A lone airship breaking cloud cover. The crew of the Quin Zaza are running across the deck in a frenzy. They have caught harpooned their prey, and now all they need to do is finish the job quickly before they become the victim. So the first chapter begins, but is seinen manga, Drifting Dragons volume 1 worth reading?
The world of Drifting Dragons
Drifting Dragons is the story of the Quin Zaza, an airship with one mission for its crew. To hunt, harpoon and kill dragons, then sell their flesh and other byproducts. Yup, sounds a lot like whaling. While I’m not here to judge different cultures, it wasn’t the best foot to start on for me. But if Moby Dick can tackle the subject and be a literary masterpiece, I need to get past my personal biases and give this a fair shake.
Very early on in Drifting Dragons volume 1, you get a real sense of place. Taku Kuwabara does a great job in the first chapter of showing you how Drakers (the name for a dragon hunter) live and work. We then find out how the world feels about them, with apprehension and suspicion. The first chapter does such an excellent job of setting the backdrop for the series, so much that it would have worked well as a one-shot if Drifting Dragons. The skill shown made me start to soften my barriers.
It’s about halfway through the first chapter that Drifting Dragons gave me a surprise. As well as being an adventure manga, the series also has a culinary twist. Each chapter profiles a new dragon recipe from one of the characters. While not the main focus, it does give the book a unique flavour that differentiates it from similar tales. Sometimes they do feel a little shoehorned into the story; they bring a smile to lips rather than a groan. If you ever procure some dragon meat, there is a useful recipe card on the final page of each chapter.
The crew of the Quin Zaza is a sizable cast; I’m sure giving future stories and arcs lots of fertile ground to tell it’s stories. In Drifting Dragons volume 1 we get introduced to four in particular.
The main protagonist, a skilled dragon hunter whose priority seems to be his appetite and preference for eating dragon meat. He’s exceptionally knowledgeable about cooking and is always on the lookout for new recipes.
The greenhorn of the group. Takita is curious, which leads her to be a plot device to explain the world to the reader at first. She has a close relationship with Vanabelle.
Equally as skilled and dangerous as Mika. Vanabelle appears to have a hard exterior but does also show a softer side to her friends (especially Takita). Her backstory is hinted at, which sounds ripe for a future story arc.
The cooler head in comparison to the impulsive Mika. Another mysterious backstory that looks ripe for discovery later on!
A story that soars?
After the set up in chapter 1, the rest of Drifting Dragons volume 1 consists of a mixture of adventure and slice of life stories. With chapter ranging from 30 to 60 pages, Taku Kuwabara gets the opportunity to experiment, each one almost it’s own standalone episode. Focusing on one of the above characters and their development and building lore to help fill out the world. Plus there is always a side helping of Mika and one of his recipes.
I enjoy the way each chapter feels like it’s own short story. The pages flew by in one sitting, and I was quickly upset to find I only had one chapter left to read. However, I think for the series to grow, I’d like to see it tackle some longer arcs, even if they only cover a handful of chapters. I’m confident that the ground set in volume 1 will allow some epic adventures in volume 2 and beyond.
The art of Drifting Dragons
The first thing you’ll notice is the fantastic cover. Never judge a book by its cover? Rest assured that this cover is evidence to the great artwork inside. The pastel-coloured visuals continue through to the colour pages, I just wish there were a few more pages to fawn over. Maybe it’s just the blue uniforms, but it really makes me think of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind.
The internal artwork is also a treat. The shading is mostly lined with some screentone under it to emphasise extremely dark areas. When the book is primarily set in the air, this leads to some really dynamic looking cloud configurations. The shading also lends itself to the moments of action, easily showing swift movements and the breakneck speed of the wind.
Although it seems Drifting Dragons is set in a totally fictional realm, the technology looks late World War 1 or early World War 2. The almost etching style shading is very harmonious with this. The cabins of the ship look lived in, with their single lantern casting shadows into the corners of the room. If a more modern style was used, then I feel that this could have been slightly jarring. I just couldn’t picture the Quin Zaza, and it’s harpoon gun, the crew in their uniforms all looking super modern and sleek.
Another thing I love about the book is Taku Kuwabara doesn’t rush a panel. You are never left wanting more detail or feel like the pacing gets bogged down in too much detail. When the pacing slows down are some of my favourite moments. We get treated to a montage of different areas of the ship and of the crew working. It’s these little areas that help flesh out the Quin Zaza, and you get a real sense of the hustle and bustle of the ship. Again, just really strengthening that sense of atmosphere and place within the book.
Odds and tail ends
Ongoing in Good! Afternoon magazine in Japan, and with seven volumes in Japan and a soon to be released anime coming to Netflix in 2020. Taku Kuwabara’s adventure/culinary manga may soon be on everybody’s lips. We have four volumes currently published digitally in the West and two in print (with more to come soon) made available by Kodansha.
Is Drifting Dragons volume 1 worth reading?
After an initial aversion to the whaling theme, I bought into the setting and then the characters of Drifting Dragons. The artwork is perfect for the story. It just fits with the stories and world perfectly, as well as being jawdroppingly beautiful. I just hope for more colour pages in future. As I mentioned, I read most of this book in one sitting without even noticing, I’m definitely on the hook for volume 2. I can’t wait to see how they build on the solid foundations set out in Drifting Dragons volume 1.