This is the second TV season of The slayers. As such it largely follows on from the characters and events of the first series. And while any slayers series has enough humor and action to keep you entertained, and keep it from being considered a weighty or arty classic, this installment is particularly good value.
Why are you reading a review, or a comment on slayers? 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 center 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.
At first the story seems to be simply light weight, episodic, fun. We effectively get to watch this weird and fun group of adventurers as they explore the corners of this interesting fantasy world searching for action and reward. Ostensibly they're searching for magical power in order to recover Zelgadis's humanity, but really they'll take all the rewards life offers, food, fun, wealth and power.
However the stories start to get longer, and darker, as the series progresses. There's two multiple episode encounters that are a little more serious. Even worse it begins to look like some powerful evil force is working behind the scenes, and that these encounters are only the fringes of a carefully laid and diabolical plan. And after the regular slayers `intermission' of humor driven episodes the second half of the series begins to lay out the main plot. It seems that there actually are various dark forces, each striving to carry out their plan. And, for some reason our hero's do not know, they've become an important element, or obstable, to these plans. The group must do it's best to survive, discover the players and their aims, and ideally get their hands on enough power to given them even the most minimal chance of victory.
Okay, as mentioned this is slayers. There's a high value placed on energy, humor and being entertaining. It's willing to take subtantial risks in story-telling to make a fun episode. And some of these jokes don't work or are simply too silly to be taken seriously. Likewise while the wonderful characters, and the great interaction, still exists, and is even extended, they sometimes need to play the clown to make the joke work. As such it is crazed, energetic and chaotic stuff that will never be mistaken for a serious classic.
However this series does a brilliant job of creating a valid non-serious classic. While there are lots of humor based stories there's a wonderful sense of story growth behind this series. Before you know it the story has suddenly become complex, deadly and far more intriguing than you expected it to be. And while the characters play their part in the silly episodes there's also some memorable character actions and moments that will tend to stick in the mind. And this peaks nicely in an impressive conclusion that combines powerful dramatics, impressive action and a satisfying closure to the story. This is actually a fairly impressive acheivement.
Meanwhile there's lots of wonderful detail to keep slayers fans happy and others entertained. We get additional insights into the world, especially the nature of magic and the dark forces. We get to see new places, sights and spells that show off the depth of this fantasy world. Likewise there's some excellent character work. We get some new insights into all the characters, and the relationships between them, that is subtly and skillfully presented. It makes each of the characters seem a bit more complex and human. Each member of the slayers team is interesting, and they work extremely well as a group. It's fun just to watch them playing off each other.
In addition there's lots of appearances from first season characters. And the slayers tradition of having interesting supporting or enemy characters continues as well. And while sylphiel has been dropped from the group (despite being there for the conclusion) we also get to meet another semi-regular character who is perhaps one of the most intriguing fantasy characters ever created. We also get Martina, the irritating naga-like comedy relief, who I assume was neccessary, but I don't want to go into that. In any case this character, Xellos, the self proclaimed `suspicious priest' has a strong presence, interesting character and an interesting role in the story. Getting to meet this most novel of characters is almost reason enough to watch the series by itself.
So while this show is chaotic, and filled with lots of minor flaws, it's also the best of the slayers series and a very worthwhile experience. If you can take slayers at all, then you should enjoy this. Although if you consider slayers to be pure comedy then some of the quite dark elements to the story might be disconcerting.
The animation is energetic and bright, but is also variable and often undetailed. The production skillfully hides most of the weaknesses, and the character designs are lovely, but the actual depiction is often suprisingly basic. On the other hand while this means that `stills' are going to look awful the action sequences, including spells, can be quite imaginative and expressive. There's definitely a strong sense of personality to the animation, if nothing else. The voices are excellent, although since it has Megumi Hayashibara i'm not even interested in trying the dub. The music is also notable excellent. The opening songs, ambience music and even some incidental pieces (including a lina and amelia number as the focus of a story) are of a universally high standard.
I'm honestly suprised. For a series that is simply one of the stalwarts of anime fandom, and had many reviews for the first season, there's precious few reviews of this season from my regular sources.