Slayers: Premium Review
Oh, yes… it's ADV's latest Slayers instalment, available at last on our favourite shiny discs. Based upon a manga by Hajime Kanzaka and directed by Junichi Sato (Sailor Moon, Prétear, etc.), this DVD marks a departure from the format witnessed on the company's previous Slayers releases in two other important ways: it's by far the shortest (clocking in at only 30 minutes running time) and – far more critically – it offers us an extensive rotation in the cast of characters, which after four solid discs of Naga the Serpent comes as, well, something of a welcome relief.
What we have here is the return of a party dynamic which will no doubt seem eerily familiar to those who have watched the Slayers TV series, with Lina Inverse accompanied not by her preposterously overendowed sorceress rival but instead the blond-haired, rather empty-headed ‘surfer dude' warrior, Gourry. And if that isn't enough to appeal to ‘old school' fans of this animé series, why don't we throw in a few other old faves from the various seasons of the show… like phlegmatic Zelgadis, boisterous Amelia, and mysterious Xellos. (Oh, alright, and a cameo of Naga for those of you who simply can't live without her. But I do worry for you.)
Still not enough for you? Right-o. How about flashy CGI effects, a curiously-timed song number, and subtle little piss-takes of everything from The Matrix to Star Wars? (And lest I forget, perhaps the most amusing casting of Lina's iconic ‘Dragon Slave' spell ever.)
But, silly me, you probably want to hear about the story. It begins (as I believe is obligatory for all Slayers OVAs) with Lina and sidekick chowing down a rustic eatery in some remote village, followed forthwith by disaster. This time it's the revelation that some nameless evil has been awakened and has decided to wreak vengeance on the coastal town, which has a reputation throughout the region for its delicious octopus dishes. Worse yet, the first stage of the attack takes a form of a curse upon the very delicacy on which the city bases its livelihood, so that anyone eating it loses the ability to communicate in anything but ‘octopese' (which, by a convenient plot device, sounds amazingly like people speaking comical gibberish phrases in the local language).
It isn't long before our heroes hook up with Ruuma, a sorceress-in-training who aims to protect her town but in the absence of her master – who went off to find a suitable defence and has not been seen since – seems kind of hopeless. Mix in a generous helping of silliness in the form of the plottings of the local octopus population (including one who has been given magical powers to defend his ‘people'), and everything's primed for an amusing Slayers romp.
Presented anamorphically in the original theatrical widescreen aspect ratio of 1.78:1, this DVD features a quite passable video transfer with little at all to complain about. A nice broad palette featuring richly-saturated colours and a crispness to character lines combine with extremely minimal background grain to hand us a winner. In fact, the only things die-hard fans might bestir themselves to grumble about are: 1, the lack of much in the way of extended 'sword-and-sorcery' battles (which would put the visual fluidity of this film to more of a test than what we see here); and 2, the slight oversimplification of the actual character designs compared to what little I've seen of the TV series. As mentioned earlier, there is the inclusion of a some CGI-rendered scenes (the underwater bits) which are noticeably different from the rest of the animation in the same way that Blue Submarine No. 6 caused a visual stir when it first came out… but that's not necessarily a bad thing, just ever-so-slightly jarring.
A bilingual animé disc (quelle surprise), Slayers: Premium has been graced with Dolby Digital 5.1 on both the original Japanese soundtrack as well as the subsequent English dub. As you might expect, everything sounds great and whilst there isn't too much reliance on the rear soundstage, a few sound effects do seem to filter through to flesh out the experience.
As I covered in an earlier review, aficionados of the English dub on the Slayers television series may be disheartened to discover that it is Cynthia Martinez (of ADV) and not Lisa Ortiz (of CPM) who plays our red-haired heroine… but on the other hand, fan-fave Crispin Freeman reprises his dub work as the voice of Zelgadis, which should prove a very popular choice indeed. (Shame then that he doesn't get many lines, but oh well.)
The trend of extremely bland disc menus (as seen on all of the previous Slayers releases by ADV) continues triumphantly here with yet another collection of static screens underpinned by a music clip set on a short loop. Still, I suppose it gets the job done with little fuss, so who am I to complain?
Fortunately the special features on this DVD more than compensate for the lacklustre menus (assuming of course that you aren't a purist who has no patience whatsoever for animé dubs): a feature-length commentary by Cynthia Martinez and Crispin Freeman and a behind the scenes with Crispin Freeman being interviewed by Sandra Krasa (the producer/director of this English dub of Premium, in case you're wondering).
Bearing out the impression I got whilst watching the extras on Slayers: Excellent (where I stated that Kelly Manison's interview was more engaging than Cynthia Martinez'), the first feature on this disc only serves to highlight how little of interest Ms Martinez has to say regarding Slayers compared to her co-stars. She giggles her way throughout, occasionally making silly comments or asking very obvious questions in that voice which comes across as even more squeaky in a running commentary than it does in the actual film. This is in stark contrast to Mr Freeman, who offers a more measured commentary that gives the impression he's trying to be polite to his more-ignorant co-star.
Speaking of which, the 'behind the scenes' segment (running a generous 21 minutes in length) is a genuine pleasure to watch. Mr Freeman seems very much at home in the world of animé in general and of Slayers in particular, and demonstrates a level of knowledge regarding the series which you normally only witness in the original Japanese voice actors. Whilst I myself am not enough of an expert on Slayers to verify any of the facts the casually tosses out, I do admire him for making the effort of learning about the show in which he played a prominent role (as the voice of Zelgadis throughout the dub of the entire TV series)… rather than treating it as 'just another cartoon voice job' as so many American VAs seem to do.
Finally, there are a handful of previews of other ADV releases (Rune Soldier, Final Fantasy: Unlimited, King of Bandit Jing, and Angelic Layer) as well as the trailer for Slayers: Premium.
Premium is a slightly-nostalgic way of rounding out this set of Slayers OVA releases, featuring as it does a number of popular roles from the TV series. While it is true that this makes the actual story seem a bit fragmented (with certain cameos seemingly included just to squeeze those characters in), overall it's an enjoyable swan song and plays no worse than the previous films.