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Dragon Sister! Vol. #01 Manga Review

4 min read

Creative Staff:
Story/Art: Nini
Translation/Adaptation: Bret Mayer, Nate Boden

What They Say:
The classic Chinese tale of The Three Kingdoms–with all your favorite historical figures cast as cute girls! As the Han Dynasty collapses, two mighty warriors–Zhang Fei and Guan Yu–stand strong against the tide of rebellion. But because these fighters are female, their dreams of fighting in the Imperial army are nothing but dreams…until they find a patron and like-minded brother in Liu Bei, an idealistic descedent of royalty with dreams of his own. Forging a pact, the three form a volunteer army dedicated to restoring peace, which means first defeating three deceptively adorable sisters who oppose them, and who have their own, definitely cuter, plan for China’s future… One thing’s for sure–history‚Äôs about to get a makeover!

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
I’m not sure exactly what Dragon Sister is trying to be or what it’s trying to accomplish. I’m not even sure if the artist knows, either. It’s almost like reading one of those stories where alternate chapters were written by two authors, neither one knowing where the other was intending to take the plot. The first two chapters, “The Oath under the Peach Blossoms” and “Journey to Save a Nation,” manage to live up to their evocative titles. We see a young man of royal blood with a dream to see China united and at peace, and two (cute young) warriors pledge themselves to his cause. To see their journey begin and the people begin to rally around him makes for some very good reading. A phrase like “based on Romance of the Three Kingdoms” might raise a few skeptical eyebrows – with some reason – but among all of the “manga” elements, the story really does manage to evoke something of the feel of a legend. For the first two chapters. Then suddenly it disappears.

What makes the disappearance so frustrating is that before we even have time to miss what we’ve lost, we find it replaced with something much, much worse. It’s not like the story just ran out of steam; it’s more like it was derailed or hijacked. Even the characters seem to be different people from the ones we knew and liked just a few pages before. What’s worse, it feels like they’ve been made different just to add pointless drama to a story that was doing just fine without it. Before very long we meet with genuine tastelessness. Then we know that the momentum built up in the first two chapters has been lost – and we wonder if it’s gone for good.

The message from the author mentions that this manga is the work of someone who’s “still a rookie,” which may go a long way towards explaining the problem. This could simply be a matter of a novice’s jitters: not trusting the material, the artist adds in things that don’t really fit, and indeed work against everything that has come so far. Or possibly the idea of a straightforward retelling of an ancient legend, a story of honour upheld and oaths fulfilled, didn’t seem like the sort of thing that would fly in the current atmosphere. Be that as it may – I’m only trying to describe the book, not speculate how it got to be like that. The fact is that Dragon Sister turns from a job it was doing perfectly well to a job it can’t do and oughtn’t have tried. It substitutes soap-opera-ish drama and titillation for narrative – and then fails even at those. And that is a very discouraging thing. It’s like watching somebody throw away three aces to draw for a straight.

The artwork is attractive, especially for a debut. Backgrounds are frequently missing, or nearly so, but when they do show up they look quite good and give a believable sense of depth. Character work tends toward the cute, but this is a natural result of having very few adult characters and no old people to speak of. Everybody looks appropriate, even if everybody doesn’t always dress that way.

In Summary:
Dragon Sister begins with a volume that gets off to a good start, then tries to give itself a shot in the arm, misses, and shoots itself in the foot. The beginning chapters are too strong for the book to be an outright failure; but for the book to turn away from its strengths the way it does can make for more frustrating reading than something that’s simply dull. Still, there is some promise in the material. If the story is allowed to return to the pledge and the convictions shared by the three leads, there’s no reason this series can’t set itself right and become something worthwhile. But that will depend on the following volumes – and most heavily on the next one, unless I miss my guess.

Content Grade: B-
Art Grade: B
Packaging Grade: B
Text/Translation Grade: A

Age Rating: 13+
Released By: TOKYOPOP
Release Date: April 8th, 2008
MSRP: $9.99