primus C25 and 150 speakers.