Review for Slayers Movie Collection
I came at Slayers backwards, that is to say that the UK anime industry came at the Slayers franchise backwards. I’m not a particular fan of swords and sorcery (although have to admit that I have been taken with this year’s Shannara Chronicles), I always thought that it was a little too po-faced and self-conscious a genre. What little I read about Slayers, a sorcerer and a swordsman, demons, monsters and dragons did little to enthuse me. It took MVM licensing the television series, Slayers, Slayers Next, Slayers Try, Revolution, and Evolution-R, and then sending me the check discs to review for me to cotton on to what Slayers is all about. It’s about the comedy of course, and at its best, Slayers can offer some of the silliest anime comedy around. By the time I realised this, and had my interest piqued enough to seek out more in the form of movies and OVAs, said movies and OVAs had been deleted. That’s because the Slayers movies and OVAs were originally licensed by ADV, both in the US and the UK, and while in the US they were released after CPM released the first three TV series, in the UK they preceded the series release by some five years or more. On top of that, ADV went out of business in the UK before MVM started releasing Slayers. So by the time I wanted the Slayers movies and OVAs, I couldn’t have them anymore, at least not in the US or the UK.
Thankfully there is still Australia, and Madman Entertainment have the Slayers franchise in its entirety. Or at least they had it. Last year, during a clearance sale, they sold off the remaining stock for the Slayers Movies and OVAs, and I managed to complete my Slayers collection. Originally released by ADV on separate discs, for the movie collection, they reduced the disc count by bundling movies together (not a problem when they are such short features). In the Slayers Movie Collection, you get 5 movies across 3 discs in an Amaray case, two discs on either side of a central panel. The inner sleeve has production art, but most of it is from Slayers Premium.
Introduction: Disc 1 – Slayers The Motion Picture
Years before an irritable, short-tempered and insatiable Lina Inverse adventured with Gourry, Amelia and Zelgadis, a slightly less irritable, less short-tempered, but equally insatiable Lina Inverse occasionally adventured with the haughty and self-centred sorceress Naga the Serpent. In the Motion Picture the two are re-united when Lina deals with some bandits in her customary fashion, further cementing a rapidly spreading reputation. The bandits hire a sorceress to get their revenge, only they hire Naga. In the resulting carnage, Naga picks up a couple of discount tickets to a holiday island, and soon the two are on their way to Mipross Island to partake of the local hot springs. But all isn’t as it seems on Mipross Island, they don’t get the warmest of welcomes, and on top of that, the local royalty have a mission for Lina. It must have something to do with the dreams that Lina’s having, of a small blue-haired boy and an elf-girl, and a wizened old sage named Rowdy, Rowdy Gabriev. If Lina can’t get to the bottom of this mystery, her future will never come to pass.
Picture: Disc 1 – Slayers The Motion Picture
It would be wise not to expect great things from releases of this vintage, but even still The Motion Picture’s transfer is disappointing. What you get here is a 1.85:1 letterbox transfer, and an NTSC-PAL standards conversion at that, replete with ghosting and blended frames. The image is soft, colours are faded, and it lacks for detail particularly in darker scenes. It’s a shame as given a theatrical outing, Slayers ups its game in terms of the animation, and while the character designs are familiar in style, it’s a whole level up in terms of production design and fluidity of motion.
Sound: Disc 1 – Slayers The Motion Picture
You have the choice between DD 5.1 Surround English, and DD 2.0 Stereo Japanese, with optional subtitles and a signs only track. There’s a lack of continuity when it comes to the English cast, but I would have chosen Japanese anyway. The dialogue is clear, the stereo adequate in representing the action and music. The subtitles are accurately timed and free of typos, and are also zoom friendly although there’s one flashing subtitle at 22:38, on screen for a frame only.
Extras: Disc 1 – Slayers The Motion Picture
Annoyingly, the disc’s menu is anamorphic where the film is not. You get a jacket picture too, and the film is followed by a translated English credit reel.
