The Slayers is one of the best known anime of the late 90's, a seminal fantasy comedy that proved a hit alongside the likes of Ranma 1/2, Tenchi Muyo! and Dragon Ball Z in the US. However, fans in the UK have either had to import the series or make do with just the films and specials released by ADV Films. Until now. MVM have decided to stick their neck out and release the three original Slayers series in order, followed by the new series Slayers Revolution. It's a bit of a gamble considering that older series don't generally sell that well in the UK, but could this be the franchise that breaks the trend?
For those unfamiliar with the Slayers franchise, the
story follows a red-haired, short-tempered and prodigiously powerful 15-year old
sorceress Lina Inverse as she uses her powers to rid the world of the evil of
bandits. Well, that's her excuse. The chance to get her hands on
their hordes of treasure may have something to do with it as well! As the
series starts Lina's first target is a group called the Dragon Claws, and after
her successful attack the remnants of the gang try to ambush her. Lina
could easily handle them on her own, but she is saved the trouble when the noble
but simple swordsman Gourry Gabriev leaps in to rescue her. After the
fight the two begin to travel together, and it turns out that Lina will soon be
glad of his help. The mysterious swordsman Zelgadis is trying to obtain
one of the treasures Lina took from the Dragon Claws, and he's not going to take
no for an answer! Zelgadis and his henchmen Zolf, Dilgear and Rodimus
start to make trouble for our heroes, but the plot thickens when the legendary
sorcerer Rezo the Red Priest helps Lina and Gourry stave off an attack. He
says that Zelgadis is his enemy and is searching for an item that will allow him
to resurrect the terrible demon lord Shabranigdo, but Lina isn't sure. She
thinks there may be something else going on, but with such powerful people
already involved will she get the chance to find out what?
Although the above sounds like a solid fantasy setup with plenty of scope for action and impressive spells, it only tells half the story. The Slayers manages something remarkable in that it's both a good fantasy series with all the usual swords and sorcery, dragons, magical items and a strong central cast, and a parody of all that at the same time. Somehow it succeeds in balancing these things perfectly, poking fun at the fantasy genre whilst keeping an exciting fantasy tale about demonic resurrection rumbling along too. It's very clever in creating an ironic and knowing edge to what is at heart a pretty standard fantasy
story. Lina makes frequent asides to the camera bemoaning the clichéd thugs and stock situations she ends up encountering, and her cynicism is kind of refreshing. Her enemies hurt indignation when she blows them up in the middle of their big speech or celebrations never gets old either.
A lot of what makes this series good is the characters.
Lina is a great unconventional lead, vain, greedy and self-serving, but also
pretty canny. She makes a great partnership with Gourry and there is real
tension in the air when she initially encounters Zelgadis. The supporting
cast are largely comic relief, a role in which the acquit themselves well, but
Rezo and Zelgadis add a level of mystery to proceedings. Even in the six
episodes on this disc the story has yet to reveal all of its twists and turns,
and it's certainly interesting so far. The action is excellent, with some
superb set pieces and spells, but it's also funny. The comedy is superb,
with some true laugh-out-loud moments. As well as Lina's line in
post-modern irony there's plenty of slapstick and verbal pratfalls which makes
the series great fun to watch.
However, with any series there's downsides, and The Slayers isn't devoid of them. The English dub isn't the best, and when compared to flashy modern series the hand-drawn animation shows its age slightly. There's also the fine line it treads between parody and becoming its own victim, in this volume it balances it perfectly, but its in danger of undermining itself. The biggest problem it has though is people's preconceptions. Older series do not sell well when they're released in the UK, even the likes of Sailor Moon, Robotech and Astro Boy - all well known and respected franchises - were outsold by newer
titles. People are so keen to get the latest series that something old can often fall by the wayside, and because of this the number of older titles released here dwindles. It's a shame, as classic titles like The Slayers are overlooked, often in favour of inferior modern ones.
I really hope the gamble of releasing The Slayers pays off for MVM, it's a great series and that deserves more than to be dismissed because it's a few years old. It's a great comedy that backs up a spot-on parody with a decent story and plenty of the fantasy action it pokes fun at. The characters are great and it's just fantastic entertainment, if you're a fan of fantasy you'll find plenty to enjoy, but even if you're not it's still well worth a watch. Yes, the animation isn't as crisp as most modern anime, and yes, it's not being dissected in all the forums. But Slayers vol 1 is a brilliant example of the kind of series that got fans into anime in the '90's, and with six episodes on this disc you're getting good value for money too. The story has yet to completely get going, but nonetheless The Slayers vol 1 is a great start to a series that's a classic by any standard.
Average stuff, a couple of galleries and a couple of trailers.