Drifting Dragons vol. 1 – Taku Kuwabara

3 out of 5

I always knew cooking manga was a thing, I just didn’t consider it my thing until I’d read Delicious in Dungeon, which exposed me to this idea of mashing that subgenre with some others which were more directly appealing to me – fantasy, in DiD’s case. But more than just the (to me) uniqueness of that mix was how immediately deep did all of its elements seem: the lore; the characters; and the cooking – all seemed to get equal investment.

At a glance, I did not recognize Drifting Dragons as a cooking manga. I was more drawn in by its premise – skypunky zeplin-flying “Drakers” who hunt dragons, selling the butchered pieces for food or resources – and by Taku Kuwabara’s art, which combines some fairly typical, simplified figurework with an amazingly cinematic sense of space, framing, and detailing: you feel like you are flying across an open expanse of clouds and sunlight, with gigantic beasts fluttering off in the distance, putting me in the mind of something like Fumito Ueda’s video games, but with a lighter tone.

We focus on a particular crew, flying from city to city, and have some variations on typical manga protags: the single-goaled idealist boy; the naive girl; the tough girl; the naive-and-tough boy. It’s very pleasant, and the art excites, but it’s not particularly deep: it’s rather telling that an end-of-volume summary of the Drifting Dragons world can pretty much sum up things we learn or assume from the first chapter. The addition of cooking bits – that idealist type just wants to eat dragon meat, and so each section ends with a recipe – feels incredibly casual, which is rather the summary of the entire tankobon: it’s derivative of the various genres it touches (various shonen stuff; cooking) but not obnoxiously so, and the characters and setting are given personality, but only a step or two outside of the norm so that it’s easy to remember names and places.

Making something that’s so easy to read is a skill, for sure, but in a cluttered comic market, it doesn’t necessarily demand one check out the next volume, either.