The film gets a feature commentary from ADR Director and English adaptor Matt Greenfield, along with Cynthia Martinez (Lina) and Kelly Manison (Naga), and it’s a fair commentary track, as much about the movie as it is about the usual actor gossip.
You get a few pages of character bios.
Finally there are trailers for, Chrono Crusade, Azumanga Daioh, and Area 88, following a ‘You wouldn’t grease a pig’ anti-piracy trailer.
Conclusion: Disc 1 – Slayers The Motion Picture
The Slayers Motion Picture is recognisably Slayers in style and tone, especially when it comes to comedy, but it might not be too familiar, particularly for people coming to it from the Slayers TV series. The film is set a few year prior to Lina’s TV adventures, where fans would have got used to her acerbic wit and short fuse, as well as the rich byplay that comes from having four main characters, Lina, Gourry, Amelia and Zelgadis. In the Slayers Movie, indeed in all but the last one, what we get is a simple double act, Lina and Naga, and this Lina is younger, softer, less experienced, although still displaying that unique wit, and still possessing a temper, if not quite as short. A lot of how much you will appreciate the film will come down to how you find the Naga character, and I have to say that on the strength of just the one film as yet, she’s a character that has to grow on me.
Naga is the classical anime princess trope, self-centred, high-class, tendency to laugh haughtily from the back of her hand, although this is in contrast to her dress sense, which boils down to skimpy bondage gear and a cape, the kind of costume that some male fans hope to see cosplayed. In addition, physically Naga is everything that Lina is not and wants to be, basically tall with big breasts. She also is talented with magic, although not everything goes as she intends, and Lina is obviously superior in skill. But it looks at this time that Naga is more prone to taking the lead than Lina, and is ready to take offence when people recognise Lina (for her bandit slaying skills), and not recognise her.
The comedy is typical Slayers, the wacky humour, the flat-chested gags, the odd wink to camera, even a Dragon Half reference or two. So that at least should be comfortable for fans of the series. I actually found the story comparatively mundane. It’s a quest to save a village in the past, to change history for the better, by defeating a particularly evasive Monster named Joyrock. It’s just that Lina gets led by the nose into doing the right thing, by her dreams and by Rowdy, and there’s a sense that the same thing is happening to the audience. There’s also a jump in narrative between Rowdy’s big penultimate scene of exposition to the film’s climax which doesn’t quite flow properly, as if an intervening scene had been cut out.
Slayers the Motion Picture is fun that is familiar to fans of the Slayers franchise, but it’s not the greatest spin-off movie ever made. Let’s see if there’s a better example in the next four films...
Introduction: Disc 2 – Slayers Return/Slayers Great
What starts off as a genteel meal quickly turns into a food fight between Lina and Naga, and when a pickpocket tries to take advantage, Lina over-reacts. So it is that when Saleena comes limping into the rubble that was once a restaurant, Lina’s guilt is enough for her to hear Saleena out instead of just ignoring her. Saleena’s village is being threatened by demons, its people press-ganged into digging out a magical artefact, all for the greater glory of Galef. Saleena wants bodyguards to free the villagers and defeat the demons. Lina is inclined to say no, until she hears just what the magical artefact might be. But this time it will be Naga’s greed, not Lina’s that causes trouble.
Lina and Naga are not the kind of people that would expect a reward for saving a girl named Laia from a rampaging Golem. They certainly wouldn’t be expected to be invited to her house, offered a feast, gold even. Well maybe if they insisted. Stoner City is a hub of golem creation, magically infused, life-like automata, and the most renowned creator is Laia’s father, Galia Einberg, although he’s in a bit of a slump. Surprisingly it’s Lina that inspires him into creating once more, although it’s Naga’s more obvious assets that inspire Galia’s son Huey. That’s sowing the seeds of rivalry right there, which is great for two rival Lords, Granion and Haizen, who have great plans for Stoner City and Golems. In the upcoming festival, a competition between golems will most likely see a new ruler chosen for the city, and Granion and Haizen sponsor Galia and Huey to create perfect golems to do battle in their name. And Lina and Naga get caught up right in the middle.
