Slayers: Next - Volume 1
You'd normally expect there to be a breather between seasons, a little pause to take stock of what has just happened over the last 26 odd episodes, before diving into the next series. However UK fans have been waiting over 10 years for Slayers to get here, and now that it finally has arrived, who can blame them, or MVM for barrelling straight on through? In an industry where two month waits between discs are still the norm, we don't even pause for breath before we get the start of Slayers Next, just one month after the conclusion of Slayers.
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, redistributing it into her own pocket. Somehow though, she's become one of a group of adventurers, working together to fight evil, defeat monsters, and make enough money to fill their stomachs. After all, fighting the Dark sorcerer Rezo, and the resurrected Shabranigdo tends to unite people against adversity. Gourry Gabriev is the heroic figure, who is a dab hand with a sword, if not too bright of intellect. Zelgadis is a powerful warrior/magic user, who in the pursuit of more power was cursed so that his skin turned to stone, and is now looking for a cure. Amelia is a trainee sorceress, and heir to the throne of Seyruun, who has an unwavering belief in goodness and justice, and who as an apprentice, continually manages to rub Lina the wrong way. Their adventures continue in the second series, Slayers Next.
You'd expect a team formed in adversity like that to stick together, but when we catch up with Lina and Gourry, stuffing their faces in an inn in the capital city of the Kingdom of Xoana, everyone else has gone their separate ways. Someone with more guts than sense tries to separate Lina from her lunch, and the resulting brawl is just the start of whole new adventure.
The first six episodes of Slayers Next are presented here on this disc from MVM, although the numbering continues straight on from where Slayers left off.
27. The Terror! Of the Monstrous Zoamelgustar
Lina and Gourry are in Xoana in time for a festival, the one brief time when the public are allowed to gaze on the Magical Book of Xoana, a tome that Lina believes will add to her skills as a sorceress. When a brawl spills into the street, they are surprised to meet Amelia who is also in the city. Amelia claims to be there for the same reason, but she is actually on a secret mission for her father, some delicate diplomacy between Seyruun and Xoana. The two kingdoms have a mutual non-aggression treaty, but when Xoana's leaders, Maros and his daughter Martina are power-hungry megalomaniacs, they need to be kept in check. Maros and Martina are indeed planning to take over the world, and they have even hired a sorcerer as muscle. None other than Zelgadis is their minion, as he's been promised that the cure to his ailment lies in the Book of Xoana. The four erstwhile friends are heading for a fateful reunion.
28. The Roguish Priest! His Name is Xellos
Reunited, the team turn their attention to the Claire Bible, an even more powerful tome that has a better than average chance of holding the cure for Zelgadis. The proud Zelgadis refuses help in his quest, but when they hear a rumour that it is being held nearby, Lina decides to detonate a few bandits in order to interrogate them. Despite the overkill, it isn't such a daft idea. A mysterious stranger, a priest named Xellos who claims to be after the bible to return it to its proper home, interrupts them. He's heard that a copy of the bible lies with a local gang of bandits, and points Lina and the others in their direction.
29. A Wonderful Business! Being a Bodyguard isn't Easy
A difference of opinion leads our four heroes to go their separate ways. Lina and Gourry go for the beef lunch, while Zelgadis and Amelia decide to have stew. Two separate inns, two separate approaches. The bodyguard of a sorcerer named Tarimu hires Lina and Gourry to protect him from his evil and underhand rival for the position of head of the local sorcerers' guild. At the same time the bodyguard of a sorcerer named Demia hires Amelia and Zelgadis for just the same reason. As you have no doubt guessed by now, Demia and Tarimu are the rivals. Hijinks ensue until the moments someone unleashes a host of magical beasts into the city.
30. An Ancient Pledge! One Who Seeks Immortality
Tarimu and Demia continue their argument in prison, but if they didn't summon the beasts, who did, and why? It turns out that it was their predecessor as head of the sorcerers' guild, Halcyform. The reason Halcyform was evicted from his position was that he indulged in some illegal magical research, looking to become immortal. When Lina and the others go to confront him, they find that he's found the secret, he's formed a pledge of immortality with a monster, and he's impervious to most of Lina's arsenal of spells. This is when Xellos turns up with a chink in Halcyform's armour. All they need to defeat him is to find his Pledge Stone. As if Lina didn't know that already…
31. Staying Behind! For the Sake of Love
Lina's managed to buy them some time, by sealing Halcyform in an icy prison. They have as long as it takes to melt, to find the pledge stone and smash it, but time is running out. Besides, Saygram, the monster who made the pledge with Halcyform has seen Lina's power, and has an offer of his own to make to her. Will Lina be tempted? And what is the real reason behind Halcyform's search for power? All will be revealed.
