The Curious Case of the Non-Japanese Shinto Priest In The Dragon Dentist


© Otaro Majio,nihon animator mihonichi LLP./NHK, NEP, Dwango, khara

The Dragon Dentist is one of the more interesting parallel universe anime I have seen. It has, as one of its main protagonists, someone who is definitively not Japanese, but places him in an environment that is overtly tied up in Japanese culture, history, and religion. Although he may start out as an outsider, he doesn’t remain so.

For The Dragon Dentist, it is really necessary to have no preconceived notions and to let the setting really just speak for itself. Given that we have only have two episodes to work with, it’s hard to avoid giving away anything at all, but essentially the main protagonists, Kishii Nonoko and Bellnard Octavius (or “Bell” for short) are responsible for an overtly religious cleaning of teeth belonging to very real dragons. Dragons are essentially responsible for the purification of the dead, and the build up of souls become the plaque adhering to the teeth. If the plaque isn’t cleaned, they become monsters. If you’re thinking, “gee, Kishii Nonoko certainly sounds Japanese and Bellnard Octavius is obviously European,” you’re correct.

© Otaro Majio,nihon animator mihonichi LLP./NHK, NEP, Dwango, khara

It just isn’t our Japan or our Europe. Based on the level of technology, the uniforms, and the participants, I would place the nearest comparison to between the Russo-Japanese War and World War II. More likely the earlier than the latter. However, we have absolutely no way of knowing exactly what form Europe takes in this universe, and Bell is from a country that clearly isn’t one of our own. Nor do we have much to go on as to the state of the Empire of Japan (if it even is an Empire), beyond the facts that the uniforms are absolutely correct for the Imperial Navy, that Japanese methods of writing are in use, and the dragons represent a very real aspect of Shinto religion that are undeniably in existence for both the Japanese and their European enemies. 

As a scholar of Imperialist State Shinto ideology, it isn’t actually the Shinto aspects of The Dragon Dentist I find most compelling. At least, not the Shinto aspects directly. Indeed, what I find compelling is two-fold. First, the idea that we have a religion with divine creatures that are clearly, factually, objectively in existence, giving Shinto and its practitioners a sort of “upper hand” in debates on Philosophy of Religion is fascinating. Especially for a religious tradition so rooted in a specific place, the Japanese archipelago, that Shinto shrines outside of Japan are extremely rare (some in Korea and Taiwan, a couple on the west coast of North America), and with very little tradition for conversion or evangelism. And second, for the same reason, that we have a newly minted practitioner in the very foreign, overtly non-Japanese Bell.

© Otaro Majio,nihon animator mihonichi LLP./NHK, NEP, Dwango, khara


The Dragon Dentist Shows Us Why We Need to Face Our Mortality

Bell is a “bad omen” all around when he pops out of one of the dragon’s teeth. He’s not only one of the “returned” (problematic in its own right, because the “returned” are only one freakish step away from being zombies), but he’s also a blonde-haired, blue-eyed member of the very European military engaged in a protracted war with Japan and its military. The same Japan that considers itself the guardians of Shinto and of the dragons themselves. Not only are the dentists Japanese, but the dragons are apparently steered or sailed by members of the Imperial Japanese Navy (or whatever version of it exists in this universe). Nonoko’s decision to take on Bell as an apprentice-dentist breaks all sorts of taboos that are simply understood.

Shinto is not, nor has it ever been, interested in winning converts or growing its ranks by expansion into territories outside of Japan. The idea that Bell is even worthy, as an enemy of Japan, to become a dentist might even be more of an unstated issue for some of the older dentists than the fact he is a “returned.” It’s hard to know if there is a social message here or if there is no particular deepness to Nonoko’s choice to ignore her elders and take Bell under her wing.

© Otaro Majio,nihon animator mihonichi LLP./NHK, NEP, Dwango, khara

Dragons Make Dentistry Action-Packed

There are actually very good reasons why Bell might be worthy to take on the role of a dentist. His character, background, and experiences in the war are unique and play a crucial part in leading him to his destiny—and Nonoko to hers. You’ll need to put this one on your playlist to find out why. 

The Dragon Dentist is currently streaming on Crunchyroll in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Iceland. It is also available on Blu-ray through Amazon.


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