After the superb comedy of the last volume of Slayers, I really couldn't wait to see this one. It turns out to be a bit of a different animal to volume 3, but very good nonetheless.
The last volume ended with Lina, Gourry and Amelia getting to
Sairaag and straight into danger as they faced numerous assailants in the city's
old quarter. Their true enemy was finally revealed and our heroes realised
that they face a challenge at least as tough as their battle against Shabranigdo
earlier in the series. This time round things get even more tense and
action-packed as Lina, Gourry and Amelia once again join forces with the dour
Zelgadis to battle the sorceress Eris and her recreated master. Sairaag is
a legendary city in which the great demon beast Zanaffar was defeated at the
foot of the gigantic holy tree Flagoon. The tree purified the miasma
caused by Zanaffar and stands as a constant reminder of those dark times.
However, Sairaag is also city in which the great wizard Rezo did his research
into resurrecting Shabranigdo, and hidden within it is his laboratory and
collection of magical artefacts. Is there some link between Rezo's
research and the great battle of the past? The only way to find out is to
unlock Rezo's legacy by finding his laboratory, but Eris is also seeking the
same thing. Can our heroes get there before Eris and if they do will they
manage to discover what she is really planning? Her plans aren't the only
problem though, Eris' master has immense powers that eclipse even Lina's, with
him standing in their way do our heroes really stand a chance of stopping them?
Towards the end of the last volume the comedy began to ebb away in favour of action and drama, something that continues in this volume as the story takes a surprisingly darker tone. Much like the Shabranigdo arc the story pits Lina & Gourry against a foe that is actually far more powerful than they are, but unlike that earlier arc there is a lot more horror and some real shocks this time round. Eris and her master want revenge on Lina, Gourry and Zelgadis for the death of Rezo, and his legacy is the key to victory for both sides. Our heroes enlist the help of local priestess Sylphiel to help them find it before their enemies, but in fact
they could just be playing into Eris' hands. I'll get this out of the way now, some of the plot you can see coming a mile off - for example, as soon as Zanaffar is mentioned you know he is going to be resurrected at some point. However, things don't all go as expected, and there are a couple of surprises that catch you out before the end.
When I said that this volume is dark I meant it. Unlike
most of the previous volumes this one put the main characters in real peril, and
there's some surprisingly gory moments too. There's also some intriguing
subplots, one character is a clone of a sorcerer defeated by Lina and Gourry and
wants to defeat them in order to prove he's more than just a pale imitation.
Another wants revenge in order to prove her worth to the master who abandoned
her, and most intriguing is the unrequited love Sylphiel holds for Gourry.
All these subplots bubble away beneath the surface and provide depth and
motivation to the characters, making it more than just another fantasy story
about defeating a resurrected demon. The action flies as thick and fast as
the spells as the volume progresses, before leading to a final showdown that
demonstrates the power of teamwork in a way that numerous kiddie anime shows
wish they could. Unlike many anime series the heroes don't find long lost
reserves of strength, or give boost to a single hero, but have to work as a team
to increase their collective power.
All this action and drama is fine, I hear you cry, but what about the comedy? Well, for the majority of the volume it is conspicuous by its absence. So far Slayers has been laugh our loud funny, successfully balancing the more serious story elements with plenty of self-referential humour and slapstick comedy. This time round it's serious for almost the whole volume, and takes a big risk by bringing the comedy back late on to lighten the mood at one of the most tense points. Somehow it gets away with it, and the introduction of some humour actually adds some impact to some of the shocks that follow. The only problem is
that apart from these few shocks a lot of this volume does sometimes stick to the numerous anime and fantasy clichés the series has previously parodied. This is a bit of a shame as you can see some things coming a mile off, but as a whole the series' execution is good and it manages to remain exciting and interesting throughout.
If Slayers has proved anything to me it's that they don't make 'em like they used to. Slayers vol 4 is an excellent conclusion to an excellent series that succeeded in being one of the funniest and most entertaining anime series I have seen for ages. Whilst it slips into cliché a bit in this volume it's still got plenty of action and drama, some well-delivered and unexpected comedy and some intriguing subtexts to the action. The characters are excellent, and the story may be a bit of a retread of the Shabranigdo arc, but it's engrossing nonetheless. With six episodes on offer there's plenty of value for money, and the episode count makes up for the lack of extras too. Slayers started well, and this volume has ensured that it ended well. If you want a great fantasy anime series then you will find few better than this.