From the opening skirmish in the skies, Drifting Dragons looked like it was an anime destined to soar high. All the ingredients are certainly here for a heady cocktail of animated delights but unfortunately the show suffers from an inconsistent narrative, cookie-cutter characters and a serious lack of dramatic tension. Caught between acting as a slice of life drama and an all-out action-adventure, Drifting Dragons takes both of these ideas and fails to blend them together in a cohesive fashion, making for a lacklustre and underwhelming anime experience.
When it comes to the world-building, Drifting Dragons sets some very strong foundations to build on. In this fantastical world, dragons roam the skies and hunting in hot pursuit are blimp-riding men and women known as Drakers. With few Draking Vessels left in the world, the crew onboard the Quin Zaza spend their days hunting dragons and selling their meat and hides for cash. Featuring sky pirates, realistic towns and lots of jaw-dropping dragons dwarfing the tiny crew in the sky, Drifting Dragons has some very compelling traits to its name.
Fronting the ensemble to tackle these dragons is our main protagonist Takita. Fresh on the ship and raring to go, our plucky, naive female finds herself getting accustomed to life hunting dragons while taking a shining to the food-obsessed, reckless Mika. The former doesn’t have that much character development until very late in the game, when she questions her own morals, while the latter never really changes from his desire to hunt and eat every dragon he can find. Ironically, the real star of the show is Jiro, who plays a supporting role.
Herein lies one of the biggest problems with Drifting Dragons – the narrative voice. Jiro is the one character here who has the most consistent arc, with a romantic sub-plot thrown into the second half and some genuinely interesting inner conflicts to tackle throughout the series. Alongside him, the quiet and mysterious Vannabelle seems to have a dark past but we only see fragments of this while the rest of the crew have a few shining moments but never really stand out either.
The show takes a while to settle into a consistent groove too and it’s not until the halfway point where the heat is cranked up a little and some drama is injected into the series. Essentially Drifting Dragons is split into three distinct arcs with the climactic finale teasing some good action and a sign of things to come for a possible second season. Whether you’ll make it that far or not remains to be seen.
Fans of traditional hand-drawn anime may be put off by the abundance of CGI animation here but to be fair, some of it actually looks quite good. The special effects, including smoke and clouds, are amazing and really pop off the screen. The lighting is well rendered and visually the colours work really well in a lot of the beautiful landscapes. The towns in particular are bustling with life and genuinely look like inviting places. Where this infant technology slips up though is in facial expressions and the dragons themselves, both of which let the aesthetics down somewhat.
Still, there’s enough in Drifting Dragons to at least give it a try and the first couple of episodes give you a good example of what the season ahead will be like. A fascinating world design, some interesting ideas and some decent CGI elements combine to make Drifting Dragons a show with a lot of potential that’s squandered by flaws that are too numerous to overlook. There is a good story here somewhere but it’s lost in a series that’s clouded by issues that are too difficult to ignore.