Slayers The Motion Picture (1995) | Anime Nonsense
For a young boy’s introduction into the world of the anime feature film—beyond those of Hayao Miyazaki—I could not have been given a more rewarding or magical experience. The world of Slayers is so grand and colorful, with an endless array of quirky and likable characters, both good and bad, and is so chop full of chuckle-worthy gags and dorky but enjoyable humor, that you’d swear this was the next stage in evolution from Monty Python’s The Holy Grail. (Although perhaps that’s not the most accurate of comparisons.)
Now if you have not read through my introductory post on the overall franchise of The Slayers, I suggest that you go do so: as it lays the ground work for all further discussions into the world of the movies and tv series. I cover the universe, the show’s deity system, how magic, monsters, and demons function, the characters, the humor, and the music. All of which is necessary in order to go into each specific film and OVA without repeating information.
Breaking off from the 1995 Television series, Slayers The Motion Picture—also known as Slayers Perfect, and directed Hiroshi Watanabe—takes a different turn by following the events of the young hot-headed sorceress, Lina Inverse, before she ever met Gourry, Amelia, or Zelgadis. Taking stories from the alternative Slayers book series, Lina Inverse instead meets up with an old acquaintance named Naga the White Serpent, who claims to be both Lina’s rival and her traveling partner. And the two set off on a mutual journey to discover the secrets of the Island known as Mipross: the ancient home of the elves.
Upon arriving on the island, Lina and Naga are taken on by a horde of stronger and stronger adversaries who specialize in different fighting techniques: some use swords, some use axes, some use chains, and some just use their bare fists and brute physical strength. But the strongest men on the island are the ones who use magic. The strongest of which is a mysterious figure, known only as The Great Master (at first), who looms on the fringes of society, watching as the events of Lina and Naga’s journey unfold. Ultimately, the two ladies meet face to face with this creature, known as Joyrock: a shape-shifting demon that can traverse dimensions by the use of tears between time and space. And it becomes their job to dispose of this demon before he can cause more damage to the world and its historical time-line.
The character of Lina Inverse is somewhat different here than her TV show counterpart, in that she is both supposed to be about 2-3 years younger, and that she is also more selfish and self-serving than she ends up being by the 2nd and 3rd seasons of the show. By that time, she has already saved the entire world from the brink of destruction at least twice, so her appreciation for life, the lives of others, and her moral fiber are much stronger and well rounded. I think she’s actually managed to become far more unlikable and short-tempered by season 4 (Revolution) and season 5 (Evolution-R), though. But you can be the judge of that if you ever get around to watching the entire show for yourself.
You may also become aware by movie 3 (Slayers Great) at least that Lina has a bit of a self-conscious issue with her breast cup size. During the TV series it was emphasized quite regularly that Lina was flat chested, and that even the slightly younger Amelia had a much fuller pair. So enter Naga the Serpent, who has a voluptuous set that is always bouncing in Lina’s face, and you can see why Lina would have a bit of a weakness and a temper regarding her lack of cleavage. Although she almost never has even a passing interest in a man, or a woman during the entire show’s run. So perhaps she’s interested in a fuller pair simply to feel more woman-like. Interestingly though, after looking at the entire franchise from beginning to end, The Motion Picture is the one entry where Lina’s boobs are actually bigger than any other on-screen iteration of her character, and yet this is also the only instance where Lina is seemingly given a way of improving her breast size by way of a secret pond that makes things grow. Unfortunately the only thing the pond does is make things grow “old:” thus it is primarily used by a local farming community to quickly ripen their crops. Lina is rightly pissed.
Naga the Serpent—just to describe her character a bit more fully—is usually a very ditzy character, and often thinks too simplistically about things, which leads to a lot of problems for Lina when the two find themselves in dangerous situations. Except, once again, unlike all other iterations, Naga is far more competent in this film than she is anywhere else. Her personal skill-set is rather emphasized in one particular scene, in fact, where she describes how the pool in a hot-springs resort is not at all specially concocted “rare mineral” water, and is in fact regular water only slightly seasoned with weak herbs and spices. And Naga explains all of this by using her very adept taste-buds, her keen intellect, and her sensitive skin. Quite a sexy woman she is.
As you may have noticed, Naga also likes to wear an extremely revealing outfit: an outfit that is in fact more revealing than her swim-suit which you just saw above. The reason she wears this two-piece leather garb is primarily because she is extremely confident in her skin and her body image, and is not afraid to show it off in the most obvious of ways. She actually exudes so much confidence that every ounce of it is belted out and expressed in each and every laugh she makes. This fact is also carefully explained to us in the later Slayers Special/Book of Spells OVA episode, “Crazy Chimera Plan,” where Naga is cloned by a mad-scientist 10 times, resulting in a gaggle of Nagas; but Naga criticizes all of them by claiming that even though they have imitated her laugh (to a degree), they are nowhere near the perfection of her own level of confidence to be able to laugh the same way. And it would take them each at least 10 years before they can laugh like the genuine article.
