"The Slayers" Go to NEXT, Bandit Killer!
After the rather clumsy tryout that was the first season of Slayers, Slayers Next shows why it’s on the very short list of “Must See Fantasy Anime.”
Previously, wandering sorceress Lina Inverse and her dim-witted guardian, Gourry Gabriev, teamed up with the chimera man and magical swordsman Zelgadis Graywords and the self-proclaimed “Hammer of Justice” Amelia Wil Tesla Seyruun to defeat a reincarnation of the demon lord Ruby-Eye Shabranigdo and a crazed magic clone of Rezo, the Red Priest. A few months after saving the world, our heroes reunite and begin a search for the Clair Bible, which was briefly referenced in the first season. Zelgadis wants the information it contains in order to restore his body to his human form, but Lina wants it so that she can find a way to safely cast the Giga Slave, a spell so powerful one mistake in casting could destroy everything. Joining them is Martina, a spoiled brat who aims to take down Lina and rule the world, and Xellos, a trickster priest who helps our heroes in their search. Well, attempts to help, anyway, but most of clues result in our heroes falling into traps set by monsters. Hot on their tail is the powerful warlord monster known as Gaav, who’s so powerful that only the mightiest of spells can take him down.
To say that Slayers Next is better than the original Slayers is kind of like saying that The Empire Strikes Back is better than Return of the Sith. The first season was good and all, but this second season trumps it in every single way. Heck, the first episode alone is better than three-quarters of the original season. It has Lina at her greedy best, whether it be blowing people up for ruining her food or willing to forgive world domination if it means getting paid huge (and I do mean huge) sums of money; one of the funniest “Gourry-is-stupid” jokes in any of the three seasons; Amelia getting so caught up in her romantic adventure dreams that she fails to realize that she’s in actual danger; and Zelgadis, well, being Zelgadis. It even has a Dragon Slave to top things off. Few anime perform well in the first episode of any series or season, but if you’re not the least bit interested in Slayers after the first episode of Next, then this show is just not for you. It’s still one of my favorite first episodes ever.
That’s not to say the rest of the show goes downhill, because it doesn’t. As any Slayers fan will attest to, the comedy filler episodes were among the first season’s best and really improved the quality of the show tenfold. Well, the comedy fillers are back and this time they’re better than ever. Most of the comedy fillers occur mid-series, though the first occurs early on when Lina and company go fishing for dragon meat. While much of the episode was already hilarious, the way Zelgadis became such a tool for Lina actually had me laughing so hard at one point I had trouble breathing. The other comedy episodes come mid-series, with one episode focusing on Lina and the gang trying to gain a holy protection spell, only for the girls to parade around in skimpy outfits and sing a goofy love song. While the goofy nameless soldiers (voiced ever-so-cheesily in the dub) and an idiotic-looking monster are great, the biggest laugh comes from Lina’s reaction to the holy spell, even though you can see it coming a mile away. To further prove that Zelgadis + silliness = funny, we get an episode where the entire gang dresses up in giant animal costumes in order to get past challenges to defeat a monster. Xellos is great in this episode, what with his Iron Chef-esque challenge. Then there’s a great, great Lina/Martina rivalry episode where the two compete in explosive tennis (one can guess the results early on whenever Lina’s involved) and an episode where Zelgadis dresses in drag (again emphasizing that Zelgadis is hilarious when put in silly situations).
That isn’t to say the show isn’t serious, though. Much of Disc 2 focuses on an attempted coup at Seyruun, which forces Amelia’s father to go into hiding for a while and for Lina to lose her powers. This arc does have a lot of action and drama in it, though it feels a bit disjointed at points. I liked the scenes of Lina not being able to use magic, as well as Martina’s incessant ridiculing of her, but while she’s away, it seems as though the others are completely incapable of handling themselves without her. I can understand Amelia, but Gourry is a capable swordsman with the Sword of Light (though that weapon was never as powerful as everybody says it is) and Zelgadis is roughly on Lina’s level and should be able to at least deal some damage, but it’s up to Lina to save the day. This ends up working out because her solution is very clever and the Ragna Blade is a very cool attack, but I still wish the others did more. The final third of the series also kicks the main plot into gear and, unlike in the first season, there’s very little comedy to break up all the drama. I said last time that the comedy additions were a good thing, but here the all-drama point of view works so much better since the characters are in much more dire straights than before.
