It's funny how anime works sometimes. Take long running fantasy comedy Slayers, in the US the rights to the three TV series are owned by one company and the rights to the films and specials that followed are owned by another. These kinds of licensing issues can often affect the UK release of a series, and it is because of this that so far only four of the Slayers specials have received a DVD release here, whilst the film and two further specials remain confined to VHS. Slayers Return was the first part of the franchise to hit DVD in the UK, and is luckily an hour long standalone story that requires no real prior knowledge of the series to enjoy.
The story starts off in a traditional fantasy manner with evil overlord Galev enslaving the village of Biaz as part of his plan of world domination. However, one of the villagers - a girl named Seleena - escapes his clutches to seek help, and ends up falling into the laps of the powerful sorceresses Lina Inverse and Naga The Serpent. Unfortunately for Seleena the fiery but extremely powerful Lina and the over-endowed and underdressed Naga are only really interested in money and big dinners, but after hearing the name of the town Lina uncharacteristically agrees to help. Suspicious of Lina's sudden bout of public spiritedness Naga tags along and the pair soon discover the real intentions of Galev and his Zein organisation. Hidden near Biaz is an ancient artefact from the time of the Elves, an artefact that is the key to Galev's plans, an artefact that is also worth a fortune, but an artefact that could also spell doom for our heroines...
If the above sounds like pretty standard fantasy fare there is good reason. Slayers is a well-observed comedy that pokes fun at the fantasy genre to which it belongs, and unlike the earlier Slayers The Movie, which flirted with serious drama and horror, Slayers Return has its tongue firmly in cheek throughout. The film uses fantasy clichés to its advantage, setting up standard situations before turning them on their head to great comic effect, and backs it up with plenty of slapstick and sight gags. The characters are good too, unlike the usual 'good or evil' fantasy characters Lina and Naga are deliberately mercenary, and make a great straight/stupid comedy double act. The wannabe overlord Galev and Clint Eastwood style village mayor are highlights from the supporting cast, and even the minor characters are colourful and interesting, particularly Galev's powerful underlings.
The comedy really steps up a notch when the truth about Zein's power is revealed, but the hilarious slapstick that ensues is balanced perfectly by some great action scenes and impressive spells. The story is decent enough, if nothing that amazingly special, and there are a couple of good comedy twists to ensure thing keep moving smoothly, but some people may not enjoy some things. For one it is pretty self-referential, something which does rub some people up the wrong way, whilst Naga's laugh is (deliberately) excruciating. It won't win any awards for philosophical depth or serious character development either, but then it's not supposed to, it is supposed to be entertaining and fun, and on these counts it really delivers.
Slayers Return is not thought-provoking viewing but it is a great light hearted comedy with few parallels available in the UK. It works on two levels in that it is a funny parody of fantasy with a lot of general appeal, but includes enough fantasy and is respectful enough to avoid alienating fans of the genre. This knowing and careful pitching is backed up with some great characters and comedy which makes it great fun to watch. If you want serious and meaningful fantasy check out Escaflowne, but if you want love-struck golems, disenfranchised henchmen, villains with delusions of grandeur, plenty of pointless explosions and a good laugh then Slayers Return is just what you're looking for.
Not much, a few ADV trailers plus some cringe-worthy American Slayers trailers.