Slayers, The: Volume 1
It looks like it's finally happening. Finally, anime fans in the UK are getting to see those series that most US audiences experience as their gateways into the medium. When your first exposure to anime is a series that runs for a hundred or more episodes, Japanese fan favourites like Ranma, Urusei Yatsura, Case Closed and One Piece, then you're going to get a better grounding than having just the occasional bite of a cherry, however sweet it may be. The sad state of affairs is that UK audiences just haven't been large enough to support the longer series, and previous attempts to launch larger series have met with differing degrees of failure. Yu Yu Hakusho got as far as its fifth instalment, while Sailor Moon got as far as disc 14. But Inuyasha and Initial D never got past their first volumes. It's only Manga Entertainment who have managed to turn a risk into a success story, and they did so by rewriting the rules. No single disc releases for them, they went straight to boxset or dual-disc, and with an attractive price point to boot. Robotech was a strong start, and the blinding success of Naruto has led to Bleach and Death Note and now even short run series go straight to collection.
It's still a risk though. When MVM floated the idea of bringing the classic Slayers comedy RPG series over here in its entirety last summer at Amecon, it looked to fan response to see if it would be worth the chance. The fans spoke, and the licence was announced 5 months later at the MCM Expo. The first disc comes out in the New Year, and it's now time for all those vocal fans to put their money where their mouths are. I was a little ambivalent about the idea of Slayers coming here, after all its first season is almost 15 years old now, and it's very much of the old school. Too, it's been around for donkey's years in the US, and has been released in many a DVD incarnation. Quite frankly, the UK single disc releases aren't as rosy as the US boxsets; even with the recent dip in exchange rates. On top of that, last year Funimation, bless their corporate hearts, started streaming Slayers episodes for free on Youtube. It's not the best atmosphere to sell Slayers DVDs in the UK.
Except that it is the ideal atmosphere to sell Slayers in the UK. Gone are the days of Yu Yu Hakusho DVDs selling for £20 a pop for a measly 3 episodes. Slayers discs have between 6 and 7 episodes per disc, and the RRP of £16 means that most shops pre-release discount them for around a tenner. Fans who import anime would have gotten hold of R1 Slayers years ago, this is perfect for the majority of UK fans who don't import, and have missed out on an anime staple. And finally, if you are wondering if this show is for you, pop over to Youtube and enjoy a couple of episodes of Slayers' English dub, and see if that helps make up your mind. In a sensible world, anime would be on TV like all the other shows, and just as you treat the Channel 5 CSI broadcasts as trailers for the boxsets, so you would treat anime on TV. Until that hallowed day arrives, Youtube is the next best thing, at least letting you try before you buy. So all in all, quite a coup. MVM begin with the original Slayers (1995) series in January, 26 episodes split across 4 discs, followed thereafter by 26 episodes of Slayers Next (1996), then 26 episodes of Slayers Try (1997). That brings us right up to date with the most recent incarnation Slayers Revolution, the 13-episode series that was released just this summer in Japan. It would have been so perfect, except it was recently announced that there would be another Slayers series next year, Slayers Evolution-R. No word yet as to whether that will be released in the West.
Still, 100-plus episodes of a series isn't to be sniffed at, more when you consider the OVA episodes and the five theatrical movies, as well as countless role-playing video games. As is typical of anime in the UK, we get partial service here as well. In the US, ADV released all five movies and two discs full of OVA, but in the UK, they released only the final four movies and one of the OVA discs. They're actually the UK's first encounter with Slayers and are still available if you feel the need to supplement the series.
Lina Inverse is a powerful sorceress in a pint-sized package. She's into wealth redistribution. She takes on the toughest of bandits, the meanest of monsters, with an arsenal of powerful and destructive spells, and then liberates them from their gold, gems and magical artefacts, and redistributes it into her own pocket. Having just laid waste to a group of bandits, she's happily traipsing through a forest when the surviving thugs set upon her. Before she can lift a finger, a tall, handsome and brave warrior leaps in to defend her. Gourry Gabriev is the heroic figure, who's frankly disappointed that the damsel in distress turned out to be a flat-chested brat (It's not Lina's fault she's a late developer), but circumstances conspire so that the two wind up travelling together. It's just that among the various items of Lina's latest haul, is a little something that attracts the attention of certain unsavoury characters, and will lead Lina and Gourry on a fantastic adventure.
