by Natsumi Matsumoto; adapted by Heidi Vivolo
published by Viz; $8.99 US
Review by Ed Sizemore
Momoka Sendou’s family owns a kenpo dojo. She is already a master of kenpo (a generic term for Chinese martial arts) and so teaches at the dojo. Ryuga Kou comes from a long line of magic masters. His family is responsible for banishing demons. Momoka and Ryuga are both in high school and have been close friends since childhood. They also are in love with each other, but both are too shy to let their feelings be known.
Ryuga summons a dragon, the family’s guardian deity, to help banish a powerful serpent demon. Momoka misinterprets the scene and thinks Ryuga is being attacked by the dragon. When she jumps in front of Ryuga to protect him, the dragon merges with Momoka, giving her the power of the dragon spirit. Scared that Momoka can’t handle such power, Ryuga seals the dragon inside her and only he can release it. Together they fight demons and evil spirits.
St. Dragon Girl is a light romantic fantasy tale. It’s not hard to draw parallels to Ranma ½. Both Momoka and Akane are masters in martial arts, and their fathers own a dojo. Ryuga’s behavior is similar to Ranma’s, including flat-chested jokes. Momoka rewards such humor by kicking Ryuga into the stratosphere, just like Akane, However, St. Dragon Girl is far from being a Ranma ½ clone. In a word, the difference is that St. Dragon Girl is wholesome.
One pleasant surprise I had while reading St. Dragon Girl was how modestly everyone dressed. The girl’s school uniform is a skirt that actually falls BELOW the knees. Remarkable! This means in those fight scenes where Momoka is wearing her school uniform, we don’t get any fanservice. Most fight scenes have Momoka wearing her dojo uniform, a Chinese style shirt with matching slacks. Wait a minute, girls fighting in slacks? Revolutionary! This is a wonderful change of pace from most manga, where the school uniforms/fighting costumes seem to barely cover their butts, let alone preserve modesty in fighting.
I know some think this is the kiss of death, but all the characters in this series are genuinely nice people. (Of course, a couple of the villains are exceptions.) The group of friends that surround Momoka and Ryuga care for and look out for each other. There is good-natured humor as they all seemed to have been friends for most of their lives. They are compassionate and use their abilities to help others. Matsumoto avoids the traditional writer’s pitfall, she has created a cast of wholesome people that aren’t boring. They have fun and enjoy life. They’re the kind of people I actually want to know better and spend time with.
As mentioned above, Matsumoto has created a delightful supporting cast. Shunran Kou is Ryuga’s cousin and Momoka’s best friend, thus she appears frequently. She has psychic powers, which makes her attractive to demons and ghosts, so Ryuga and Momoka have sworn to always protect her. I like the opening story of volume three, because it’s the first time Shunran gets to shine on her own. Readers of xxxHOLiC will find this story similar to an encounter Watanuki had.
My only frustration with this series is a frustration I have with most manga romances. The lead couple are obviously attracted to each other. Everyone around them knows it. Everyone seems to be working hard to get them to be a couple, yet the two would-be lovebirds refuse to express their true feelings. St. Dragon Girl is slightly more maddening because Momoka and Ryuga are always dropping hints to each other about how they feel, hoping the other will respond. They each catch the hints the other is dropping, but they’re still too scared to be honest with each other. Aaargh! I don’t know how their friends can watch all this and not blow a gasket.
I continue to be impressed by the page layouts in shojo manga. Matsumoto is no exception. In three volumes, there isn’t one page with the standard grid format. The fight scenes are dynamic and well choreographed. The clothes are beautiful, especially the formal wear. It’s nice to have female characters with realistic figures and proportions. Matsumoto’s artwork is alive and filled with the same energy and vitality that her characters posses. Her joy at creating this series really shines through on each page.
All three volumes come with bonus stories at the end. The first two volumes have stories about Matsumoto and her head assistant, Queen. The third volume has side stories about the characters.
St. Dragon Girl is a pure pleasure to read. The wholesomeness of the series reminded me of Aria. It’s a series you go to when you want to wash away some of the cynicism of daily life. These books are a fun escape from darker or more serious manga. It’s a perfect series for younger readers and for those new to manga. St. Dragon Girl reminds me I need to read more shojo, so I look forward to future volumes.
(Cmplimentary copies for this review were provided by the publisher.)