Picture: Disc 2 – Slayers Return/Slayers Great
Slayers Return gets a 1.85:1 letterbox transfer just like the first film, and it’s an NTSC-PAL standards conversion, but it’s still a small step up in terms of clarity, vividness of colours, and quality of animation.
Slayers Great gets a 4:3 regular transfer, again an NTSC-PAL standards conversion, although it looks like the native aspect ratio. Certainly there didn’t seem to be any cropping, any missing picture information or awkward framing. There is one pixellated frame at 40:07 into the film though.
Sound: Disc 2 – Slayers Return/Slayers Great
Both films offer the choice of DD 2.0 English and Japanese, with optional subtitles and signs only tracks. The subtitles are zoom friendly on Slayers Return (although not quite overscan friendly, depending on the vintage of your television). The music for Slayers Return offers a theatrical level orchestration, but there is some small issue with inconsistency in translating spell names in the subtitles, with the series, with the previous film, and in couple of cases a lack of internal consistency as well. The subtitle inconsistency is apparent in Slayers Great as well. The music isn’t quite as grand, but the subtitles aren’t affected by overscan.
Extras: Disc 2 – Slayers Return/Slayers Great
Place the disc in your player and you are offered choices of menu screens for both films, although can switch from any menu to the other film as well. Both offer anamorphic menus for non-anamorphic films. The sole difference is that Slayers Return has its trailer, and Slayers Great has its trailer. From the extras menu, you’ll find further trailers for D.N. Angel, Cromartie High School, Full Metal Panic Fumoffu, and Kaleido Star.
Conclusion: Disc 2 – Slayers Return/Slayers Great
Slayers Return is an improvement over the first film, although it’s for an unexpected reason. Slayers The Motion Picture went big in scale for its story, if not its runtime. It wanted to do something a little different from the TV series, so it went high concept, with a time-travel storyline, directly affecting Lina’s future as it came to pass in the television series. It got a little convoluted and caught up in its own intricacies. And as a result, it slightly lost focus on what Slayers is really all about, the comedy. Slayers Return on the other hand keeps the story small scale and familiar. This could easily have been a three episode run in the series, with the usual crew instead of Naga as sidekick. It’s a simple and familiar tale of Lina’s avarice getting her into trouble, and whole towns being destroyed as a result, with a lot of binge eating along the way.
The story takes a leaf from The Magnificent Seven, or in this case The Terrible Two, as Lina and Naga sign on to protect a village from a band of marauders, demons raised to press-gang villagers into uncovering a giant magical artefact that has been exposed in a recent storm. It’s rumours of that artefact, and of the village’s ancient history with elves that gets dollar signs springing up in Lina’s eyes, but in true Slayers style, the comedy always tries to wrong foot the viewer, springing the unexpected. The villains aren’t exactly the world threatening evil that they are painted out to be, and the all-powerful magic artefact doesn’t bestow the ultimate magic that Lina hopes.
The classic slapstick, wordplay and fun antics abound in this second Slayers movie, and as mentioned it’s on a par with the best of the TV series.
The 4:3 aspect ratio certainly gives the third Slayers film the feel of an extended television episode, but that’s not all. It’s also a story format that Slayers has revisited on more than one occasion, the gang visiting a divided community, rival powerbrokers on either side, Zelgadis and Amelia wind up on one side, Gourry and Lina on the other, and all manner of mayhem results. This is another variation on that plot, two rival Lords vying for power in a town that specialises in making golems. They both have big plans for golem armies and world conquest, but they need power first. That they will attain by winning a golem competition, but they need artisans to make them, and they wind up causing strife in the Einberg family, pitting father against son to build the mightiest golem.
