The first television outing for the slayers team, already well established in a serious of popular fantasy novels. With an energetic and enjoyable spin on `conventional' fantasy, and wonderfully deep characters, this is an easy one to recommend.
Why are you reading a review, or a comment on slayers anyway? This series is such a mainstay of western fandom there's lots of online info and very few reasons to not go and watch it.
Why's it cool? Well, here's how I see it. First there was roleplaying, that led to anime with serious epic quest stuff, like Lodoss war. It's pure fantasy adventure, epic conflicts and heroism. It's powerful stuff, partly because it draws from an immense pool of previous material (this being the reason it's also criticised as being highly cliche'd). And then there's the reality, that when a bunch of real people roleplay they can't help but also make fun of the cliche's, the out of control power and the ability to play fun but flawed characters. A world in which fun, and enjoyable character interaction, exist side by side with the serious plots and epic adventures.
And this, I believe, is the basis for the slayers series. It has some of the most enjoyable characters ever seen in anime, both serious and capable adventurers while being able to see the humor, or parody, the environment in which they're in. They're greedy, selfish, hero's for all the wrong reasons and yet they are the ones drawn into performing `heroic' tasks. And their interaction with each other, the normal population, and the stories are wonderful to watch. And while the stories leave lots of space for humor, the core of the world is carefully designed and stories deadly serious.
At the core of these stories is Lina Inverse, the teenage sorcery genius. Given life by Megumi Hayashibara she's a wonderful character, brutal, agressive and prey to many passions on the surface there's many signs of a much deeper character within. Joining her is Gourry Gaubriev, first rate swordsman and third rate thinker, yet oddly perceptive and an excellent `balancer', and almost big brother, to the fiery lina. Add in the cynical sorceror Zelgadis and the young proto-hero Amelia (who's picked a very strange mentor in Lina) and they're an amazingly entertaining group. Add in lots of occassional characters, background characters and complex villains (who have a reason behind their action, and may even be allies occasionally) and a rich world awaits.
The series starts with Lina adventuring alone, wandering the world and punishing bandits for their evil deeds (and incidentally reclaiming their stolen hoards). Since this isn't sufficient fun the other characters are slowly drawn to her side. Gourry as a `rescuer', although if he'd known who he was rescuing he'd have been a lot more careful. Zelgadis as an opponent, and Amelia, much later, as a `companion of justice', which really confuses Lina. And the unifying reason behind these events being that Lina seems to have `liberated' an item which powerful people will do anything to recover for their own diabolical plans. As such it's a real shame that Lina finds herself with potent enemies, but no idea of what they want, or even who the true enemy is. But Lina is not unfamiliar with having enemies, and has no intention of losing even if she doesn't know what the game is.
After a seeming conclusion in the first three tapes the slayers formula allows for some `lighter' one off stories in the middle episodes. It's here Amelia enters the story and there's some good episodes. These fade out when Lina discovers that the story is not yet over, and an even more powerful force that has been watching from the shadows has taken an active and hostile interest in her. Having circulated a bounty on her head, plus gourry's, she has little choice but to find the person in question and convince them of the error of their ways. Although had she know the true nature, and origin, of the powerful opponent she ends up facing she might well have sought another path. The final conclusion is powerful, dramatic and satisfying.
This series is not without it's minor problems, but that doesn't change the fact that this is awfully good fun. The sheer energy of the production, and the characters will drag you in, the humor will keep you amused and the story, plus the developing complexity of the characters, will keep you interested. It's fast moving, energetic and great fun to watch. While at the same time it can switch from outrageously funny to deadly serious in between any two frames.
The main problem is that the start is a little shaky, and slow moving. Lina by herself is not nearly as much fun, the formula needs the interaction between the party to add richness. Likewise there's some delay while characters are introduced, and the style settles, in the early episodes. Then again fantasy series generally start slowly, the world has to be introduced while the plot has to build up `naturally'. In essence the richer the world the longer before you'll be comfortable with it. In addition the core plot, while it has some nice nuances, is actually relatively simplistic in structure.
Once over this start it just keeps getting better. The world is rich, the characters cool and the production clever. You'll start to know and care for the characters. And the villain they face is powerful and brutal, the reason behind his actions psychotically twisted. This brings out lovely depths in the characters, expressed in memorable scenes, and requires clever tactics on their part if they are to have any hope of victory. As a result it is very entertaining. And, while retaining humor and parody, there are some scenes that are very powerful. The dialogue, and firm direction of the many disparate elements, is masterful.
The production is also interesting. It's not actually that great from an absolute point of view, with characters having complex designs but being relatively simply depicted. There's also a reasonable number of still frames when things get complex, and spell effects may obscure the background to simplify animation. The advantage of this is that the motion animation is very lively, rather than lovely stills the best slayers sequences are filled with motion and physical comedy and action. The backgrounds are lovely and the design and detail gives clear evidence of a well designed world. The depiction of magic being a particularly good example, as is the mythology and even methodology of magic. As mentioned the voices are superb, while the dub is competent enough it simply cannot match the skill and energy of the Japanese cast. Heck, there's simply no replacement for Megumi herself, let alone the rest of the equally talented cast. The music is also amazingly good, while drawing from energetic pop music it merges very well with the scenes and general style of the show.