Dragon Quest: The Adventure of Dai GN 1

Your enjoyment of Dragon Quest: The Adventure of Dai will depend quite heavily on how you feel about the iconic Dragon Quest JRPGs. Do you think fondly of the franchise as a series of fairy-tale-esque adventures that provide a sense of comfort and familiarity through its whimsical and well-worn conventions? Or does the mere mention of its name invoke repetition and endless grind against a trope-laden backdrop that you have plowed through a dozen times before?

I say this because Dragon Quest: The Adventure of Dai is a Dragon Quest manga through and through. It might sound ridiculous because… well, it’s right there in the title, but it bears mentioning nonetheless. A video game franchise with a highly-respected legacy that has achieved an almost household-name status in Japan (and growing international fame), it’s hard to find someone with zero opinion on the Dragon Quest franchise these days, and Dai actively courts this association with every fiber of its being. So in some sense this is a simple review: would you like more Dragon Quest? If so, proceed onward young adventurer. If not, then begone for here be dragons (and their quests).

It’s important to note that this volume is a legacy release. Dragon Quest: The Adventure of Dai originally ran in Weekly Shonen Jump from 1989 to 1996. It has been adapted twice now in anime form, first by Toei Animation from 1991 to 1992 and again from 2020 to the present – the latter having an official simulcast and likely the iteration most international fans know it by. When the anime dropped in 2020 I had hoped this would mean a release of the original manga in English, and by the goddess we have been blessed accordingly.

I am legally and morally obligated to discuss Akira Toriyama when talking about Dragon Quest. Obviously, the character and monster designs of the video games all come from the esteemed mangaka, and the impact of his delightful work on the tone and popularity of the series is incalculable. It is not a stretch to say that when Akira Toriyama designed the humble slime all those years ago he distilled the very essence of Dragon Quest‘s character design to its purest form: to make a little guy, and to make him Very Good™. Dragon Quest: The Adventures of Dai may not be illustrated by Akira Toriyama, but Kōji Inada manages to reproduce his style quite flawlessly, from the buoyant rounded characters to even Toriyama’s sense of comedic timing. Of course, it would be heresy to render a Dragon Quest story in anything too far removed from Toriyama’s sensibilities, but the art in this volume is nevertheless lovingly crafted and carefully done so as to maximize familiarity.

The writing is also quite familiar. Dragon Quest has evil monster kings, so The Adventure of Dai has one; Dragon Quest has Heroes, so the very idea of Hero is turned into an institution with the requisite ambitions and training arcs. Even the story beats and imagery are somewhat similar to Toriyama’s other work in Dragon Ball – it’s hard to see Dai training with a blade in the wilderness among monsters and not think of Gohan’s time as a youngster doing much the same. The fact that these two stories ran nearly parallel in their publication makes them seem like echoes of one another, though of course the eventual outcomes make those similarities fade with time.

That’s not to say there is nothing new here; in fact, there are plenty of subtle but meaningful changes that The Adventure of Dai introduces to spice up the formula. Simple things like having the first Hero and party we meet end up as conniving ne’er do wells is a nice touch. Furthermore, Dai’s status as a young boy raised by monsters lends him more of an outsider persona as opposed to many of Dragon Quest‘s protagonists, most of whom are simply young blank slates for the player to project onto (to varying degrees of course). The development of side characters like Avan and Popp shows plenty of promise, and Dai’s crest hints at future mysteries to be unraveled. Add in the potential rogues gallery of Hadlar’s various generals, and there’s plenty of future fun to be had.

This volume is also much smaller in scope than you might expect. Dragon Quest is a series that – among other things – has garnered a reputation for its breadth. Visiting different locales, each with their own tiny tales, and resolving local problems before moving on to the next place has become one of the franchise’s defining features (again, to varying degrees across titles). However, The Adventure of Dai spends nearly the entirety of its first volume on the monster island, focusing on Dai’s training. This limits the scope but allows us to spend more time with him and Gomechan, developing a strong bond that can serve as an anchor to the narrative. If you’ve watched the anime you know that Dai will eventually travel, but its always a good call for a long-running manga to establish an early investment in its characters.

If there are any negatives to be had, they mostly come by association. As I mentioned before, if you’re not in the mood for more Dragon Quest… well, this won’t convince you otherwise – this is for true believers who want to see slimes get hit by Kasizzle. There’s also a bit of a… soft touch to everything. The Adventure of Dai is very much in the classic shonen mold, a soft bubbly tale for a younger audience that is neither too complicated nor thought-provoking. This is intentional, and I personally don’t think it is a negative, but if you are used to the slight edge that modern shonen works have you might be disappointed to find something aimed at *gasp* children.

All in all, Dragon Quest: The Adventure of Dai‘s first volume is a solid start to a solid series that gives you exactly what it says on the tin: Dragon Quest and some Adventures therein.

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