I’ve never had much experience with Dragon Quest in my childhood. I do know though, that Dragon Quest is a big IP, especially in Japan. It’s like a cultural phenomenon over there. They stood with the likes of Final Fantasy and Persona. And by the time I got my hands on one of their latest entries, Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age, I too felt that the popularity wasn’t all for a show. From the magnificent story, fun gameplay, and charming art style, it definitely is one RPG where I truly have a lot of fun playing. But of course, this is not a review of the game. This is a review of an anime of the game, which doesn’t say much because every entry of DQ is a standalone title. It’s like a spin-off if you will.

The anime, Dragon Quest: The Adventure of Dai or Dragon Quest: Dai no Daibouken in Japanese is actually a remake of an anime with the same title that aired back in 1991. However, this time, it has a more complete story whereas the earlier one has its anime ended in the middle of the whole narrative. The new anime aired back in the Fall of 2020. That was two years ago. And it spanned across 100 episodes. Although, it aired on and off the season, there is just empty space every other season when I was actively following this anime. Aaaaand, great. At the time I wrote this, the anime stopped airing weekly again, proceeding to stop just right before a major fight.

poster of Dragon Quest: The Adventure of Dai

The story follows Dai, a young kid who has been living and raised by monsters on a remote island. The main parental figure he has is this old monster. One day, the demon king who was once defeated by a hero returned. For this, a distant country came by in the hope to find a new hero. Dai will soon depart on a journey to become one himself along with the new friends he’ll meet.

Dai, the MAIN main character is the HERO of the party. No, his class is literally hero. We have healer, sorcerer, warrior, but Dai is just a hero. If you’ve played the game, you’d be familiar with this. A character that is a jack of all trades. Dai is sort of like that on crack. He can easily pass as the strongest, both physically and magically. His personality is also straightforward and honest. A gentleman, but sometimes a bit dull around girls. If you have any experience with a shounen anime/manga, he is what one would call a “shounen character.” Very innocent, sometimes naive, and would even spare an enemy if a chance shows itself. I personally dislike this type of character because at worst it can be a Gary Sue. Sadly, Dai falls into that category. A character with so much room to grow, yet the narrative permits only a win for the hero. Any fight he’s into, he’d always come out on top, unscathed. Even if there is a struggle, it felt dishonest, as if it was just an illusion of it, because the problem typically solved itself OR Dai would miraculously solve the problem. And that makes someone that should’ve been a naive boy with a lot to grow show a portrayal of wisdom, strength, skill, and experience which doesn’t blend well. Weirdly enough, the more I watch, the more I deem his title as the main character falling apart. He’s just there as a plot device with little character, little dialogue that you could guess a mile away, and little weight. He feels like a completion bar in games where they’d let you know if you’re nearing the end. You see him only to check for progress. At least that’s how I feel.

Later on his journey (like 2-3 episodes after the first), we’ll meet another character for the main party, Popp. By the gods, Popp is probably the most shounen character in this entire show. Even then, his character is believable as a human. He tackled problems that redefine himself, that sculpt his personality. He has insecurities that he wouldn’t show to other characters. But the thing that makes him the most shounen ever is the fact that when push comes to shove (or in this case, when Dai is nowhere to be found) he’d sacrifice himself for his friends without batting an eye. He’d fight to the last brink of his blood and some more. And most of the time, he loses. That’s the big thing. He loses. Sweat, tears, blood, and yet he still loses. Imagine the frustration, for him and us as the watcher to see this smouldering youth be snuffed by monsters that are infinitely beyond his capabilities. That frustration is what sells his character and made it seem real, at least for me. It is an honest, genuine raw feeling that I did not feel with Dai. Why do you think he’s the most favourited character on the entire show on MyAnimeList? Another thing I love with Popp is that he, as a sorcerer, has minuscule physical strength. He needs to outwit his opponents with spells in order to win and given how the show is, most straightforward spells are not the answer, which makes his choices more entertaining to watch. But Popp still has a hard time using his wits to the fullest, which is a shame. He’d let his emotion burst out, which is contradictory to what a sorcerer’s trope would be: cunning, calm, calculating, wise, and full of knowledge. My only problem with Popp (and basically with anyone else) is that they all revolve around Dai, a character I hate. They choose their actions for Dai and rarely for their own selfish reason. I said rarely because there are few times where they act for their own, but sadly, it’s just a subplot compared to the bigger plot that is Dai.

