The Dragon Dentist Review
Synopsis: Nonoko, the new dentist for her country’s dragon, must protect it at all costs from ensuing battles and, of course, cavities. But when she finds an enemy boy resurrected from the dragon’s tooth, it could spell disaster for them all. (Official HIDIVE Synopsis)
Review (Warning: Minor Spoilers to Follow):
The Dragon Dentist’s title is misleading. While there’s definitely some dragon dentistry on display and a fair amount of trouble originating from the fictional organisms attacking the dragon’s teeth , it is but a small part that leads into the true focus; the emotional struggle and journey of Nonoko and the rest of the cast. I feel compelled to point this out as the movie is so heavily focused on telling a much grander story that is so different from what is implied through the synopsis and title itself that anyone with the wrong preconceptions will come out feeling extremely disappointed. The movie already has quite a few other elements working against it so this is my attempt to not just critique it but also possibly aid any potential viewers into having the best experience with it possible.
The Dragon Dentist starts by opening with a naval war and seemingly attempt to launch an attack on one nation by the other on sea territory. We do not learn much about the two warring nations themselves other than that they are in a drawn out conflict and one side has the good fortune to have a dragon as part of their forces, though the dragon is not allowed to actively engage in the battle because of a treaty signed between nations which we do not learn about until much later; yet the dragon is clearly aiding greatly in this war by being one the side of one nation. There’s a distinct lack of clarity. This already feels like a sign of how The Dragon Dentist is not so concerned with the minute details of its world, happy to offer up just enough to sit as background, leaving this fantasy land to feel muddy and out of focus. For the rest of the two part animation, we often only get the barest of details about the world at large, or even the characters themselves. While we do learn some aspects of the ‘dentistry’ the dragon dentists engage in daily, to keep the dragon healthy and happy, enough is left unexplained such that the show can throw in whatever twist or new development it needs to when the narrative requires it. If you’re someone who likes well defined, established lore and world building to become swept up by, The Dragon Dentist is not for you. Given that the series consists of just two episodes, this may have already been obvious but the issue is exacerbated by the story’s insistence on cramming in several different narratives and exploring a few too many themes through several of its characters with hardly the run time to develop any of these ideas into something more weighty and gripping.
It doesn’t help that The Dragon Dentist doesn’t have the most straight forward approach to a protagonist either. While Nonoka is mentioned in the synopsis as if she is our lead, she undoubtedly has the blandest story of all. She’s the kind hearted and enthusiastic girl who is so pure of heart that when she experiences her death in a vision, she is able to calmly and even cheerfully interact and flirt with the soldier who she just envisioned murdering her. One could argue that the scene is to show how she isn’t afraid of fate or death and all about embracing living life to its fullest without worrying about the future. But when combined with her cheerful response to most other things, it feels more weighted to being just more evidence of her carefree self to the point of seeming airheaded. She unsurprisingly becomes the mentor of sorts to the resurrected enemy soldier mentioned in the synopsis, Bell and thoroughly embraces him into her life even when everyone else is wary of him for his status as a harbinger of looming disaster and enemy soldier and against his own surly and reluctant responses. She’s positive to the point of feeling like an empty shonen lead stereotype, clearly meant to be there to help further everyone else’s character journey rather than have one of her own. In fact, even when the dentists are betrayed by one of their own, Nonoka is one of the few to quickly and completely forgive the traitor and keep on addressing her as the same person she’d always known. Even when the story tries to make her a sympathetic character suffering loss at the end, she has been so chirpy and positive for so long and her bond with others so weakly defined that it undermines her loss. Don’t go into this animation rooting for or expecting great things from Nonoka’s character unless bubbly female protagonist are your kryptonite.
To its credit, The Dragon Dentist does try to toy with some far more complex themes and narratives, primarily through the aforementioned Bell and other characters like Nonoka’s older coworker, Shibana Natsume and the villain of sorts of the story, Blanco Salvador. Bell’s story is about his metamorphosis from a scared and aimless coward to someone who sacrifices himself for the sake of strangers and peace. Shibana’s storyline deals with the loss of a loved one and the lengths some would go through in order to reunite with their loved one. Lastly, Blanco’s storyline deals with his pride and thirst for revenge and success along with how being too ruthless and laser focused can end up being your eventual downfall. All of these stories, while familiar, could have easily made for a moving tale or strong message if told well. But by being crammed together and told through barely established characters, with minimum to no background exploration, dilutes their messages and lessens any potential impact.
If you’re looking for positives, I won’t deny that The Dragon Dentist’s biggest draw is its visuals and designs. Its take on how a dragon would look and act is unlike any other and leaves quite an impact. And while the dragon dentists themselves come off feeling more like warriors than dentists, the dentistry sequences make for some of the most action packed and unique looking sequences of the movies. Though trope ridden due to the lack of time and proper establishment, the various themes explored in the movie raises the chances of one of them potentially connecting with a viewer drawn to such themes. Tales of loss and sacrifice can be extremely moving and The Dragon Dentist has plenty of that.
Overall, like most original anime movies, I would recommend The Dragon Dentist to anyone who enjoys anime more for the animation and designs than the actual quality and content of the story being told. The Dragon Dentist may be more focused on emotional content than its fantastical title suggests but it does enough with its more fantasy-like elements to conjure up impressive scenes and imagery. While its main story itself isn’t the worst by any means, it’s greatly impacted by the cramped pacing and thus should not be the impetus for anyone to pick up this animation. Yes, it dabbles with some deep themes and yes, some viewers will get caught up in the more emotional segments but it will still be best to approach The Dragon Dentist with some extremely tempered expectations.
The Dragon Dentist is available for streaming via HIDIVE.com.