In a world where “steampunk” technology dominates, “drakking ships” are dirigibles whose crews hunt the dragons that live in the upper reaches of the atmosphere. The dragons – which resemble creatures one might expect to find in a Chthonic landscape rather than flying through the skies over King’s Landing – are prized for their meat and for the by-products which can be extracted from their organs and body fluids; but the crews of the drakking ships are both welcomed and feared by the inhabitants of the cities who depend on the dragon trade to survive. The crew of one such ship, the “Quin Zaza”, consists of Mika, an eccentric harpoonist who appears to have an uncanny affinity for dragons; Takita, the enthusiastic newbie who hasn’t yet learned the ins and outs of crewing a drakking ship; Vanabelle, a moody veteran and expert hunter; Gibbs, the mild-mannered first mate; Giraud, the son of a drakking ship captain; and various others. As an independent outfit, they have to capture enough dragons to make their operation economically viable, a task complicated by the unpredictable weather patterns, the depredations of sky pirates, the competition from well-funded corporate drakking ships – and the reactions of the dragons themselves.
Based on the manga by Taku Kuwabara and produced by animation studio Polygon Pictures, “Drifting Dragons” first appeared on Japanese television in January 2020. Visually stunning to the point of being occasionally disconcerting for those of us who suffer from acrophobia, “Drifting Dragons” proffers more than just a nod of homage in the direction of Herman Melville, Hayao Miyazaki, and other steampunk series like studio Gonzo’s “Last Exile” franchise. Unsurprisingly, the series shies away from delving too deeply into the ethics of the whaling industry; but neither is it a propaganda piece for whaling, as revealed by the conflicting emotions experienced by some of the characters. Rather, “Drifting Dragons” prefers to concentrate on the relationships that have to be negotiated in a confined space, exploring the assumptions and unspoken dynamics that exist between people, and how these are tested, broken, or transformed by emerging circumstances. The open-ended conclusion almost inevitably suggests a second season (or sequel feature) – raising the tantalising prospect of another engaging viewing experience in which first rate aesthetic qualities are (hopefully) combined with the narrative tension engendered by whaling as a political, cultural, and economic reality.
© Text copyright Brendan E Byrne 2020. All rights reserved.