Lina and Naga get pulled into the middle of this when they help Galia Einberg’s daughter, and insist on some sort of reward. The idea of getting a golem from the world famous Galia Einberg is enough to get Lina’s cash register ringing, only he’s in a bit of a slump. Surprisingly it’s Lina that provides inspiration, not Naga, despite her more obvious assets. She strides off in a huff only to meet up with Galia’s son Huey, who is more appreciative, and wants to use Naga as a model for a golem. So the two sorceresses wind up on opposing sides.
It’s all a lead up to an epic climax with a ridiculous punchline, making full use of all the daft pop-culture references and fan service that it can, and concluding in what by now looks like a trademark chase sequence. Funny, daft, silly all appropriate descriptors of what the Slayers franchise is good at, and this third film is the funniest, daftest, and silliest so far.
Introduction: Disc 3 – Slayers Gorgeous/Slayers Premium
Lina and Naga are caught in the middle of a divided town once more. Lunchtime is an odd time for a curfew, but that’s when a marauding general launches an attack on Lord Culvert’s castle, the townsfolk racing for cover during the mayhem leaving Lina and Naga outside. Not that Lina has any problems dealing with dragons. That’s the sort of talent that gets her spotted by Lord Culvert, who immediately hires her to deal with General Marlene. Only Naga has heard the general’s pitiful attempt at a pompous laugh, and decides that she will tutor the general on how to laugh like a true diva. Naturally she gets hired to fight against Lord Culvert’s armies. It seems like another humorous feud in the offing, but there’s an insidious figure looking to take advantage of the mayhem.
Food fights are inevitable in Slayers, but this time it’s food that is the cause of Lina’s problems. After a day of fishing off a seaside town, Lina and Gourry battle over a succulent piece of octopus. Gourry thinks he’s won when he devours the morsel. Only it turns out he’s lost, when local trainee healer Ruuma gets there too late to warn them. The octopus is cursed, anyone who eats it starts speaking gibberish, and pretty soon the infection starts to spread. Lina has to find out just who’s causing the problem, but it’s hard without comprehensible help. Even Zelgadis and Amelia only show up long enough to fall victim to the curse. It’s all because of the octopi, who have tired of being the local delicacy, and want their revenge on humans. They’re harvesting ill-feelings to resurrect their demon deity, and they’ve also got a sorceress of their own to counter Lina.
Picture: Disc 3 – Slayers Gorgeous/Slayers Premium
Slayers Gorgeous gets another 1.85:1 letterbox transfer, and this time the subtitles are wholly zoom friendly even on an overscanned screen. It’s another NTSC-PAL standards conversion, complete with ghosting, soft of resolution, and just like Slayers Return, the colours are somewhat faded. But this is the best looking film so far in terms of animation. It’s directed with flair, and the way the film establishes mood and atmosphere surpasses the previous films.
Finally we get an 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer for Slayers Premium, even if it is another standards conversion. The image is clear enough, and it scales up well to a flat panel display. Colours are strong, and there’s even smidge of CGI. The characters are recognisable from the Slayers TV series, but have been given a slight makeover to make them cuter. Gourry suddenly looks less burly and more girlie. It sits somewhere in between Slayers Try and Slayers Revolution in terms of character design.
Sound: Disc 3 – Slayers Gorgeous/Slayers Premium
Once again we have DD 2.0 English and Japanese, with optional subtitles and a signs only track. The dialogue is clear, the subtitles are timed accurately and free of typos, although once again there is a lack of consistency with the spell names.
Slayers Premium changes things up a tad, offering DD 5.1 English and Japanese, with subtitles and signs. This time around the spell names are consistent with the television series, although some might say that it’s too little, too late at this point. The dialogue is clear, but the surround is overcooked, throwing effects, and even dialogue around the soundstage with little thought as to how logical the placement is. Someone might be standing at the right of the screen, but their dialogue could come from the right rear speaker. I gave the dub a try, seeing that Crispin Freeman is the sole original cast member returning for Slayers, and it’s a pretty fair dub, one that acknowledges that comedy isn’t just about the loud.
