The mid 1990s were a bit of a special time for anime, kind of like a mini golden age. Akira had opened the doors to the West and, after a taking a little rest, the second great expansion of anime began to gather pace. Titles like Ghost in the Shell, Martian Successor NADESICO, Fushigi Yuugi, Golden Boy, Escaflowne, Macross Plus, Giant Robo, and the ever contentious Neon Genesis Evangelion became firm fan favourites and cemented the media’s place as a viable form of entertainment in the West.
In amongst all these great shows came a fantasy series that would literally change the way studios would approach the genre for years to come. With its irreverent humour, memorable characters, and a story that was more about getting rich than going on quests, it possessed an appeal that was almost universal.
I am, of course, talking about Slayers.
The saga began as a series of light novels written by Kanzaka Hajime (with illustrations by Araizumi Rui), which were adapted for manga from 1990 onwards. In 1995 the series was then re-adapted for anime, and the rest, as they say, is history.
The series follows the adventures of the notorious Lina Inverse, a young sorceress whose name strikes fear into the hearts of, well, pretty much everyone (even though she’s petrified of slugs and her older sister). She is joined in the first episode by a wandering swordsman named Gourry Gabriev, the wielder of the Sword of Light (which Lina wants for herself), who initially believes Lina to be a lost little girl and decides to become her bodyguard.
Many shenanigans ensue from that fateful meeting, and things only get worse when the pair are joined by princess and perpetual justice freak Amelia Wil Tesla Saillune, and the man with a huge chimera chip on his shoulder, Zelgadis Graywords.
The story is, at heart, a fantasy adventure that on the surface resembles many other sword and sorcery romps. The big difference though, is that Slayers doesn’t take itself too seriously, mainly because of the characters themselves. Although the plot follows a pretty straightforward route through the series, there are many occasions where the narrative plays second fiddle to the comedy, especially where Lina and Gourry are concerned. Whilst there are some obvious holes in the story, the comedy more than makes up for it, and more often than not the viewer will find that they simply ignore any inconsistencies just so they can see Lina lose her temper and destroy something else.
The humour is pretty formulaic for the most part, however that doesn’t mean that it’s bad. The comedy sequences are actually very good throughout the series, and some of the running gags are well thought out and executed. It’s strange, but there are very few comic fantasies out there, especially those of the sword and sorcery type, and most of the shows that include a degree of comedy often treat it as an afterthought to the main, and often serious, storyline. Slayers approaches things from the other direction, and the main aim of Lina and Gourry isn’t to save the world, but to get as rich as possible for the least amount of effort (and we won’t even mention how much food the pair can put away).
This is perhaps the main reason why the franchise has become a benchmark for the fantasy genre, and many shows will, either fairly or unfairly, be compared to Slayers. It would be fair to say that the most common question asked about almost every fantasy anime since is “Is it as good as Slayers?”. The uniquely defined characters, the lack of any real “quest”, the explosive humour, and the underlying tone of sheer anarchy all serve to separate this show from the rest of the pack.
It’s the characters in particular that draw people into the series though. Lina Inverse is, without doubt, the most notorious female lead in fantasy anime, and one of the most well known in the entire medium. Her vivacity and explosive (and often destructive), temperament, together with her streetwise savvy and tremendously powerful magical ability, all serve to provide the viewer with all manner of entertainment. Gourry is very much like Lina in that he provides the audience with much of the physical humour whilst never becoming a part of the visual “furniture”. An added bonus is that he is also a play on the stereotypical knight, being handsome, brave, strong, virtuous, and as dumb as a brick.
That said, some may find Amelia and Zelgadis to be annoying at first, but due to the combative relationship they have with both Lina and Gourry (and with each other), viewers may find themselves warming to the pair. It should also be noted that because Slayers tries to avoid the inclusion of stereotypical fantasy characters, the writers had far more freedom to make trouble for Lina and the gang to get into, and they seem to have approached this task with some enthusiasm.
As the series progresses the characters do actually develop to a degree, however this is usually masked by some action or comedy so it doesn’t really get pushed to the fore. This may seem a bit odd at first, but given the nature of the plot, this method is actually better for the franchise as a whole. This may not sit too well with some viewers though, especially those who believe that character development is one of the most important aspects of a show. That said, Slayers has some particularly strong and complex characterisations, in particular Lina herself. Because of this, the series doesn’t actually need any unnecessary development, and the door is left open for the characters to go off and do other things (like arguing, eating, destroying monsters/bandits/towns/mountains, trying to kill each other (only as a joke – honest), looting treasure, etc).
Given that the series is from 1995, it’s actually aged pretty well. The colours are bright and bold, especially with backgrounds and settings. The characters themselves are designed to be unique and expressive, although much of this comes from their actions rather than their faces. Animation is a big plus for the show, and it’s to the credit of J.C Staff and SoftX that the series has held up rather well over the years. The animation by modern standards may not be exceptional, especially as it tends to add a more cartoon-like quality to movements, but it is extremely well choreographed for it’s time and genre.
Sound is another big plus for Slayers, especially the fact that the series has been dubbed into over seven different languages (including Japanese and English). In all honesty I prefer the Japanese dub, however that is no reflection on the quality of the English version, and is nothing more than a personal preference. The Japanese seiyuu are very good on the whole, and are able to express a wide range of basic emotions, as well as humour. The English cast are pretty good as well, however I did find Lisa Ortiz’ voice to be a little too high pitched for my tastes.
The music is pretty decent throughout the series, and while the pieces generally work well with the on screen action, there is a degree of repetition that can become annoying for some viewers. The sound effects are well timed and choreographed, however the more complex combinations can become a little too heavy on the ears.
Even with its age and obvious flaws Slayers is an absolute joy to watch, and it’s truly rare to find a fantasy series that has such memorable characters or humour. There is a certain amount of formula to the plot, however the blend of comedy and action, together with the unique take on the characters, ensure that cliches don’t feel out of place in the story.
This is a series that is worth watching by, well, everyone, especially those who prefer fantasy and comedy. There are very few shows around even today that can be called comic fantasies, and most of those have the name “Slayers” somewhere in the title.