Drifting Dragons (空挺ドラゴンズ, Kuutei Dragons, transl. “Airborne Dragons”) is a Japanese manga series by Taku Kuwabara. It has been serialized in Kodansha’s seinen manga magazine good! Afternoon since June 2016 and has been collected in five tankōbon volumes. The manga is published digitally in English by Kodansha USA under the Kodansha Comics imprint. An anime television series adaptation by Polygon Pictures premiered on January 8, 2020 on Fuji TV’s +Ultra programming block. Free Kuutei Dragons online watch and download.
Kuutei Dragons had all the components necessary for a really interesting show but ultimately failed to put them together in a satisfying way. Airships straight out of Laputa, amazingly beautiful dragons, world travel and adventure...what could go wrong? Well, a few things.
First off, the sole motivating force of the show is just "we hunt dragons for money and because they taste good." We never get much more than that, and it's just not enough to drive twelve episodes unless you really, really like watching dragon hunting (and eating). Almost every one of those scenes, and there are a lot of them, play out identically: people fire guns at dragons, dragons get hit, one particularly reckless character (Mika) jumps on the dragon to kill it, and then we see Mika drool over whatever dragon meat dishes the cook prepares.
This is a shame because there are so many suggestions of what might have been. There are hints that some characters, especially the outwardly cool beauty Vanabelle, have complex prior histories that they're trying to escape by signing up to become drakers on the Queen Zaza. Takita, the newest crew member and the main character of the show, is given slightly more character development but we still never know why the hell she joined up for what is described, by all present, as a thankless, low-paying, and low-status job. And then there's the resident glutton, Mika, who lives only to eat every species of dragon possible and take insane risks in pursuit of that goal. You'd think that, as much screen time as he gets, Mika might become more complex. You would be wrong. The other characters just fall flat, even when they're given chances to shine.
Similarly, the world building is actually really great, but it rarely gets the attention it deserves. The episodes spent with a focus on towns or cities shone as great examples of how to create a complex backstory about an economy and culture that's in some ways dependent on dragon hunting yet suspicious and possibly a bit fearful of those who do the actual dirty work. There are also great moments that expand on the insular world of the drakers, who have a history and hierarchy all their own. I really wanted more of this, as it provided a richness that the vast majority of the other episodes just lacked.
Secondly, the CGI animation is frequently very distracting, especially when it comes to characters' facial expressions. I'll fully admit that, compared to a lot of CGI shows I've seen, Kuutei Dragons was far better than most, but the faces were frequently awful and drained a lot of emotional impact from otherwise intense scenes.
And finally, I just wasn't sure what this show wanted to do. It clearly didn't want to problematize the idea of dragon hunting in a moral way. It also wasn't sure if it was a slice of life story that just happened to be about dragon hunting, or if it was mainly an action story that put hunting first and foremost above everything else. Because what we got was a lot of slow, slice of life material without any character development, and hunting scenes that ended up being too formulaic and repetitive to drive an action-oriented series.
Without having read the manga, I can only hope that, if Kuutei Dragons gets a second season, we delve more deeply into the characters and the world they live in. The show has potential, but after twelve full episodes they didn't convince me that anyone knows what to do with it. (Also, could they please build a railing around the entire ship's deck? That's been annoying me to no end, and it's ridiculous).