It was interesting to watch Slayers Try so soon after Lost Universe, because they not only spring from the same source, they also tell significantly different versions of very similar stories. Slayers Try proves that you can achieve a lot more if you focus your storytelling and develop your characters sufficiently, although it does have the admitted benefit of two series’ worth of audience knowledge behind it.
After the events of Slayers Next, the barrier that separated one part of the world from the rest of it has disappeared. Filia, priestess of the Fire Dragon King, approaches sorceress Lina Inverse and her party with a prophecy. Lina agrees to try to stop Darkstar from both entering the world and destroying it, but first she has to face the various obstacles standing in the way of accomplishing this goal.
Slayers Try is a series that wastes surprisingly little time in getting to its multitude of points. Almost straight away Lina has a goal and goes in largely dogged pursuit of it, without exerting much effort on less significant trifles. Unlike Lost Universe, character motivation is always coherent and the overarching plot never strays from the sensical. As a straight arrow of story, the series is admirable.
What makes it work more than telling its story competently is that it has well defined characters to hang it off. It had been so long since I’d seen Slayers Next that I didn’t really remember what the “deal” was with Xellos, but I had no difficulty getting up to speed with his Monsterly ways and I really enjoyed the versatility of his face to reflect both his mood and his level of good versus evil. He didn’t utter his catch phrase until around the episode twenty mark but it made me smile regardless.
The additional character in the key party, Filia, is also well developed but it sometimes feels that this comes at the cost of Lina herself. Lina definitely gets enough to do in the course of the series but by the end it feels that she has ceded importance to Filia and this does not sit well. The series is about Lina, after all, and Filia isn’t near as interesting (although the role comes at a vital point in Kuwashima Houko’s career, before she became the go-to mysterious quiet girl) – but Filia does get the job done, so I can’t complain too hard.
While Lina fights to maintain the lead with some success, Amelia, Zelgadis and Gourry especially are relegated to support. Slayers Next’s world threatening peril was rather more personal than this one and, while Amelia and Zelgadis have enough to do you’d be hard pressed to remember any actions on Gourry’s part save for his series of comical swords. The essence of Gourry remains, however, and it is the essence of these characters that keeps the series going.
On the villainous side of affairs we have a cast of amazingly sympathetic beastmen and godmonsters. Valgaav and Almayce are marvellously morally ambiguous, and both Jillas and Gravos have a surprising amount of heart and depth for disposable comedy sidekicks. Because these characters are too likeable there are inevitably other “evil” types in the back half of the series, but they never really stand a chance to be welcomed into the fold; they are much more functional than the rest and are inherently more forgettable as a result. They serve their purpose but they cheapen the overall effect – yet the series couldn’t have operated without them.
Despite the overall satisfaction provided by the story, Slayers Try is not without its faults. After the big and dramatic events of episode fourteen, the series spends four episodes gathering its resources. Putting pointless episodes into one solid block is a plus in that they’re not disseminated across the series, but it also means that people watching this as it was broadcast wasted a solid month of their lives, and that eighty minutes of my own were drained. Of these four, I actually watched much of the first one at double speed, reading the subtitles and praying for the conclusion, something that only usually happens in clip episodes (or the entire second half of Kare Kano). The other three were inoffensive and definitely not without their moments but they were not the most productive uses of my time. While the series is not as meta as it used to be, the characters openly mention that nothing important is happening, and Zelgadis himself says “I guess the silly stuff ends with this episode” to close out episode eighteen.
It’s interesting to see where the staff were falling behind themselves, with the next episode previews showing little or no animation, and sometimes featuring concept sketches. It’s hard to say whether the work had not been done because the episodes were unimportant or because they were just that far behind in their work, but it definitely gives a sense of inconsistent professionalism. It’s definitely not unusual for some episodes of any given show to be allocated less money than others, but Slayers Try is blatantly open about it. It makes the compromises that it has to without compromising the bulk of the show.
Still, Slayers Try falls in the better part of the transitional stage from cel animation to digital. There are CG credits, but they are only for the title and the sphere of the world; if there are other digital effects, they are too subtle to notice. This of course works out better. The character designs remain as charming and true to form as ever, for the most part; while Filia, Jillas, Valgaav and Almayce of the new characters look suitable for the tasks at hand, latecomers Sirius and Erulogos are ugly and lacking imagination. It is almost as if the staff decided that all characters are just a series of geometric shapes and followed this train of thought to its logical conclusion. In most respects Slayers Try is a front-loaded series, but it definitely rallies for a satisfactory ending, albeit one not as personal or as satisfying as that of Slayers Next.
Slayers Try was the last Slayers TV series for 11 years; it eventually returned in Slayers Revolution and Slayers Evolution-R. 1997 to 2008 was a millennium in anime production time, so I’ll be interested to see how it turns out. Though some OVAs and movies were spread out from 1995 to 2001, I wouldn’t have minded if it had ended here; I’ll just have to wait for my next shipment so I can see if it was worth returning to these people.