I don’t think Naga really contributes as much to The Motion Picture as she does to each of the later entries. Her dialogue is far more sparse here, and her involvement in the plot is almost non-existent, as Lina is singled out half-way through the film to be the chosen-one (of sorts) who will set things right by traveling back in time to kill Joyrock, and thus return things back to the way they were supposed to be. And what’s more, when Lina finally does travel back in time through a time-vortex, Naga flies along with her, but then gets separated in the void, and doesn’t return until Lina has finished her job and starts to fly back through the portal to the present. So essentially, Naga is arbitrarily exempt from the story for about 10 minutes near movie’s end just because the writers couldn’t come up with something for her to do.
They also did this with her much earlier, when Lina spends a good amount of time in the movie dreaming and getting visions of an old man named Roudy Gabriev (Gourrey’s uncle I believe), who sends Lina on this quest to kill Joyrock in the first place. Now normally you wouldn’t be able to bring Lina and Naga together during these scenes without them taking place when Lina is awake. Although what’s funny is that it is clearly shown (once again in the Slayers Special) that Lina and Naga can communicate with each other by thought: unless of course that was just supposed to show that the two can communicate by facial expressions. Either way, I think we could have done with a lot more Naga the Serpent in The Motion Picture, as it was the first introduction of Naga on screen. So why would you decide to down-play her role?
The many different villains featured in The Slayers Motion Picture are some of the best things about the Slayers franchise, as each movie has its own unique group of baddies. Some films have more, some less, but each is just as fun and enjoyable as the last bunch.
Here the majority of our baddies are dispatched with in the first few moments. We have a trio of highway men at the opening who end up in traction after being blown sky-high by Lina’s “explosion array” spell. And once Lina lands on Mipross, she knocks out another 5 with her famous “fire-ball” spell, although in a slight variation this time: more akin to a furnace than a ball of fire flying at them.
But then we have the first of our three tricky baddies, Sorcerer A: a little squat of a man with a hooded cloak who prefers to use his magical powers to call upon jellyfish as his primary weapon of choice.
Then we have the 3rd Strongest villain, who I don’t recall having a name. But none-the-less, this baddie, who chooses to don a top-hat, cape, and matching speedo, uses his magic to take control of the water itself, and creates a dragon’s head out of it as his weapon of choice.
The last baddie—before we get to Joyrock—is the dark showman, the wizard of dreams and family histories, the Illusion Master. Once again, no name that I can recall, but his is a face you don’t soon forget. Slicked up blond hair, garish clothing, spiral embossed eye-glasses, and white formal gloves. He commands a team of male dancers who prance around with him in each of his mass illusions, which he casts upon his unsuspecting victims and audience members by way of his powerful skills of suggestion. Essentially, he asks you about where you were born, and forces you to relive your past and re-experience the traditional dances, parties, and pastimes of your particular birthplace. And his spells of suggestions are so powerful that you can’t help but get sucked in to the illusion.
This guy actually pulls this trick on Lina, resulting in the one and only time we are shown on screen anything about Lina’s past and her life as a child: before she became a black-magic sorceress. I can’t say how official it all is, as the world of the movies is much different than the world of the show, despite their similar aspects. But you get what you can.
I’d rather not ruin how each of these mid-bosses are taken down, as it’s far more fun to watch that for yourself.
But then we get to Joyrock, one of the most powerful villains in the Slayers franchise. He is swift, he is cunning, he is strong, nearly indestructible, and has a slick sense of humor: perfect for rubbing Lina and Naga just a bit too much the wrong way. His is the sort of villain that makes you feel slimy and disgusted all over. And if you’re used to seeing clips of much darker and disturbing horror animes of the late 80s and early 90s, his particular design may bring back ugly memories for you: which only adds to his character’s overall creepy nature.
Something odd that the English dub threw in for his character—unless it’s also in the Japanese original—is the line where Joyrock refers to himself as “Joyrock… Michigan J,” which is obviously a reference to the looney tunes character Michigan J. Frog. And Joyrock does appear to us first in the form of a very creepy looking frog-like creature. And you could argue that many of the gags and antics that happen in the Slayers franchise, much like a lot of anime itself, is rooted in a hyper Loony-Tunish form of physical humor and punishment. This character even belts out “Sufferin’ Succotash” at a later instant, a line made famous by Mel Blanc when he performed Sylvester the Cat for Looney Tunes. So again, more LT references.
To get more into the production of the film itself, one of the key things that always draw me towards these films is their effective and unique approach to cinematography and environment design. The lighting used in the Slayers films and OVAs is highly realistic and natural, with very medium saturation on colors so as not to be too pristine or perfect, the trees and leaves actually cast shadows on character’s bodies (which isn’t easy to animate, by the way), and the use of dramatic and rich colored lighting during intense sequences really shows how much time and effort goes into designing each of the shots and sequences in these films. And it all makes for a beautiful cinematic experience and moody atmosphere, which I think can stand alongside the early Ghibli films as examples of great animation art, even if they are a tad raunchier in content.
