It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a…dragon hunting airship? Yes, Drifting Dragons is the story of the crew of the Quin Zaza, a “draking” ship outfitted for capturing the strange mythical beasts that roam the skies. Dragons, in this world, are hunted for their many whale-like products— meat, oil, and even ambergris. Steampunk drakers take on the behemoths with bomb lances and harpoons before transforming their kill into culinary delights that might actually have you craving a bite of dragon steak. Our newbie protagonist Takita strives to find her place in the skies with the help of her rag-tag shipmates.
This adaptation of Taku Kuwabara’s manga has a lot to live up to, and for the most part, it succeeds. Produced by Polygon Pictures, it’s a strong addition to Netflix’s growing catalogue of anime originals. If the first season is any indication, it’s likely we’ll be seeing a lot more of this fantasy-adventure-cooking series.
One of Drifting Dragons’ strongest suits is its visual appeal. In the opening scene, the Quin Zaza makes a dramatic debut as it bursts through cotton candy CGI clouds. This is followed shortly by a shot of a dragon, a strange creature that seems inspired in equal parts by marine life and mythology. The lighting in this series also shines, whether it’s used to show the shadows bouncing off the ship, or for a group shot of the crew bathed in golden light. The character’s uniforms are simple, but a stunning shade of sky blue with enough accessories to be obviously steampunk. Of course, the most intricate and enticing eye candy is the food! Steak sandwiches, dragon terrine, giant cutlets and more will have you drooling over the impeccable eats created from an unholy terror that graced the screen previously. Even something as simple as dragon sallow on rye bread seems appealing when it’s drawn so beautifully.
Masaru Yokoyama’s soundtrack further enhances every scene, with staccato woodwinds layered over stirring strings. The English voice cast seems natural, with each lending their talents to characters in such a way that you can’t imagine them sounding like anyone else. The only sound-related issue with this series is that there’s a few later episodes (“Soup Kitchen Goulash & Dragon Cutlet” in particular) that substitute sighs for dialogue, but that’s likely more of a personal pet peeve rather than a worthwhile critique.
The characters that comprise Quin Zaza’s crew will likely seem familiar to fans of One Piece, My Hero Academia, and Fullmetal Alchemist, but at least the personality tropes have been remixed in an interesting way. Our newbie protagonist Takita sports both the hairstyle and upbeat enthusiasm of Pippi Long-stocking, with a classic anime twist of “I’m going to work hard!” determination. Her experienced counterpart, Mika, is a seasoned (ha) food-obsessed draker known for his wild antics in the pursuit of his next meal. He’s a strange combination of “apathetic slacker” and “loose cannon”, but there’s no denying his hunger for meat and adventure keep the rest of the crew on their toes. Overly-serious Giraud, elegant Vannie, long-suffering boatswain Gibbs, laid back Niko, “acting captain” Crocco and his copilot Capella, neurotic accountant Lee, good-natured cook Yoshi, and a handful of comic relief characters round out the rest of the gang.
The crew’s battles with dragons are impressive action sequences, smoothly animated with complex perspective shifts to capture the depths of the “man vs. nature” conflict and highlight the complex teamwork required to take down one of the terrifying, majestic rulers of the skies. But the day-to-day life of the crew is presented in equally entertaining fashion. Whether it’s doing laundry or learning about the always-fascinating budgeting concerns of a draking operation, there’s never a dull moment aboard the Quin Zaza. The series suffers a bit from pacing issues here and there, but even awkward, dialog-free interactions are stunningly animated.
Despite a few uncomfortable moments, Drifting Dragons’ debut is a strong start to an interesting tale. This season establishes the world and introduces the characters, but leaves plenty of questions to be answered as things progress. We’re shown a bit of Giraud’s backstory in “Glittering Dragon”, but the rest of the crew has yet to reveal how they ended up aboard the Quin Zaza. Leaving the life seems to be a possibility as well, since in “Reasons for Flying & Dragon Terrine” Vannie seems to be considering whether or not to remain on the crew. Whether or not these questions are addressed in season 2 remains to be seen, but if this season is any indication, there will be plenty of action, laughs, and dragon-based recipes that make it well worth the watch (with snacks nearby of course!)