In continuing in my retro review months, I started to look at the things that are responsible for shaping me into what I am today. Anime has had a big influence in a lot of the things I do. My writing style, my character designs, and my satire, especially satire!! And the one title that probably inspired me into comedy writing is Dragon Half. ADV Films released this two episode OAV in the late 90s and even after watching it 15 years later, is still the funniest anime I’ve ever seen in my life!
STORY: Mink, a teenage half dragon, half human girl has fallen in love with the hot, super awesome rock star, Dick Saucer. Her goal is to do whatever it takes to obtain a concert ticket and see his show live in the hopes of meeting him. Standing in her way are her adversaries, the vane and idiotic King Siva, and his daughter Princess Vina, whom happens to be the president of the Dick Saucer fan club.
This was a great period for a style that I don’t see in anime anymore; fantasy parody comedies. This was back when “parody” was spoofing (and in some ways, paying homage to) a particular style of writing or setting and cranking the absurdity level to 11, as opposed to nowadays when parody simply translates into mean-spirited insults at whatever is popular (which instantly dates your work, since three to seven years from that time, people will not know or care what you were referencing). There were quite a few of them: Elf Princess Rane, Jewel Hunter Lime, Slayers, Phantom Quest Crop., Sorcerer Hunters, the list goes on. I always had the impression that writers came up with these ideas that were inspired by some messed up table top role-playing campaigns. I think what makes Dragon Half a little better than those mentioned is it feels more storybook formatted with its approach, and it comes off just so endearing. SCORE 8/10
ART & ANIMATION: The first thing you might notice while watching this is that the characters spend more than 80% of it in super chibi mode. I remember reading one author’s notes (I’m going to hit myself, I should know it!) about drawing super deformed characters and their tactic was drawing a star and adding vague detail to it. After gaining that knowledge and then going back to watch a lot of the comedy anime that utilize it, this became even funnier.
Dragon Half’s visual gags are brilliant, and even though it has a heavy dose of chibi, the humor is more than just funny faces and squished bodies. Clever editing, pregnant pauses, and lots of subtle gags that I won’t spoil here, all carefully blended together for a visual comedy style that never feels like it has to resort to the same joke over and over. 10/10
CHARACTERS: There isn’t a single character in Dragon Half that I dislike, and every one of them brings a fantastic charm to the table, from Mink’s sleazeball Dad, who is not in this enough (he is slightly more present in the manga) to The Great Damaramu.
Man, you have to see this guy in action. Everything he does is just gold, voiced in English dub magnificently by Brett Weaver. The brilliance of the characters and the comedy, outside of the non-repetitive nature of the humor, is how spontaneous and naturally the jokes come, something I don’t see in comedic situations anymore. Perhaps the only setback is that there isn’t enough time in two 26 minute episodes to get more of them. SCORE 9.5/10
(Warning: Incoming Rant) I have a problem while watching the modern-day stylings of satire in anime. I feel that comedy has become too formulaic and writers are too willing to let the character archetypes tell the jokes for them instead of actually writing humor. This hit me hard while watching shows like Ouran High School Host Club, which offers you a bunch of character templates, so it is more like ala carte or a buffet line; pick what you like and move on. Or in shōnen titles like Bleach, Katekyou Hitman Reborn! or Soul Eater, where if the go-to joke isn’t characters screaming in your ear, than its reactionary humor and the characters just yell at each other while whimsical music plays in the background. And last, and certainly more important, comedy characters have serious problems. Back to Ouran High school Host Club, the character Tamaki has been one of my targets for years. I have never understood why this character is supposed to be funny. Given the structure of the series, he should be the laid back straight guy who calms the scene down and gives the audience a chance to catch their breath after some hilarious happens. But instead he goes from looking like this… To this… …and then escalating to this…
These are clearly the symptoms of someone is chemically unbalanced and needs medical attention or psychiatric help, not a comedy character to garner laughs!! He isn’t the only one, anime is full of these kinds of hair-trigger, split personality morons and I’ve had enough. Back when characters like these were written in the 90s, they were incredibly vain and arrogant and the actions of others (whom they deemed filthy peons) jump started their madness. Tatawaki Kuno in Ranma 1/2 or Shuutaro Mendou in Urusei Yatsura are very easy examples, and didn’t have to transform into Gumby and shriek nonstop to make me giggle. I’ve been absolutely sick of this character trope for years now and it needs to go, and these writers need to sit in a dark room and watch Rumiko Takahashi titles, Dragon Half, Azumanga Daioh, and Great Teacher Onizuka, and will not be let out until they have a faint grasp of what situational comedy truly should be! (Rant over.)
SOUND & MUSIC: Dragon Half’s humor also works so well because the English dubbed cast is just amazing! I always believed that the crew behind ADV Films really had fun with their before the hard times set in during the mid 2000’s and the company went under (or rather transmogrifying into Section23.) and a title like Dragon Half really shows. It was the first time while watching anime that I really felt a lot of effort and enthusiasm put into voice acting. I feel these performances were very memorable and it is one of my favorite dubs of all time. And that ending theme is to die for!! SCORE 10/10
OVERALL: Dragon Half may not have gotten the notoriety here it should have, even with Animerica Magazine and Gamers’ Republic Magazine backing it at the time, Dragon Half is truly a treat that any fan of anime could enjoy. It really is too bad that this never became a full OAV series that completes the story. The jokes are timeless, the characters are wacky and delightful, and its short length makes it a very easy watch if have an hour to kill. If you wind up liking the story, I highly recommend tracking down the manga to complete it. I am not an advocate of scanlating manga, but with the industry virtually dead in the U.S., it was the only way I will ever get a chance finish a fantastic comedy series. It’s just as funny as all hell. FINAL SCORE: 9/10