I talked at length about the brilliant and atmospheric songs written by Megumi Hayashibara for the ending themes of the Slayers films and OVAs, as well as the TV series. But I may not have talked much, if at all, about the orchestral composer for the Slayers films.
Takayuki Hattori, who composed the music for all 5 Slayers films and all 6 OVA episodes, is a masterful craftsman. I personally think he stands as the poor-man’s Joe Hisaishi, and yet I don’t think his work is by any means poor. He has a rich style that builds great heart and color into every scene his music is featured in. Though you would be forgiven for thinking his music sounds very similar to certain tracks found in say… Soul Eater, or perhaps titles like Escaflowne the movie.
But the way that you can tell when it’s Hattori, I think, is when he dips into these strange alternative musical styles, like Russian Gypsy party music, or quirky over-the-top woodwind tracks perfect for a goofy villain or comic relief, or jazz songs with heavy emphasis on Saxophone that sound like they should accompany a stripper. Take a listen:
These broad styles, all mixed together, perfectly match the haphazard approach to environment design and the overall setting of the Slayers universe, as there are no clear cut delineations between one era and another. There just seems to be this big stretch of fashion, architectural, technological, and cultural concepts that span roughly between 1000 and 1940 ad, which contribute to the typical amenities and scientific advances that all people in this universe tend to have in their daily lives. And somehow, it all seems to still blend together in a coherent setting that neither baffles nor confuses. It is simply its own unique thing. And I actually can’t fault the music on this front either, as I can imagine hearing some form of jazz and polka and gypsy music existing all at once in this universe.
You may also find that Takayuki Hattori’s music is reminiscent of Disney music you might hear in the theme parks, or as part of additional music for DVD menus, documentaries, trailers, or even their stage plays. It’s that overdone, very whimsical, and someone corny sound that accompanies family-friendly media and theatrical productions. Though, I actually find it more agreeable here than in those other settings as it adds to the world of Slayers in its own special way, and adds to the humor and quirkiness that the other elements express.
To now go back to talking about Megumi for just a moment. Miss Hayashibara’s entry for the ending theme song to The Slayers Motion Picture is entitled, “Midnight Blue,” a much darker chocolate track compared to the milk chocolate tracks that you’ll hear in Slayers Return and Slayers Great: if you get my meaning. There’s more grit and a more “weird” angle with this song. I also find it a bit more rough, perhaps a slight bit more dated sounding with the particular synth sounds utilized in its answer section of the sort of question (lyric) answer (synth riff) sections of the chorus.
But despite my issues with it, I still have a fondness for it as I do for all of the songs in the films. And it is very much structured in almost the same way as the other 3 main songs from Return, Great, and Gorgeous: each starting out slow and building up with the first stanzas into a blazing and bright chorus, and then holding for a guitar solo somewhere around the 3:30 to 4:00 minute mark. Although what’s funny is that while this song doesn’t do it, the songs at the end of the following three films all include a set of backup singers who have their own little inaudible lyrics, which they chant and repeat both at the beginning, in the middle, and at the very end of each of the songs. Coupled with the guitar solo, you can set your watch by how all three later songs are constructed in almost the exact same way, and yet each has its own special flavor.
When all is said and done, I suppose my description of this film was more detached and technical than passionate. And that’s mainly because I find myself appreciating and respecting this film far more than I lovingly enjoy it. That’ll be more when we get to Slayers Return and Slayers Great, as I have plenty to say about the plot and humor in those entries.
But as far as this film goes, as I’ve tried to express thus far, it’s a beautiful start to this franchise of Slayers films. It has all of the elements that will be further expanded upon in the three following films (Slayers Premium (movie 5) is complete garbage, but we’ll get to that later). The plot and story is decently set-up and paced. The characters are fun, especially the villains. You learn just enough about Lina, and will learn more about Naga later on in the other films. The music is solid, and in fact many of the songs and themes featured here will be carried over into all of the later films. Some songs are even reused in their entirety. So it will all soon become very familiar by the time you reach the OVAs.
I wouldn’t call The Slayers Motion Picture a masterpiece, though if I was just a little more into it, I actually think I could call it a masterpiece, as it far exceeds the boring and overused clichés, lifeless and unappealing characters, and uninteresting settings of Escaflowne the Movie, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust, Lupin the 3rd: The Columbus Files, and perhaps even Cowboy Bebop: Knocking on Heaven’s Door. But that last one is very debatable, I just don’t tend to like it very much.
I encourage everyone reading that has even a passing interest in what you’ve just read to please check out The Slayers Motion Picture, it honestly does deserve your attention and admiration as one of the far better examples of anime feature films from the 1990s. And if nothing else, it will at least lay some ground work for when you check out the other films in the franchise, as well as the OVAs, which are arguably even better written and more fun than the films.
Next time, we’ll be talking about Slayers Return. See you then.