This first instalment of Slayers from MVM comes with six episodes.
1. Angry? Lina's Furious Dragon Slave!
The Dragon Fang bandits are celebrating their latest haul, but they don't have long to quaff and carouse, as Lina Inverse has a fireball with their name on, and a need to liberate them from their loot. The survivors decide to get their goods back the next day when they pick a secluded spot in a forest to set an ambush, but before Lina can teach them the error of their ways, she's 'rescued' by a tall handsome, but none too smart warrior named Gourry Gabriev. For reasons best left to the episode, they decide to continue onwards together towards Atlas City, but stopping off at a nearby village for a bite to eat, they come across a rather messy loose end. It turns out that the Dragon Fangs are named as such, as their leader had a pet dragon. Now Lina has blasted the leader off this mortal coil, the dragon is hungry, with no one left to feed it. At times like this, a nearby village looks pretty appetising.
2. Bad! Mummy Men Aren't My Type
Beating a hasty retreat after the overwhelming gratitude of the villagers, Lina and Gourry continue on their journey. But when a mysterious blue haired man, and a man swathed in bandages spy the gargantuan crater where the village once stood, they realise they are on the right trail. The mummy look-alike was previously in the bandit encampment before he became collateral damage of Lina's spells, and he's looking for revenge. The blue haired man is after a certain artefact that was taken from the bandits, and the two are working together, tracking down Lina. Meanwhile in the next village, Lina is looking to turn her hard-earned booty into cold hard cash, but trying to hock an enchanted knife has devastating consequences.
3. Crash! Red and White and Suspicious All Over!
When Mummy's boy Zolf fails to retrieve the desired object with the profligate use of trolls, his blue-rinse companion Zelgadis tries to buy it instead, only Lina inflates the asking price to a ridiculous level. The bottom line is that she just doesn't trust the pair, and it gets more complicated when a legendary priest named Rezo appears, just in time to help Lina and Gourry, and warns that the artefact that Zelgadis requires will be used to resurrect the Dark Lord Shabranigdo. But when he offers to look after the artefact, Lina gets suspicious and leaves with Gourry, only to walk into another ambush.
4. Dash! Run For It! My Magic Doesn't Work!
Lina tries explaining it all to Gourry, the legend of the birth of the world, when Monsters fought Gods, and Shabranigdo fought Ceipheid, a battle that has had lasting consequences through history. Gourry may not understand, but at least we know what's going on. But on the next leg of their journey, when Lina warns Gourry that she won't have her magical powers for the next few days, he's quick to twig just why. Of course it's just then that Zelgadis decides to attack again, and this time he's brought a loaded werewolf.
5. Escape! Noonsa, The Flaming Fish Man!
Lina wakes up, prisoner of Zelgadis and his cronies, and they set to work trying to extract the whereabouts of the Orihalicum Statue, mocking her that her partner Gourry left her in the lurch. Obviously he has the statue, but it's taking him a while to work out what has happened to Lina. But Zelgadis is having an attack of conscience, especially when he remembers just how his lust for power led him to become part golem. That night when he comes at Lina with a sword, she's surprised to learn that it's actually a rescue attempt.
6. Focus! Rezo's The Real Enemy!
You did read that right, it's actually the pious blind priest who wants the statue, and not for any esoteric reason to do with Shabranigdo. Zelgadis tells Lina that the statue is the hiding place of the legendary Philosopher's Stone, a stone that increases a sorcerer's power a thousand-fold. Rezo has all his life been searching for a cure for his blindness, a search that took him from the purest of white magic, to the darkest of black, and he isn't going to let Zelgadis and Lina get away so easily.
Slayers is an anime from the mid-nineties, so pixel perfect CGI perfection is just an animator's dream. This is traditional, hand painted, cel acetate animation with all the inconsistencies and flaws that implies. It looks pretty good for all that, with a decent transfer of a good clean source. There's no sign of age or print damage here, and the animation may be comparatively rough and ready, but it still has all the vibrancy and imagination that I have come to expect from anime. It isn't all that flash or high budget, but the character designs are memorable and the world design does what it needs to, to get the story across.
