Today we’re happy to welcome back Tommy Leung, who previously delighted you with their review of My Girlfriend is a T. rex in 2016… which is, somehow, six years ago. Tommy’s blog Parasite of the Day is a blast to read, as long as you can push your ick feelings aside and appreciate the wild diversity of the parasite world. You can do that, surely. Tommy is also part of the wonderful Gallimaufric Science podcast, which you really should listen to.
Anyhow! This time around, they bring us a look at a new manga with our favorite prehistoric clade at its center. The stage is yours, Tommy…
Dinosaur Sanctuary is a manga series about a dinosaur zoo. I’m sure for many people, that sentence alone is enough information for them to decide whether they should pick up this book (I know it was for me). But if you want to find out more about this manga title before spending time and/or money on it, please continue reading this review.
In the world of Dinosaur Sanctuary, a small population of non-avian dinosaurs previously thought to have been extinct were found on an isolated island. This caused a great deal of initial excitement among the general public, but after the initial hype, public opinion has turned against dinosaurs due to a fatal incident at a dinosaur zoo. In short, at first there were a lot of ‘Ooh, ah,’ but then later there’s much running and screaming from the dinosaurs. The story follows Suma Suzume, a newly hired rookie zookeeper at Enoshima Dinoland, a struggling dinosaur park which has seen better days. And it is through her perspective and experiences that the reader learns about the different species of dinosaurs at Dinoland, and their husbandry needs.
This manga series’ artwork and story are by Kinoshita Itaru, who has previously created another manga series featuring dinosaurs called Gigant wo Ute, though that one is less Jurassic Park and more “Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress, but with dinosaurs”. There were also contributions from Dr Shin-ichi Fujiwara, assistant professor at The Nagoya University Museum, who is the scientific consultant and supervisor for this series. Translation for the English version of this manga is by John Neal, with lettering by JM Iitomi Crandall.
The human side of the story in Dinosaur Sanctuary is a workplace drama. Suzume is very idealistic about dinosaurs, and her bright-eyed enthusiasm means that she can almost serve as an audience self-insert for some readers. Sometimes her idealism clashes with the harsh realities of caring for a whole zoo full of unpredictable animals with demanding husbandry requirements. Though at the same time, her fresh perspective and enthusiasm can offer innovative ways of attracting visitors to Dinoland. While all the staff at Enoshima Dinoland care about the well-being of the dinosaurs there, their philosophies and priorities differ due to their respective personalities and life experiences. This, along with the constant financial demands of running a dinosaur zoo, is ultimately the source of interpersonal drama and conflicts throughout this series.
In that sense, Dinosaur Sanctuary is rather reminiscent of the anime series The Aquatope on White Sand that aired in Fall 2021. That particular series has a story that centred around two young women working at a small-town aquarium called Gamma Gamma aquarium, which was on the verge of closing. The series followed their times at Gamma Gamma, along with their subsequent career paths in the aquarium industry, and the obstacles and conflicts they encountered along the way. During this journey, the viewer is treated with sights and facts about various kinds of marine life. Based on what has been presented in volume one so far, that seems to be the path that Dinosaur Sanctuary will be treading.
While the creators of Dinosaur Sanctuary have provided some groundwork for interpersonal drama and character development in the story, it is very clear that the dinosaurs are the real stars of the series. The dinosaurs in this manga series have been meticulously drawn in great detail. Furthermore, they act like living and expressive animals. I didn’t realise how much I needed to see a Triceratops sitting in a cat loaf position until I saw one in Dinosaur Sanctuary.
The manga depicted dinosaurs as animals with specialised needs in captivity, as most wild animals are, but generally no more (and no less) troublesome than most modern animals found in zoos. Some of them might be dangerous, but they are not ravenous, bloodthirsty monsters that crave murder at every waking moment (like the theropods in the Jurassic film franchise). A stork-size theropod may be a dangerous animal to handle, but more in the way that a grumpy cassowary is potentially dangerous. Overall, the dinosaurs were depicted in a way that is consistent with the current scientific understanding of animal behaviour and Mesozoic dinosaurs. In fact, each chapter ends with a page of text from Dr. Dino (i.e. Dr. Shin-ichi Fujiwara) discussing in more details about the palaeontological and zoological science that formed the basis for that chapter.
There might be a few things in the manga that dinosaur or palaeontology nerds who are neck-deep in the literature might have quibbles about. For example one chapter featured Troodon – a genus based only on teeth fragments, and considered to be potentially invalid. I would have thought that there are many other similar theropods that could have been chosen as a stand-in for Troodon in that chapter. However, that’s just like, my opinion, man. Because at the same time, I also completely understand the reasoning for depicting the theropod in that chapter specifically as Troodon rather than another similar theropod, since the story was based on papers by Varricchio et al. on theropod eggs and nests which have been attributed to Troodon formosus. So, my minor misgivings about this chapter ultimately came down to me being a painfully pedantic nerd, and despite that I still really enjoyed that chapter. I don’t think anyone else would have any issues with things like that, except perhaps the most hardcore (and joyless) of dinosaur nerds.
There’s a lot more that I want to say about different aspects of the story, such as the character interactions, the drama of trying to keep a business afloat while doing what’s right for the animals, and the general public’s interest (or disinterest) in dinosaurs. But I think this review is long enough as it is.
If you are a dinosaur nerd, as I have said at the start of the review, you know you’re going to want to get this, especially if you’ve finished watching Prehistoric Planet for the sixteenth time and you’re after your next dino-fix. For those who have a more casual interest in dinosaurs, I would still highly recommend this series. The art is great, and you get to see and learn about your favourite dinosaurs (if not in this volume, then maybe in one of the later ones). It is clear that the creators involved with this manga series are extremely passionate and knowledgeable about the topic, and I am looking forward to the next volume.
For other science edutainment manga, see also Heaven’s Design Team, and Cells at Work (and all its many, MANY spin-offs). For those who are interested in a more off-kilter “dinosaur” manga, you might want to check out My Girlfriend is a T. rex.
Dinosaur Sanctuary is published in English by Seven Seas Entertainment, volume 1 is currently available both in print and digital.