Review for The Dragon Dentist - Blu-ray/DVD Collector's Edition
You can read a title, especially one putting together words that you normally never see together, and it can immediately evoke imagery, raise expectations and inspire ideas of what treasures lie within, And then the reality arrives and shatters all your illusions. I read “The Dragon Dentist” and my mind went into Disney mode. A pressed upon medieval pageboy put into service with a giant toothbrush, expected to clean the gnashers of a large, but cuddly, and talkative green scaled dragon. You know, Tom Holland voices the boy, Eddie Murphy is the dragon with attitude... comedic hijinks ensue in a story with no little heart. Five minutes with The Dragon Dentist OVA completely disabused me of that notion.
There are dragons in the age of science, the ultimate WMD to be unleashed in war, omnipotent and almost invulnerable. They are giant flying beasts, so large that people settle and live on their backs. The one weakness is dental cavities, so people are employed as Dragon Dentists to fight off the strange creatures called Mushi that cause them. It’s more of a calling in reality, a mystical ritual that chooses them, involving the dragon’s teeth that they must take care of.
Then there are the Revenants, those killed in the war, who are somehow resurrected through the dragon’s teeth. Bell was an enemy soldier who shows up on the dragon in that way, and given that he came from the dragon’s tooth, he’s destined to be a Dragon Dentist. It falls on young Dentist Nonoko to show him how his new life will be. But the appearance of a Revenant is always an ill omen.
The story is presented in two OVA episodes.
1. Tengu Mushi (48:31)
2. The Massacre (48:31)
The Dragon Dentist gets a 1.78:1 widescreen transfer on this release which mirrors the Sentai discs. The image is clear and sharp, detail levels are good, although the colours are somewhat muted given the style of the animation. I saw no signs of banding or compression. The characters designs are somewhat classic in style, mirroring anime of a few decades ago, but this has to be countered with the impressive and detailed animation, which makes itself felt in the action sequences, coupled with the copious use of CGI to bring to life the dragon, and the various mushi that plague it.
You have the choice between DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo English and Japanese with translated English subtitles and signs locked to the appropriate track. I was happy with the Japanese audio, and the subtitles are accurately timed and free of typos. The actors are suited to their roles, and give spirited performances, while the action comes across well through the stereo, given a little Prologic nudge. The opening theme to the show is pretty evocative, while the show itself surprises with some unexpected but strangely fitting techno during the action sequences. It’s different enough from the usual anime scores to be notable.
The Collector’s Edition comes in a rigid slipcase, which alas has the blurb and tech specs printed on the back, taking up valuable artwork real estate. Inside you’ll find a fold-out poster that recreates the cover art. There is also a 36 page booklet with more art, and info on the characters, the world, an interview with the director, and some staff comments.
You get two discs in a fold out digipack that fits in the slipcase, the Blu-ray disc and the DVD, and the content is repeated across both discs.
In terms of extras, all you get is a 1:02 Japanese Promo, and further trailers for Valerian and Laureline, Food Wars, Chihayafuru, and School-Live!
Dragon Dentist is a show with a hell of an esoteric concept, and so reliant on its world-building that the whole construction feels like a house of cards, so vulnerable to a minor breeze that it could collapse at any moment, if your suspension of disbelief wavers. It somehow manages to stay upright though through its ninety-odd minutes, although I have to admit that it wasn’t the easiest of watches for this reason, especially in the first episode.
That esoteric concept begins to make sense when you see that the director of The Dragon Dentist, Kazuya Tsurumaki also directed FLCL. That is a wacky show, full of crazy ideas and stories. It has a robot climbing out of a boy’s forehead after all, which makes the idea of the dead being resurrected out of dragons’ teeth to be a tad more comprehensible. The difference is that FLCL is more of a comedy show, whereas The Dragon Dentist is played straight, and has a strong emotional core driving its story.
That actually makes the first episode something of a chore to watch, given that it’s mostly devoted to world-building, setting the scene and developing the characters. There is still humour to some of the situations and characters, but it can never be wacky or absurd without toppling that aforementioned house of cards. There is a whole lot of exposition to explain how this bizarre world works. You have these giant dragons that serve as WMDs, effectively the last line in warfare. You have this pact that is made with the dragons, and these Dragon Dentists who fulfil the pact, dealing with the mushi that threaten the dragons’ dental health in exchange for their power. The mechanism behind the mushi, and the way the dragons’ teeth work, especially when it comes to how the Dragon Dentists are chosen, is a delicate piece of plot contrivance. But it also defines the emotional dynamic between the main characters, Nonoko and Bell. As I said this first episode is something of a chore to watch, but that all pays off in the second episode.
It’s here the plot really kicks into motion, building on the final moments of the first episode. It turns out that there are people on both sides who aren’t fans of the pact that people make with dragons, particularly the relationship between the Dragon Dentists and the Dragons. Naturally the enemy don’t want this WMD in the hands of their foes. But there are those among the Dragon Dentists who have tired of the pact, and the consequences that they have to face as they fight against the mushi. It becomes a tale of betrayal and vengeance that keeps picking up pace as the story heads to the conclusion. And the emotional weight of the story boils down to the choice between fighting for survival against all odds, and a fatalistic acceptance of destiny, embodied in the relationship that develops between Bell and Nonoko.
You might wonder why this 90 minute story couldn’t have been presented as a single feature film instead of a two-part OVA, but there is just such a tonal disconnect between the two parts, exposition followed by action, that the story would just feel odd if there wasn’t a credit sequence to break things up. The Dragon Dentist has certainly got novelty value when it comes to its worldview, and how it’s developed, but the way the story develops isn’t quite as innovative. It’s certainly worth watching once, but when it comes to the re-watch, I have some qualms about having to sit through a first half of exposition before getting to a second half of action.