Humans and dragons have a pact. To appease the dragons, people live on top of them and clean their teeth. The dragon’s teeth are under constant threat from evil mushi creatures that seek to disturb their oral sanctity. These “Dragon Dentists” must devote their lives to the service of the dragons. Dragons do not directly interfere with the human world but will come to the “aid” of humans wherein they will provide good fortune or perform small favors (like stopping a typhoon). Dragon’s teeth are said to be gateways to heaven and those who die supposedly pass through them on their way to the next life. It is even said that dragons can bring people back from the dead. When a boy named Bell is brought back to life, he joins up with the Dragon Dentist Nonoko and seeks to discover the reason why he has been resurrected.
I need to stop watching random anime that’s in my queue. I should just go back and re-watch shows I really liked as source material for my reviews. All the full reviews I’ve posted to this site make it look like I hate the medium and have the harshest standards ever. Well..let’s be honest, I do have hard standards, but I think anyone would watch Dragon Dentist and feel let down. This OVA is a disappointment through and through and it kills me because it had a REALLY neat idea and strong metaphors.
Let me try my best to give you an understanding of how this show’s lore is setup. Dragons are these big ugly mugs.
Dragon Dentists live on these beasts, dwelling in precarious housing structures that cannot possibly have passed any sort of building code.
On top of the dragon, there’s a fortress-like thing where military personnel live. We’ll call these guys the Military Team.
Plot-wise, there is an irrelevant war being waged in Japan. We literally never learn who is fighting who, but trust me, it doesn’t matter. The Dragon Dentists have to keep the dragon’s mouth free of evil critters (knows as “—“mushi), and the Military team dictates where and when the dragon comes and goes…sort of. This is never properly explained, so I might be using some head-cannon here just to make things make sense. We meet Nonoko, a gung-ho Dragon Dentist and her posse, who I’ll just call the Dragon Dental Squad. While cleaning the teeth one day they discover a boy named Bell.
Bell was apparently a part of the opposite side of the war from the side that the Military Team serves. When the Military Team wants to question him and learn his secrets, the Dentists say no and remind the Military team that the dragon’s mouth is like Vegas. What happens there stays there. They have no jurisdiction to take Bell away and beat answers out of him. Apparently, the Military Team gets to use the dragon for war as long as they are respectful of the Dentists’ rules.
I’ll start with the good things, because there are certainly a few. The action sequences where the Dentists fight the different mushi are well done. All the mushi have unique designs from one another and I like how they are all designed to keep with the “teeth” theme. They look mostly look like plaque and the Tengumushi (last one in the slideshow below) is all pointy like a dentist instrument.
The fights against the mushi are fun to watch and you feel an imminent threat from the more dangerous ones.
The biggest compliment I can give to this OVA is that its symbolic elements are well done. Each Dentist is a mortal person who undergoes a special test. They ethereally pass through the dragon’s teeth and are shown the exact moment of their death. If they reject this, and feel they can save themselves from this inevitable doom, they pass on through the teeth and out of this mortal world. If they embrace the idea and are at peace with the knowledge of their death, they come out of the teeth and are given a mark, indicating the dragon has chosen them as a Dentist. I love this idea. It’s vastly different from anything else I’ve seen anime do and it put a neat spin on the notion of devotion (my rhyming is off the heezy!).
There’s a deep symbolism here about devotion to God, the afterlife, believing/fighting against fate, and the notion that we all exist to serve a purpose. The dragon is a god. The idea of a dragon being a god is not original, given its place in Japanese mythology. What is neat here is the spin on the idea of their teeth being “Gates of Heaven”. The choice to make them gates where the dead move on to the afterlife was a cool idea and the show made sure to make its human characters pale in size compared to the teeth. It really supported the idea of this body part being a spiritual gate.
When the OVA sticks to the dragon’s mouth, things go well. We see one of the Dentist’s death play out and later there’s a betrayal by one of the other Dentists who feels a hatred for the dragon. She lost someone she loves and feels like the dragon is to blame. It feels justified because you’ve already been shown the barrier to entry for/the life of a Dentist and it’s cruel and thankless. Shibana’s betrayal functions as a solid coupling point and reinforces all the symbolism I talked about above.
