Anime Reviews: Slayers NEXT
Here's Some Basic Information You Ought to Know
Title: Slayers NEXT
Production: Kadokawa Shoten
Series Length: 26 episodes
Air Dates: 4/5/1996 to 9/27/1996
Age Rating: 13+ (mild violence, mild language, brief partial nudity)
Summary: Lina Inverse embarks on her never-ending quest for riches and power once again--this time, in search of a legendary artifact known as the Claire Bible, rumored to contain all the world's knowledge. Why would the almighty, beautiful, genius sorceress, Lina Inverse, need such a thing? Because trouble never takes a day off around her, of course! And more importantly, she needs to perfect a more efficient way to deal with such nuisances as demon lords and evil dragon kings, preferably without risking destroying the earth! Following vague hints given by a mysterious priest named Xellos, who seems to have plans of his own, Lina and the crew have no choice but to strap down for another adventure.
The Good: Deliciously 90s character designs; fantastic voice acting in both languages; great music; iconic characters; the second half is now anime legend
The Bad: The first half is just pretty bad; filler episodes may test the patience of some; aged artwork and low-budget animation
The Ugly: Martina's fashion sense is the stuff of nightmares
So, why am I talking about this second season before the first?
This being my first review chronologically on this site might be a little confusing, as this is a sequel series, the first just being called Slayers, but nevertheless, this second season is probably the most important anime in exploring my path to becoming a full-on anime fan, so that's why it came first. For how I wandered into the franchise as a whole, well, you'll have to click the link to find out. Suffice it to say, Slayers NEXT is probably favorite entry in the franchise (though the first season puts up a valiant fight) and, for close to a decade, was just straight-up my favorite anime, period. As to why, allow me to explain~
How did Slayers NEXT earn its special place in my heart?
First of all, the character designs appealed to me immediately. The 1990s were a special time in anime history, when the tall and angular style began to win out over the more rounded style of the 80s, and I've always preferred the former. The fact that a fantasy swords-and-sorcery anime with a heavy dose of comedy existed already had me signing up, but having tall and bombastic character designs with their own individual color schemes and iconic details won me before the starting pistol even fired. To say that Slayers, especially this particular season, had a massive influence on my own personal art style would be a criminal understatement. Yeah, these designs might not be for everybody, but dammit, they're half of the reason I signed on in the first place.
Furthermore, both the Japanese and the English voice actors give great performances in their various roles (well, except David Moo's rendition of Xellos--David Moo just sucks). Some of the big standouts include Megumi Hayashibara/Lisa Ortiz as fireball-slinging Lina Inverse, and Hikaru Midorikawa/Crispin Freeman as the stoic badass Zelgadis. Though, fair warning, the English version may come off as sounding corny or amateurish at times, but you can tell they were putting their all into these roles, and the effort shines through the occasional awkward delivery. And, y'know, it was the late 90s--you gotta grade on a curve with these things. Also, while we're here in the auditory department, the series boasts a memorable soundtrack of light and fun orchestral tracks that really help to bring out the atmosphere of being a tongue-in-cheek fantasy tale. However, opening theme "Give a Reason" by Megumi Hayashibara deserves special mention, because it is basically one of the most beloved anime theme songs of all time, and for good reason: top-tier sing-along choruses like that don't just happen every day, y'know.
As far as the characters go, the main cast is as beloved as the series' opener--though, let's be fair, most of them already had an entire season to grow on us--and the dynamic between them is among the best you'll find in a narrative-driven comedy series. Lina's short temper combined with Gourry's impenetrable thickness produce far more jokes that land than don't, and you throw in the blindly naive Amelia along with the "I'm the only serious character here" reluctance of Zelgadis, and you've got yourself a charming crew of "heroes." Slayers NEXT also introduces a newcomer, and one of my absolute favorite characters of all time: Xellos, a mysterious figure who claims to be some kind of priest, yet delights in the group's misfortune and seemingly knows everything while comically withholding important information just to make our protagonists squirm. Everything about him is just delightful, you guys.
While comedy is far and away the Slayers franchise's greatest claim to fame, they sometimes find success in implementing dramatic storylines as well, and the second half of this series proves that fact handily. Just as they seemingly triumph over a deadly enemy, an even more overwhelming threat known as Hellmaster Phibrizzo steps into the picture, dispatches the other bad guy, and gives the crew a dire ultimatum that leads them once again to the now-ruined Holy City of Sairaag. The stakes are high, the characters are in real danger, and a lot of the show's lore comes into play to create a finale that other old-school anime fans can confirm is pure awesomeness. All these facets combined to make Slayers NEXT my favorite for so many years, but sadly, time and maturity began to force me to realize there were some glaring flaws staring me in the face.
What can't my nostalgia goggles overlook?
So, while the series' second half boasts a rock-solid narrative filled with credible drama and stakes, the first half...not so much. We learn that Amelia's kingdom of Saillune is experiencing some domestic troubles from some unknown party, and so we join our heroes in figuring out what's up. Once they arrive, they meet up with Amelia's cousins as well as the two most blatantly and obviously evil characters to have ever been given the most bare-bones pretense of not being the villains ever--er, I mean her cousin's advisors, Kanzel and Mazenda. Seriously, they're so obviously the bad guys that their character reveal is outright laughable in how obvious it is. In fact, I'm not even sure it's supposed to be hidden, because the music is all ominous and uneasy and Lina's crew glowers at the pair of them. Okay, so maybe it's no surprise that they're the villains, so maybe they're really effective at bein--pffffftttt I can't even finish that sentence, holy crap they are terrible. And, barring filler episodes, the first half of the series hinges on them. It's embarrassing, frankly.
On a kinda-sorta unrelated note, a major point of contention among fans of the series is actually in regard to those filler episodes. There are about a half-dozen episodes dedicated to Lina and the gang hunting down leads on the Claire Bible, a legendary text said to hold all knowledge (and then another amazing episode where they just wanna hunt down a dragon to eat the legendary dish spread known as Dragon Cuisine). Some of the group's exploits include infiltrating a town where men are forbidden entry (one of the best episodes in all of anime, and if you disagree, I will fight you in the streets), being forced to sing idol pop to unleash the power of an ancient manuscript, and playing magic tennis because Martina is just that annoying and any chance for Lina to show her what-for is very much worth her time. I find these episodes to be infinitely entertaining, but many undeniably can't stand filler episodes of any kind, and so these wacky side adventures turn them off. Can't do much about that, I guess.
But now we gotta address the elephant in the room. You've seen the screenshots I posted. This is a show whose visuals have not aged at all. The artwork is sloppy, even laughably inconsistent from episode to episode, with baffling mistakes all over the place, and the animation does the series no favors either, with fluidity basically being a myth. It's one thing for a series to merely look a little rough around the edges due to advancements in visual technology, but I can't lie to myself--as much as I love these character designs, they look like hot garbage here. I don't claim to know anything about anything, but I can guarantee you this series had no budget whatsoever. Your eyes will not be happy with you.
So, what's the verdict?
Aw, but I can't be mad at Slayers NEXT. Even if the first half is kinda lame and the visuals have aged like milk, I still have nothing but fond memories of my time with the series, and while it's fallen off my favorite anime list like a boulder, it still holds a special place in my heart. This franchise was the first I had seen that I didn't discover via TV, and that fact alone means it will forever be monumental to me--having toe-tappin' music and iconic characters is just icing on the cake.
Final Score: 8 out of 10. Slayers NEXT may have fumbled the ball on its first major arc, and the visuals aren't exactly anything to write home about, but the combination of its immensely likable cast and gripping, dramatic second half make it a worthy entry in this classic fantasy franchise.