A few thoughts regarding The Slayers

I’m rewatching the classic 90s fantasy-comedy anime The Slayers for a panel at Anime Boston next month. I’ve just finished the first season, called simply The Slayers. Here’s a handful of incoherent thoughts likely to show up in some form in the panel:

  • This holds up really well in a lot of respects
  • The extensive use of flashbacks as an excuse to reuse footage is emphatically not one of them.
  • Neither are the repeated riffs on “Hey, did you know Lina’s a girl and yet also the main character of a shounen anime series, despite being a girl who has girl parts?” The whole “loses her power on her period” plot point is the epitome of these, thankfully it never shows up for the rest of the series.
  • Still, there’s a lot of good stuff here. The first arc does a really good job of introducing Lina, Gourry, and Zelgadis, and establishing their core roles:
    • Lina is the shounen hero (smart variant), basically Ed Elric with boobs: she’s extremely good at combat magic, thinks on her feet, selfish, compassionate when she remembers to be, has a vicious temper, a particularly short fuse related to body image issues, and kind of a nerd about her field of expertise.
    • Gourry is smarter than he initially appears, extremely cunning, massively skilled at physical tasks, very observant, lazy, and completely ignorant about and uninterested in anything to do with magic, monsters, history, or geography–precisely the areas Lina is most knowledgeable about and therefore, in classic nerd fashion, considers the only things worth knowing about.
    • Zelgadis is the most morally ambiguous of a morally ambiguous bunch. He’s as quick to cold anger as Lina is to hot, vengeful, ruthless, cunning, and mercenary–but he takes no pleasure in harming people and doesn’t like those who do.
  • The second arc introduces its major themes in fairly innocuous episodes: “the most powerful spell is useless if you don’t know when to use it and when not,” for instance, is a major unstated element of the final battle with Copy Rezo, what with him trying to force Lina into using the Giga Slave, and in the end all the attack spells and magic weapons the Slayers threw at him just got him into the right position for a well-timed Recovery.
  • Another major theme of the second arc is the grotesque, which of course is an element in both fantasy and comedy. It’s foreshadowed with Zelgadis in the first arc, and possibly Lina–after all, she is a woman as shonen main character, and genderswap is a form of carnivalization.
  • But in the second arc we have a ton of it: chimera monsters, Vrumugun’s constant return from the dead/replacement with more copies, Copy Rezo himself, and ultimately the Rezo-Zanaffar monster. (Those mouths in his hands are very creepy, especially when they start chittering spells!)
  • And the grotesque is a source of power–note that the two “grotesque” main characters, Lina and Zelgadis, are significantly more powerful than Amelia, Gourry, and Sylphiel.
  • Which makes sense for parody, given that the grotesque is basically a parody of the body.
  • Interestingly, however, the show ultimately rejects the grotesque: it is an act of healing that resolves the final conflict of the season, and next season the villains will in general be more powerful the less grotesque they appear. Still, its fascination with the concept will continue with a lot dismemberment, and then in the third season the idea of the grotesque as a source of power will be back with a vengeance, quite literally.

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