With such a relentless release schedule for the Slayers anime last year it doesn't seem to be over 6 months since the final volume of Slayers Next was released. Traditionally MVM don't release box sets of anime series until some time after the series ends, but in recent times the gap between series and box set has been lessening. Whilst this is great for those who have yet to pick up the Slayers series, it must be a bit annoying for those who paid full whack for the single volumes less than a year ago.
But anyhoo, on to the series! Slayers Next
follows on almost immediately from where the original Slayers series
ended with our (anti)hero Lina Inverse scouring the land for rare magical
artefacts, treasure and food. Accompanied by dim swordsman Gourry Gabriev,
Lina decides to visit the city of Xoana in order to, erm, 'borrow' a legendary
magical text that is held there. In the city they run into former
companion Zelgadis, a chimera who is hoping the book contains a way to change
him back to a human, and Amelia Wil Tesla Seyruun, a justice-loving princess who
travelled with them through much of the last series. Not finding what they
wanted (and making an eternal enemy out of Xoana's princess Martina) the four
decide to hunt down the most powerful of all magical texts - the Clare Bible.
Zelgadis hopes the book will help him become human once more, but for Lina it
could hold the secrets to the Giga Slave, the awesomely powerful spell she used
to defeat a terrible demon lord in series 1. Aided, and sometimes
hindered, in their quest by the enigmatic priest Xellos our intrepid heroes
travel through the land following every lead they can and getting into numerous
odd situations. However, it isn't all fun and games for Lina & co, the
powerful demon lord Gaav has set his sights on Lina and hopes to kill her to
scupper the plans of his master - the awesomely powerful Hellmaster Phibrizzo.
As she stands Lina has no chance against Gaav, so it is a race against time to
track down and unlock the secrets of the Clare Bible before Gaav can find
The original Slayers series was great fun and pretty entertaining, but if it had a flaw it was that it sometimes felt like two separate series - a serious fantasy anime and a fantasy comedy - unceremoniously mashed together. This led to some quite jarring changes of tone, and thankfully that's something this series addresses pretty early on. For the first time the creators blend the action, drama, horror and comedy successfully, and it this balance of styles just improves as the series progresses. The animation and art is also an improvement on the first series, even though it lacks the computer rendered clarity of modern anime.
The biggest improvement though is in both the story and the characters. This time the central cast is well established and both the Japanese and English dub cast seem to have grown into their roles. The Japanese dub is especially good, and it's great to see new characters introduced who are more than just background. Martina is the weaker of the additions, seemingly just existing to antagonise Lina, but Gaav and Phibrizzo are great and the scheming Xellos is superb. His addition brings a whole new dimension to the story and also provides someone for Lina to pit her wits against on a regular basis.
The story is excellent too. Although it follows the
general flow set down in series 1 (light episodes -> big mid-series battle ->
light episodes -> big climactic series battle) the story this time is a lot less
predicable than that in the first series, throwing in some unexpected plot
twists and some truly emotional scenes. Lina learns the true terrifying
power of the Giga Slave spell and sees what would have happened if she had mis-controlled
it at the end of the first series, and this series' demonic villain shows no
mercy towards her companions. Because of this Slayers Next has a
lot more impact than the first series and it is great to see some real drama in
a series which, on the face of it, could have been pretty lightweight.
What I personally liked about Slayers Next was how it pushed the
characters, it could have easily just done the same as the first series but
instead it developed the established cast by putting real challenges in their
paths and forcing them to make difficult decisions. A perfect example of
this is the fact that Lina is stripped of her powers for several episodes in the
middle of the series and is forced to survive on her wits whilst enemies come
thick and fast. Unlike many fighting anime where the secondary characters
are there simply to buy time for thee main character to discover some new power,
Lina often relies on the support of her companions and in many cases it is only
their combined power that allows them to overcome insurmountable odds.
Slayers Next probably represents the high point of the original 3-series franchise, but its only real flaw is that it reverses several of its braver decisions in order to reset everything for the third series. Although in some cases I'm kind of glad they did, I'm also disappointed that the writers didn't try to push the series in brand new directions by sticking with some of the more controversial choices they made during the story. As it is it feels like a hasty change was penned in after the writers found that a new series had been greenlit, and it reduces the impact of some of the later drama. I suppose if they had stuck with it Slayers may
never have had a revival and we may not have been seeing these releases here in the UK, but hey, I can still moan. The characters are pushed and developed in the series, but some of the more serious developments - particularly in the romance department - are abandoned, which is a shame.
For the most part Slayers Next is the best of the three series currently available here (I have not seen the forthcoming Slayers Revolution or Evolution-R at the time of writing), It balances the darker and lighter sides of the story perfectly and manages to deliver some true laughs and some real shocks as it progresses. It is a shame that it hits the reset button at certain points but as a whole the series manages to build on the foundations laid by series 1 and develop both the characters and the story to great effect. If you have yet to check out Slayers you don't really have any excuse now the box sets are being released, it may not be the best looking or coolest new anime, but few fantasy comedies can hold a candle to it - excellent stuff.
The same as the single disc releases, trailers, clean opening/closing sequences, galleries and a decent discussion with the American voice actors for Lina, Amelia and Zelgadis, who discuss the series, characters and dubbing process. Not bad.