Listening to: ISOtone – Natsumi Kon (Chaos Dragon OP)
This review is free of major spoilers, in the interests of being helpful to those who are considering watching the show in question.
“I’ve decided which friend to kill… and in turn, what is to be protected.”
Owing to the sheer number of anime that I eventually picked up over the course of this season (and, thusly, the greater number of reviews to be written), I’ve decided to stray from my normal updating schedule a bit so that I can finish reviews earlier and be able to write about a greater variety of subjects. Today’s review is on Chaos Dragon, one of the best 12-episode Japanese animated television shows based on a tabletop game that aired during the Summer 2015 anime season.
The island kingdom of Nil Kamui has its fair share of problems: the covetous nation of Kouran overrunning the west, their supposed ally Donatia occupying the east, and Nil Kamui’s guardian deity–Red Dragon–driven insane and laying waste to the center. In the interest of preserving the island’s resources, the three factions strike a temporary truce to form a party known as the Red Dragon Expediition–an organization with the sole purpose of putting down the mad god and stopping its rampage.
Ibuki, the last surviving descendant of the royal line of Nil Kamui, is chosen to represent his people in the Red Dragon expedition. However, the other members of the party have plans of their own: for both Red Dragon, and Ibuki himself. When the mad god imbues Ibuki with a portion of its power, the fate of the expedition–and the kingdom–become more and more uncertain.
Chaos Dragon has the distinction of having multiple character designers, in keeping with being based off of a tabletop game. I was only familiar with the works of two of the original participants: Gen Urobuchi (Fate/Zero, Madoka Magica) and Kinoko Nasu (Fate/Stay Night, Kara no Kyoukai). It was readily apparent exactly which characters they had been responsible for. Nasu’s character, the idealistic Sir Sweallow Clazzvalli, spends most of his time talking about the value of life and the importance of friendship. Urobuchi’s Lou Chun Wah, a sensual sorceress bonded to a sentient sword (try saying that five times fast), spends most of her time doing what Urobuchi does best: racking up a high body count of minor characters.
In the case of Chaos Dragon, the wildly divergent character designs give the impression of too many cooks in the kitchen. Each of the characters has their own special ability, but they don’t seem to go particularly well with each other: a hot rod-driving, dragonfly-winged robot with a gatling gun arm seems incongruous when paired with a catgirl attached by umbilical cord to a flying dog.
And now we get to the plot. If there was one. Chaos Dragon starts out all over the place, the tone and focus are shaky from the start, and the entire adventure has a disjointed air to it. The expedition’s cross-country field trip to kill God is interrupted by zombies, politics, more zombies, and a creepy bishop who seems to have gotten his fashion advice from a deranged clown. However, despite these adventures, not much seems to slow them down much. Apparently, bad CGI elephants are quite easy to replace.
Once again, the number of characters seems to work against the show. Since Chaos Dragon seems determined to give us every character’s backstory, whether we want to or not, the plot becomes choppy and disjointed. This does, however, serve to obfuscate a lot of impertinent questions people might have about the show–questions like “How many different types of magic are there going to be?”, “Are Donatia and Kouran actually at war, or are they allies?” and “Why do the guards of the high-security prison let Agito issue orders to the revolutionary army on a regular basis?”
Of all the elements of the show, I think that the music is the best part. The score was written by composer Hiroki Morishita (Fire Emblem: Awakening), and it has some incredible moments. The theme played during the battles with Red Dragon was my personal favorite, but there’s plenty of admiration to go around. Morishita’s music carried me through several episodes, because when you’ve got something great to listen to, you can tune out things like plot and dialogue and just enjoy the ride.
The animation ranges in quality from pretty to look at to hilariously bad (see: CGI elephants). The fight scenes are pretty dynamic, and it’s neat to see the way that the different characters’ powers play in to the visuals, but there’s not always as much care put into it as there should be. There are a fair number of moments that should be dramatic that come across as hilarious instead, simply due to animation choices–Simeon’s ridiculous expanding sword being the most notable example.
I was a bit disappointed with Chaos Dragon. After hearing about the various character designers on board, I had expected it to be a bit more coherent than it was. There was plenty of potential: Ibuki’s power was interesting, the motives of the two countries could have been explored a lot more, and the tension of wondering which character was going to die might have been more effective if I cared more about them. However, for all my complaints about the show, I didn’t hate it: it was certainly fun while it lasted.
I wrote this review in collusion with an expert team of character designers who weren’t exactly sure what I wanted.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5
Ruling: Chaos Dragon is a disorganized mess of plot, character, and magic thrown together rather aimlessly, but I had fun watching it nonetheless. Take that as you will.