The Fall 2016 Anime Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
What is this?
It is the year 1600, and war ravages the Japanese countryside. With his forces dying around him, Toyohisa of the Shimazu clan stages a desperate gambit to buy his father time to escape. Standing in the path of the approaching army, Toyohisa is pierced with a thousand spears, but forces his foes into retreat. Delirious from blood loss, Toyohisa turns to head home - and finds himself in a mysterious white corridor lined with a thousand doors. Passing through one of these doors, he falls into a world where all the heroes of history collide, where the Drifters choose what to make of their blood-drenched second lives. Drifters is based on a manga and can be found streaming on Crunchyroll, Fridays at 10:30 AM EST.
How was the first episode?
If you've been waiting for this season's first truly blood spectacle, it's definitely arrived. Drifters is an adaptation of the follow-up manga from the creator of Hellsing, brought to life by the director of the first three seasons of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure. As a vehicle for clenched teeth and gaping wounds, it is here to impress.
Personally, I couldn't have less interest in ultraviolence for its own sake - but the terrific production of this first episode still held my attention throughout. It is easy to see the directorial voice Kenichi Suzuki brought to JoJo alive in this series, from its thunderous zooms to its elegantly crafted battle compositions. Suzuki brings a singular beauty to violent spectacle, and an air of theater to everything he touches. This episode's first half, as protagonist Toyohisa fights his final, losing battle, is a particular treat. The show smartly uses a limited color palette to hide its convergence of strong traditional animation and CG characters, and single shots are framed with careful, multi-layered compositions to create both depth and beauty throughout.
As far as actual storytelling goes, Drifters seems designed as an excuse to throw lots of historical warriors against each other in a vague fantasy shell. Much of the intended humor in this episode came from Toyohisa bickering with the two other classic Japanese warriors he runs into about local politics, clearly implying this show will have a lot more appeal for the military history buffs in the audience. The show's humor was likely its worst element in general - Kouta Hirano's detailed designs are lovely when it comes to dramatic shots, but his simplified style of humor clashed awkwardly with the show's general melodramatic style. It's clear that Suzuki's talents are better suited to shows with a unified dramatic sensibility.
Ultimately, where you fall on Drifters will likely come down to your appreciation of action and violence for its own sake. The mixture of lovely visual execution and threadbare plot, along with the copious buckets of blood spilled, make Drifters an excellent articulation of exactly one thing. If bloody action is your scene, Drifters aims to please.
There's clearly something compelling about bringing historical figures from different times and places together; it's a premise that pops up in all kinds of genres, from action to comedy. Drifters may try to throw in a joke or two, but it sits squarely on the “action” end of the spectrum. If you want to see dudes kill one another in graphic fashion with swords, spears, and guns, it doesn't get much better than this.
An action series, especially one that strives solely to entertain, needs to have a distinct visual style and high production values if it's going to work. Fortunately, Drifters has both in abundance. This episode's bloody battle scenes are directed very well, and it's a good example of the difference between just throwing violence at the screen and putting serious thought and effort into each shot. The show also makes good use of color, with the dark reds of Toyohisa's outfit standing out against the more muted backgrounds. The characters all have that stylized Hellsing look, which matches up well with the aggressively cool tone of the series. Drifters is going for a very particular style here, and it more or less nails it in this episode.
As far as the story goes, this episode will either succeed or fail depending on how willing the audience is to embrace action movie logic. If you're on board with the notion of a character surviving all kinds of injuries and blood loss simply because he's too much of a badass to die, you'll probably have fun with this one. On the other hand, anyone who isn't sold on that deliberately absurd type of storytelling will probably find this episode lacking in the narrative department. Behind that curtain of violence and attitude, it's mostly just a story about a bunch of tough guys arguing about which one of them is the toughest. There's some mildly interesting stuff going on as Toyohisa talks recent (or ancient) history with his newfound companions, but I'd stop short of calling it deep or insightful.
It's probably best to leave at least part of your brain at the door when you watch Drifters. Don't think too hard about it, and just enjoy the pulpy dialogue and top-notch visuals. As long as you're willing to meet this series on its own terms, it should be a bloody good time.
