What They Say:
A unique brand of magic dwells in Eridana, where two bounty hunters set up shop. Gayus is book-smart, Gigina is a phenomenal fighter. When political intrigue puts opposing nations on the brink of war, this dubious duo finds themselves in the thick of it.
The audio presentation for this release is pretty solid as we get the original Japanese language track in stereo while the English language dub gets a 5.1 boost. Both tracks are encoded using the Dolby TrueHD lossless codec and the end result is pretty good across the board. The show has an engaging stereo mix in general with what it needs to do in using the action to accomplish things and there are some more personal action sequences as well that helps to carry it through. The show is designed for stereo and it may not be a top-tier mix but it’s one that works very well. It also makes for a good 5.1 upgrade with the English mix as that adds more to the rear channels and some better impact with the bass, especially through the subwoofer. This mix ramps things up nicely without it going over the top, making for a very fun time for dub fans.
Originally airing in the spring 2018 season, this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The twelve episodes are spread across two discs with nine on the first and three on the second, which also has a couple of extras on it. Animated by Seven Arcs Pictures, the show has a solid design look to it with a lot to like with the character artwork, and that carries through well with the transfer and the more fluid animation sequences. Though there’s a good bit of dark material to it with how it takes place, there’s a good mix of lighter and brighter material as well and I do find myself like that more as it got to show off the designs better. But the encoding worked well regardless of the material with a clean look and the dark levels holding up well with those scenes without breaking up or blocking. It’s definitely a good-looking transfer but it’s working with a lot of darker-themed materials.
The packaging design for this release comes in a standard-sized Blu-ray case with an o-card that replicates the case artwork. What’s used is the familiar key visual piece of the leads but it’s set with such a dark and murky design to it that if you’re not in a brightly lit room the whole thing is pretty much just pointless. There are good character designs with the show to work with but this cover works against selling it because you can barely tell what’s there. The back cover goes for the same kind of dark and murky background which doesn’t help at all but at least allows the summary of the premise to be readable and it’s paired with a small shot from the show of the leads. The remainder has some more shots that are definitely colorful and it then breaks down the extras included and the technical grid at the bottom, which with its blue text is hard to read against the background. No show-related inserts are included but we do get artwork on the reverse side with the original key visual pieces of the two leads that were done up which are brightly colored and really well-detailed.
The only extras included in this release are the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences and the Japanese promos, which are always welcome to have.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the novel series by Labao Asai with artwork by Miyagi and Zain, Dances with the Dragons is a twelve-episode anime series that aired as part of the spring 2018 season. The original novel series was an eight-episode work from 2003 to 2006 that wrapped up before it started as a new series in 2008, which is still going on and is up to twenty-one volumes now. The anime came from Seven Arc Pictures and saw Hiroshi Nishikori as the chief director with Hirokazu Hanai as the main director working from Takayo Ikami’s scripts. The series has a lot of material that it can pull from but a single cour is only going to go so far, especially when you consider that it’s adapting novels and not manga. The series has a pretty good pre-release buzz about it overall from fans as well and some colorful materials that made it easy to get a handle on.
The premise for this series has some potential because I am a bit of a sucker for the magic/science fusion concept. I had a lot of books as a kid that played in that realm and they always struck me as something neat to work with. Here, we’re introduced to a world where there was a long-standing war between humanity and dragons that because of their power definitely had things in the favor of the dragons. But over time, mankind found a new way to fight back with something called jushiiki, which is that blending of magic and science. Those that could wield it became jushikists and helped to turn the battle around. So much so that it became a war of mutual destruction that both sides at times seemed eager to get to. But cooler heads eventually prevailed and a precarious balance was found that kept them from wiping each other out. With no war to fight, the Jushikits ended up basically becoming bounty hunters or law enforcement types to keep the peace.
The show focuses on a pair of them that have issues and trauma leftover from their involvement in the war with Gigina and Gayus. The two operate together here to make the coin they need and eke out an existence but it’s the kind of odd couple things where there’s tension and not quite distrust between them, but that air of something that makes it clear they’re not best buddies hanging out. And that kind of distrust is what permeates the series as the villains that we get are those that tend to have lingering issues over how things were resolved or older issues that they still want to resolve. More problematic is that the series seems to set us up for a main villain that our pair and others will face off against but instead it shifts gears along the way and it becomes more about a new batch of small-time villains that get into the mix that they and other Jushikists have to deal with.
As kind of enforcement/detective types, our two leads are pretty good at what they do and there isn’t really a layer of incompetency that comes up regularly or anything either. Both were forged in experience of a larger war and all that it entails so I appreciated that the show plays things seriously for the most part and operates on that premise. The problem is that the premise and the title promise us something that it never really delivers on. And that’s dragons. I’m a sucker for dragons and expected dragons here but they’re kept, in that form, to the past and not real players within the current events in that kind of impressive form. Instead, they’ve all taken human form and are running their own plans in this way and that adds to the kind of tension we get between those of power that move through this world.
And that leaves us with the kind of awkward storytelling where our leads are basically pawns without realizing it for much of the show for a larger and better plan and then aren’t sure about where they should land on it once it’s realized. There’s a fair number of fights that the two get into with others, and pushing each other around from time to time as well, and they’re generally well-executed but they lack a certain weight that they need because the world rarely feels full lived-in. That said, the battles do tend to turn into little more than energy battles reminiscent of a Marvel movie but they were also pieces that allowed the show to play in color more than the rest of the episode, which tends to lean dark even during the daytime sequences. They’re nicely executed and all and they have the impact they need to sell the moment, but at the same time you’re still sitting here watching a series with dragons in the title and there are no real dragons.
Dances with the Dragons is a title that I was curious about from when I first started reporting on it as I liked the character visuals and there would be dragons! The show itself, however, is a far more mundane and traditional kind of piece that doesn’t get to really exercise its fusion of magic and science nor does it have dragons for the majority of it in their true form. And then it’s one that takes place largely during darker sequences and that keeps some of the appealing designs from being, well, appealing. The set has a lot stacked against it from the start with a murky and unappealing cover that does everything right outside of the artwork choice and then to the show itself in how it utilizes dragons. I like the concept but the execution simply doesn’t find its stride at all. The dub from what I sampled was pretty decent and the encoding captures the look of the show well, so fans of it will be pleased to have their own copy. But for those tempted by the story or title, your mileage may vary.
Japanese 2.0 Dolby TrueHD Language, English 5.1 Dolby True HD Language, English Subtitles, Promotional Videos, Textless Opening and Closing
Content Grade: C
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: C
Menu Grade: B-
Extras Grade: B
Released By: Funimation
Release Date: April 2nd, 2019
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.