There’s a harshness to the fact that God is indifference towards those who have given their lives to serve it. All the character motivations feel genuine. The mouth is also where the art stays the most consistent. The character designs are passable and CG mushi are actually not too shabby. The lighting is a major plus in here. Many times the characters are bathed in this soft pastel like light which sells the whole “heaven” angle really nicely.
What makes the overall narrative work here is that it has fuzzy logic. You can’t ask too many questions like, how do those buildings work? How do they choose to even undergo the Dentist test? How do you recruit dragons to your team if you are military? What do they even DO for your team (they clearly don’t eat people)?! What the heck is up with dragons being able to just resurrect people at random?! What is the magic pick weapon thingy the Dentists have and where does it come from?? None of this is necessary to get the symbolism across and more importantly, all of it will crumble the minute you branch outside of this symbolism heavy space.
Aaaaaand that’s exactly what Dragon Dentist does.
Instead of keeping the OVA in the dragon’s mouth where the logic could keep itself intact, it braches out onto the ground when Shibana’s betrayal sends one of the teeth hurtling towards the Earth. You see, when a dragon’s tooth is removed, apparently all hell breaks loose. In addition, a dragon’s teeth can’t touch the ground so when Nonoko and Bell just jump into the air like idiots, this plot point stops them from becoming pancakes.
On the ground, we meet some snarling baddies from Bell’s past who want to steal the tooth and sell it on the black market. Why do you people WANT this thing? It floats in the air and is eternally pulling back towards its master. Who would want to buy this?! Despite hanging out on ground for a good portion of the second OVA, our lead characters grow and change about as much as a snail moves in the dead of winter. Bell develops feelings for Nonoko and is understandably upset with her acceptance of her time of death. This goes absolutely nowhere. A great discussion about fate, belief, and human desires could have ensued here, but the writers don’t care to expand upon this.
Nonoko is 100% all about being a Dragon Dentist. She works tirelessly to keep the dragon’s teeth clean and to uphold the rules of Dentistry. She never wavers from what she believes and the plot never gives her a reason to do so. While she seems to notice Bell’s feelings for her and there’s tiny hints she might even harbor some of her own feelings for him, this apparently isn’t important enough to get more screen time. I’m not saying these two needed a full blown romance but a little conflict of beliefs prompted by emotions would have done this story some good.
By the end of the OVA, there’s just enough detail that nothing makes sense (Thank you Scott). There’s some action sequences on the ground involving the tooth getting back to where it needs to be, but some of it is done in low quality CG and overall the action is cheapened by the uber bad guy being immune to bullets (I’m serious…). The show crams in the notion of dragon monks that guard something called the “Wisdom Tooth” that controls the human/dragon pact, but that’s all done with barely any runtime left. The worst offender is the mega death party.
The last act of the OVA gets pretty violent. The Wisdom Tooth monks all get mowed down with a semi-automatic and while it’s not explicitly onscreen, it makes you cringe a little seeing the aftermath. That’s not even enough. The show then wants to kill hordes of people….
You see, the dragon’s gums harbor the spirit of cleansing for all those with ill intent. A long sequence plays out wherein tons of soldiers are beheaded by a weird CG snake tornado thing. It’s creepy and awful. It’s all so heavy handed in its intent. Yes, we get it…war=bad…but the war was not what mattered here.
What happened to the part where we were musing about bigger, more abstract concepts?! Why did all that have to get thrown out for your “no mo’ war” spiel?
The show’s greed for an anti-war theme feels forced and just plain cynical. All the weird events on the ground leave the open to scrutiny about all the questions I asked earlier in this review and then some. I loved the first half of this 2 part OVA. There’s fantastic symbolism and metaphor, but the lore building feels like nonsense. This should have been an easy win and I think if the plot had stuck to its original ideas I would have really loved this. You’re mileage may vary on this one depending on your tolerance for things not being fully explained.
- Mediocre – This show/movie falls in the middle. It’s not bad enough to get the bottom two scores, but it’s got too many dull elements to earn the top two scores. You can decide if this looks like it might pique your interest.
- 2 part OVA (45 mins each) (Feb. 2017)
- Links: MyAnimeList
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