Maam, the second party member is the party’s main support, healer. Or at least she’s supposed to, but her class is barely crucial in this narrative because of how the plot is. Technically, that’s how every character is in this anime, except Dai. In any case, she has a personality of a badass yet kind girl like Sakura Haruno from Naruto or Uraraka Ochako from My Hero Academia. She knows a lot of survival things, she can take care of herself and her teammate, she’s forgiving despite the other side’s past, and she barely has any internal conflict. When she does, it’s not something that is selfish. Like Popp, this makes the conflict feel dishonest, more so that she isn’t as interesting as Popp. She barely has her own subplot to follow, even when there is a chance for the writers to do so. She has a lot of potential wasted and felt like a pushover character that just needs to be there to fill this certain character trope, the one who holds the team’s morale together.

BIG BAD SPOILER, Hyunckel, is one of the more interesting ones. He is a character that went through almost the same amount of change as Popp because of how radical he started. That change in character is what makes the development more interesting. However, I wouldn’t put him above Popp. His character, after the change, was just a cold and calculating warrior that, in my opinion, should’ve been the sorcerer’s personality. He still has the warrior’s pride, fighting fairly and even respecting his enemies, but when together with the gang or even when alone, it doesn’t feel like he has much to offer. More so, his change happened after another villain changed. Just like Maam, he has fewer internal conflicts. The most notable one is because of the fact that he came from the opposing team who has been chasing mindless revenge thus he felt bad for the whole team, which is an understandable point, so I prefer Hyunckel still more. Yet, other than that, he’s just the cold calculating guy to balance out the team’s moral high ground from Dai and Maam, kinda like Sasuke, if you will. Or maybe Todoroki.

Diving into the supporting characters, again, spoiler warning from here on out, we got a few interesting ones. I could’ve put them in the same category, but I’d be giving them discredit because some of them are as good if not better than the main character (except Popp, who’s my main guy). BIG BAD SPOILER. The character whose change happened before Hyunckel is none other than Crocodine. Crocodine is one of the Dark Army Legion commanders, titled the Beast King. He is the first major antagonist Dai has to overcome. He’s a proud warrior with honor, one that would never stain the battlefield with cheap tricks and cheats. I think you know where this is going. It’s a simple story of honor and humility. Pretty sure it counts as a trope. But I still think it really hits hard because he’s the first arc Dai has to conquer. His change doesn’t come instantly, but rather a slow build of three acts, which is perfect. We were shown what kind of man he is, what he holds value most, then he met his obstacle, which is Dai. This makes him question himself, an internal conflict, that makes him question his values more. He was then given another factor that pushes him towards the extreme to consider even more what values he still holds and soon understand what matters most, even leaving behind his past for it. That’s heavy. I know that shounen has the tendency to oversell their characters like this, but this is the first arc. By that point, I knew I have to see this anime through. Aaaand now he’s a narrative puppet that helps Dai’s team without any personality.

Another BIG BAD SPOILER, Baran, is a character that you definitely won’t know if you haven’t watched the show. Again, this is a seriously major spoiler. They even hid him until moments before his arc began. Anyway, Baran is one other commander of the Dark Army Legion. There’s not much known of him until his reveal, even to all the other commanders. You’d think, it’s kinda hard to relate to someone if we don’t know anything about him. Even more stupid if when he’s revealed, we were dropped by a bombshell of lore. And that’s what happened. Yet I wouldn’t say his character, motivation, or background any stupid at all. They wrapped his character up so there are little loose ends in him by making his motivation one of the most extreme ones so far. One that would make his concealment all the more reasonable. He is Dai’s father, a hero, powered by vengeance for his wife by the betrayal of mankind. This extreme motivation throws every bit of character that he has away. It turned a kind and loving man into a monster who’d care for naught but his own. This unstoppable force is Baran, the Dragon Knight. One who could possibly take care of the demon lord all by himself. His reveal was shown masterfully as well, as it was when Dai couldn’t do anything. Word by word the party knows of such terror, and he came, they couldn’t rely on their ace card. This pushes some characters to the brink and helps them grow even more. And I still can’t stop talking about how badass Baran’s build-up, reveal, and fight are. He doesn’t need any more personality because he is a force of nature. Unless you give him what he wants, with the amount of power he has, he cannot be stopped. But of course, because Dai is the MC, he ended up not doing anything drastic. Plus, with how the show is written, there’s ALWAYS a bigger fish.

The last BIG BAD SPOILER is Hadlar, the commander of the Dark Army Legion. He is one of the longest-running characters alongside Dai, being the main antagonist for the majority of the show. Because of this, he had a lot of time to build up a solid development of his character. At first, his character is just a bad guy. He only cares about himself, a coward who pulls off dirty-handed tricks, gets flustered over the smallest thing that goes awry from his plan, and would do anything to topple Dai’s party. As time goes on, he grew, taking drastic measures that drastically change him. He’s still an antagonist, for sure, but he’s not the basic villain he used to be. He became more menacing, he didn’t pull his punches and was more prideful in himself and his adversaries. They also gave him an overhaul of his design and even changed his regular expression and voice to appear more serious. His character gained a lot of depth, making him one of my favourite characters along with Popp and Baran despite starting off like a third-rate villain which I absolutely despise.

