Reviewby Carl Kimlinger,
Season 5 DVD
Demon Beast slaying officially behind them, Lina and her friends, along with talking stuffed animal Pokota, head off in search of the jar that purportedly houses the soul of Red Priest Rezo, the only man capable of saving Pokota's homeland of Taforashia. They hook up with a talking suit of armor who has encountered the jar before, and under her suspect guidance end up fighting dragons, other talking suits of armor, and a deeply weird household of fish people. Zuuma, evil lurker that he is, lurks evilly and Xellos occasionally pops in to tell them that he's still keeping secrets, but otherwise life is pretty uneventful. All of which changes when they get their hands on the jar. Rezo's spirit isn't exactly restful and he still wants to see. Even if only to see the world perish.
Though ostensibly the conclusion of the story that began with Slayers Revolution, Evolution-R isn't one big climax. It's its own little series, one that follows pretty exactingly the pattern established by previous seasons: Frivolous first half, a serious turn midway, and then continuous fantasy action straight to conclusion.
It's a successful formula, and a fun one, so there isn't any pressing need to alter it. The series opens with Lina and company in search of the Hellmaster's Jar, a maguffin that carries the series pretty much all the way to its halfway mark. These are zero IQ episodes, where the overall quest is but an excuse for soap opera parodies, buddy-cop comedy, and the usual gluttony and comic destruction. Which can be darned good fun, particularly during the soap opera parody, which forms an improbable and increasingly insane pile of soap tropes (amnesia, terminal disease, love polygons, secretly-related lovers) atop a family of hideous fish people. And even when it isn't fun, the well-established (and highly amusing) ensemble is on hand to carry it through.
Of course all that directionless goofing around eventually wears one down, but like the well-oiled machine it is, the series takes its serious turn before anyone's patience has fully achieved nubhood. And unlike Revolution, it's a pretty decent serious turn. The Zuuma material that marks the turn's onset is suitably nasty, a much-needed reminder that all is not big meals and silly camaraderie in Lina's world, and the arc it segues into strikes a reasonable balance between action, plot twists, and the kind of moral relativity that at one time set Slayers apart from typical fantasy fare. The twists are pretty obvious, as are the discussions of conflicted humanity and the evil that springs from it, but you'd expect no less (or more, as it may be).
Less expected is the magical action. The series may allow its characters to go off-model (possibly as a form of stylistic continuity with the oft-sloppy 90's series) and spends little of its budget on niceties like realistic human movement and facial expressions, but it lays the money on thick once spells start flying. The choreography is cogent, the martial moves incongruously fluid (at times), and the displays of magical power spectacular in their CGI-assisted majesty. Not all of the fights are gripping—remember that obviousness—but in the face of the brutality and destructive beauty of the final fight, a spell apocalypse so extreme that it blurs the line between battle and natural disaster, who cares? Everyone knows Slayers can be funny. Who would have thought it could be so darned cool?
Naturally all of this—dumb opening fun, ugly midway assassin battle, world-destroying climax—is mired in a, well, mire of flaws. There's that cheap non-action animation, those wonkily off-model character designs, as well as the destructively unsubtle swatches of the score, which is mostly fine (those familiar themes!), but only truly inspired when copping songs from previous incarnations or buttressing the apocalypse with apocalyptic compositions. And while occasionally smarter than it looks, it's never as smart as it should be, nor as focused. There's plenty going on in Evolution-R, but too much of it is unrelated to the main plot. Even the climactic fight is its own entity, only peripherally related to the plight of Taforashia.
But anyone who watched Slayers back in the day (i.e. this series' intended audience) knew all that going in. Far more damaging, and far more nebulous, is the persistent sense that this (Revolution + Evolution-R) is not so much a continuation of Slayers as it is a ten hour reunion episode for it. There's an intangible artificiality to it, a sense that the characters are being revisited rather than inhabited, that it is trying to recapture something rather than create it. Even the series' best moments are backwards-gazing; returns to past glories, emotional and visceral, rather than freshly-forged ones. That isn't an absolute evil. After all, capitalizing on what came before is what sequels do (and in the case of Lina's Giga Slave anxieties, it's damned effective), but the stiff, stale air it lends is not beneficial overall.
There are magnificent dubs and awful dubs; weak ones, strong ones. And then there are dubs that just exist. This is one such dub. Which isn't necessarily a criticism. It gets the job done, and quite handily. With a solid if somewhat unwieldy script in hand, the cast's experience with their roles (for the most part they are all reprising roles they originated ten years ago) ensures that all the relevant information, and most of the relevant emotions, get across. The English version won't make converts of the sub faithful (or even the sub fence-sitters) but it gives dub people a perfectly viable alternative to the Japanese. It does make some of the hokey sequences a lot more so, but that's less the fault of the dub than the mere fact that hokiness is a lot easier to spot in your native tongue.
Creaky though it is, what with its fervent desire to be rather than build on previous Slayers incarnations, and even with its bevy of shortcomings, Evolution-R is solid entertainment. Funny at times, exciting at others, and even a little touching. Though the latter, as always with the franchise, is more affected than the previous two. Perhaps it isn't terribly forward-looking, but given how often looking forward results in boob-obsessed pseudo-porn, maybe that isn't such a bad thing.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : C+
Animation : B
Art : B-
Music : B-
+ Solid fun with the usual Slayers cast and a doozy of showdown at the end; gives closure to some past Slayers events.
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