Reviewby Maral Agnerian,
Labyrinth of Flames
If he only had a brain... Meet Galan, a spastic Russian geek who'd do anything to be a real, live samurai. That's just an impossible dream… or is it? When his girlfriend Natsu (who happens to be a Japanese princess living in Russia) gives him the gift of an ancient sword, strange events unfold, and even stranger people drop out of the sky to attack. Now Galan must overcome his ineptitude and join a bunch of beautiful women in a wacky romp through a kingdom that time forgot.
Panty alert! Directed by Katsuhiko Nishijima, the guy who brought you Agent Aika, Labyrinth of Flames doesn't quite measure up to that show for sheer volume of panty shots, but it's still got quite a generous helping of fanservice. It's gone off on a bit of a kooky tangent, though--instead of concentrating non-stop on panties, this show veers off into bizarreness almost on a level with Ebichu. Lots of comedically gushing blood, painfully twisted scenes of Natsu's paunchy, middle-aged dad in a loincloth wiggling his ass (and fondling hers), and some rather questionable fashion choices make Labyrinth of Flames decidedly weirder than its panty-laden predecessor.
Galan is, as mentioned in the synopsis, an idiot. He gives Gourry from Slayers a real run for his money, and is obsessed with swords to the exclusion of all else, including normal thought processes. Fortunately, he's an entertaining idiot. Kasumi, the perpetually sick maid (she's sort of like Hyatt from Excel Saga) who drags her IV around everywhere, is hilarious, as are many of the attacks used by the many panty-flashing babes who show up to further the plot (or perhaps just the fanservice). The spinning panty attack just about floored me, as did the flexibility of those girls. The patented Aika Panty-Cam returns to give us that *special* angle (ever wanted to see the Gainax Bounce from below? Here's your chance!), and Datenoshin, the bishounen Nishijima added in hopes of raising female viewership, indulges in one of the silliest costumes ever animated. There's only one way to describe it: Tuxedo Clown.
Mr. Nishijima admits in an interview (one of the extras on the disc) that they chose Russia as a setting because so few people in Japan know anything about it, and they could therefore pretty much make everything up without having to worry about accuracy. I guess they succeeded at that, because there's very little in this show that says 'Russia' to the viewer. In fact, pretty much nothing signifies the location as Russia besides the intermittent background music of a Russian men's choir. I actually didn't realize it was supposed to be set in Russia until I read the aforementioned interview--I'd just assumed Galan was supposed to be some weird Russian guy in Japan, as everything in the show is so typically Japanese, from the school to costumes to mannerisms.
The visuals are excellent, with clean art, bright colours and smooth animation. There's also a marked absence of cheap animation shortcuts, with a very gratuitous bikini-dance scene being fully animated (unlike pretty much every other dancing scene I've ever seen in anime). The ending credits are hilariously incongruous, with slow pans across the scantily-clad babes set to more Russian choral music. The opening is also wonky, with its very serious beginning giving way to full-blown wackiness.
The menus on the disc are also excellent, as are the multitude of extras--which include the aforementioned interview, concept sketches, an art gallery, textless opening and ending songs, original Japanese trailer, and a bonus short video on the dubbing process. The actors and production people are obviously hamming it up for the camera, but despite that the video is quite entertaining and interesting. Unfortunately, the dub itself is not so entertaining, as many of the voices are intolerably bad.
Full of kooky, naughty fun, Labyrinth of Flames is a well-done 2-episode OAV that neatly balances gratuitous fanservice with bizarre comedy, with a bit of action thrown into the mix. If you like ecchi comedy, this one's right up your alley. Recommended.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : C+
Animation : A
Art : A
Music : B
+ Weird and wacky fun, lots of fanservice
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