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Review: ‘Dragon Quest Monsters+’ Vols. 1-2

Dragon Quest Monsters+ Vols. 1 and 2
Writer/artist: Mine Yoshizaki
Seven Seas Entertainment; $12.99
Rated 10+

A comics reader who comes upon this book in a vacuum will likely notice two things almost immediately. First, the story feels quite game-like in all of the various rules governing the world it is set in and the actions of its characters. Secondly, those characters and, especially, the monsters they interact with look rather familiar in their design.

There’s a good reason for both of those things. The manga is based on the 1998 video game Dragon Quest Monsters, itself a spin-off of the popular Dragon Quest role-paying game video game franchise. And the character designer for those games was none other than Akira Toriyama, creator of Dragonball…and sundry other manga series that never quite achieved the same level of global phenomenon.

One not need know that–and one certainly need not be immersed in those games–to enjoy the manga, though, which Seven Seas Entertainment began republishing for North American audiences this year.

The hero of the story is a boy named Kleo, who lives in a small village with his mother and little sister and dreams of one day being a great, monster-vanquishing, world-saving hero. To prepare to make those dreams a reality, he spends all his free time “training”–basically playing in the woods and harassing the only local monsters available for him to fight. These are slimes, low-level, mostly-harmless monsters that are shaped like tear drops with blank-looking faces, and he chases the poor things around with a wooden sword.

One night, a magical being visits him and pleads with him to go on a journey to save his world. Before said being can even begin to go into details about the dangers of the trip or the specifics of the threat, Kleo accepts and rushes him to make with the magical portal already.

In the kingdom of GreatTree, built in one of the several gigantic trees that tower like vertical cities about a forest world, Kleo begins to learn what he’s in for. He won’t be fighting against monsters. In fact, he’ll be doing the exact opposite. As a Monster Master, his job is to befriend and train various monsters and coach them in battle against other monsters.

Yeah, it sounds pretty Pokemon-like… and even more so once we start meeting the various monsters and learn their sometimes punning, portmanteau names—Whackanape, Funghoul, Gripevine, Platypunk—and repeatedly in the first volume we visit the arena where Monster Masters and their teams of three monsters do battle (this is where the video game origins of the manga are most apparent). These sequences scan very much like a mash-up of Pokemon and various tournament sequences in Toriyama’s Dragonball comics.

So while that might seem fairly derivative, it’s at least a smart choice of things to be derivative of!

The manga, by Mine Yoshizaki, doesn’t necessarily revolve around these fights, though. The rules of the world of GreatTree are changing when Kleo is summoned. Their former Monster Master, a young boy named Terry, has gone missing, and a wave of evil has started turning the monsters unruly and untrainable, killing the tree in the process. The delicate balance of the world is out of whack, and Kleo’s job is to simply to find Terry so that he can save the day.

That turns out to be a lot more complicated a quest than it sounds, however, as at the end of the first volume we learn that the wave of evil is caused by Dragonlord, a powerful boss of monsters who can absorb other monsters into himself and gain their powers—and, shockingly, he is allied with the missing Terry.

It’s up to Kleo, a kid who knows about as much about monster mastering as the reader—heck, maybe even less, depending on the reader—to save the world. All he has to rely on are the kingdom’s last remaining monsters—a slime and a baby dragon—as well as his own boundless enthusiasm and the fact that he’s too ignorant to know what danger he’s in.

It makes for an interesting take on the Pokemon-like monster-training sub-genre, here embedding it within a traditional fantasy RPG quest and centering it on a hero who bears a bit of Goku’s DNA—in personality even more so than design. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel but is rather just another turn at that wheel, but what it lacks in originality of concept, it makes up for in execution.

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J. Caleb Mozzocco About J. Caleb Mozzocco

J. Caleb Mozzocco is a way-too-busy freelance writer who has written about comics for online and print venues for a rather long time now. He currently contributes to Comic Book Resources' Robot 6 blog and ComicsAlliance, and maintains his own daily-ish blog at EveryDayIsLikeWednesday.blogspot.com. He lives in northeast Ohio, where he works as a circulation clerk at a public library by day.

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