You have a choice between DD 2.0 English and Japanese, along with optional English subtitles (except for the credit reels, where the subs are burnt in). My instinct as always was to go for the Japanese language option, and I wasn't disappointed. I was dreading the English track though, the mid-nineties wasn't a period known for its excellence in dubs, but I was pleasantly surprised by the English audio in Slayers. For one thing it's quieter than the Japanese track, and not just in terms of audio levels. For once, a dub cast plays comedy for the jokes, rather than the misapprehension that by screaming a line they make it funnier. Also, there are some occasional choice diversions from the Japanese script, responding to the onscreen action, that are actually funnier than the original dialogue. It may be sacrilege to some purists, but I think in this case it works. The sad thing is that this dub is from the old days, where technology wasn't as good as today, and the English dub feels layered on top of the anime, rather than an integral part of it. There are also a couple of nice themes to get the toes tapping, from Japanese voice of Lina, Megumi Hayashibara.
The animated menus and jacket picture are par for the course for an anime disc, but extras worthy of the name include an Art Gallery with 20 images, and a Sketch Gallery with 25 line-art images. It's all topped off with trailers for Daphne In The Brilliant Blue and the Revolutionary Girl Utena movie.
The role playing game is a medium that is ripe for a little gentle ridicule, as I realised the one time I wandered into my secondary school's Dungeons and Dragons lunchtime club, and found myself rolling twelve sided dice. That was a game that was associated with the somewhat less social demographic of society, but RPGs became more inclusive once the console games were created, and titles like Final Fantasy began selling tens of millions. The clichés were still there though, and it became even easier to send the games up once everyone had played them. Oddly enough, I haven't come across a lot of anime that does so, at least not wholeheartedly and single-mindedly. You may get the occasional spoof episode of a comedy anime like Chobits or Love Hina, while there are plenty of RPG anime out there that take the genre pretty seriously, telling a story first and interjecting humour when appropriate. I've only encountered two spoofs, Gestalt and Dragon Half, and while both were hilarious, neither went past the first couple of episodes, and left their respective stories hanging. It now becomes clear just why. Slayers has sewn up the market.
As is usual with these things, the reality of the show can't live up to years of hyperbole and fan gushing. It actually makes things worse when the show doesn't live up to its reputation. When you've had years of top-notch anime to watch, with complex characters and deep stories, it comes as a bit of a step back in time to watch something which is played for laughs, and targeted at a general audience. With Slayers, it helps if you adopt a mindset from the mid-nineties. Naturally the look of the anime is a little antiquated, old style cel-animation without a hint of CG to it, and that's reflected in the world and character designs. But it also helps to realise that Slayers is a broad comedy that's designed to attract as large an audience as possible. Depth and intricacy of plot isn't a major goal. Also, the characters are broad stereotypes that don't tax the imagination.
To be frank, I found the story quite dull. It's a fairly typical D & D quest tale, with characters wandering through a world, searching for clues, meeting characters and monsters, indulging in magical battles, gathering artefacts, trading them in for money. No one has rolled an eighteen-sided die yet, but it's probably just a matter of time.
Of course that's not the point, Slayers is about the humour. It becomes clear from the first frame that the creators aren't taking it at all seriously, and obviously neither are the characters. This is a show that when faced with a choice between an emotional moment and a cheap gag, will opt for the cheap gag every time. The fourth wall is demolished early on when Lina Inverse has some choice comments about the quality of the script, and matters continue on from there in the same vein, wry asides, atrocious puns and sight gags galore. Later on, Lina encounters Noonsa, a fish with human limbs, who meets a roasted demise in a Fireball. When his menagerie of comrades gather to pay him respect, they comment on how tragic he looks, how unfortunate his demise was, how appetising he smells…
Laugh out loud anime is rare, after all it does originate in a completely different culture, but Slayers' humour translates surprisingly well. I was laughing more often than not, and the only reason I'm not marking this higher is that as it stands, Slayers is pretty disposable fare. Lina Inverse is sure to gather a few new fans, but when it comes to being the 'in thing', the UK has missed the boat somewhat. The series is funny, but whether there is any longevity to it will depend on how the subsequent volumes develop the series. But when you are getting 6 episodes for around £10 with pre-release online discounts, there's no reason not to give Slayers a try.