I watch anime. A lot.
I occasionally hear criticisms like “Why do you watch so much?” or “Doesn’t it get boring?” and across all mediums, there’s even the idea that there’s only so much story that you can tell.
It’s a medium where everything is theoretically perfect. There is no impossible cinematography and there are no images that can’t be drawn.
And Ryuu no Haisha is one of those series that makes perfect use of the medium that it’s in.
The story follows a colossal dragon that is allied with a nation that is currently at war. Inside the teeth of the dragon, a small community of dentists cure the dragon of cavities caused by various spiritual creatures.
The scale, the size, and the sets of the series play a vital part to the first-class imagery. You can tell at all points that these characters are really on top of the teeth of a dragon, and that they live in an incredibly unique locale.
And that’s really the highlight. The creativity behind every construct in Ryuu no Haisha is overwhelming. While I wouldn’t say anime has been lacking in the imaginative department recently, it feels as though I have not watched anything quite as visionary in a long time, or perhaps, ever.
They do everything that you can think of when presented with this scenario.
We’re shown different kinds of these little monsters, various methods of cleaning are presented, the kind of magic that the dragon is capable of, how do the people harness that magic and use it in their day to day lives, even the culture that the dentists have developed and much more that I dare not give away.
Most of the first episode is where you can see the set-up, the world-building, and where the audience is taken into the atmosphere in order to fully understand the disposition surrounding the dentists. Unfortunately, this leads to my heavy, but overall minor criticism, which is that the exposition in the dialogue is very, very poorly handled.
This is a grueling aspect to pick apart because on the one hand, I completely understand the dialogue, because I completely understand why it is so. The world is so inventive, so well-thought out, and so immersive, that so much has to be explained in order to be able to fully appreciate it, as the series excels at showing off its creativity. It is much better to go on about how everything works, rather than leaving the audience in the dark, wondering how or why anything functions the way it does.
But it’s painful. It hurts to hear line after line that sounds unnaturally explanatory that is only in there because the audience lacks knowledge. There are reasons, like the outsider who’s new to the community needs to be taught everything, but in this particular case, this character is only being used for the sake of the audience. It’s difficult given the running time, proportionately to how expansive the world is.
One minor peccadillo I have is in one particular scene. We have our main characters touch and feel a particular species of these creatures, and there’s enough emphasis and time dedicated to the point where this bothered me.
There is no sense of texture to the audience. What I mean by that is that despite the focus, the characters touch it and simply move on. There’s no verticality to this creature. It isn’t described as anything in particular, it doesn’t visually look bumpy or coarse, and there’s hardly any sound effect as the hands graze over it. It doesn’t feel like it’s there. And that sounds weird we aren’t discussing a live actor interacting with CGI, rather, we’re discussing 2D animation.
In this scene on the right from Mononoke, a coffin is a centerpiece, but the box itself has less than a few seconds of focus on it. But you can still visually see the texture despite the characters not even touching it.
That is not to say the visuals are bad. Far from it. Design choices included.
I love shrine maidens. I love the hakama, I love the spiritual stuff, I love the idea of protecting a sacred ground, and the parallels to the miko are wonderful. The weapons that the dentists use are staffs that transform, but are sealed away when not necessary. Religious symbolism is prevalent and I adore how it is applied.
Color palette is something that I find is often unappreciated, and as such, I personally pay special attention to it. Ryuu no Haisha gets it right. It seems as if during every new major scene, we have a color that gets shoved into the spotlight, and it keeps the visuals interesting. Often in a case like this, we would have a series that has far too much white from the teeth, and far too much black from the monsters, but this keeps things gorgeous.
The wartime story acts as a catalyst, and does keep the viewer entertained throughout the ride with its wonderful action and constant back and forth and twists and turns, but the genius mind behind where the story takes place cannot be understated.
This is one hell of a creative series.