This was perhaps not the show to settle down to with dinner after work. The bloodiest of this season's offerings thus far, Drifters opens at the Battle of Sekigahara with young Toyohisa Shimazu carving a grim swathe through the soldiers on the battlefield. He's the kind of brash young hero we're familiar with from scads of historical battle stories, but there's one very important difference here – by the ten minute mark, Toyohisa is dead. Or…something. This is where the show began to intrigue me – after having been lost, bleeding in the forest (and as I was wondering how he was still moving whilst gouts of blood spurted forth from his many wounds), he suddenly finds himself in a pristine hallway lined with doors of many different styles. I admit that this thrilled me because it reminded me of Guardian's Keep by Anne Logston, one of my favorite books, but it also suddenly opened up an interesting possibility – that this show would not just be another gruesome rehash of a famous battle.
In part the rest of the episode fulfilled that, although it never quite gets to the point where I was overlook the rest of the issues plaguing it. The transportation of Toyohisa to a mysterious fantasy land where elves speaking a different language label him a “Drifter” and leave him to the not-so- tender ministrations of two other historical figures, including the inevitable Oda Nobunaga, is interesting, but the use of rinky-dink background music and attempts at humor after the darker, more intriguing portions of the episode really brought it down for me. While I understand that some levity is needed, the result is more that the episode fails to set a consistent tone, making it feel very disjointed. Toyohisa informing Nobunaga of what's happened in the eighteen years since he death is entertaining, but again, the visual choices and background music give it the air of trying too hard. It also doesn't touch on the mysteries introduced by not having the characters acknowledge them. Where are they? Why, if Nobunaga was with Ranmaru when he found his way into the hall of doors, is Ranmaru not with them? Did he go through a different door, presumably like the soldier who came in after Toyohisa.
Clearly there's a lot more going on here, and it does a decent job of making me want to watch more to find out what that is. The unattractive art and animation are a deterrent, as is the poorly handled humor, but there may still be enough to overcome this. It stands to be an interesting story, possibly a take on the Norse concept of an afterlife where warriors get to continue fighting. If it can get itself under control, it could be worth overlooking its faults.
Warriors from disparate times and cultures gathered together in a fantasy setting to do battle? The concept has been around for decades in fantasy and supernatural literature and anime (think Fate/stay night and Fate/Zero) and can make for a pretty rowdy mix of action and adventure. This newest anime turn on the concept looks like it doesn't need the gimmick to be rowdy, however; it's plenty rowdy on its own.
If you're looking for the bloody actioner of the season, this is unquestionably it. Graphic violence galore and intense battle sequences are served up by the director of Jojo's Bizarre Adventure and a studio (Hoods Entertainment) more known for its work on fan service-heavy fare like Qwaser of Stigmata and Aki Sora, though they come through with an impressive visual effort which has not a stitch of fan service so far. I didn't even need to look up the credits to know that the source manga shared a creator with Hellsing, as many of its stylistic elements are almost identical. So is the first episode's penchant for allegedly-humorous asides, which (like with Hellsing Ultimate) tend to be more distractions than actually humorous. (But I'll also freely acknowledge that's more of a personal taste issue than an actual qualitative issue.)
Many will watch the first episode for the visuals and the battle scenes alone, but it also fares pretty well with its characterizations and the exchanges between the three Drifters from Japanese history who have gathered so far. Shimazu may be a hothead but he's a likable one, and Nobunaga possess a laid-back charm rather than intensity that is often part of his portrayal. Rounding out the core trio is the effeminate archer from hundreds of year earlier (I honestly wasn't sure if he was a man or deep-voiced woman at first, so kudos to the voice actor for pulling that off). That gives a hunky guy for all tastes, though unlike a lot of other adaptations featuring Sengoku-era characters, this one doesn't brazenly feel like it's pitching itself to a female audience. Looks like we can expect a wide array of other colorful individuals to pop up, too, from Hannibal of the Roman era to common historical stand-by Jeanne d'Arc to even Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Definitely could be interesting to see how that manage that mix.
So Drifters hold some promise. It's definitely worth a look if your tastes tilt towards the violent side.
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