The Slayers series is one of the cornerstones of current anime fandom. It’s also one of the few really long series being released in the U.S., with three full TV seasons totaling seventy-eight episodes, several OAVs, and a few films all out or due out in this country. The show is a parody (for the most part) of Dungeons & Dragons-style fantasy, with crafty-yet-obnoxious sorceress Lina Inverse leading a cast of spell-casters and warriors battling against demons, brigands, and ugly princes. It’s obvious that the show is popular – it is rumored to be having an upcoming run on Fox Kids. My question is: why?
I don’t think the show is necessarily bad. It isn’t. The humor is often spot-on and some of the characters are delightful. When Slayers parodies the precepts and examines the ridiculousness of most fantasy storytelling, it can be a real joy. Unfortunately, at two separate points in the show’s story arc it takes long and dull dips into seriousness that don’t go off very well and that simply do not enrapture my attention. Even when the show is in a strictly comedic mode, there is one major issue that unfortunately will not go away. That issue is the smarmy, bratty redhead that is the show’s star – Lina Inverse.
Everything about Lina Inverse feels like it was designed to annoy. She’s pushy, arrogant, and cruel to those who travel with her. This is especially true with her companion Gourry, the dim swordsman who just happens to be the descendent of the world’s greatest hero, though he isn’t quite aware of that fact. Lina regularly punches him, attacks him, and tries to steal from him. And, to make matters worse, he keeps hanging out with her the whole damned time. I find absolutely nothing to like about Lina, despite her being voiced by fan-favorite Megumi Hayashibara.
What’s more annoying is that I do find a lot to like in almost every other character. The plucky if misguided Amelia always makes me smile, with her devotion to justice and complete misunderstanding of how to achieve it or whose side she should really be on. Zelgadis, a foe-turned-friend, actually has some motivation behind his character and an interesting backstory. Slyphiel, a lovely young lady hopelessly devoted to Gourry, is sweet and caring, a complete contrast to the easily despicable Lina Inverse. In a couple of later episodes where Lina Inverse is wounded and thus barely onstage, the show picks up considerably for me. Unfortunately, for the most part, this is the Lina show, and that completely puts me off.
Technically, the show is very average. Early on, the animation is decidedly mediocre, though it begins to pick up in quality towards the show’s second half. The direction is mainly pedestrian TV-animation, though it tends to pick up considerably in skill and flow when the show’s senior director, Takashi Watanabe, takes direct hold of the reins. Color schemes and character designs have nothing to really recommend themselves by, nor is there anything terribly offensive.
This release from CPM is a four-DVD boxed set of the entire first series – twenty-six episodes. The DVDs themselves are pretty routine – sharp picture with no major compression errors that I can see. There was a widely reported issue with the Japanese track on the disc, a nasty little audio issue called phase inversion that can cause many a problem with certain set-ups. On my stereo set-up, the Japanese sounded a little tinny, but nothing too distracting. On my four-speaker surround set-up, the issue was more pronounced – dialogue sounded very quiet. However, I could still enjoy (to the degree that I did) the show in both languages. Nothing special could be found in the audio arena – everything was spectacularly average.
The humor that runs through the series seems to come in two strains – hilarious send-ups of fantasy fiction cliches, and boring jokes about Lina’s chest. Apparently, since Lina’s breasts are not large enough to, say, suffocate the masses and crush small children, she gets regularly made fun of as a little girl and as flat-chested. She’s actually fairly well-endowed, which makes the jokes (which aren’t all that funny to begin with) fall flat – no pun intended. Luckily, this brand of humor seems to be phased out by about the second half of the show, just in time for the series to take itself seriously as a fantasy story and get pretty damned boring, too. The big problem with the more serious episodes is that they are very action-oriented, and the action in Slayers is of the thud ‘n’ blunder variety. You know the type – where combatants with incredible, earth-shattering powers fight each other for episodes at a time. This is the sort of combat that unfortunately is prevalent in a lot of anime, and that I find very boring indeed. There are a few nice touches, particularly in the less hyperbolic fights where characters actually get hit and yell “that really hurt!”
My major issue with Slayers is that it seems to stake out interesting territory, which it then completely ignores for the majority of the series. It becomes what it parodies, and this ties into the major problem with Lina Inverse. When the show is being funny, she can be looked at in an ironic vein – the monster-crushing and treasure-grubbing girl who is overly powerful, and probably too self-conscious. When Slayers becomes serious and Lina stays the same, all she becomes is, well, a bitch. Even in one of the later episodes where she does something semi-heroic, it seems so out of character that it rings false.
The Slayers isn’t a bad show. It definitely has moments of real humor, and I like almost all of the secondary characters a lot. Unfortunately, these secondary characters are subjected to
the cruelties and mean-spiritedness of Lina Inverse, which makes the whole series leave a bad taste in my mouth. There are some positive points to recommend it by, but when I feel like slapping the lead in the face throughout the majority of the show and telling her to just try and be nice, for chrissakes, I wouldn’t feel right giving it anything more than a tepid endorsement.