The best compliment I can pay to Hasbro Studios’ Kaijudo: Rise of the Duel Masters is that I don’t think I would have guessed the show was based on a trading card game if the studio hadn’t told me so when it sent over the series premiere screener episode. Its inventive monsters and structured alternate universe are the stock and trade of many similar shows, but Kaijudo separates itself from the rest of the pack by refusing to stop the action dead for long-winded explanations of game mechanics that have little to no real bearing on the show. In the first five episodes on the first DVD volume, the show succeeded through excellent fundamentals in storytelling and characterization, and followed through with a few interesting plot twists and wildly fanciful monsters.
The second best compliment I can pay to Kaijudo is that the second DVD release, Kaijudo: Dragonstrike is a colossal disappointment because it skips over the bulk of the first season. I do not know who made the decision to have this DVD jump from episode 7 to episode 23 in a 26-episode season, and then wrap it all up with the big two-part season finale, nor do I know why. I do know that this makes this DVD disjointed and rather unsatisfying on nearly every dimension. I’d rather not have gotten a second DVD at all than to get such a brutally abridged take on the show’s first season.
Kaijudo centers on young Ray Pierce-Okamoto, who possesses prodigious natural talents at the art of Kaijudo, allowing him to control magical beasts summoned from a parallel dimension. He and his friends (popular girl Allie and chubby nerd Gabe) were just inaugurated into the world of Kaijudo on the first DVD, with the secretive cabal that call themselves the Duel Masters taking in Ray and his friends despite their continual flaunting of rules that the Duel Masters consider sacrosanct (chief among them that the kaiju are not to be touched or treated as equals). Opposing them is the Choten, a former Duel Master with a sinister Big Plan hinted at in the five episodes of the first disc.
Kaijudo: Dragonstrike picks up with “Into the Fire,” a two-part episode that begins with a mishap that flings Allie into the kaiju’s Fire Dimension. The Duel Masters’ call for prudence goes unheeded as Ray, Gabe, and Ray’s favored kaiju Tatsurion the Unchained (a.k.a. “Bob”) embark on a rescue mission, revealing secrets about Tatsurion’s past and more hints to the Choten’s evil plans. The twists involving Tatsurion are a bit of a surprise, lending some poignant meaning to his name, and I was happy to see Allie taking an active role in her own escape before she even knew the boys were looking for her. One of my favorite things about the show is Ray’s multi-ethnic heritage, which was used to good effect in the first episode and expands here to link Ray to Tatsurion even more explicitly. Some of the twists may have been a little too predictable, in both short- and long-range terms, but they don’t make these two episodes any less enjoyable.
Unfortunately, from here, the DVD jumps straight to episode 23, “Heavenly Creatures,” and skips one more episode to jump to the two-part season finale. Suffice it to say that getting hints of the plot twists through throwaway dialogue and the “previously on” recap teasers is not satisfying in any way, shape, or form, especially when it’s clear that a lot of moments throughout these last episodes were built up to be emotional gut-punches that are effective only after a season’s worth of character and plot development. You can fill in most of the blanks, but the noise and fury of the finale signifies much less than it should. It’s a big, climactic finish that comes with almost no build-up, and thus feels exceptionally unearned. Given the major disappointment of the massive chunk of missing episodes, it’s relatively trivial to note that the DVD has no bonus features at all and the DVD’s high video and audio standards (including another impressive 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack) aren’t enough to compensate.
The only explanation I can come up with for Dragonstrike‘s abridged season is that someone thought it would be a fast, easy way to save money on TV-on-DVD. As much as I like the show, I cannot in any way suggest that anyone should support this approach by buying this DVD, even if I speculate further that the same kind of bottom-line thinking will use poor sales of this DVD to spike any future home video releases due to perceived lack of interest. The bottom line is that Kaijudo is a show that’s good enough to deserve much better than the cheap-trick “season” that this DVD represents. I am not terribly pleased by Hasbro Studios’ “soccer mom” approach to several of their shows on DVD (including Transformers Rescue Bots, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, and Littlest Pet Shop), but some show on DVD is better than no-show on DVD and those other shows don’t the same over-arching narrative as Kaijudo. In contrast, Transformers Prime and G.I. Joe Renegades got much more substantial releases on DVD that keep the entire season intact. I hold out hope for a proper Kaijudo season 1 set some time soon, but no matter how much you like the show, I urge you to leave this lame release on the shelf.