Or Nah? is a feature where we watch and review the first episode of a new TV show. We’ll let you know if it’s worth checking out. As always, these reviews are the opinion of the reviewer, but we’ll try to adequately explain why you should or shouldn’t give the show a chance and provide shows for comparison.
Act One – Fight Song | Fridays at 11:00 PM Japanese Standard Time | Simulcast. 12 – episode season.
When it comes to anime, most of what we watch comes with someone’s seal of approval before we get our grubby lil hands on it. Not until recently, has this new fangled invention called the internet let us jump in, without a safety net, and risk wasting our time with something that would have never seen the light of day on this side of the ocean. Between having a job, and sometimes a life, I really hadn’t had the chance to take advantage of simulcast until now. Armed with only the basic premise for Drifters, I gave it a shot. Was it worth it?
What’s It About?
In feudal Japan, late 1600, the battle of Sekigahara is all but over for the Western Army, except for one regiment led by master swordsman, Toyohisa Shimazu. As the rest of the army falls back, Toyohisa and his soldiers have racked up a body count that draws out the Eastern general, Li Naomasa. Toyohisa’s uncle, the Western general, is in full retreat, and rather than join him, Toyohisa pulls his soldiers to buy him some time. Li Naomasa’s force shreds Toyohisa’s squad, but Toyohisa still manages to shoot Li in the chest while being skewered by spears.
Gushing blood, Toyohisa is left alone to walk home, but magically ends up in a mysterious long white hallway with an endless number of doors. Ahead of him, a blonde, blue-eyed man with glasses, dressed as a modern business man, calmly smokes his cigarette as he comes off his lunch break.
Toyohisa’s questions and threats go unanswered when the man, with an unbroken gaze that seems to reach into Toyo’s soul, writes something down in Toyo’s file, causing him to be sucked into one of the mysterious doors. After he’s gone, a U.S. Vietnam War era soldier appears next in line just as clueless.
Now in a new world, Toyohisa has bled too much and passes out when he’s found by two young elf brothers. Yeah, that’s right, elves. The older brother is quickly tipped off that Toyohisa is a Drifter when he doesn’t speak the same language as them. Risking death from their “Lord,” the brothers carry him to the abandoned castle, where we meet a Drifter archer in the trees. The boys are sent away and Toyohisa is stitched up, but by no means out of the woods yet.
When Toyohisa awakes, he freaks out on another Drifter just to slowly realize he is talking to the great Nobunaga, the man who almost unified Japan, an unheard of feat. The only problem being, he’s been dead for 18 years although he says he hasn’t even been gone for 6 months. Even worse, the archer turns out to be Yoichi Nasu, a famous archer who had been dead for over 400 years. All three had made the trip down the hallway in the middle of dire situations. We don’t get to learn more because they’re being watched by a Semu, a member of an organization called Octobrist. They don’t know why three Drifters have gathered, yet their teenaged leader knows they must be stopped before they destroy everything.
As I said before, I walked into this show with little research, so I was pleasantly surprised to find out the same brains behind the two Hellsing series were behind this. It’s quickly evident in the animation style once Toyohisa crosses into the hallway. It’s a style that looks deceptively Disney-friendly at times, until someone gets disemboweled or beheaded. Before that, the Sekigahara scenes came with a style and filter inspired by old Japanese scrolls. It’s the little things that help the big elements work. Nailing the fight scenes is old hat for these guys, and anyone who watch Hellsing knows the bloodbath that is most likely on the way, but the more quiet emotional moments feel more earned in this one episode than anything Hellsing ever tried. Nobunaga lamenting his son’s death while trying to keep a stiff upper lip was gut wrenching and hopefully a sign of things to come.
Unexpectedly, this episode came with a history lesson. Nobunaga, I knew a little thanks to a little research in my younger days (I had to know who that guy was on the Nintendo games) yet I knew nothing of Yoichi. Hell, I didn’t even realize Yoichi was a man until I looked up his real life counterpart. Did you?
For added fun, look up Mori Ranmaru, who Toyohisa thought Yoichi was, and Nobounga wished he was. It really changes that scene.
Speaking of the free history lesson, it ends up being a double-edged sword. It’s nice to learn new things, but there were a couple minutes of dialogue that lost me. Is it a deal breaker? Not necessarily. This show wasn’t made for Americans, and there’s often things in shows that are strictly Japanese culture that don’t kill it. I don’t mind learning, but I don’t want to have to do it every time. I’m already counting these subtitles as reading, please don’t cut into my laziness that much. My one other knock against Drifters is the exaggerated comedy bits that I hated in Hellsing are here too. They’re usually accompanied with whichever voice actors belting out their lines while the animation style turns goofy and light. I’ve never been a fan of this, and not until Evangelion and Fullmetal Alchemist did I even try to brave it. It will die down the higher the stakes get, but it’s a long road getting there.
I wish I could say this show is an instant classic, or on its way to being a list-topper, but it won’t be and that’s ok. Drifters has enough going for it that I’ll keep coming back, yet past that, there’s something more there. It feels like if Hellsing was the equivalent of a little kid banging their toys together, they’ve matured into now making full-scale models that have actual stories before they bang them together. They hooked me with the Octobrist and their various shady figures, not to mention whatever the deal is with the white hallway and the chain smoker working the desk. All I ask is that we keep the over the top comedy bits to a minimum. Is that too much to ask?
Watch This If You Like: Hellsing / Hellsing Ultimate, Escaflowne, Hero Tales, Fullmetal Alchemist
Project Fandom will begin weekly reviews, starting with episode 2 this Tuesday.
Drifters = 7.4/10