Episodes 1-2

by James Beckett,

How would you rate episode 1 of
Drifters ?

How would you rate episode 2 of
Drifters ?

You have to give Drifters credit where it's due; it wastes absolutely no time letting the viewer know what kind of show this is going to be. From the first frames through the rest of these two episodes, Drifters roars out of the gate with a ferocity that matches the temperament of its lead, the fiery Shimazu Toyohisa. With expertly animated and tightly directed panache, it lets loose a flurry of bloody violence that is at once exhilarating and kind of terrifying. Its zeal for violence above all else is both Drifters's greatest strength and biggest shortcoming so far, but I have to lay down my respect for a show that so clearly and obviously knows what its audience wants.

How could it not, given its pedigree? Drifters is ripped straight from the pages of a manga by Kouta Hirano, most famous for creating Hellsing. Anyone who admired Hellsing will immediately recognize Kouta's signature style. Similar to Hellsing's Alucard, Shimazu Toyohisa is introduced to us as a character composed of bold lines and sharp angles, perpetually covered in buckets of blood and most of it not his own. He's an animal on the battlefield, wild-eyed with bloodlust and more than willing to throw himself headfirst into death if it means greater glory. He's the kind of character who seems to live only for the battle, and while that kind of thin motivation isn't my favorite way to approach a protagonist, it works for the bombastic setup of Drifters.

On that note, the biggest issue of the series isn't its setup, but the fact that we don't get anything but setup in these first two episodes. We learn a lot in the opening fifteen minutes, where Shimazu finds himself rescued from death and taken to a strange, vaguely futuristic room with a bespectacled man named Murasaki at a desk. Murasaki then transports Shimazu to another distant realm, a more medieval land filled with Elves who speak a foreign tongue. More importantly, Shimazu meets two other famous warriors from the Japan's history there: Oda Nobunaga and Nasu no Yoichi.

This is where the show stumbles just a little for me. We have a fantastic premise and an action-packed introduction, but for a good portion of the first two episodes, we spend a lot of down time with this trio of Japanese warriors while learning precious little about the overall “whats” “whys” and “hows" of the narrative. I'm all for letting a story take its time to develop, but there are quite a few side characters thrown in to suggest a grander scheme in the plot without offering many details to guess at. Even Murasaki himself only appears again at the very end of episode 2 to give us the smallest taste of what this show is actually all about. Murasaki and a woman named Easy are engaged in some kind of supernatural conflict, and it seems that the Drifters are Murasaki's pawns, while Easy has her own "Ends." What is the purpose of this conflict? Why are these warriors from different lands and different times being kidnapped and forced to fight? These are the big questions I'm hoping the show will answer soon.

As for the Drifters themselves, they're mostly fine, though none of them have had much development yet. Shimazu is the gung-ho lead, Nasu is the young and brash archer, and Oda is the older warrior hardened by his time on the battlefield. Of the three, Oda seems like the most dangerous of the group, showing more interest in conquering the land of the Elves instead of helping to liberate them from the Orte. Shimazu at least seems to be angered at the slaughter of the Elves, but Oda burns the Elves' crops so they will be easier to control. It's brutal stuff, and I'm interested to see how this difference in characterization plays out in the future.

Sadly, I'm definitely not interested in this series' sense of humor (or lack thereof). Kouta is rather infamous for his tendency to awkwardly jam silly humor and grimdark violence together, and while it may fit the macabre tone of Hellsing, it just doesn't work here. Dialogue is constantly being interrupted by silly jokes and asides that just aren't all that funny. Even worse, they can seriously undercut moments of genuine intensity. There's one scene near the end of episode two involving the murder of a military officer that's just plain horrific in its violence. The whole scene crescendos to a bloodletting as cathartic as it is emotionally shattering, and it's easily the best scene of the entire two episodes until Oda comes in and ruins it with a dumb gag. Maybe the jokes will work better as the series goes on, but for now, they're the one thing I wish the show could cut out altogether.

Narrative wrinkles and tonal problems aside, Drifters is a hell of a lot of fun. It has all the high-quality production and stylized ultraviolence you would expect from a Kouta adaptation, and the premise seems set to deliver some interesting historical conflicts. If the plot can pick up the pace and the jokes can keep from killing the mood too hard, this might well be the action anime of the season to watch out for.

Rating: B

The Drifters Simulcast Dub has also premiered on Funimation! Seeing as the first episode is almost entirely concerned with introducing the main trio, their actors were the only ones who had any real time to shine. Overall, Josh Grelle, Robert McCollum, and Justin Briner did a solid job as Shimazu, Nobunaga, and Yoichi respectively. Grelle in particular did good work in keeping Shimazu relatable while also communicating the ferocity he's capable of bringing to the battlefield.

The most interesting thing about this dub was the decision to have the main Japanese trio speak in a slightly affected, overly-formal manner. It's nothing too conspicuous, and it helps stress how out of place these men are in their new world. ADR director Christopher Bevins was the line producer on Romeo x Juliet, and adaptive scriptwriter Patrick Seitz worked on both RxJ and Hellsing Ultimate's dub, so it makes sense they'd opt to go for a similar dialogue style here. The shtick is dropped for the jokey bits, which is fine, though I can't say they work much better in the dub. In fact, their shouty nature sticks out even more in English to my ear, cementing them as the worst aspect of the show overall.

This is a solid production though, and I'm eager to see how the rest of the cast fares in future episodes. I'm especially curious to see how they handle writing for the many different time periods and cultures all the Drifters come from, not to mention hearing Jeremy Schwartz as The Black King, aka Evil Ringwraith Jesus™. I'll let you know more as the dub continues in the coming weeks!

Drifters is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

James is an English teacher who has loved anime his entire life, and he spends way too much time on Twitter and his blog.

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