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Anime Reviews: Slayers
Some Basic Info About the Series You Might Wanna Know
Production: Kadokawa Shoten
Series Length: 26 episodes
Air Dates: 4/7/1995 to 9/29/1995
Age Rating: 13+ (mild violence, mild language, brief partial nudity)
Summary: Lina Inverse, the infamous teenage sorceress otherwise known as "The Bandit Killer," greatly enjoys taking from the rich (as well as everyone else) and giving to herself. On a fairly routine destruction of a bandit hideout, she finds a strange orihalcon statue among her spoils, but she is tailed the next day by surviving bandits before she is saved by a swordsman named Gourry (whose help Lina says she didn't need). Unfortunately for Lina, there are others searching for the statue, and who would give anything to obtain it. Standing against her are Zelgadis, a mysterious swordsman whose tough skin and cold personality make him a serious threat, and Rezo the Red Priest, the most powerful magi of the age. If Lina's going to protect her loot, she's gonna have to fight to survive, too!
The Good: Iconic characters; legendary voice acting and music; excellent comedy backed by a surprisingly engaging story
The Bad: Bare-bones art and animation; filler episodes
The Ugly: Vrumugun's English voice actor and his ridiculous lisp
Now, how in the world did I end up here?
You would think logic would dictate that my first review would be for this series and not its sequel, Slayers NEXT, but that would imply my decisions revolve around logic. Which they don't. Slayers NEXT may have been my favorite entry in this venerable franchise, but Slayers right here is where it all began. Slayers holds the honorable distinction of being the first major anime series I discovered outside of the scheduled TV programming of the time (2001, to be exact), and thus, saying it had a profound impact on my entire anime-viewing history would be grossly underselling it. And it's not just me, either--dig deep in the dark recesses of the anime community, and you'll find bitter old men like myself who count this series among the treasures of their adolescence. But now, I will endeavor to take a look and see if one of the cornerstones that define my pop-culture existence continues to hold up! Which it most likely will!
What helped make Slayers one of the premier anime of the 90s?
Right out of the gate, the first thing everyone remembers about Slayers is its honest-to-God iconic and memorable cast of characters. Lina Inverse with her fiery red hair and even fiery-er temper is a joy to behold in every frame she's in, giving Slayers its defining charm and devil-may-care attitude. Her sidekick, the dim-witted but well-intentioned and swordsman extraordinaire Gourry, serves as a constant and hilarious foil to Lina's hot-headedness, and his lovable naivete makes for a plethora of memorable gags. Not long into the series, we also meet the mysterious and deathly serious Zelgadis, a bitter and sarcastic man whose bizarre appearance paired with his prodigious skill in both melee and magical combat make him a formidable force to reckon with. Later on, we're treated to the Lawful-Good-at-all-costs goodness that is Amelia, whose endless enthusiasm and love of impartial justice make her an essential member of the cast. Since 1995, we've seen characters like these crop up in anime of all shapes and sizes, but if you ask me, they're pale imitations of the titans that came before--Slayers may be old, but its character gags were on-point.
One of the series' other strengths is its mastery in music and voice acting. Its main themes, "Get Along, Try Again" by Megumi Hayashibara and "Kujikenaikara!" by Masami Okui, are some of the most delicious mid-90s cheese you'll ever taste, and the series' various synth-heavy background music is chock-full of memorable cues and stings that remain with me to this very day. As far as the voice acting goes, the Japanese version is a timeless classic with many of the industry's biggest names at the time putting out the work that defines their entire careers, but the English version deserves attention, as well--it might be rougher and cheesier, but Lisa Ortiz's Lina and Eric Stuart's Gourry are absolutely definitive for me, and we've even got Our Lord and Savior, Crispin Freeman, entering the wild world of anime dubbing with his first major role as Zelgadis. Also, even if the English dub is cheesy, I don't feel like it clashes at all with the show as a whole--I mean, it is a comedy, after all, so in a way I feel like the English version adds to the experience rather than detracting from it.
This segues nicely into my next point: the writing. Okay, sure, don't come into this series expecting Shakespeare, but the banter between the characters and the various gags all throughout got a lot of laughs out of me, and the fact that the narrative can switch from bawdy comedy to high-stakes action without feeling unnatural is a pretty big feat. For what is essentially "Your Average D&D Party: The Anime," the storyline is surprisingly engaging and comes with plenty of twists and turns that keep you hooked. The series' second half is noticeably weaker than the first, with a villain who seems like he's just a rehash, but they still manage to make it work by adding interesting new characters and plot twists that prevent Slayers from ever feeling stale, despite its odd repetition with the villains. I mean, great characters, catchy music, a good story...it seems like the series has it all, but does it, really?
Where does this classic series show its age?
So, uhh...you may have noticed I haven't mentioned Slayers' visuals, and that's for good reason. I love the character designs to death, as mentioned in my Slayers NEXT review, but good Lord did the studio have no clue how to make them work in animation. The individual cels have constant glaring mistakes and off-model shots, which is bad enough, but when things start to move, the badness just escalates with janky movements and embarrassing lapses in in-between frames and veritable bucketloads of reused animations in every episode. I'm convinced that Slayers blew all of its budget on hiring its big-name Japanese voice actors and had nothing left over to pay the animators, and so they got about a half-dozen frames of animation to work with. It's not a pretty show, folks.
Another big snag Slayers hits is a slew of go-nowhere filler episodes after the epic showdown in episode 10. Besides our introduction to Amelia and the two mercenaries, Zangulus and Vrumugun, we hit a string of useless filler between episodes 12 and 18 that just bring the series of a screeching halt. While Slayers NEXT would put its filler episodes to tremendously good use, this series' filler is mediocre at best. They help a guy put on a play, help a guy fake a wedding, all that kind of thing--occasionally amusing, but not really worth the time and energy. Laaaame.
In the end, what's the verdict?
My verdict is that, while it's been a long time since I first watched this series on those old VHS tapes back in middle school, I still get an inordinate amount of enjoyment out of Slayers. Yeah, it sucks that it's not exactly a visual marvel and the filler episodes are more of a chore than a joy, but everything else is just such a treat that I can't help but love it, even to this day. It may have tumbled out of my favorites list as better anime have entered my life, but there is no denying that Slayers will forever hold a special place in my heart, along with its follow-up. Absolutely essential viewing for old-school anime fans.
Final Score: 8 out of 10. Slayers is a tried-and-true classic series of the mid-1990s, with its music and characters being outright legendary among old-school anime fans like myself, even if I have to conveniently overlook its unimpressive visuals and patience-testing filler episodes.