Dinosaur King Vol. 1 stars Max Taylor, a young boy obsessed with dinosaurs and fossils. He's exploring one of his father's, the famed paleontologist, dig sites for fossils with his best friend Rex when he makes an incredible discovery. He locates a mysterious stone tablet that transports him to the past, and even better it lets him speak telepathically to the dinosaurs! However, a gang of criminals called the Alpha Gang led by a mad scientist named Dr. Z wants to mindcontrol the dinosaurs and use them to control the world; it's up to Max to save the dinosaurs! Dinosaur King hits many of the same notes that Pokemon and Digimon did; bold, optimistic kids fighting off wacky, greedy villains with their animal companions (in this case Dinosaurs) and getting in all kinds of adventures. It's light-hearted, simple, and full of energetic characters and lively artwork.
The story in Dinosaur King is, from what I've gathered from Wikipedia, somewhat different from the anime version. This is, from all evidence, a good thing. Yohei Sakai doesn't make the plot overly complex, relying on the usual themes for shonen manga like believing in yourself and your friends, working together, etc. However, the art and energy really sell the concept here. Saki positively revels in drawing large, bold dinosaurs flying and stomping around. His characters have large, expressive faces. Dr. Z looks like a madcap Dr. Wily. One of Dr. Z's minions, Zander, is prone to gesticulating wildly, has a large trenchcoat and a long, prehensile tongue like Gene Simmons from KISS. There's also a great use of chibi; the first time Max meets his little dinosaur friend King their expressions are priceless. When Max gets dragged through the woods halfway through the volume, his face is all beat up and covered with huge bruises to an accompanying "LOOM" sound affect.
The battles in the series are similar to the art; while they don't have as much strategy as more complex series, there are tons of full page shots of dinosaurs in cool poses. It's also nice that they manage to allow Max to help some personally instead of just being a main character as cheerleader the way some animal companion series end up. In fact, I have to give credit to the series to varying the premise. Instead of just throwing two dinosaurs at each other every chapter and watching them fight it out, there's a chapter where our heroes have to go through a maze filled with traps like rolling spiked balls and lasers.
Dinosaur King is a kid's manga series through and through. It has larger than life characters, a simple plot (The villain of the piece even explains his whole conquer the world with dinosaurs plan to Max when he first meets him, for no particular reason) and a fast pace that keeps things lively. When you combine that with the free trading card in the back for the Dinosaur King TCG and the dinosaur facts (and game tips) between chapters, it's really a nice package for the younger set.
As I explained above, the art can be a lot of fun to look at. It's clear that's where a lot of the energy of the book has been poured into, and unless you're around 8 to 10 years old, it's probably about all Dinosaur King has to offer you. That's not to say Dinosaur King is bad; I'm pretty sure the seven year old me who liked to collect plastic dinosaurs would have loved it. The characters are bright, cheerful and likable (Max channels Ash about half the time); the villains are dangerous enough to put up a fight and silly enough to like as much as the heroes. Not to mention their tiny dinosaur companions are clearly marketing gold; Max's dinosaur King (pun alert) is working hard to out-cute Pikachu (even, for some reason, shooting electricity.) If you don't mind reminding your kid that real dinosaurs don't have a secret special attack, this one is a good gateway book for the kids, but a curiosity at best for the rest of us. It does what it does quite well.
ComicsOnline gives Dinosaur King vol 1, 3 out of 5 hyper-enthusiastic kid paleontologists.