Drifting Dragons is a steampunk fantasy anime from Netflix. While flying through the sky, the draker has only one goal. To hunt dragons. These mammoth flying creatures cruise through the clouds and fetch a hefty price when brought to market. But you have to be brave, daring, and maybe just a little crazy to take on one of these titanic creatures. But, as Takiti, Maki, Vannabelle and the rest of the crew of the draker ship Quin Zaza will tell you: it’s the draker’s life.
The first thing to note about Drifting Dragons is that the term “dragon” is used a bit loosely here. These creatures are, mostly, huge sky leviathans that sore through the air covered in scales. But that’s about where the similarities end. There is no fire breathing, nor hoards of gold nor, are they sentient. They are basically sky whales. And drakers are basically sky whalers. And that may lead to a bit of a problem for some.
It’s established early on in Drifting Dragons that dragons rarely attack people unless provoked. They simply lumber along till someone comes and harpoons them. There is no threat faced by humanity. They are simply docile creatures that apparently taste great and whose fat can be used for making oil. Like I said, sky whales. With the massive ecological damage done by whaling in our world, the comparison doesn’t really help this show. Even though there doesn’t seem to be a shortage of dragons, and how few draker boats there are would imply it’s not likely to have the same effect as whaling did here, it’s still an uncomfortable comparison.
The show even seems to be mildly aware of how people might feel about this comparison as several different characters have moments where they seem to question if draking is the right thing to do. Seeing the creatures up close as they die, or watching one attack a town out of fear as it tries to escape would cause anyone to wonder about the validity of there profession. And while it’s good that the show tries to address this problem, the ultimate conclusion the characters come to actually hurts its premise. In the end, each of them decides to continue draking. Why? Because they are drakers. And it’s what drakers do. And that’s that. When you can’t mount a better defense for your actions then it’s what you’ve always done, you might want to reconsider what you are doing a little more closely.
Drifting Dragons centers its story mostly around the young Takita. She is new to the draking life and serves as the viewer’s window into this world among the clouds. She is a helpful, energetic, and compassionate person, and serves as a pleasant enough character to follow along with. Her most frequent companion is the draker Mika. This is another spot where this show seriously falters.
On the whole, Mika is concerned with only two things. Killing dragons and eating them. If there is anything else to be done, he devolves into a whiny mess, not wanting to be bothered with it. The show tries to play him off as a lovable goofball, and he does have a moment or two of genuine likability, but these are drowned out by how obnoxious he gets. His enthusiasm for having a new dragon to eat borders on the uncomfortable. The only way killing a dragon so he can see how it tastes could be any more exciting for him would be if he also derived sexual pleasure from the act. While I understand appreciating one’s job and enjoying one’s food, the euphoria Mika derives here is just bizarre.
Mika’s presence further taxes Drifting Dragons’ narrative by the repetitive response he gets to his quickly tiring antics. Whether he’s brashly leaping onto the back of a dragon or attempting to swipe an extra portion of meat, the rest of the cast reacts with the same shock and indignation they do the first time he does it. If his part wasn’t as prominent, this might retain its charm. But Mika does these things so often throughout the brief 12 episode series that it just becomes annoying. They know who Mika is. Either accept him or kick him off the ship. Just pick one and move on.
The rest of Drifting Dragons’ ensemble cast is a pleasant enough collection of the usual suspects in this sort of environment. Hardened veterans, new recruits, and the sailor traveling because they have no place to call home on land are all present and executed with a solid amount of skill.
The visual style of Drifting Dragons is a mid-tier affair. Its quality is on par with other recent Netflix offerings such as Ghost in the Shell SAC 2045 and Altered Carbon: Resleeved. While there are no hyper-stylized fight scenes here, like in the previously mentioned offerings, the animations during the dragon pursuits are eye-catching in their own way. The dragons soar through the sky with grace and the visuals do an excellent job of establishing just how colossal some of them can be.
The set design is perhaps the visual highlight throughout Drifting Dragons. With its steampunk esthetic, everything in this world feels like it fits together. From equipment and clothing to the buildings, it all feels like it would exist in one space. Creating a cohesive setting for an original world can be difficult to pull off. Drifting Dragons succeeds at this flawlessly.
When all is said and done Drifting Dragons is, at best, a mixed bag. While there are some lovely sequences of flight coupled with some genuine character, it fails too hard in some major ways. Floundering with the motivations of its characters, and one major character I’d like to fall off the airship, Drifting Dragons doesn’t manage to do enough to save itself from its own shortcomings.
Drifting Dragons is available exclusively on Netflix.
Drifting Dragons is, at best, a mixed bag. While there are some lovely sequences of flight coupled with some genuine character, it fails too hard in some major ways. Floundering with the motivations of its characters, and one major character I’d like to fall off the airship, Drifting Dragons doesn’t manage to do enough to save itself from its own shortcomings.