As contradictory as it may sound, the abnormal is pretty standard fare whenever you venture into the world of fiction. Be it far flung societies from the depths of space, the lost legacies of cities fallen to time’s ravage, or tales of champions from worlds unknown, all is possible. With all of this known, there are a few stories that have been told time and time again, their figures becoming varied as their interpretations became ever varied. One particularly recognisable visage is that of the dragon, winged creatures known for both their terrifying might and, in those less horrific accounts, their intense loyalty to those who would tame them. This is a story of the latter, of a world where dragons and humans coexist, their bonds strengthening each other and fostering understanding between the two species. For the most part at least.
Ansarivan Dragonar Academy, a prestigious alma matter that teaches young dragon tamers (officially referred to as breeders) all they will need to know to best bond with their Pals and utilise their abilities to the fullest. That’s how it’s supposed to go, however, as you may have guessed, our protagonist is a little on the different side. Standing out against his will, Ash Blake is the one student of this dragon rearing academy that does not have a dragon. For reasons unknown, though near blatantly hinted in an early flashback and multitude of suggestive dream sequences, our hero is also possessive of another unique talent, namely the ability to ride another’s dragon, which as we are informed via exposition is an impossibility. So, double weird protagonist in a world full of dragons, good start. Naturally it doesn’t take long for ol’ Ash to acquire a dragon once the series kicks in but, just because no main character can ever bear any semblance of normalcy, the dragon that will come to be named Eco appears in the form of a cute girl rather than, you know, an actual dragon. I’m sure by now you can guess what type of series this will be because apparently the whole “normal guy in a fantastical setting getting called dog by his self proclaimed, extremely young looking master” is an entire genre in anime. Who knew?
From the onset, Dragonar Academy presents the notions of a politically charged plot, with talks of peace treaties and cold wars out the metaphorical wazoo. The constant referral to the countries and regions within the oh so unsubtlely dragon shaped continent of Arc Strada also give off the vibe of strained tensions and on overall feeling of impending doom. However, I wouldn’t worry too much about trying to remember all of that because it only pops up sporadically throughout the series. Admittedly actions do occur that further the agenda of the unseen, evil empire, however none of those ever seem to incite any kind of war. At one point, a dragon is raised from the dead and proceed to rampage throughout town, destroying countless buildings and killing and unspecified amount of people (it is never specifically said that anyone dies of course, but come on, that thing was wrecking shop). After its eventual destruction however, no real investigation is launched into the culprit of the revival, quite a few characters ponder out loud, but nothing ever feels like its moving forward. The only direct result of this climactic assault is a boost to Ash’s reputation and a visit from main cast member Silvia’s older sister. Not exactly the response you would expect from an intended war inducing event. To be fair, Silvia’s sister, like her, is of royal blood and possible heir to the throne, but who cares? I understand the premise of a royal visit boosting spirits, but the visit still seems unnecessary. If anything, Veronica (the older sister) only exists to play up the old school trope of younger siblings feeling insignificant compared to their skilled elders, though even that was handled a bit weird. We’ve all seen anime, we know of the harsh older sibling, but Veronica takes the cake. Throwing your younger sibling onto a mountain and having her swordfight a dragon is not tough love, no matter what stick you use to measure it. As such, I find Silvia’s eventual, and obvious, acceptance of her sister to be quite ridiculous, at least within the time frame presented. Later episodes also reveal a particular fondness that Veronica has for Silvia, which makes it even stranger that she would mess with her sister to that degree, and I didn’t even get to the part where she sliced her clothes off, but that’s a story for another time.
Or not, because ultimately that is what this series is about. Now before anyone feels the need to inform me, I am well aware that this is not intended as a purely action based, war time drama. However, when a series places those pieces within the greater puzzle, I feel the need to include them in my opinion as they did in their explanation. At its heart, Dragonar Academy is about Ash Blake and Eco, the boy and dragon-girl who form an unbreakable bond that is obviously more than that of Breeder and Pal. You know what I mean, that anime kind of relationship where the girl/dragon strips at any given time and then punches the guy into a wall because he’s a pervert who tried to catch her when she slipped that one time. It’s a dynamic that appears in countless series across countless genres. However, when a series plays a B-plot with the seeming intention of advancing a story, the stagnant nature of such a relationship can get pretty darn annoying. With every second episode reminding us how Ash and Eco are slowly growing closer and how their powers are maturing, snapping back to her throwing him around cuts the immersiveness down considerably. That isn’t even mentioning the spanner in the works that is Silvia. Originally a rival-esque character to Ash, the two wind up becoming besties and, because this is an anime, she slowly falls in love with him. Which is sweet. What is less sweet however, is the fact that both very clearly have a history together, from their childhood years, that neither remembers…except that they do. Silvia often flashes back to a boy she met in her youth, who saved her more than once and earned her affection, a boy who is very clearly Ash. The series never even tries to hide this, no cliche shadowed faces, no shots of only the boy’s back, nothing. We just see Ash’s face clear as day and for some unspecified reason Silvia never puts two and two together. It just doesn’t make any sense.
