Dragon Drive Vol. #04 (of 10) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Friday, December 03, 2004
Release Date: Tuesday, November 09, 2004



What They Say
Reiji's life in Rikyu isn?t going as easy as he had expected. Not only is he forced to participate in the extreme dragon battles, but he and his friends decide to take on a massive, evil dragon in order to rescue a woman in captive. Will Daisuke, in his relentless effort to impress Maiko, succeed in his solitary mission to rescue the woman? Meanwhile, Rockaku finally finds the target for his revenge!

The Review!
The big tournament runs through pretty fast here as we see a few more fights before the real big bad boys come out to play.

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, the cover art for this release looks good for the most part with an action shot of Reiji and Chibi in super-powered up mode racing into the sky. The only awkward part is that Reiji's finger is just so huge! The back cover has a few shots from the show itself and a minimal background of one of the dragons against a darkened skyline. 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 Floral Foehn.

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 Kyoji and Sayaka 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 still hasn't been a clean opening or closing sequence provided.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
As the tournament episodes move forward and the release drops an episode bringing it down to three, the show goes by pretty fast here and the loss of that episode really is noticeable due to that. Just as things really start moving along, the disc is over and you're stuck waiting for more. It's surprising that a series with thirty-eight episodes is hitting the three episode count so early in its run.

Each of the episodes here essentially focuses on one round of matches within the tournament but it also provides a fair amount of non-match entertainment as well. As is the norm for series like this, the lead characters enemies continue to have their pasts explored so that we learn they aren't really bad guys, they're just faced with tough decisions and went down the wrong path. A good deal of the focus for this volume is with one of the sponsors of the tournament, a bulky dragon-ish being named Guan-Coo who has spent much of his life conquering villages and kingdoms and causing havoc pretty much anywhere he goes. Through the knowledge of others, Reiji and company learn of some of his atrocities and his goal of wanting to get the Dragonite.

And through the tournament fight with Mukai, Reiji learns how Mukai's life has been twisted from what it once was due to the influence of Guan-Coo. This completely sets off both Daisuke and Maiko though Daisuke is the only one who can really take action. While he's unaware of the connection to Mukai since his hotheaded nature has him flying off earlier, he attempts to break into Guan-Coo's fortress to try and rescue some beautiful older woman that they find out about. Daisuke's arc in this disc with this subplot is really well done considering the material and it lets him finally start moving beyond his completely self-interested nature and do something that, while it may help with Maiko a bit, isn't done solely just for her.

The tournament aspect of the show is again appealing with this show though it shouldn't be. With the continued mixture of the CG and regular animation used for the fights, it shifts between the two fairly well but the really well done scenes are the ones that are all CG fights. The style and amount of detail and movement given to them when they fight is just really neat to look at and see how well they did it. It doesn't fit in quite so well with the regular animation scenes around them, but it does it a lot better than shows just a couple of years ago and it continues to improve here. With so many dragons flying about here and such variation, it's a treat to see such good looking models being used.

This set of episodes also brings the tournament to a fun place where the really big bad guys finally get to play instead of just gathering data or walking around looking cool. Their joining in the actual fights brings a fairly drastic change to the tournament and serves to derail it entirely as they're so completely unbalanced in the competition that nobody can stop them. If it brings the tournament phase of the series to an early end and refocuses itself from that I'll certainly not have any complaint..

In Summary:
Dragon Drive continues to be a fairly fun boys fighting series that's not throwing too many curves or loops at the viewer as it moves along what's a pretty standard path so far. That's not to say it's not enjoyable because the execution is competent for the most part and some of the designs are attractive enough to help raise it up some. For what it is, it's done well and enjoyable and it fascinates both of my kids and provides them with a storyline that's actually new to them. For older fans, this one will continue to be a tough sell but it's an ideal series for hitting up on the airwaves and bringing more of the younger generation into the fold.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 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: 3 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Bandai Entertainment
MSRP: 24.98
Running time: 75
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Dragon Drive