Slayers: Excellent Review
Well, those of you who have read my write-ups of the other Slayers films will already know that I've found them to be, on average, somewhat underwhelming. So it was with a certain wariness that I eyed up this review copy when it first arrived, not precisely falling all over myself to pop it in the DVD player. But let me be the first to admit that this caution was ill-placed; once I sat down to watch Excellent I discovered to my surprise that it was easily the best of the Slayers OVA/film offerings I've yet come across.
You see, unlike ADV Films' previous Slayers releases, this disc doesn't contain a single 'feature-length' offering, but rather three half-hour instalments that form something of a unified story arc. And for once, the writing is actually rather inspired. (Well, in the first two episodes, at any rate. It's a shame that Excellent begins very strong and grows weaker the further one ventures into the disc.) The DVD opens with a superb little story that shows how Lina Inverse and Naga the Serpent first met – a worthwhile bit of background info, I think you'll agree – and then moves on to a still-interesting second adventure which sees Lina trying to teach a spoiled rich girl a lesson. It's only upon reaching the third and final episode that the writers apparently ran out of creative steam and fall back upon the tired old Slayers formula of having Lina and Naga hired by opposite sides of a petty conflict that then gets blown all out of proportion (literally, of course).
So this DVD gets a thumbs-up from me, easily displacing Slayers: Return as the best choice for animé aficionados looking to begin their indoctrination into the universe of Lina and Naga. While obviously Slayers will never strike me as 'great animé', it is a relief to see that it's not all mediocre, either. This disc has slightly renewed my faith in the format, to the extent that I would be curious to see more of the original TV series to find out if it really is as much fun as dedicated fans make it out to be.
Anyway, on to the episode guide. As usual, if you want to approach the content of this DVD completely fresh, then by all means skip down to the technical sections of this review.
Episode Guide (and Possible Spoilers)
It's an inevitable question of anyone who sees Slayers... just how did Lina hook up with a weirdo like Naga? Well, wonder no more! While this episode may begin innocuously enough, with the standard schtick of the 'gluttonous' Lina enjoying a meal at an inn, the plot gets moving right away as the place is set on fire around her. Running outside, she and the townsfolk discover the arsonist to be none other than Naga, perched triumphantly on the roof of the burning tavern – having apparently done this merely to get Lina's attention.
Nor is this the first time Naga thought to try this goofball tactic, as is revealed by a flashback of Lina's. The difference is, this time our intrepid redheaded sorceress recognises her antagonist from before, which in turn causes the locals to assume that Naga and Lina are friends... and to demand that the two of them make reparations to the town by rescuing some of their number from a sinister neighbouring labyrinth.
Well, obviously nothing is quite what it seems here, but when the dynamic duo go up against the likes of a vampire named Steindorf, anything could happen. And does.
2: 'A Frightening Future'
The second instalment is almost as good as the first when it comes to the writing, and definitely has more amusing moments to offer the viewer. The set-up is simple... Lina has been hired by a wealthy merchant to serve as personal bodyguard for his daughter Sirene on her journey to the family's vacation villa. Too bad, then, that Sirene is such a spoiled brat... and worse yet, one who disturbingly shares a number of mannerisms familiar to anyone who's seen Naga in action. Alas for Lina, she can't simply ditch out of the assignment because she was only paid half of her fee up front and (as no provisions were made for travelling expenses) Sirene's spendthrift habits have eaten up most of Lina's cash supplies already.
But then she gets a brainwave – what if she hires some local highwaymen to stage a fake kidnapping of Sirene, and then lets her sweat it out for a couple days before rescuing her? Maybe then the snotty girl will be suitably humbled and the rest of the journey can proceed smoothly. Naturally, no plan is safe when Naga's around... as Lina learns to her dismay!
This is a very enjoyable episode and has some quite clever moments. The unexpected reappearance later on of what was assumed to be a throwaway character is used to good effect, and I guarantee you'll be amused to discover just what shape the 'frightening future' Lina envisions takes.
3: 'Lina-chan's Lovely Makeover Operation'
Ah, things were going so well on this disc up to this point. But when Lina and Naga both independently turn up in the same village where two rival fashion designers are waging an all-out war for supremacy (and yes, meeting with precisely as much enthusiasm from the local peasantry as you might expect), you just know it won't be long before they'll end up on different sides of the disagreement. This is, quite frankly, a sub-par story even when compared only with other Slayers adventures using this same formula. After the excitement of the previous two episodes, I'm afraid I found myself dozing off watching this last instalment.
These three OVAs are presented in their original 4:3 aspect ratio, and as such of course receive a non-anamorphic presentation. The picture quality is comfortably between the best and worst I've seen on these Slayers DVD releases by ADV Films – for example, while not quite achieving the crispness and vivid palette of Slayers: Great, neither does the video here suffer from the murkiness and aliasing witnessed on Slayers: Gorgeous. However, as is pretty standard from the video masters of these films/OVAs, the usual faint grain is present on this disc... but not so pronounced that it will ruin your enjoyment of the episodes.
A standard bilingual DVD, Slayers: Excellent provides both the original Japanese soundtrack and the US-produced English dub in Dolby Digital 2.0. While I confess that I'm not a huge fan of the dub, I did switch over to the English audio track a few times while watching to see how the American VAs were doing with the material, and both Cynthia Martinez (Lina) and Kelly Manison (Naga) seem to handle it well enough. On the Japanese side, the dialogue was similarly clear but also benefits from the superb voice talents of Megumi Hayashibara, who is equally famous in Japan for her lead animé roles as she is for her song performances. (Including the theme song for Slayers: Excellent, yes.)
Menus & Extras
The menus on these Slayers discs have been less than stellar, and this one is no exception. Expect static pages with short music clips looping beneath, and no fancy transitions or animation to speak of. (The authoring team didn't even feel it was useful to name the episodes, instead opting for the extremely-bland 'Play Episode 1', 'Play Episode 2', 'Play Episode 3' approach on the main menu. Geesh.)
On the extras front, there is some good news... namely, that for the first time on these Slayers DVDs, there are actually some genuine special features. (Up until now it's just been trailers for other ADV releases, and this disc features those as well.) Included here are two brief video interviews with the American voice actors who play the lead roles. At about five and a half minutes in length for Cynthia Martinez and a minute less than that for Kelly Manison, there's obviously a limit to how much ground you can expect them to cover, but as always it's nice to put a face to a voice and hear their take on the characters. (Kelly's interview is slightly more interesting in my opinion, as it discusses her original audition for Slayers and the fact that she couldn't get the hang of Naga until she adopted the iconic laugh that the Japanese VA had used, at which point 'everything just fell into place'.)
I'm glad I had the chance to review this DVD, as it has done a lot to make up for some of the other Slayers films I've had to sit through. Sure, it's a three-parter with a very weak conclusory segment, but fortunately it's safe to say that you get your money's worth from the first two episodes alone. Also, while the video and audio are more or less on par with the previous Slayers discs, the fact that ADV made a special effort to include a couple of real extras here means it earns bonus points in my book. So if you have to choose a single Slayers OVA/film to start with, choose this one.