Drifters is a science fiction, fantasy action, adventure manga written by Hirano Kouta. You may know him as the writer of Hellsing. At the tail end of 2016, an anime adaptation of Drifters aired. It was brought to us by Hoods Entertainment. A studio that I’ve never reviewed an anime by before. So, is Drifters a series that’s worth looking into?
After the battle of Sekigahara, Shimazu Toyohisa finds himself in a strange, light corridor filled with doors. A spectacled man gestures and he gets pulled into one of them and directly into another world. He finds himself meeting Oda Nobunaga and Nasu Yoichi, two men who were recorded as having died before his time. It turns out that in this world of elves, dwarves, halflings and men, certain people from our world are being sent just before their deaths by the spectacled fellow in an effort to preserve the world from beings called “Ends,” who are also comprised of famous figures from our world, and their Black King. Shimazu and his new found companions, unaware of the ends and their threat, decide to lead a rebellion to save the elves from their forced servitude by a large, human nation.
The biggest flaw with the series goes back to our old friend, tone. This is one of those series that, in one vein, has really over the top violence and humour and, in an entirely different vein, tries to tackle some serious subject matter. Notably rape. Consequently, its handling these serious subjects for all of five minutes before going back to the absurdity and never mentioning them again comes across as more than a little tasteless. Although, in all fairness, there are only a few scenes like that. The ending is also pretty unsatisfying. It’s all setting up for the next series and, while it does have a degree of closure for one of the major plot threads, it doesn’t even bother giving you a climactic battle with any finality. For that matter, there’s very little aftermath. Certainly not enough to give us as the viewers a sense of what came from the whole thing beyond the very obvious.
On the positive side, I do like the concept of two opposing entities each scouring our history for figures they can use against one another. The series also does quite well when it’s staying in its comfort zone of over the top violence mixed with humour. It also does do a good job at keeping your interest since it has a lot of interwoven plot threads.
Let’s discuss a very mixed element with the series. The fluctuating complexity. We see our protagonists face the Orte Empire, a very uncomplex fascist nation. Right down to being founded by one of history’s most brutal monsters. They also face the Ends, who are heavily indicated to have more going for them than the initial impression indicates. We also have the Count of Saint Germain. Initially, he appears to be the gay stereotype that seems to pop up in anime because “he’s gay it’s funny.” However, there are several ways in which he goes beyond that and becomes a surprisingly complex character. And the anime is full of elements that seem shallow but get built on into something more and others that are just shallow
The characters, at this juncture, are more potentially complex than they are actually complex. There are some, our main trio of heroes and the Count, who move beyond their archetypes in some ways. There are other Drifters and several characters among the Ends with potential, usually due to some connection with our heroes, but without anything tangible yet. The characters who are neither are just universally bland. Including the Count’s subordinates who are just the gay stereotypes.
This is a bit mixed mainly because there are two art styles in the series. There’s the “comedic” art style, which looks lazily rushed and like the artists just didn’t care. Then there’s the art style they use the rest of the time and it actually does look pretty great. The action sequences are fluid and intense. The character designs are detailed, although it should be noted that, in a bout of uncreative nonsense, the elves all look very similar as do the members of certain other fantasy races. The backgrounds are very nicely detailed under the normal style and basically non-existent with the comedic.
The acting is similar to the art in that it has two modes. There’s the over the top comedic mode where everyone sounds like seven year olds shouting the lines of their school play and there’s the regular mode which sounds pretty good. Nakamura Yuuichi, Uchida Naoya & Saiga Mitsuki all do very well at those points. The music was composed by Ishii Yasushi and Matsuo Hayato. Matsuo also worked on music for the first series of JoJo and Magic Knight Rayearth. All in all, it’s all right.
Aside from Germain and his companions, there’s a unit of muscular gay guys. Several men express attraction to Yoichi and there’s one line that may hint that Anastasia has a thing for Jeanne. It’s ambiguous.
So, how does Drifters hold up when you factor in its good ideas with what it executes well, its tonal problems, its vast gaps in quality for both the art and voice acting, its inconsistent complexity and all of that? Well, I would say it’s all right. Honestly, it had the potential to be really good. For that matter, it could pretty easily become something really good, but as is, the first series has quite a few issues that hold it back. If you like the concept, you can handle the dip in quality for the big comedic bits and you can forgive the occasional tonal awkwardness, you might enjoy it. For myself, I’ll give it a 6/10. Next week I’ll look at Karas.