Other than these characters, the others fell unto the trap of one-dimensional characters. Bad guys are bad because they’re bad. Sometimes a justification exists, but not too strong to interest me. Their personality felt like a copy-paste of one another. There’s an illusion of respect until they get pushed to their limit, then they resort to third-rate techniques and characters.

Coming into another factor I absolutely despise about the anime is how it is written revolving around Dai. Like I said before, I really dislike Dai. I consider Dai as a plot device than a character, so you know how I feel when I realize every character ever idolizes Dai and put him on a pedestal. Sadly, it’s not just the characters. The plot, the way it was written was made solely for Dai, even when it is for Dai’s own characterisation, his own growth. If you’ve heard that character-driven is the best way to write a plot, this is the worst example of it. That’s not the worst part. In a story, you usually still need some plot-driven side, especially to heighten the conflict. This anime USE a plot-driven device to SOLVE a conflict, rubbing salt on the wound. Because of this, a lot of comebacks felt lacklustre. I can expect it from a mile away. With that, there’s also a heavy act of power creeping. Furthermore, in some stories, the good guys would have a few hidden aces to use against the enemies. These aces were played around highly, but then always easily countered. They do try to justify it all, like downplaying the comebacks to luck or the sorts, but the third time you’ve heard it, everything went stale. Also, realize how the good guys can take hundreds of hits but the bad guys fell in one.

The writing also has a lot of useless factors. A chat can just happen to explain to us what’s going on, so it felt unnatural. Like this one time one of them was about to bring up a very interesting conflict, and then shot down with just “oh no, you misunderstood me. I was just trying to (proceeds to explain their intention).” To further the wound, you know how shounen anime used to have narrated battles explaining what’s happening in the scene? Yeah, this anime got that. To the point that it bored me to death. And if there’s no narrator, the guys who battle narrate their own fight, even explaining them to their enemies. They try to overexplain everything as if the viewers were just born. There’s no room for our imagination to play. It felt like watching a brain-dead anime, you put it on then turn off your brain.

On the other side of the coin, there is one thing I really like about this anime, presentation. They can and will build up a character or plot so much and yet still reveal them like dropping a fucking bomb. In this part, they managed to play the set pieces right and put them in the perfect spot, which warrants an applause.

I think I’m done talking about the things I hate. Let’s move on to the things I like. The visual is striking, as you may have seen in the poster above. It’s colourful yet felt classic. The animation was fluid. They managed to combine CG 3D animation and hand-drawn 2D animation. Sometimes they made a mistake, making it look jarring, however, most of the time both styles would blend against one another. On that same factor, they’re not afraid to do a very high-action battle scene that most likely took a lot of time and effort. Onto the side that I don’t like about the visuals, the design is, most of the time, if not simple, too complicated. The simple one is Dai and his team. Like Dai who still wears a blue sleeveless shirt. He only got shoulder armour, a single chest plate, and a crown. Popp just wears green suit with a short cape, upgraded later with a yellow longer cape. Maam does change more since her class also changes. Hyunckel also changes because his armour follows his weapon, and he changes his weapon a few times. Contrariwise, Hadlar is an example of an overdesigned character, at least in his second form. He has so many colours that is contradicting each other. A lot of the monsters have this style of design, which is a shame.

I also love the sound department, from the sound design to the background music, all of them are great. I did mention that they’re so good at presentation, and one of the reasons why is the sound design. There’s weight to each step, each blade. It felt heavy, even the air. And the music, bro… Yuki Hayashi never disappoints. He’s the guy who also did BGM for Haikyuu and My Hero Academia. His music is great for intense scenes of action, particularly for a comeback. On the flip side, when it’s for a scene of despair, they don’t sound too mind-blowing, reminding me of One for All soundtrack. Ah, right. The voice acting is also great and on point. Gotta love shounen anime that is not afraid to yell loudly.

taken from the opening of Dragon Quest: The Adventure of Dai

Truly a regret. This anime can have my immersion and yet also let it go very quickly. It has the highest high of a shounen anime could have, but also the lowest low any anime can make. It felt very outdated, so many times is just about the good guys vs. the bad guys, yet on that split moment, everything became grey, and the anime went to its peak. I really want to enjoy this anime, I really do, but most of the time, it just falls flat. I can’t give it more than 2.5/5.

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