Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Dragon Drive, Volume 7 by Ken-ichi Sakura

Reiji Ozora thinks he's not good at anything, especially schoolwork, but when his friend Maiko introduces him to a new game called "Dragon Drive" played at underground centers around the country, he's eager to give it a try, hoping to get a super-impressive dragon. Instead, he gets paired with Chibi, a tiny dragon that doesn't look as if it could frighten anyone or anything. Still, Reiji and Chibi manage to win several contests against other users and their dragons.

Reiji meets Meguru, a woman supposedly working for Ri-on, the company that makes the game and sponsors the Dragon Drive centers. She tells Reiji that Dragon Drive actually contains a gate to an alternate world, where the Dragons come from. Ri-on are looking to exploit that world, and are searching for the Jinryu stone, which is central to their plans. She asks is Reiji and his friends will fight for this other world, which is slowly being destroyed by Ri-on. He agrees, and he and his friends, and their dragons, are taken into the world of Rikyu, where they agree to help the inhabitants.

Reiji is welcomed as a savior, as his Dragon, Chibi, is more properly known in Rikyu as Senkokura, and is a sacred force. After some training, Reiji and Chibi enter the Dragon Heaven Heaven Competition, whose prize is a stone that many believe to be the Jinryu stone. Opposing him is Kohei Toki, another boy from Earth whose father, Saizo Toki, is the owner and president of Ri-on. Kohei believes himself to be the hero of this game his father has made, and is annoyed when Reiji and Chibi come through all challenges. Unable to defeat Reiji on his own, Kohei cheats and steals the stone, which, as it turns out, is merely the Key to the Shrine where the real Jinryu stone is hidden. As Kohei flies off in search of the shrine, Reiji and Chibi follow him, but Saizo Toki is helping his son, teleporting in new dragons to assist him and delay Reiji and his allies.

Kohei arrives at the shrine, where Meguru is waiting for him. She attempts to talk him out of taking the stone, but he won't listen. She then attempts to entomb him in crystal, but fails, and Kohei steals the stone and makes his way for the gate to earth so he can deliver the stone to his father. The stone has an effect on Kohei, however, making him angrier and angrier, and Kohei decides to wait for Reiji and defeat him in dragon to dragon combat as proof that Kohei, not Reiji, is the true hero of the game.

Meanwhile, Reiji and his allies, including the dragon as weapon Shinsaber, arrive at the shrine. When Reiji sees Megumi entombed in stone, he uses Shinsaber to free her, losing the use of the weapon. Still, he decides to chase Kohei and save Rikyu. When he finally catches up with Kohei, Kohei has a little mental breakdown and goes batshit crazy. On Earth, meanwhile, his father sacrifices everything to keep the gate open for Kohei, even sending three experimental, new types of dragons through the gate to help Kohei, who is upset that his father doesn't believe in him.

Chibi/Senkokura and Kohei's dragon fight, and Chibi gets in a good hit on Kohei's dragon, which allows Kohei to have his dragon attack, not Senkokura, but Reiji, hitting him with a beam through the chest/stomach/abdomen. Reiji nearly dies, but somehow syncs his own heartbeat with that of Chibi/Senkokura, allowing his dragon to make the transformation to his final, ultimate form. One blast from Senkokura wipes out all three of the other dragons, but somehow Reiji is inside the form of Senkokura and completely helpless to do anything. As he struggles to even move, he begins seeing visions of the past, of the last time Senkokura fought a dragon named Shinryu, the dragon imprisoned in the stone that Kohei stole.

As Kohei fights to kill and destroy Reiji and Senkokura, his increasingly out of control rage causes cracks to appear in the stone, which finally shatters, freeing Shinryu once more! But as Reiji learns, the fight between Shinryu and Senkokura will end up destroying the entire world of Rikyu, and if Saizo Toki's plan of merging the two realms succeeds, the ensuing battle will destroy the earth as well. We can also see that Saizo Toki was once a warrior of Rikyu who attempted to stop the battle between Shinryu and Senkokura. Doing so may have made him immortal, but it also seems to have twisted his morals.

The emergence of Shinryu has nearly killed Kohei, but his father tells him that he won the game and was truly the hero, and Kohei is happy, but then dies. He then reveals his Xanatos gambit to everyone, that everyone in the game, including Reiji and Chibi, have been dancing to his tune and following the plans that he has set in motion to destroy and reset both worlds because he thinks of humanity as a stain that destroys everything it touches.

Reiji is enraged and decides to deny Saizo the ending he wants, and finally manages to make his arm move. Can he prevent the ending of two worlds? Stay tuned to find out.

You might think this is the kind of story that will only have one ending, a happy one, but given that it's a japanese manga, that's not always the case. Sometimes Japanese stories go for the schmaltz, as just about every American story does, but more often you get endings that aren't as happy, or that end rather badly for everyone involved. While I don't think the ending will be an utter failure, in this case, I think that there's a strong possibility this ending won't be as happy as an American-style ending would be. Perhaps Reiji and his friends will be stuck in Rikyu, away from their families forever, or something like that.

I'm not terribly enthralled by this series, as it has a lot of the same tropes that a lot of Japanese Anime have: the hero who has no skills who somehow manages to survive and thrive because of the power of their heart? Check. The no-skills hero who just somehow manages to be better than others despite having no skills? Check. The world in trouble who must rely on the outsider to save them? Check. The arrogant rival who must cheat to win? Check. Oh, let me count the tropes... In any case, a lot of this story read like something I have read a hundred other times before. And if this was an American story, you'd probably see all the dragons featured in the game as toys. In fact, this may still be the case, as I am not up on toy figures from Japan. A lot of the Dragon introductions and forms read like they are specifically meant to sell toy replicas of them.

Despite that, the story does have some pluses. It is entertaining to read, although for me, fight manga, even fights with dragons, just aren't that interesting, and that's what most of the books have been based upon. I think the world and character development got a bit of short shrift here, but nonetheless, it is still an enjoyable read, just not really deep or all that fulfilling. The backstory is interesting, and does remind me of other types of games written about in manga, something like Yu-ji-oh's card monsters or capsule monsters. Those are okay, too, but they do get old after a very short while. Luckily, this story seems like it won't last any longer than the next book, maybe two at the most. So for those who want their stories short and contained, this is a good series for that.

I won't be buying this series, because it's just too much the same for me as other manga series I have already read. Okay to read, but I wouldn't spend my hard-earned money on it. And if you're older than 15 and not a boy, you'd best not to spend your money on it, either.

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