Unfortunately, every series has at least one negative point, and Slayers Next is no exception. The show’s biggest weak point is its lack of narrative drive. While most of the season is driven by the search for the Clair Bible, it doesn’t have quite the impending threat level that the two running storylines in the first season did. This storyline feels like something a Shonen Jump title would use as an excuse to make a long-running traveling series. It doesn’t help matters that the first half of the series focuses very infrequently on the Clair Bible hunt, instead forcing the gang to solve the big, multi-episode problem at hand (first a sorcerer secretly plotting to destroy the world and then a conspiracy against Amelia’s father in Seyruun)—and while those two plots do end up tying into the series finale, it’s not enough. As a result, the first three-quarters of the show feels rather scattershot, as if the writers didn’t have a clear story structure in mind and only realized it at the very end. Granted, this is a minor weak point since those scattershot episodes are still a lot of great fun to watch, but it’s still a weak point.
The animation is another weak point. As awesome as Slayers is, the animation has not aged very well. The various character designs are still solid, but the frame rate is pitiful and the show looks ancient. Considering that it is barely ten years old, that says a lot about how far animation has come in the past decade. However, the animation is still a lot better than in the previous season, and some episodes have animation that is actually pretty decent. (Episode 2 is a great example.) Unfortunately, all the imperfections of animation from this era are still present, and at times the digital transfer pixelizes the picture too much. This is especially present during the opening theme footage. Not only is the video dark as it was last season, but the animation seems mistimed with the music, and everything has this very jagged look to it, as if someone’s trying to steady the picture but failing.
At least the audio is good. Crispin Freeman and Veronica Taylor continue as Zelgadis and Amelia, which makes the first half of this season automatically better than the dub of the first half of last season. Lisa Ortiz and Eric Stuart return as Lina and Gourry, and they still rule in their respective roles. If you enjoyed these four in the last season, you’ll still love them here. Joining the cast is Rachael Lillis as Martina and David Moo as Xellos. Martina’s voice is kind of a medium between Lillis’ Misty and Jessie voices from Pokémon and works out extremely well, though the voice she uses for a little girl during one episode of Disc 2 is just plain awful. David Moo gets a lot of (warranted) grief for his role as Sanji in 4Kids’ dub of One Piece, but long before then he got a lot of grief for playing Xellos. Now, the voice itself works out rather well. Sure, Xellos does sound rather dorky, but it does fit him in a way. The problem comes from the actual acting. David Moo is not the most gifted actor in New York, and many times his stilted delivery fails to leave an impact. The Japanese continues to rock, led by the legendary voice acting goddess Megumi Hayashibara, who also sings the addictively excellent theme song “Give a Reason” (arguably the best song in the franchise).
Once again we get gypped in the extras department. We get several versions of the music video to the song that Lina and Amelia sing half-way through. The first version is normal, one is Lina-only, one is Amelia-only, and one is for karaoke. Listening to the same song four times really starts to grate on one’s nerves after a while. There’s also some Japanese TV promos, textless songs, and trailers. For some reason, FUNimation didn’t include a slipcover with this set, meaning the front cover has a tendency to flap open. The original cover art was based on the final battle and fit the overall storyline, but the current cover art focuses entirely on the “Seyruun conspiracy” arc on Disc 2. Even the screenshots on the back focus on the first half of the series. This is even more strange considering the art on the DVDs themselves are almost entirely taken from the final ten episodes or so.
Overall, if you enjoy Slayers even a little bit, this season is a must-have. This is the pinnacle of the franchise right here, so it’s definitely worth getting.