Written by Richard Brown
I have to be honest; I’m not really a fantasy fan. I’ve enjoyed the Lord of the Rings films and Final Fantasy, but I’ve always preferred science fiction, or more light-hearted fantasy like the works of Terry Prachett or the Disgaea games. Slayers (“the” is optional) definitely fits into the funny category, but is it worth your time? Read on to see my findings.
The Basic Plot
Lina Inverse is a young Sorceress, who is powerful, but a little selfish, greedy and short tempered, something which as lead her to be known as “Dragon Spooker” and “Enemy of All That Live”. One day she meets Gourry Gabriev, a swordsman of considerable talent, but minimal intelligence. After an intial understanding, Gourry volunteers to become Lina’s bodyguard and the rest is history. All Lina wants from life is to get rich quick, but a recent haul of loot is about to drag her into the first of many mysterious plots.
Real Men, Real Role Player, Loonies and Munchkins
An interesting titbit I same across when writing this review was the rumour that the series was based on the adventures of a Dungeons and Dragons group. I found this very easy to believe. The Slayers cast often reminded me of the characters that turn up in the Dungeons and Dragons games I’ve attended. They’re a bunch of sociopathic misfits with unstable personalities, fond of messing about, but nevertheless attracting every secret plot and monster in a 50 mile radius. Sound familiar? How about Lina’s fixation on treasure, and vastly overpowered spell selection? Or Gourry’s barely-functional brain? The send-ups of the fantasy genre are pretty inspired and consistently funny, although the anime does not rely on nerd humour. Slayers is a broad swipe at the fantasy genre, with most of its comedy coming from its characters with the occasional flash of genre-savvy self-awareness. Once you’ve got the characters down, you’re half way there, and this anime does have the characters.
This having been said, role-playing campaigns would not, in my experience, make for great stories once written down, and Slayers seems to have confirmed my opinion. What can pass for plot in such games are the Dungeon Masters gently guiding or outright forcing players into events in an attempt to provide some meaning or gravitas to the experience beyond a +3 sword of flame. Slayers suffers from the same problem shared by most comedy-action hybrids; the dafter aspects are better than the serious, and when something intended to be dramatic happens, you keep expecting a punch line. The anime plays its adventure book plot completely straight, which feels a little basic in comparison to the characterisation. The difference between the comedy and the serious is very noticable, and if you’re expecting Discworld, think again. The combat sequences are also patchy, although that’s due to 1995 TV production values, rather than a lack of effort.
Slayers works best when it’s just being silly, not when it’s trying to build up the latest big bad. Lina and Gourry work very well as a double act, the latter acting as something of a restraining influence, as having someone she must explain the plan to, seems to force Lina to actually have one. The plans, predictably, don’t work, but that’s part of the fun. There’s a number of funny supporting characters and an honourable mention to Prince Phil, who manages to make pacifism entertaining. The series also does good line in fish men. However, these aren’t quite the belly laughs needed to offset the animes other weaknesses.
Slayers is trying to have it both ways, making jokes about fantasy convention, but still following them to the letter. Slayers is a fun anime, but lightweight. Your mileage may vary, but its worth a go.