A pretty good romantic action comedy that could do with more comedy and action and less romance.
Writer/Artist: Natsumi Matsumoto
Translation: Andria Cheng
Adaptation: Heidi Vivolo
What They Say
Momoka Sendou (nicknamed "Dragon Girl") and Ryuga Kou are childhood friends. Momoka is a martial artist, and Ryuga is a Chinese magic master who banishes demons. In order to increase his power, Ryuga calls on the spirit of a dragon to possess him, but the spirit enters Momoka instead. Now the two must unite forces and fight demons together!
A demon serpent king who appears once every hundred years to select a bride has abducted Momoka's friend Shunran. Will Momoka and Ryuga be able to defeat the demon before Shunran is lost forever?
St. Dragon Girl is a handsome production. This book is a very rare case where I like the back cover better than the front. The front cover has a good image: it's got the leads in thier action poses and a dragon curving through the air behind them - all the right elements. But the back of the book has a blue-purple, hand-stitched pattern set off with gold foil as a setting for the writeup text. It's beautiful, and hands down one of the best I've ever seen on the back of a manga volume. The art inside the book is good for the most part. The pages are full of willowy characters with large glassy eyes, set against backgrounds of flowers little starbursts and speedlines; but they're distiguished enough for easy recognition and a decent example of that style. The artist has a clear love of many things Chinese and enjoys drawing the dresses, pandas, coiled dragons and such that form permanent fixtures of the story. Printing and paper are good at the price points. Deep blacks and smooth tones prevail. The translation is straightforward - I can't think the dialogue was highly sophisticated to begin with - and I noted no erros with type or the translated sound effects.
Extras in this volume consist of insert messages from the author, a short bonus manga detailing an excursion to Hong Kong made by the artist and her assistant, and a page of translation notes.
I approached St. Dragon Girl thinking that it would have some things I liked and things I disliked. To some extent this how I approach most of the series out there; but that's not quite what I mean in this case. Usually I don't have a clear idea of which things I will care for and which I won't. I leave that to be discovered when I read the book. St. Dragon Girl was a bit different. I had a pretty exact idea of the things that I would like in it and which ones I wouldn't care for. Specifically, I came in to the book expecting to dislike, or be indifferent to, the romantic aspects of the story. One high school crush between childhood friends can last me for a good long while, thanks. But I expected to enjoy the "Chineseness" of it: the costumes, martial arts, the dragons. And the pandas. Gotta have the pandas.
When I go into a series with specific expectations like I did here, they don't always turn out to be right. But this time I pretty much nailed it. I like St. Dragon Girl for just the things I wanted to like, and the things I didn't expect to care for left me as cold as I thought I'd be.
At first glance St. Dragon Girl looks like a lot of other series. It's a combination of supernatural investigation / combat and romantic school comedy. At second and third glances, it looks pretty much the same way. The lead characters are childhood friends; maybe, probably, give them a little time and they will be, something more. But right now they're just your ordinary teens, going to school, flirting, casting spells and employing martial arts to defeat whatever hostile supernatural forces cross their paths. The male half of the couple, Ryuga, is an accomplished Chinese magician, master of an impressive range of offensive and defensive spells and capable of unsealing the dragon imprisoned in the body of the female lead. Her name is Momoka, and she spends her spare time dishing out her kempo fighting skills, and having her dragon unsealed to deal major damage to anybody who's asking for it. She also loves pandas. Don't we all?
So under the hood St. Dragon Girl is much the usual fare that you get from stories of its kind. It's the trappings that make the series stand out when it does. I don't know if I've ever seen a series that is quite so attached to all things Chinese. The clothes, the fighting, the magic, even some of the buildings - all of the externals and the visuals of the story are imported from China, and put on the pages with a lot of love. And that's what ultimately made St. Dragon Girl worthwhile to me. So many times you see a lot of exotic stuff just thrown into a story without conviction, to do something - anything - to look a little different. This series does it with conviction and a lot of love. St. Dragon Girl is a long way from perfect. But it likes what it's doing, and it was easy for me to like right along with it. Besides, there are pandas. How can you go wrong with those?
This isn't a series that will impress anybody in summary. An abstract of the material would make it sound like just another run-of-the-mill romantic comedy with supernatural elements. And to some extent that's what it is, mainly in the romantic comedy scenes. The stuff you read is probably going to be stuff you've read before. It's the stuff you look at that has everything worth liking. The book is infused with the love the artist has for the framework she's built to support the story, and it's hard not to be impressed with that if you share her interests to any degree. An important point to take into consideration is that the series wasn't meant to be a series at all: it began as a one chapter story that was popular enough to be extended. What that usually means is that, if the series does get better, it's going to take a couple of volumes to come into its own. Until that time, there are plenty of dragons and pandas to keep me happy.