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"Labyrinth of Flames": Thanks Japan, This is More Like It

Labyrinth of Flames is a severely underrated comedy anime. As a big fan of Excel Saga, I’m not surprised I enjoyed it. But over the last year of comedy anime, I’ve been disappointed more times than I care to admit. With the exceptions of Full Metal Panic: FUMOFFU, Kodocha, and Cromartie High School, pretty much every comedy series of the last 12 months has been extremely underwhelming. But Labyrinth of Flames has restored my faith in dumb fun.

The show is only two OVA episodes, but it left me wanting more. Galan, an energetic yet clumsy high school guy, dreams of becoming a samurai warrior. Enter Natsu and Kasumi, who accompany him to a remote, sparsely-inhabited mountain region to train with ancestral swords. Other characters also appear, such as Natsu’s perverted and pot-bellied dad, two mysterious assassins, a “rival” of Galan who is falsely accused of attempted murder, and a Texan news reporter/Interpol agent.

Labyrinth of Flames may share a director with Agent Aika and Najica: Blitz Tactics, but there’s much less fanservice, and the story is more about the gags than the curves. And the gags are solid. Punchlines are timed perfectly, and the wacky slapstick is more Tex Avery than Ken Akamatsu. Even better, every gag is original: new visual distortions and facial expressions spring forth in nearly every scene. No repetitive sweat drops or throbbing, angry veins here.

Simply put, Labyrinth of Flames is pure fun and pure comedy from start to finish. When Galan launches into a heroic monologue before the final fight, the two villains pass the time with coffee and crumpets. When Kasumi sees Natsu approach a puddle, she is honored to let Natsu literally walk all over her. And when Galan practices long and hard for a fight, he’s instantly defeated by a quick poke to the temple. Really, I could go on and on but you’ll have to see them for yourself.

Which is good, because they look great. Since this is an OVA, the animation is better than TV quality and shines in both action and comedy categories. Music is appropriately goofy and matches the tone of the show nicely. Even the opening theme, which is nothing more than a series of Gregorian chants set to orchestral, dramatic music is nutty simply because it’s far more serious than the show itself.

Central Park’s extras are also nicely done. In addition to the usual trailers, art galleries, and clean opening and closing sequences, there’s a 15-minute behind-the-scenes video about the CPM voice actors. Fortunately the featurette keep ups the surreal humor and quick cutting, of the OAV itself. (In one scene, a McDonald’s drink in the background has a black bar covering the logo, with a caption reading, “This drink is in the witness protection program.”) The extras wrap up with a text interview with the Japanese creators. It was a good read, and you could tell they had a sense of humor while making this work. One little note: this project was originally supposed to be a historical drama, and far more serious. I’m glad they didn’t go that route.

If there’s one flaw with this release, it’s the English dub. While not quite as awful as Mouse, it’s still rather grating. VAs either overact or underact, and not at the right times, either. Much of the dialog feels stilted and unnatural. Galan sounds like a California surfer. The characters with foreign accents (such as Carrie the Texan) are too over the top. If you want good Texas accents that don’t overdo it, look no further than Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi. A general lack of professionalism in the dub defuses any efforts to be deliberatly corny.

I went in expecting to tear this show apart, expecting just another overlong, lame comedy with the same recycled shtick and panty shots. Thankfully I was proven wrong, and the show was over far too soon. If you’re a fan of the old Warner Bros. toons and are sick of angsty “dramedies,” give Labyrinth of Flames a shot. Heck, at the low price of $9.99, how can you go wrong?

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