Team Medical Dragon

Guest Post

Well, chances are he wouldn’t get along with Asada Ryutaro either. Then again, that isn’t saying much. Like Dr. House, Ryutaro (the lead character of the ongoing manga Team Medical Dragon) has managed to piss off just about all of his superiors and is only being kept on due to his amazing skill – the same skill that led an aspiring assistant professor to seek him out of his almost hermit-like seclusion in the first place.

At the beginning of the story, Ryutaro has been driven out of the world of institutional medicine by disgust over the political and business practices of the university health care system. He’s tired of the “feudal society ruled by an incompetent lord,” in which those who suck up to the heads of the departments (with the official titles of “Professor”) get the best positions, rather than those who are most skilled. In fact, it was his unwillingness to follow the orders of the professor of his department (opting, of course, to continue to provide medical care for a third-world country) that got him ejected from the world of Japanese medicine in the first place.

This, of course, can’t stand. If it did, the story would probably be fairly dull, or episodic.

Akira Katou, the assistant professor of cardiothoracic surgery at a university medical center, appears in the first chapter to seek him out – and isn’t willing to take no for an answer. She, too, is disgusted by the current system but is unable to effect any sort of changes until she, herself, becomes a full professor. Being a woman, she already has the odds stacked against her, but she has a cunning plan (yes, Baldric, a plan so cunning the king of foxes would be happy to call it his own).

That plan involves utilizing Ryutaro (by whatever means necessary) to write a thesis about a dangerous and complex surgical procedure known as “the Batista,” which no Japanese doctor has been able to complete successfully. With such a thesis under her belt, she can tip the scales in her favor come the next election for professorship, and finally work toward creating the change she claims to espouse.

Team Medical Dragon is one of the more interesting manga I’ve seen in recent years. It combines a significant amount of technical knowledge (much of it dumbed down or explained for the layman reader), as well as interesting characters and an interesting setting together with a story that has serious promise. It tends to suffer from some of the same melodramatics that often accompany medical dramas, but so far (I’m about 30-odd chapters in at this point) it’s avoided some of the worst pitfalls.

Indeed, even though it focuses in large part on how the supporting cast reacts to the antics of Ryutaro (and thereby give us glimpses into his own psyche, which remains largely hidden), it doesn’t fall into the “romance in the workplace” trap that so many instances of the genre harp on endlessly. There’s obviously room for it to exist, but this isn’t Grey’s Anatomy, where the setting is ignored in favor of the romantic (melo)drama.

The art, while quite technical and accurate at times, is also somewhat stereotypical. Protagonists generally appear younger and/or better-looking than background characters, and antagonists usually have either unattractive or sinister facial casts. Indeed, just by looking at the way s/he is drawn, it’s possible to determine which characters will turn out to be Ryutaro’s allies – even characters who are initially presented as obstacles to the successful completion of the procedure.

Then again, it’s relatively safe to say that just about any character who tries to rebel against the corruption in the system is going to end up playing some part in supporting the eponymous surgical team (“ryu,” taken from “Ryutaro,” meaning “dragon”) or its members. Perhaps the only exception is the intern, Ijyuuin, who spends most of his time agonizing over the mutually exclusive goals of furthering his career in medicine and doing what’s best for the patients. Not surprisingly, he ends up being one of the more interesting characters, and it’s through him that the reader comes to understand just how corrupt the system really is.

For all that the “genius doctor” plot has been done many times before, and could easily lead to either stagnation or archetypical situations, Team Medical Dragon does an excellent job of keeping things from getting stale too quickly. Obviously, there have to be a few “too-convenient” situations now and again, but they’re kept to a relative minimum. Similarly, while the manga has its fair share of “miracle procedure” action, it makes sure to avoid some of the worst indulgences by moving relatively quickly – mostly focusing on them only when it serves as an opportunity for Ryutaro to instruct Ijyuuin.

Considering the subject matter, I wouldn’t say this is a series for children regardless of anything else. However, it is actively geared toward older audiences, with nude scenes and adult situations, as well as “coarse language” throughout. Sometimes this is done to help set the mood, although at other times one gets the feeling it’s somewhat for shock value as well.

On the other hand, despite the opening chapter having some implied sex and a woman nude from the waist up, there’s very little in the way of overt fan-service thus far. However, there seem to be indications that, in later chapters, the sex becomes almost gratuitous, so I’d steer the young’uns away from it from the start, unless you’re ready to give them “The Talk.”

All in all, Team Medical Dragon is a manga with broad appeal. It caters to the fans of the dramatic, the technical, the human interest story and the medical, and does so largely without alienating many others. It isn’t the best story to come out in the last five years, but it’s something that’s worth a look – and probably more than just that – for most people I’d bother recommending such things to. If you happen to find some of it scanlated (since it hasn’t officially been picked up by any American companies as of yet) online and have a rainy afternoon to kill, you could do much worse.

Honestly, that sounds like less of a recommendation than I want to give this story, but considering one of the climaxes has been drawn out over several chapters, and the fact that it’s still coming out, it may be too early to call it definitely one way or the other.