You hear that? It’s the sound of whatever critical reputation I may have had flying merrily out the window.
Let’s get one thing straight: Chaos Dragon is not a good anime. It is a convoluted mess of fantasy rules, characters, powers, and political factions. A lot of those elements are at least kind of interesting and some are even pretty different from your usual fantasy fare, and if this series had had two cour instead of one, it might have been able to make all this work.
As it is, we’re having pro- and antagonists alike introduced in a flurry of special powers and absurdly complicated JRPG-style costumes, only to have them vanish again in 30 minutes or less. Similarly, important world-building details and sociopolitical schemes get explained in a blur of exposition that results in everything carrying about the same weight, which is to say, very little at all. (But hey, there is a dragon, and the writing is chaos, so give this one credit for truth in advertising at least.)
It is also being animated by Silver Link, a perfectly nice but quite small studio that has neither the manpower nor experience to produce a sweeping, dynamic action fantasy. This results in gems like teleporting characters, repetitive movements from background fighters (the swordsman just swinging down over and over again like he’s chopping wood was my personal favorite), and hilaribad CG elephants.
It’s true. Chaos Dragon is not a good anime.
…I kinda like it.
A lot of the fun is, I admit, the story behind the story, and the meta nods and winks that have got to be intentional. If you go into this knowing it’s basically an animated, “cleaned up” version of an actual tabletop campaign, and if you’ve ever played a tabletop RPG yourself, then the random encounters and villains make more sense, the fact that everyone seems to have a complicated backstory is a lot more fun (you can just picture the players jotting down notes about their history, ideals, troubles, and flaws), and the silly powers feel like a combination of classes and curses and magic items rather than… well, silly powers.
Then of course there’s the fact that many of those characters were created by well-known writers in the anime/novel industry, and drawing the connections between the writer and the character is just too much fun. The creator of the Fate franchise‘s character is an affable Nice Guy who burns through endless swords and has serious self-worth issues? The writer responsible for Fate/Zero and Madoka Magica has a character who serves a demonic sword (played by Seki freaking Tomokazu, aww yeah!) that makes people murder each other? The man behind Baccano and Durarara is, by all appearances, playing a talkative eccentric?
It’d be impossible to appreciate any of this if you weren’t familiar with the creators’ works, but if you are, the meta is magnificent. The connection between writer and character also serves to help build an emotional bond, even though we’ve spent very little time with any of them (even the protagonist) at this point.
And man, despite what a hot clumsy mess it is, I can’t help but feel like the people working on Chaos Dragon care a whole helluva lot about it. Watching it is like watching a hyperactive puppy fly into the air to catch a Frisbee and get bonked on the nose instead. It’s very bad at what it’s doing, but it’s trying reeeeeally hard to do it. Energy and passion go a long way for me. Plus, because of how quickly we’re burning through this story about three warring nations and the small international alliance that banded together in order to stop an out-of-control Dragon god (phew!), there’s never really any time to get bored with it either.
I’m half-hatewatching this with a friend and half-enjoywatching it, too. There’s really nothing about the content that rubs me the wrong way, and I’ve played many a tabletop RPG with my own friends, so it’s easy for me to imagine it through the eyes of the writers who once sat down amidst a pile of junk food and drinks to goof around with their friends. It’s bad. It’s fun. I’ll never try to defend Chaos Dragon as anything but reasonably inoffensive convoluted fantasy garbage, but as far as that particular genre goes, it’s got me totally sold.