Dragon Drive Vol. #03 (of 10) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Monday, October 04, 2004
Release Date: Tuesday, September 28, 2004



What They Say
The preliminaries for the Ultimate Dragonic Heaven Championship begins! But it doesn't look so good for Reiji's team when the evil twins come back to hunt them. While Daisuke burns with jealousy and Rockaku takes a nap, Reiji and Chibi fight furiously to protect the team's dignity. But what's happening to Chibi's body?

The Review!
Dragon Drive moves firmly into tournament mode with the start of the Dragonic Heaven contest.

Audio:
For our primary viewing session, we alternated between English and Japanese for the four episodes here, spending an entire episode in one language and switching during the next. Both tracks came across well in their stereo mix, though most of the dialogue continues to be center channel based. The music, particularly the opening theme, sounds full here and fills up the soundstage nicely when it starts off. Dialogue throughout the show is clean and clear and we had no issues with dropouts or distortions.

Video:
Originally airing in 2002, Dragon Drive is presented in its original full frame format and full of the vibrant eye-catching colors that are the norm in many kid's shows. The transfer for this show looks almost spotless with only a bit of noticeable aliasing in a few areas, mostly from some of the mixed CG of the dragons, and a few very minor spots of cross coloration that look source material related. The colors schemes are rich and vibrant with hardly any macroblocking. The bright blue skies during the daytime scenes are great looking and maintain a really solid look and feel. While the animation itself may be a bit sub par in a few scenes, the transfer for it is spot on.

Packaging:
Using the same artwork as the Japanese release, Daisuke and his dragon take the center stage. Daisuke's got his usual over aggressive look about him but it matches decently enough against the backdrop of his dragon. Of the three covers so far this is definitely the weaker of them, and that's saying a lot after the second cover The back cover has a few shots from the show itself but the bulk of the backdrop image is from episodes that haven't come yet (next volume!) so it's a bit disingenuous to have it here. The summary is decent if simple and we get a clean listing of the discs features and basic technical information. While the spine and front cover thankfully list the volume number, we also get episode numbers and titles on the back here. The insert replicates the front cover and opens up to provide more specific summaries for each of the four episodes along with some artwork. The back of the insert has the full production credits translation and bilingual credits for the main voice cast. This release also came with a lenticular insert of Air Blast.

Menu:
The menu layout is pretty simple for this release and likely for the whole series since they're pushing it somewhat more towards the kids market. The main menu and the submenus are all static pieces, with the main menu having a shot of Reiji and Chibisuke set against a backdrop of the monitors used for the game and some of the equipment. Selections are pretty standard and are easy to access and navigate. The menus load quickly and we had no trouble with language setup or defaults.

Extras:
The extras are pretty minimal with this release, being just a few illustrations in full color of some of the dragons and some of the cast. There isn't even a clean opening or closing sequence provided.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
With everyone on Rikyu that needs to be so far, the show is moving towards its first major arc on this side with the start of the Dragonic Heaven tournament. With the need of getting some of the Dragonite that's out there and that being one of the prizes in the tournament, it's no surprise that Reiji gets his team together and really gets into it. His competitive juices really start to get going, especially with his powered up Chibi, but that'll lead to some of the standard situations one expects in a show like this.

The contest, once they arrived at the amusingly fantasy-based tournament stadium, is explained bit by bit since Reiji hasn't exactly asked much about it before now. Each team, made up of various members, must first pass the preliminaries by acquiring one of fifty glowing balls that are on the island where the tournament is held. At least one team member must hold onto the ball until the prelim phase ends to go onto the first real round of the game. With fifty balls and one hundred teams, it cuts down on the competition sizably. Once the teams are chosen from there, they go into a structured and planned series of competitions against each other in various smaller stadiums and locations all over. Their battles are shown in the main tournament stadium through some magic that presents it in full three dimensional glory but without any worry of destroying the stadium.

Though not much of a twist, the preliminary round for Reiji's team focuses on Daisuke's attempts to get one of the glowing balls. His encounter with the young twins who have quickly horded a large batch of them in order to really eliminate the competition is an interesting battle since it brings in a few things that are definitely needed at this stage. One of those is the introduction of Darks, some kind of powerful dark being that's able to take control of people and utilize them and their dragons. Though Darks doesn't end up like he does at the start of this volume, I rather like the change made to him and enjoyed some of how he operates towards the end of this. The other part that's been important in getting done with early on is giving Daisuke his flashback motivational moments where we get to see why he is the way he is and why Reiji really gets to him so much. Well, other than the way that Yukino is constantly all over Reiji at least.

Being a tournament show now, it's flatly obvious that they're getting past the preliminaries, though some changes are put into place due to the events from it, but going forward we get things moving towards the first actual competition. Throughout these episodes we get to see more of the world at large, some of its history thanks to a rather enjoyable sidestory for Yukino as well as seeing a number of the contestants in the tournament that Reiji's team will have to go up against eventually. All of this is given the backbone storyline of Kouhei and his two compatriots watching much of what Reiji's team is doing and trying to gather as much data as possible by causing them trouble. Since there's such a mystery about Chibi and what his true powers are, especially since he keeps seeming to change every time he's using them, it's not a far out idea to actually go this route before really facing them over the Dragonite.

Dragon Drive continues to play out much as expected, such as teaching some basic morals like not using anger to guide you in battles and the value of friends and fighting fair and so forth. While that's there, the show does play things a bit higher up than a lot of other kids shows and gaming based shows. It's not exactly a high art or anything, but there's some just plain enjoyable about it at its core with how it does what it does. The characters, though basic archetypes, are fun to watch dealing with the various enemies that are thrown up against them. The animation, which is at times both very simply and rather complex, continues to be a strong point. I'm not a fan of a lot of the digital meshing of CG animation but they do a really good job at times with this in getting some of the dragons to really shine with their designs. There's the issue of switching between the CG version and the regular animation version but if you look beyond that, there's some great cel shaded style dragons roaming through here.

In Summary:
While Dragon Drive isn't a show that leaps to the top of my pile to watch, it's one that's fun when I do get to it and it's fun to watch with my kids since it uses the basic elements of good versus evil, friendship and the basics of fighting with honor when needed. The series is fully in tournament mode now which means it's not quite as interesting as the previous episodes in the series but there's a chance it'll keep me interested as it goes along. This volume has some good character moments to it that help flesh out the lead characters a bit more and sets things along the path it's likely to follow for quite a few more episodes.

Features
Japanese Language,English Language,English Subtitles,Illustration Gallery

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Zenith DVB-318 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player via DVI with upconversion set to 720p, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.



Mania Grade: C+
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: B+
Packaging Rating: B-
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: C
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Bandai Entertainment
MSRP: 24.98
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Dragon Drive