What makes even less sense than a clearly remembered forgotten memory however are forgotten plot threads, or similarly those that go nowhere at all. Second episode, new foe, a mysterious figure lurking in the shadows. Eco is kidnapped, the abductor is discovered, what’s this? The abductor is a well respected dragon researcher? The one hired to study Eco and her unique physiology? Well that makes sense, except for the whole kidnap and attempted dissection thing that almost occurs. Of course they beat her, foil her evil science plans and just move on with their lives, smart. Then Ash and company get a new homeroom teacher, you guessed it, the doctor. Drama bomb…that never goes off, mainly because we barely ever see her again. What the hell was the point of her character? Why did she try and study Eco so violently? Did no-one know about her predilections? Why did the academy hire her? Did Ash not tell anyone that she almost killed Eco? Dragon slaying is the worst crime in this world, how is she not in trouble? Why is she in the series’ opening title sequence? She barely does anything. This unfortunate characteristic is also shared by Anya, who you would be forgiven for mistaking as an important character due to her prevalence in episode one. Despite inadvertently causing Ash to awaken Eco, Anya serves as yet another unnecessary character in the roster of Dragonar Academy. As a spy, it is her job to infiltrate Ansarivan and report back to her master Milgaus. To her credit, she manages to worm her way into quite a few locations and appears ominously in the background a number of times…and that’s it. Though apparently the new leader of her tribe/town/community, Anya never really does anything. The clash of her duty and interest in Ash, who saved her life, also ultimately go nowhere and just burn screentime. I guess we feel sorry for her, but she never acts on her feelings of doubt, nor does she actively aid her master. A side plot is also briefly mentioned about her search for her long lost sister who, spoiler alert, is literally standing in front of her when she reveals said quest. Like right there. Her sister even looks directly at her and says nothing until the very end of the series when, upon running in to her again, suddenly realises that Anya might be her sister. What? What was the point of that? Why didn’t they recognise each other? Why was that relevant to anything? I’m also absolutely positive that Avdocha (the sister in question) left from Anya’s village to instigate her attack on Ansarivan, meaning she lived there? They lived in the same town? I don’t get it. Which is not a statement anyone wants to make coming away from a series.
Jumping to visuals for a hot second, the series holds up pretty well. The characters are drawn on model and have a nice degree of stylistic and colour variation. The uniforms are your standard fare fantastical school garb, however the more unique Archs present an interesting visual. This is especially true of Ash who is able to alternate between various armour sets to best suit his situation. That being said, a fair portion of this series sees characters sans clothing, through actions both their own and not. For reasons best left to your imaginations, combat sequences often leave the female characters with less fabric than they began with. Even more specific combat sequences add tentacles to the mix because…anime and…I have no idea. Why can evil dragons summon tentacles? I don’t know. Why do they not aim to kill and instead strip and grope only female students? That I do know, as do all of you, so let’s leave it at that. Granted, their are some scenes, as rare as they may be, that do not use nudity in the aid of fanservice. Some instead opt to use it as a visual display of fragility and innocence, striking home just how unguarded some characters become and, despite arguments to the contrary, just how different others are. Dragons also make an appearance in this series, and look pretty darn cool to, albeit it rather similar to each other. Ultimately however, they are not what leaves the biggest visual impact in this series. Infer from that what you will.
Dragonar Academy is an odd series born of one part romance, one part harem and one part action. However, rather than drawing the strongest qualities from these acrchetypes, it tries to combine them in every regard and winds up somewhere in the chotic middle ground. This sin’t to say that it is a terrible series, just an average one that could’ve been so much better if it lent further into one genre and built itself up from there. The politics go nowhere, the school is inconsequential to the plot, Eco’s development is constantly halted by comedic moments, Silvia’s memories are all but forgotten about and Ash seems to have little choice regarding his own love life. I know harem series and those like it are designed around an indecisive lead, but the series’ own imbalance regarding this issue create and odd sense of unfairness. To me, it seems like he legitimately has affection for Silvia as she does for him, but with the lore of dragon/human bonds behind it, the series drives home just how destined he and Eco are. It creates the vibe that it would be wrong for him to choose Silvia, which greatly weakens the romantic aspect of this series. Confusion is compounded however by Ash’s overall inaction in his relationship with Eco. He treats her kindly no doubt about that, but all of the romantic moments are instigated by her. She nibbles him, nuzzles him, hugs him and behaves in all kinds of ways around him, yet he merely reacts. Thus it feels as if Ash has no say in the development of this bond and his words of compassion and loyalty are equally applicable to Eco as his Pal and not as his romantic interest.
Ultimately, Dragonar Academy leaves me with more questions than when I began, which is not a good feeling. Despite all that occurs within the episodes, nothing truly feels as if it has any lasting impact, with the world just continuing on with merely the slightest recollection. Sure Eco recalls the Necromancia event in her nightmares, but even that is played for laughs and left behind in aid of a new sub-plot. Lukka suddenly appears three quarters of the way through the series to begin her story, only for us to find out that she is the most well known student at the academy…who we’ve never heard about. These two examples speak out to this series biggest problem; visible plot progression. Whenever something is off screen or out of our focus, it may as well not even exist. The world created by this series does not feel as if it turns on without us, but rather that our gaze is what gives it purpose. We all understand that our attention is turned towards the most important events, that’s how a series works, however we are also meant to believe that events transpire around what we see. Dragonar Academy does not do this. I do not feel as if the king we eventually meet was doing anything beforehand, nor do I feel that Milgaus was performing ill deeds behind the scenes. This feeling ultimately fractures the lens through which we view this world and cuts the strings that attempt to suspend our disbelief. The dragons were cool though…
Only a Madman could ever hope to tame a crazy dragon…don’t tell Eco I said that