The second series of Slayers draws to a close after just a few short months, but what an end it is.
Lina has so far been frustrated in her attempts to unlock the
knowledge of the Clare Bible, but after numerous false dawns and an
indecipherable copy, she has at last found the real thing. Led by the
golden dragon Migalia, Lina finally has the knowledge she seeks within her grasp,
meaning she is finally able to unlock the secrets of the terrifyingly powerful Giga Slave spell.
However, Gaav is in close pursuit and whilst Lina studies the Clare Bible her
companions fight a desperate battle to stop the demon lord and his minion Saygram
getting to her. Gaav is plotting to overthrow Hellmaster Phibrizzo, an even more
powerful demon lord who he knows has plans for Lina. However, Phibrizzo is
not as ignorant of his plots as Gaav thinks, in fact he is engineering things
from the shadows and that creates an even more terrifying prospect for our
heroes. Gaav is too much for them to handle but Phibrizzo makes him look
like a little kitten, if he is involved then Lina and co don't have a
prayer...unless Lina uses the Giga Slave. However, with all that she has
learned about the spell and the Lord of Nightmares it draws its colossal power
from, how can she risk it? And more worryingly as her enemies know that
she can perform the spell, it is possible that they could have factored it into
Slayers Next has consistently improved on the excellent first series and this volume is no exception. With Gaav overwhelming Xellos and Saygram's powers giving Gourry, Zelgadis and Amelia a torrid time, the focus of the story once again falls onto Lina and her search for power. Despite learning what she needed to know about the Giga Slave, Lina discovers just how dangerous it and the Lord of Nightmares is - one false move, one distraction when casting the spell, and the world could be consumed by dark energy. With this in mind she needs another way of defeating Gaav and is planning on using the now mastered Ragna Blade spell,
but the involvement of Hellmaster Phibrizzo creates a new problem the Ragna Blade can't fix. Phibrizzo wants Lina to perform a task for him, and he'll stop at nothing to force her into it. Lina is pushed to breaking point when he turns his powers on her companions, kidnapping one and near fatally wounding another as he demands she returns to Sairaag - the city destroyed in the climactic battle of the first series.
Despite recycling an old setting, and using the whole 'journey
to this place to face me' routine which of course allows a couple of characters
from the first season to return, this volume is not a rehash of the original
series. The addition of a secondary enemy when the final battle seemed
imminent really ramps up the horror and drama, and what makes it more
interesting is that this time it's all more personal. Lina isn't trying to
save the world (well, she is, but not as her foremost concern), she is trying to
save her friends whose lives have been endangered because of her. This
gives the episodes on this final disc a lot more emotional impact, particularly
when Phibrizzo uses mind control on his hostage and uses them against our
heroes. Although this is quite a standard evil villain scheme it works
very well in this as Lina & co don't know who they are facing, and use their
full power against their friend in the ensuing battle. This only adds to
the emotional torment Lina is going through, and she is pushed further than ever
before in a final battle that proves just how powerless she is against the demon
Although this volume is far darker than pretty much all of the previous ones there are still some comedic moments. However, it is the drama that really grabs you this time round. It's not only Lina who gets put through the emotional wringer either, Gourry is torn by his inability to protect her, Amelia cannot deal with Phibrizzo's mocking of her beliefs and Sylphiel suffers by the magical revival of Sairaag. In fact Sylphiel's story is possibly the most affecting, with the impact of Sairaag's destruction at the end of the last series brought home when Phibrizzo revives it and its inhabitants - including Sylphiel's father - with
dark magic that captures their souls and forces them to do his bidding. In the first series the death and destruction was shocking to an extent, but this time round the increased character development and focus means you care a lot more when it happens in this volume. In places the series is pretty harrowing, particularly during the final two episodes when Lina's friends come into the firing line, but despite that there are still some tender moments and a few hints at romance that give the story an air of hope.
Slayers Next vol 4 is a superb ending to a series that has gone from strength to strength, and one that really ups the ante in terms of character development and drama. All the things that has made Slayers so entertaining and enjoyable are still present and correct, but the series has really found its feet when it comes to balance and the character-driven story in this volume is a new high point. I also appreciate the fact that the generally crappy demons have been ousted in favour of humanoid enemies, and Phibrizzo in particular is one of the series most effective villains to date. As a final volume for this series Slayers Next vol 4 is excellent, the only minus that can be levelled against it is that it sometimes seems like the creators knew a third season was coming and backtrack from some of their bolder story decisions. However, this is not much of a detraction from the end of probably the best fantasy anime series currently available in the UK. This series deserves to be bought.
A bit more impressive this time, the usual trailers are joined by a small covers gallery and a decent discussion with the American voice actors for Lina, Amelia and Zelgadis, who discuss the series, characters and dubbing process. Not bad.