Kanae ItoKenji NomuraHideyuki KurataWataru Takagi
Drifters: Season 1
Episode 1 also reviewed here: Anime 1st episodes 2016: D
Medium: TV, series
Year: 2016
Director: Ken'ichi Suzuki
Writer: Hideyuki Kurata, Yousuke Kuroda
Original creator: Kouta Hirano
Actor: Naoya Uchida, Yuichi Nakamura, Akira Ishida, Daisuke Ono, Hirofumi Nojima, Hiroki Yasumoto, Hiroshi Yanaka, Junji Majima, Junko Kitanishi, Junko Minagawa, Kanae Ito, Kenji Fukuda, Kenji Nomura, Koji Yusa, Masahiko Tanaka, Masakazu Nishida, Mitsuki Saiga, Mitsuru Miyamoto, Sayori Ishizuka, Shiho Kokido, Taiten Kusunoki, Takahiro Sakurai, Tatsuhisa Suzuki, Tomokazu Sugita, Tomoko Tsuzuki, Wataru Takagi, Yutaka Aoyama, Yutaka Nakano
Keywords: anime, fantasy, samurai, Abe no Seimei
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Format: 12 episodes
Url: http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/encyclopedia/anime.php?id=18181
Website category: Anime 2016
Review date: 29 June 2017
I had low expectations, but I had to watch it anyway because it's by Kouta "Hellsing" Hirano. (Hellsing was the anime that got me into watching anime.) This was what I'd expected, really. It's very reminiscent of Hellsing, but lacking in some key elements that for me made it a good deal less compelling. Watch Hellsing. Then watch Hellsing again. After that, if you're feeling curious, you could consider watching this for comparison.
Hellsing is about an only slightly domesticated Dracula fighting for the good guys, perhaps because he thinks killing undead is funny. He's a terrifying mass-murdering monster and so of course he's awesome. He also grins a lot.
Drifters is basically more of the same, but with famous historical characters instead of vampires. Certain bad people didn't die, but are still alive in another world. We have Hannibal, Oda Nobunaga, Joan of Arc, Gilles de Rais, Rasputin, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. They also used to have Hitler. This is colourful, although the most important ones tend to be Japanese and so even I didn't know most of their names. Nonetheless, even for me, that seems like a pretty good idea. If you're a manga artist trying to follow up "Dracula as anti-hero", then you could do a lot worse than Oda Nobunaga deliberately letting a village's fields burn because it'll be easier to recruit the survivors if they're destitute.
The similarities are particularly clear from the Drifters title sequence. Most of the cast are: (a) looking dangerous, and (b) grinning evilly. That's typical of Kouta Hirano, even though one of these grinning badasses (Hannibal) is a senile old fart in the show itself. Hellsing's Alucard always similarly seemed to be having the time of his unlife, so that's also true of our Drifter anti-heroes.
It's all about the mega-violence, really. That's what the show's for. Characterisation? Yeah, sure, if it makes the carnage more entertaining. Emotional depth? I could name a couple of moments, but that's it. More important are the sword fights, beheadings and the massacre of captured garrisons. It has samurai liberating elves and dwarves from the Black King. It's about a war between two groups of historical characters, known collectively as the Drifters (bad) and the Ends (worse).
...and that's half the problem, really. It's a war. What's the point of the story? Answer: war. That's an easy way out for an author. You don't have to think of anything interesting, since "war" can carry everything along forever with no meaningful human motivation. Why are they fighting? Well, the Black King and his Ends want to wipe out mankind, but Nobunaga would have probably gone conquering anyway. This means lots of admittedly quite cool killing, but not that much reason to care on a human level. (In fairness, though, our heroes will be liberating elves and dwarves who'd been oppressed and/or enslaved.) The other half of the problem is a less well-rounded cast. Almost everyone important is a famous male warrior. There aren't any emotionally engaging female characters like Seras Victoria or Sir Integra. Admittedly there's a token female in Olminu (glasses and big boobs), but she mostly just follows our heroes around and gets called boob-related nicknames by Nobunaga. She's not important. I'm glad she's there, but it wouldn't have made much difference if she hadn't been. She's Seras-lite, but in Hellsing, Seras was the viewpoint character! (Well, she was in the Gonzo anime, anyway.)
That said, this cast is at least dynamic. Shimazu Toyohisa lives to take heads and has a slasher smile when killing enemies, but he's got a code of honour (unlike most of his allies) and he's arguably the nicest Drifter. Nobunaga's the kind of guy who smiles when a building full of people goes up in flames. (At the same time, though, he's also the most thoughtful character, always analysing people and any new technology.) They're the good guys. Yeah, I know. To cite a few of their enemies, Joan of Arc is a psychotic pyromaniac and her ally Gilles de Rais in comparison is almost nondescript. (I'd forgotten that the real Gilles de Rais fought alongside Joan of Arc, but of course he's better remembered for torturing and killing hundreds of children. The show never mentions the latter, but here he is anyway.)
It's cool, ultra-violent and not actually that memorable, I think. It's good at what it's trying to do and it's completely unlike any other isekai anime I can think of, but I also think it could have been better than this. That said, though, it can be nifty. They unexpectedly avert the cliche of everyone magically speaking the same language, with dialogue in Elvish and even Latin. (Is it Tolkien's Elvish? Probably not, but I'm suddenly wondering. Let me Google... ah, it was random gibberish in the manga, but the anime staff created a fictional Latin-based language.) I've also decided that the opening credits are brilliant, with their absurdist "naaa nana nana na". It's reasonably entertaining. I'll watch the promised Season 2 when it comes, but I don't expect to give the show any more thought until then.