32. The Return! Of the Obsessive Martina
The search for the Claire Bible and a cure for Zelgadis are put on hold, when Lina and Amelia discover the Holy Grail, an all you can eat buffet. It's also a chance to rest at a hotel, partake of some hot springs, and just be pampered. Lina hasn't counted on the return of Martina though, who after losing her fortune, and having her castle demolished, is looking for a little revenge. Having already invented her own Deity, Zoamelgustar, she's now invented a brand new curse; one she intends to apply to Lina. All she has to do is steal one of her possessions, but she hasn't counted on falling in love, and with Gourry of all people.
Slayers Next is an anime from the mid-nineties, so there's no pixel perfect CGI perfection. 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. It does seem a little more fluid and brighter than Slayers though. However, I've recently seen the trailer for Funimation's US re-release of Slayers Next, which has been digitally remastered. It looks a whole lot brighter, colourful and sharper, and it's a shame that version couldn't be sourced for the UK.
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 Next. 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 more nice themes to get the toes tapping, from Japanese voice of Lina, Megumi Hayashibara.
In the extras on this disc, you'll find a one and half-minute slideshow gallery of sketches, a five-minute slideshow gallery of stills, and trailers for Black Lagoon and Daphne In The Brilliant Blue.
Slayers is an immensely popular RPG parody that has lasted close to 15 years now, with television series, movies, games and plenty of other merchandise to go with it. It's still being made today, with the Evolution-R series the latest offering. I have to admit that with the first series, I had a hard time seeing just what was so special about it. Slayers was entertaining enough, with a pleasant enough story, likeable characters, and broad humour. It just didn't seem exceptional though; it didn't hit me between the eyes with a 'best thing ever' vibe that explained the franchise's popularity. I put it down to the age of the show, and the very dated feel to the animation. Slayers Next on the other hand shows a lot more promise. The characters are the same quite naturally, the low budget feel is still evident, and made just two years after the original series, it looks pretty much identical, if a tad more colourful. However, the humour is faster paced, zanier, wittier, and it blends in with the stories more naturally.
I think that was my biggest gripe with Slayers, that the humour was interjected with the suddenness of flicking a switch. You'd got a funny bit, followed by a dramatic bit, and it was all broadly delineated. Slayers Next feels much more spontaneous, you'll get a wink at the camera during dramatic scenes, it will manage to tug on a heartstring or two even during a pratfall, and the storytelling is much more organic and encompassing. Whereas in Slayers, I looked forward to the gags, then struggled to keep my eyes open when things got serious, I'm actually interested in the stories in Slayers Next, and am definitely appreciating the anime as a whole.
We begin with a pure comedy episode, as the heroes reunite in Xoana, where they have to face a father daughter pair of royals intent on world domination, although it's the daughter who spends most of the time dominating her father. Martina is so egotistical that she even creates her own god to worship and invoke. The main storyline in the series becomes apparent in the next episode, and far from facing evil sorcerers and all-powerful demon dark lords, it's a more personal one, Zelgadis' search for a cure to his curse. It means finding a copy of the Claire Bible, a search that looks to be the common thread linking the episodes in this series. We also meet the enigmatic figure of Xellos, who at first seemed worryingly similar to Rezo, but who turns out to be a more impish and mysterious character, obviously working to his own goal, but occasionally helping, occasionally hindering, and always infuriating our heroes, and Lina in particular.
We then get our first story arc, as the adventurers arrive in Atlas City, only to get caught between two duelling sorcerers. It's a comic reinterpretation of Yojimbo (A Fistful of Dollars), the twist being that Amelia/Zelgadis and Lina/Gourry wind up on opposite sides. The reason that the sorcerers are duelling is that they wish to replace the original director of the guild, Halcyform, but events take an unexpected course when Halcyform appears. He's been conducting illegal research into immortality, and it's something that Lina has to stop. But there is a bittersweet melancholy to this tale when it becomes clear just why Halcyform is breaking all the rules.
Martina returns in the last episode I was expecting to see in Slayers, an onsen episode. It is an anime staple though, to get your characters relaxing at a hot springs, slipping out of their clothes, into some warm relaxing baths, where the woman compare breast sizes, and the men try to sneak a peek through the dividing wall. I just don't recall that happening in any episode of Dungeons and Dragons though. Still, we're back to the pure comedy though, as Martina manages to invoke a curse in the name of a god that she has created. It's an inventive curse as well, allowing for more than the expected quota of chuckles.
Slayers Next is better than Slayers, so if you have already taken a shine to the first series, then this will be an automatic purchase. The cool thing though, is that references to the first series are few, and no prior knowledge is needed to really enjoy the episodes on this disc. Volume 1 of Slayers Next is a great place to start with this show, and if you have been wavering until now, it's well worth taking a chance on.