Manga-ka: Natsumi Matsumoto
Publisher: Viz Media
Rating: Teen (13+)
Release Date: June 2010
Synopsis: “Momoka is eager to give Ryuga the antique pocket watch she bought him for his 17th birthday, but when she gets to school, the Ryuga she meets is only 13 years old! A tiny trickster fairy who lives in the watch has taken Momoka back in time, and now Momoka must find her way back to the present day.”
As Matsumoto adds the element of dinosaur-obsession into an already panda-inclined manga, cuteness levels jump into overdrive in this volume of St. Dragon Girl. A personable narrative combines with clever design elements to make a very readable series that touches upon most of the basic elements of shojo manga for a younger audience, while also appealing to general manga readers. Everything is handled in an efficient fashion that endows it with endearing charm, whether it‘s time travel, sinister paintings or overly violent mermaids.
Possessed objects are a fairly common theme in occult manga, and Ryuga’s family business as magicians works this into the series fairly naturally. The volume kicks off with two stories that use this common ghost-element in amusing ways. The time travel elements described in the synopsis are handled in a fun way as well, as a time fairy spites Momoka and sends her back a few years into her own past, leading to some fun moments as the heroine does her best not to upset her nearby future. While time paradoxes are always a fun element of fiction, I was more intrigued by the slightly macabre yet endearing story that followed, as Momoka and Ryuga get hired to take on a boy ghost who has befriended their principal’s granddaughter.
While the amount of panda is less than in the previous volume I reviewed, Matsumoto makes up for it by introducing a new supporting character with a dinosaur fixation, Mao. A whimsical moment of necromancy arrives as this new transfer student attempts to revive a dinosaur skeleton to life in crowded Tokyo, leading to a fun sequence as Momoka summons her dragon to do battle with it’s historic genetic cousin. Being St.Dragon Girl, no one holds a grudge, and the good-natured cast attempts to assuage any issues with his defeat by presenting him with dinosaur toys! This lack of outright villains is part of what makes St. Dragon Girl fun, with dangerous situations arising from mischief, and her cast subsequently dash about solving them. This chapter provided the sort of story that St. Dragon Girl truly excels at, taking an absurd personality trait to make what would otherwise be a simplistic fight sequence a highlight.
The generally jovial approach to the series antagonists also carries over into the romantic aspects. Matsumoto has fun playing on character relationships, while she avoids making the mood overly dramatic. Momoka and Ryuga have their relationship ups and downs, as do their friends, and whenever someone opts to interfere, she avoids making them into a menacing harpy or suave dandy. Instead, we’re treated to self-centered teenage behaviour, as classmates learn the dangers of manipulating each others emotions, and otherwise take a good natured approach. Matsumoto’s characterization choices are a key part of the manga’s success, establishing a positive, happy go lucky mood, though she does wisely opt to leave readers with a bit of a cliff hanger just so they aren’t too complacent.
Matsumoto’s artwork continues to be a major supporter of the most charming elements of the title. Her deft handling of action scenes helps make for a stronger work, elevating it above being a simple festival of cute. The frenetic pace of the book stands out among other school-based manga, as characters run from assorted gangs, rampaging monsters and undead Victorian children. However, the cute quotient is still much appreciated, as we’re treated to the aforementioned dinosaur and other not-entirely threatening dangers.
In terms of extra material, I continue to appreciate how Matsumoto opts to give us a view into her creative process in place of “crazy hijinks my assistants and I get up to!”. Learning the origins of her main characters, and her original concept for the series gives great insight into how manga are made. The volume also includes a bonus-story, “Midsummer Shaolin Mermaid”, which though short, provides some of the funniest moments of the manga as Momoka finds herself training a seemingly selfish Merman during a standard manga beach trip. Highlighting many of the fun elements of the series, it’s a wonderful way to cap off this penultimate volume.
St.Dragon Girl continues to be a fun, involving series that is generally a light read, but an accomplished one. The author bio confirms that there is a sequel series, St.Dragon Girl Miracle, so hopefully VIZ’s upcoming titles will opt to bring over this series, as well as more of Matsumoto’s work. Those looking for more exposure to her work may also want to check out the legal subtitled streams of Yumeiro Patissiere at CrunchyRoll.