TV Review: Hulu’s “Dragons of Wonderhatch” Brilliantly Combines Anime with Live-Action in an Intriguing and Mysterious Tale

Dragons of Wonderhatch is a new live-action/anime hybrid series coming to Hulu that brilliantly combines the two mediums into an intriguing and mysterious tale.

My personal experience with anime goes back to my childhood, watching American localizations of some of the most popular Japanese imports, such as Dragon Ball, Yu-Gi-Oh! and Digimon. As I entered my teenage years, I started to expand into the works of Studio Ghibli, the animation studio known for creating some of the most beautiful and engaging animated films of all-time. But beyond that, I haven’t ventured too deeply into the medium.

Dragons of Wonderhatch has to be one of the first anime series I’ve watched in its native Japanese, with English subtitles. But this isn’t your regular anime, but rather a hybrid of anime and live-action. The story begins with a beautiful shot of a paper airplane flying through a Japanese city and into a classroom, where we meet Nagi (in the live-action “real world”). In a voiceover, Nagi says how she always feels like she’s falling and dreaming, and we learn that she has spent her life feeling like she doesn’t belong.

Dreaming of one day being able to fly, Nagi faints and the story is transported to the mystical anime world of Upananta, where humans fly on the backs of dragons amidst a beautiful backdrop of floating mountains. There we meet the hero Aktha, who has been trying to save people from the dangers of the world collapsing. Humans here have the ability to hear the voices of the dragons they ride upon… well, all except the young upstart Thaim. They’re all trying to protect Upananta from the evil Jairo, who ends up somehow turning Aktha into a series of manga books.

Cut back to the real world, and we find out that Nagi’s mother was a manga writer, who, like Nagi, had been having dreams of the strange anime world. Drawings of the characters shown in the anime sections can be seen on her walls. 10 years ago, she left, never to be found again. Nagi’s father told her that her mom had died, but did she really? Making things even more intriguing, the first episode ends as Aktha arrives as a fish-out-of-water in the real world, after being turned into manga in Upananta.

The second episode see Thaim trying to find a way to get to Aktha, and eventually he and his adorable dragon end up in the real world, right in front of Nagi. She is rightfully skeptical at first, but after learning of Thaim’s story, she joins his quest for Aktha. Meanwhile, Aktha is having a rough time in the real world, hearing voices in his head, getting arrested for killing a bunch of thugs. Can he persuade his lawyer of his true origin? Nagi’s best friend Mame proves to be helpful, and they eventually track down Aktha.

The first episode mainly features animation, with small interjections of the live-action world, while the second and third episodes move more of the action to the live-action world – as Nagi and Thaim go on the search for Aktha.

I certainly wouldn’t recommend this series as an introduction into the world of anime, as with no English dub and only subtitles, it can be a little tricky to follow at times. The story is rather complex, but I do appreciate the intriguing mystery that was set up throughout the first episode. The continuing episodes start to bring the two worlds together, while introducing some more mysterious plot points. For those more familiar with anime, this feels like a wonderful new addition to that genre, especially with the unique inclusion of live-action elements.

The first two episodes of Dragons of Wonderhatch premiere Wednesday, December 20th on Hulu in the U.S.

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Luke Manning
Luke is a fan of all things theme parks and self-proclaimed #1 fan of Joffrey’s Coffee, who lives in Kissimmee, FL