Remember when Slayers aired back in the 90's and everyone made it a big deal? Well Muse is watching it in 2016, so let's just say things have...changed. A lot actually, really.
Welcome to the first installment of Muse Watches the 90s! Thanks so much for all of the suggestions that were sent in! I have quite the list now. So without further ado, let’s get this started with the first four episodes of Slayers!
I knew two things about Slayers going into the first episode:
- That it had quite the fan following back in the 90s.
- That people who were active fans around that time still consider it to be a classic anime.
I also heard that it was supposed to be a parody of fantasy cliches from old RPGs and tabletop games. As a fantasy fan I love a good parody. However, now that I’ve gotten through the first four episodes, I’m not sure if I’d call Slayers a parody so much as just a self-aware show.
We first follow Lina Inverse, a genius sorceress claiming to be on the side of “justice” by fighting random bandits, but her actions make it clear that she’s really just in the business for the money. In Episode 1, she meets a swordsman named Gourry, who is as strong as he is air headed. He decides to travel with Lina since they are heading in the same direction.
Unknown to Lina, one of the pieces of treasure that she took from the last group of bandits she destroyed is actually a key to reviving a piece of an ancient monster called Shabraingdo. His evil is apparently the reason why monsters exist in their world in the first place, so his revival could cause some serious damage to the entire world. A strange man named Zelgadis is after the treasure, and after Lina refuses his offer to buy it from her, he decides to take it by force.
Slayers is a bit strange to watch, and not for the reasons that people might expect. The show is visually dated, with its super deformed and cartoony style that screams THIS WAS MADE IN THE 90S. There’s also a lot of flashing lights alongside the magic effects that have since been banned from anime series after the Pokemon epilepsy controversy, further showing the series’ age. But aside from some oddly placed bug-eyed reaction faces, the animation works well for the show. It’s the tone and pacing that’s throwing me for a bit of a loop.
I went into Slayers expecting jokes and I definitely got them. The show is full of gag humor—yet its comedic timing needs a lot of work. There are points when it does try to get serious, mostly around battle scenes or when setting up a bit of world building.
However, whenever the show does this, the serious moments are undermined in some way by the humor. Villains who are victims of the collateral damage that Lina caused with her magic are treated as punching bags when their situation is not their fault. Long monologues about the history of the world that describe epic battles involving huge dragons are punctuated by Gourry saying something silly and Lina sweatdropping. The big bad is named Shabraingdo, of all things. That doesn’t sound like something to be feared, it sounds like a joke magic spell. While watching the show, I wasn’t sure if I needed to pull out my fantasy cliche bingo card or my anime one.
This is also why I’m not convinced that Slayers is a parody, or even knows how to be one. There are several moments where the characters break the fourth wall to wink at the audience with a silly line or two about how cliche their situation is, but self-awareness alone does not make a show a parody. Turning to the viewer to say, “haha, isn’t this contrived!” and then go on with the contrived situation does not suddenly make the situation hilarious.
However, I’m willing to forgive a lot of it because it feels like there’s a better show sleeping just beneath the surface. Lina started out as a character who had an inflated ego thanks to her magic, and seemed to be oblivious to the problems she caused on her quest for “justice.” In the very first episode, she levels a town and still asks to be paid!
But over the next three episodes, her character’s fleshed out a bit more to show how resourceful and intelligent she is, which makes me all the more curious as to why she’s using her magic towards some selfish ends. If Lina really only cared about money then she would’ve just sold the artifact to Zelgadis, but she’s trying to keep it away from him instead. What’s her story? The show hasn’t focused as much on Gourry yet, but his few moments of seriousness make me curious about his character as well.
There’s a possibility that the characters will carry this show more than anything else that’s been presented so far. This gives me a strange feeling that Slayers didn’t want to be a parody rather but a serious fantasy show in its own right. However, without the hit-or-miss humor, I’m not sure if it could’ve stood out from the pack when it first aired.
While the show is not exactly sweeping me off my feet so far, I am willing to keep going with it, especially if it keeps developing its characters. In the meantime, I’m going to see if I can find a sillier name than Shabraingdo. That one may be hard to top…