So, kiddies. Personal history time… again. In the past I mentioned how much I didn’t watch anime. Like many growing up, my exposure was limited to the few cartoons that were Westernized but the term “anime” wasn’t really in my vocabulary until I was a teenager at which point I pretty much had it all wrong. That’s how little we knew back then, I didn’t know the difference between anime and manga and when I did some research, I got it all wrong, thinking “manga” was pretty much anime produced in Japan while “anime” was just a generic term for stuff that tried to look like manga, aka the real stuff.
I don’t know how I came to this conclusion although I suspect that Manga Entertainment had something to do with it.
So I was a fairly dumb kid but I implore you to remember that I was just a kid and that I got better… well, to some degree I suppose.
Anyhow, as I grew older I was exposed to new and wondrous things like more anime. Although I was a fan of shows like “Robotech” or “Sailor Moon” as a kid and saw one or two anime, like “My Neighbor Totoro” on TV I can’t really claim that I was super into it.
Something eventually changed, of course, or I wouldn’t be here. I think it all came back to me with “Akira”. After that I did my best to get back into it though the pickings were scarce to put it mildly. Stores barely had anything to offer let alone a whole section for it like some do today. Most of my options could be found in an obscure little corner shop that carried a variety of nerdy stuff. And my friend who was a great deal more invested in the stuff than I was.
He showed me La Blue Girl, Love Hina, Sakura Wars and many, many other shows. One of them being Slayers Try.
And that’s not what I’m reviewing today. I just felt I should mention that because I went into Slayers, the first series based on the manga, with certain expectations. One being that it would be absolutely hilarious and another that it would be friggin’ awesome. Because Slayers Try caught me immediately and absolutely floored me with its humor. It may not always tell a good story but it has a comedy timing that places it in the top ten of comedy productions, easily up there with comedy legends such as Eddie Izzard or Monty Python.
At least in my book, mileage may vary.
And right off the bat I can say that Slayers only mildly disappointed and I was ready for that. For one, I didn’t expect them to perfect the formula on their first outing, these things can take time. A secondly, I haven’t seen Slayers Try in a good ten years by now and it came after three series (technically two and one OVA but dammit, I’m a reviewer, not a linguist!) and two movies so Slayers was a good bit removed from what I remember.
Slayers tells the story of how the dimwitted yet expert swordsman Gourry Gabriev and the hot headed but incredibly talented mage Lina Inverse, two of the franchise’s leading protagonists, initially met and their first adventures together. Having come together rather by accident the two set out on a journey that eventually leads to them having to shoulder the responsibility for the entire world. Along the way they make some enemies but all the more friends in the form Zelgadis, a warrior cursed with a stone body, Amelia, a clumsy warrior of justice and magician in training, and Sylphiel, a rather oblivious cleric quite taken by the handsome Gourry.
Slayers is the brain child of Hajime Kanzaka and was first seen in light novel form in the eighties but was quickly made into anime and manga after only a few years. Often cited as one of the most popular animes of the nineties, it was probably many people’s introduction to anime comedy in some form or another. Line Inverse and Gourry Gabriev have become synonymous with kooky and quirky humor and parody.
Honestly, it’s a mystery as to why they have yet to be made into live action.
At the core of Slayers then lie the comedy and it’s a safe bet to say that if you never took to Slayers comedy in any of its other incarnations then you’re not going to like it here either. It’s difficult to describe the humor in anything but broad strokes because it covers a lot of ground, everything from parody to one-line gags to referential humor are used and abused at some points in the series. For the most part the show makes fun of high fantasy tropes and clichés, playfully poking fun at other shows in the process with varying degrees of success, but the show doesn’t pull its punches with any medium in any form.
However, glass houses and stones and all that, Slayers at times walk a fine line between poking fun at something and relying on something but saying they’re doing it intentionally. You can’t have your cake and eat it too and there are times where I feel the writing lets down the joke, having openings for something very clever only to take the easy route. It has a wicked tendency to cause mood whiplash when it flits between serious story telling and parody comedy, often missing a beat and leaving the viewer scratching their head.
This is particularly painful during the final episodes when the series can’t seem to decide whether it wants to put epic climax first or the comedy. It’s also rears its ugly head during the first encounter with the big bad only to then go back to a rather run of the mill episodic nature with lots of hijinks.
It’s this writing that often leaves viewers arguing whether the show is actually poking fun of the tropes or whether it simply relies on them knowingly, the two simply not being the same.
And the show is absolutely terrible at characterization. At the end of the series you don’t really know much else about Lina, Gourry or any of the other characters outside of general backstory and motivation than you did at the start. The one who gets the most characterization also happens to be the last one introduced. There’s always hints of more interesting characters hiding underneath the biting satire and slapstick but the show, perhaps rightly so, never digs very deep.
Because at the end of the day, whether you like Slayers or not comes down entirely to whether you like the humor or not, story be damned. If you watch Slayers for the plot then you’re going about it all wrong. Slayers doesn’t really care about the plot and mostly just use it to set up gags. The entire middle of the series is exactly this, one poor excuse after another to set up jokes that could never have been were they to follow something linear and sane.
And really, the same can be said for the characters: make them too deep and it takes the focus away from what’s important here, the comedy. The skits, the jokes, the gags, the laughs. If you start analyzing Gourry and Lina’s actual relationship and try to discuss romance and the entire tapestry threatens to unravel, leaving you with a bunch of threads and incoherent mess. Perhaps the truly brilliant can still surmise the beauty of the complete tapestry from the strings alone but the rest of us can’t, robbing us of a work of art.
So again, whether you like Slayers or not depends entirely on whether you like the humor and the only way to know that is to give it a try. Sure, I could discuss whether the art or sound are up to scratch but if you like this type of humor that won’t matter and if you don’t, well, then the art and sound won’t matter ’cause you won’t like Slayers. And the comedy isn’t always enough. Some episodes are side hurtingly funny while other episodes are utter bores.
I liked it, though. Enough so that I spent an entire weekend blasting through it. And I want more. I did try to watch it with the dub because I’m eternally fascinated by the debate between subs and dubs, personally being a “live and let live” kind of guy with the whole thing. But perhaps because I saw Slayers Try undubbed first, I couldn’t reconcile with the different voices. I won’t outright say the dub is bad but to me it just sounded all kinds of wrong. Some have said I probably listened to the wrong half of the season or whatever but honestly, I just don’t like it here.
Ultimately, I recommend this series if only to try and see if you like the humor. If you do then you have a whole franchise waiting for you and if not, well, then you don’t.