Extras: Disc 3 – Slayers Gorgeous/Slayers Premium
Just like the previous disc, you get offered two menu screens on insertion, with the specific film trailer unique to each menu. You can also watch trailers for Gilgamesh, The Place Promised in Our Early Days, Get Backers, and Rahxephon from either menu, following an anti piracy warning.
Slayers Premium actually gets more than just its trailer. Cynthia Martinez (Lina) and Crispin Freeman (Zelgadis) get together for an audio commentary, although there isn’t enough time for introductions apparently. It’s a nice, but frivolous track as most of these are.
There’s also a Behind the Scenes with Crispin Freeman that lasts 21:26, and is a lot more useful an interview with the actor, going into his career, and the Slayers franchise.
Conclusion: Disc 3 – Slayers Gorgeous/Slayers Premium
It’s the same story again, a couple of feuding parties in a town, Lina and Naga pick opposite sides, mass destruction, mayhem and comedy ensues. In structure, Slayers Gorgeous isn’t too far removed from Slayers Great, although it removes the middlemen, and has Lina and Naga interacting directly with the feuding Lord and General. And in true Slayers fashion, wrong-footing the viewer and playing the situation for laughs, the feud turns out to be a family feud, and one that’s being fought over the most petty of reasons. Culvert and Marlene are written much better as characters, more rounded and interesting, although it might be no small coincidence that they do remind of Amelia and Philionel. Certainly Marlene does pick high vantage points to declaim about justice and right and wrong.
One thing that I have come to appreciate during these four films is the difference between this Slayers prequel story and the Slayer series. The series had a band of adventurers where Lina was the driving force, if not the actual leader of the group in name. With Naga, it’s more of a team; they are equals, certainly in self-importance, if not actual magical ability where Lina edges it. But Lina will defer to Naga on occasion, and the parity of characters makes for an interesting dynamic.
Slayers Gorgeous does start off as the funniest Slayer movie, and stays that way for the most part. The characters are developed better here than in the other films, and the pace and the comedy is more effective too. It’s just the final fifteen minutes where things take a turn for the more serious, revealing a far greater threat than the feuding pair, or indeed Lina and Naga. That tends to slow the film down, but there is a suitably comic twist for the ending.
We finally catch up to the series continuity with the last of the Slayers movies, as we get an adventure with Lina, Gourry and the gang, and it’s really just an extended TV series episode with exceptional production values. It isn’t too extended though, as it is the shortest movie by far at just over half an hour in length. But half an hour is all it needs to tell its daft story, and the characters reach for their archetypal traits to be as large as possible on screen.
Lina is even more gluttonous and short-fused as before, Gourry is even more amiably dopey, and Amelia’s grand pronouncements on justice and right and wrong are even more epically choreographed. Poor Zelgadis gets the short straw and being even more quietly sceptical and sarcastic doesn’t quite fill the screen in the same way. There’s even a ‘blink, and you’ll miss it’ cameo from everyone’s favourite pompous laugher, letting the two Slayers timelines crossover.
But it is another typically light, daft, and disposable Slayers story, played purely for laughs, and without any pretensions of serious drama, as Slayers Gorgeous briefly flirted with to dispiriting effect. The short run time means that Slayer Premium also doesn’t have any fat to it, it’s all lean, mean laughter, but that also means that the supporting cast don’t get their due development. It is still funny though, which is the bottom line.
The comedy in Slayers is an acquired taste, but if you liked the TV series, then you’ll appreciate the films too (and no doubt I’ll feel the same way about the OVAs as well, when I get round to watching them). They are disposable fun, but they are consistently funny, and replete with the usual sight gags, slapstick and wordplay that is a hallmark of the Slayers franchise. It took me a while to get used to the Lina and Naga show, instead of the later timeline cast, but I really did appreciate the different dynamic, the sense of Lina and Naga as equals, partners, instead of the group/leader dynamic of the TV series cast. That difference alone makes the movies a worthwhile compliment to the TV series rather than just simple cash ins. Madman have deleted this title now, so once again it’s a matter of seeking out second hand copies. Maybe it’s time for a license rescue (and Blu-ray).