I was skeptical during the first few minutes of Dragon’s Heaven. This 1988 anime movie kicks off with an extensive lore-dump, followed by a tacky live-action segment. When we finally switch to traditional animation, the directing and visuals immediately bring to mind Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaä. I stuck around mostly out of curiosity; waiting to see if this was a rip-off or just wildly incompetent.
Then something magical happened. Dragon’s Heaven gets… pretty damn good.
To be clear, it never quite shakes off the Nausicaä comparisons. Its story is a post-apocalyptic setting that shares a lot of themes and design ideas with Miyazaki’s classic. The fashion, the bird mounts, even the mood is very comparable. The story also stars a spunky young girl with a taste for adventure, who wears an elaborate suit with goggles. The difference being that Ikuru is a blonde with a playful personality, who doesn’t have any royal blood as far as we know.
On one of her ventures into the arid wasteland, Ikuru discovers an ancient robot. A leftover from a war long, long ago, who she accidentally reawakens. This is Shaian. A robot warrior in need of a partner who can help him gain vengeance upon his hated rival.
While the introduction to it is rough, Dragon’s Heaven does have a fairly interesting setting and lore. In fact, I’ll try to track down the manga just because I ended up wanting to know more of it. The characters are also very likeable and not burdened by any suspicious similarities. Shaian is surprisingly expressive and witty for a literal war machine. He’s even fairly conscious and a bit awkward, prompting Ikuru to tease him at times.
The movie’s artstyle is also eye-catching. The animation is a bit static, but shots are framed really well and the coloring is just brilliant. I was hyped for the inevitable clash with Shaian’s rival, just from how the guy was presented in every shot he’s in.
Sadly, Dragon’s Heaven is VERY short. Its runtime is padded by the live-action opening segment and behind-the-scenes content that is stapled on at the end. The actual meat of the film is only about 30 minutes. It achieves a lot within that time, but definitely left me wanting more. Again, I am working on tracking down the source material.