Having seen the first four episodes of "Dragon Booster," I'm pretty sure I didn't understand at least half of it. I now know how my dad felt whenever he'd walk in on me while I was busy watching episodes of "Transformers."
This, I suppose, is how it should be. Much of this animated sci-fi/fantasy/adventure show requires an insider's knowledge - dialogue about upgrades to dragon armor and gadgetry, for example, are references to the trading card and video games that share the "Dragon Booster" banner. Kids well versed in such games will fly through these episodes like crazy. Me, on the other hand, I'm just an old fart who'd never heard of the series before, so I had to spend every second struggling to catch up.
Which is fair enough, considering "Dragon Booster" isn't a bad show, really. It's merely a hasty one, each episode blaring ahead with the intended effect being cool cartoon action, which it delivers, logic be darned. In my youth, I gobbled up shows like this, so just because I can't figure it out doesn't mean I can't realize that it's decently made. It's chaotic, but it's a sufficient chaos.
The story, best I can figure it: in some future world where dragons coexist with man, the sport of the day is dragon racing, which boils down to slapping a bunch of hi-tech weaponry on top of a dragon capable of zipping ahead at 200 MPH. Apparently this is how everyone has decided to deal with some long-finished human-dragon war, although wouldn't you know it, some baddies are out to try and start the war up again. Fortunately, there's this super-dragon named Beau, and he's personally chosen Artha Penn (voiced by Matt Hill), a stable boy, to be the Dragon Booster, which is very, very important in terms of being a good guy.
(Note to young readers and "Dragon Booster" fans: don't bother emailing me with corrections. I know I've flubbed quite a bit on that rundown, but no amount of further explanation is going to lead me to comprehending any of this.)
It's interesting to see how the show's creators toy with the Arthurian legend; Artha's name is self-explanatory, and we also get Lance and Moordryd, among others. There's also a heavy dose of "Star Wars" on display, with Artha having special abilities that lead to scenes of the boy in a race, voices telling him to "release the dragon," aping a very recognizable scene of George Lucas' film.
As for the cartoon, each episode blasts ahead with plenty of energy and an ample supply of clichés, but that's to be expected. The animation is an intriguing blend of hand-drawn and CGI, sort of a "flat 3-D" look. This is obviously done for budgetary reasons, but it suit's the series, giving everything an odd, otherworldly feel.
FUNimation has released the first four episodes of "Dragon Booster" onto a first volume set titled "Dragon Booster: Release the Dragon." While it's not nearly enough for me to figure out what's going on here (with interconnected episodes, it's obvious that the story is leading somewhere; the disc simply stops before we get to that vital point), these four episodes do manage to tell a tight enough story that you're not stuck with a cliffhanger, but you're also not tossed a handful of disconnected stories. Obviously, however, a full season set would be preferable, especially considering only three seasons of the show have been produced.
The episodes included on this disc are: "The Choosing: Part I," "The Choosing: Part II," "Into the Fire," and "Opposing Force."
The digital source means we get a mostly pristine image; the only problems with how this looks comes from the animation itself. Colors are bright, details pop. Presented in the series' original 1.33:1 broadcast format.
The Dolby 2.0 stereo handles the mix quite effectively. No alternate tracks or subtitles are offered.
FUNimation truly has the kid fan and expert game player in mind, as we're given three cheat codes for the video game and five tips on playing the card game, while packaged with the DVD is a game card.
In the realm of behind-the-scenes, four audio tracks of voice auditions for four key roles play out over stills of the characters. (We're never shown the actual actors, unfortunately.)
"Meet the Penn Racing Crew" is a series of data text pages on the heroes of the series.
"Artist's Sketchbook" is a gallery of conceptual designs, both in pencil and rendered via CG.
Finally, we get the series' trailer and a collection of previews for other FUNimation cartoon releases.
"Dragon Booster" is about as muddled and as silly as most action cartoons, not good enough to stand out, not bad enough to make you run for cover. It's easy to see why this would attract a devoted, if small, fan base. The question, then, is: is this first volume worth the money? Only if you're really, really, really eager to get your hands on that game card. With only four episodes and a smattering of light bonus material, there's not enough here to make it a keeper. Rent It.