Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, May 27th 2009
Ghost Slayers Ayashi
DVD - Part 2
The all-you-can-eat monster-meat buffet continues as the outcasts at the Ministry for Barbarian Knowledge take on all the youi of Japan. Very nearly literally, as a planned trip by the Shogun forces Ryudo and Ogasawara to destroy every monster on the great man's projected path. The task is complicated by the interference of evil geezer Torii's men, a crystallized youi of immense power and a group of weirdoes wearing Lone Ranger masks. Moving from Shogun-assistance to prostitute-protection, Ryudo and the gang get entangled in a series of courtesan killings when Torii's flunkies try to pin them on Atl in an attempt to flush the purportedly deceased girl out. Abi's past then gets the spotlight when a bitter ex-comrade of his is implicated in the puzzling, non-fatal shootings of two high officials. But he doesn't get to hog the stage for long. Not when there's not one, or two, but three Yukiatsu Ryudos running amuck in the city. The sudden influx of imposters forces the genuine article to return to his long-abandoned home to make peace with his estranged family. Naturally, at the center of it all is a dangerous (but delicious!) youi.
Fire up the grill, sharpen the chopsticks and dig in! Or not. It would certainly be nice to give this odd, ambitious series a hearty recommendation, but even as it irons out some of its opening kinks, Ghost Slayers Ayashi remains a scattershot work—full of action, humor and intrigue that never gel into anything satisfying.
Taken separately, the action, humor and intrigue aren't half bad. Bones is known for its high-end animation, and Ayashi is no exception: the monster action is big, bombastic, and slicker than the characters' oiled pecs. With later action set-pieces taking on a massive, Godzilla vs. Mothra feel, they're also good fun. The series' political intrigue, while laden with look-alike scumbags and unnecessary historical references, is sufficiently convoluted and inventive (one scumbag wants to crown a new class of gods) to interest those with a predisposition towards interest in such things. The show's humor is less prominent, but crops up often enough to remind us that director Hiroshi Nishikiori was indeed the guy behind the absolutely uproarious Azumanga Daioh.
In theory, not a bad mix of content. In practice—a sloppy mess. Writer Sho Aikawa's over-earnest educational ambitions trip up the action sequences with mid-fight kanji-commentaries and weigh down the intrigue with historical jargon. The action sequences are arbitrarily deployed (sticky personal issue need clearing up? Blame it on a youi and resolve it with a monster-mashing!), the “character” moments are poorly integrated, and the whole jumble has no visible destination. You know those anime characters who make purple toxic-waste dishes by tossing in ingredients willy-nilly with no attention to the harmony of taste or texture? Well this is the anime they would make.
Okay, maybe “toxic waste” is a tad harsh. The power of those flashy visuals (and the gorgeously-colored courtesans in the brothel episodes) shouldn't be dismissed offhand, and characters like Abi and Ogasawara gain enough depth over these episodes to keep them from being the drama-destroying balls-and-chains that they were early on. The three-episode mini-arcs are also more tightly structured (thanks in part to a renewed focus on the central cast), while the series' growing sense of humor papers over some of the gaping holes in entertainment value. Not a huge improvement, but an improvement nonetheless.
Less clearly positive is the steadily thickening air of camp surrounding the series. The ripe odor put off by these episodes has something to do with the manly eroticism of its male cast, a little to do with their hammed-up addiction to raw monster, and a lot to do with Nishikiori's utter lack of respect for Aikawa's creation. The tension between his subtly self-mocking direction and Aikawa's ponderous script gives birth to a wealth of ripe camp, resulting in such gems as the scene in which one character slobbers on about his impending divinity before trying in vain to chew the back off of a youi-slug-thing. It's hard not to interpret Nishikiori's stylistic flourishes (including an entire sequence rendered in Lone Wolf and Cub-styled line art) as signs of boredom and his seeming mistakes (such as Keiji Fujiwara's awful, purple line delivery) as cruel jabs at the stupidity of the script.
Steven Blum continues to do Fujiwara one better by underplaying Ryudo and even (no!) giving him a sense of humor. A few of Bandai's rewrites also add extra humor, making the English version a lighter, and sometimes more enjoyable, experience. Other than that, it remains the no-BS work of honed professionalism that it was before. Even the supporting roles are cast and acted with care, and all of the major characters remain spot-on. There are no big acting blunders, no conspicuous casting failures, and few unnecessary changes. It isn't the type of work designed to blow viewers away—an effort that would only be wasted on material of this sort anyway—but it will provide dub fans with everything they need to enjoy the series...if they can.
The only extras worth noting are clean versions of the new opening and closing, both of which combine masterfully-timed visuals with solid pop tunes. Watching them is a somewhat sad reminder of just what Nishikiori is capable of when properly motivated. For a far sadder reminder of what composer Kou Ootani is capable of, watch Haibane Renmei, or even Daphne in the Brilliant Blue, both of which display a musical sensitivity that puts to shame the blundering—if often quite effective—scoring on display here.
Overall (dub) : C
Overall (sub) : C
Story : C-
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : B-
+ Enough extra characterization to keep the secondary cast from being the cement shoes that they once were.
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