Dragon Quest: The Adventure of Dai (2020) – Mid Series Anime Review
Synopsis: The world that was once afflicted by Hadlar, the Dark Lord, has regained peace in the hands of a swordsman called the “hero” and his companions. Delmurin Island became a place where monsters released from the Dark Lord lived. Dai, who is the only human on the island and longs to be a hero, lives in peace with the monsters. However, that life completely changes with the resurrection of the Dark Lord Hadlar. With promises from teachers, encounters with friends, and a destiny that cannot be escaped… In order to save the world, the adventure of Dai and his quest to be a hero begins! (Official Crunchyroll Synopsis)
Mid Series (12 Episodes) Review (Warning: Minor Spoilers to Follow):
Something important to factor into any discussion surrounding Dragon Quest: The Adventure of Dai is its origin. Toei’s 2020 anime is an adaptation of a much older Shonen Jump Title, one that originated way back in late 1989. This is a series that’s over 30 years old and no matter how much modern flair and updated art might try to disguise it, that age is really going to show through regardless, particularly in the series’ writing.
Stepping back a bit, let’s instead first focus on what’s been done to modernize the series. Dragon Quest: The Adventure of Dai’s 2020 Adaptation pulls out all the stops, putting it as one of Toei Animation’s best anime offerings. Crisp animation, and modernized designs by some of Toei’s absolute top talent help to bring the Adventure of Dai from the late 80s into modern day. While Toei’s efforts aren’t quite on par with MAPPA’s adaptation of Jujutsu Kaisen this season, they’re nothing to be scoffed at either. The Adventure of Dai looks quite good episode to episode, and sometimes busts out some crazy animation cuts that’ll really stick out in your mind as top tier Shonen action. Another notable point is Dragon Quest’s periodic use of the cel-shaded CGI animation that first started cropping up in the Dragon Ball Super movies with Battle of the Gods and later Dragon Ball Super Broly. While these cuts blend in about as well as they did in the Dragon Ball films (That is to say, only kinda) they still keep the action roaring forward, with frantic camera work and fast-paced combat that’s so engaging it becomes easy to forgive the noticeable shift from 2D to 3D. What keeps The Adventure of Dai from being a blazing fest of animation the whole way through however is the classic “Toei slump.” While nothing nearly as bad as what fans had to put up with in the early Dragon Ball Super episodes, there is a certain stilted, lethargic quality where characters stand about spouting lengthy diatribes with little to arrest you visually, making these moments feel like true mediocrity in terms of adaptation effort.
Outside of top of the line Toei Animation and modernized designs, The Adventure of Dai is, as best I can tell, still a 1 to 1 adaptation. Truth be told I haven’t found the time to read every chapter in great detail, but from what little I’ve scanned it does look like Dragon Quest 2020 follows the manga fairly close (Though maybe a few details have changed, like characters fighting out in the open air, rather than in a cramped cave.) The series adapts the original manga at what seems like 3 chapters an episode, keeping the story plugging along at a decent pace. I could see this becoming an issue, particularly if the adaptation doesn’t stop to give greater weight to major dramatic moments (More on that in a moment), but for now the speed of the adaptation shouldn’t be at all noticeable, particularly for anyone entirely unfamiliar with the original manga.
But that adherence to a 1 to 1 adaptation has other issues. Because The Adventure of Dai is a shonen back from the 1980s that only amplifies many of the issues I have with the Shonen genre in general. From our heroic lead Dai, to his timid friend Pop, to the bad-ass, though sometimes turned damsel Maam, all our characters embody the most typical of Shonen character traits. The story itself is littered to the brim with tried and true tropes. That’s not to say Dragon Quest is bad. There’s a reason these tropes continue to exist even through to 2020. But the writing for Dragon Quest does feel aged, and that could mean that anyone perhaps a bit tired of Shonen tropes might want to steer clear.
Still, if you’re able to appreciate Dragon Quest’s aged feel, and its well-worn yet well-used tropes, what’s presented is a fairly tight and engaging story of Dai coming into his own as the world’s much needed hero. It’s him, Pop and Maam banding together to challenge the expanding forces of darkness, resurrected after an era of peace.
I will say though that my interest in Dai’s adventures have dulled as of late. While the series is particularly riveting through to Maam’s addition to the crew, things start to feel under-cooked when the trio is challenged by Dai’s evil counterpart, another of his master’s disciples who holds allegiance to the Demon Lord, rather than to justice. For such a dramatic character we really do rush through his backstory (even the manga seems to have done this) and it’s also just surprising in itself that such a dramatic character type is presented so early on, with Dai and Pop rushing to challenge him again, rather than setting up a major confrontation for the two somewhere down the line.
Overall I think it’s safe to say with 12 episodes under our belts that Dragon Quest is the safe watch of 2020, going into 2021. It’s a title that’s been tested, is generally entertaining, even when it dips, and perfect for anyone who isn’t looking for something that’ll break any molds. It’s my understanding that Dragon Quest had a huge impact on Shonen back in the early 90s, and I think even this early in the story it’s pretty evident why it became such a major influence. Since this is possibly an adaptation that is in it for the long hall (adapting all 300+ chapters) Dragon Quest is perfect for viewers seeking a stable, ongoing story that’s going to last them at least another year.