In some ways, I hate the start of a new anime season. This isn’t because I feel new anime is somehow inherently inferior; in fact, my feelings on this have nothing to do with the product itself. No, what bothers me is the community experiencing brand new anime only through distilled tweets or YouTube videos and then speaking authoritatively about that anime going forward. For example, let’s say the first episode of Exciting Anime X was exactly as bad as Critic A thought it would be. A then pens a piece definitively writing if off. Huge swaths of fans follow suit, despite the show being between seven and eight percent into its run. Opinion on the show proliferates over time and consensus calcifies into conventional wisdom, even though the people spreading the belief have no experience with the show.
I’m very much pointing a finger at myself here. For whatever reason, there are people out there who take seriously what I have to say about anime. Given that astonishing piece of information, I ought to take care with not only what I say but also how I say it. I’m not saying fans or critics aren’t free to drop shows that don’t appeal to them. Folks are totally within their rights to do that. However, those with influence should be mindful of the subjective nature of their own tastes and viewing experiences when making conclusive pronouncements about a show based only on one or two episodes.
All this is on my mind because I recently finished a show that reminded me that anime－no, that media－can still be truly surprising. Its ending helped me remember that I should give anime more rope and second chances. The show I’m talking about is The Slayers.
I’m now going to tell you about the ending in great detail. Normally I wouldn’t directly spoil this sort of thing, but (a) it’s been twenty years (b) there are so many reasons to watch The Slayers beyond the resolution of its plot and (c) the ending is a great example of what you can miss when you write off an anime prematurely. If you haven’t seen the show through, you likely won’t believe me when I say that its final arc is quite a thoughtful exploration of identity and deep existential struggle. The last dramatic scene is actually, genuinely affecting! While weightier parts of the arc are interspersed with cutaways to the silliness the series is known for, the emotional sincerity of the ending doesn’t appear to be in jest. And, the entire time I’m watching these episodes, my jaw is on the floor because, when I started The Slayers, I thought I knew what I was getting into.
A brief bit of setup: The story’s first major villain is a fellow known as Rezo The Red Priest. He is a powerful and formerly benevolent mage who happens to be born blind. In order to gain his sight, Rezo resurrects a legendary monster to use as a source of magical energy. You can probably see how this might go bad. Said monster possesses Rezo, and series heroine Lina Inverse and her crew are forced to kill him in order to prevent the apocalypse. Fast forward to the final act of the show. One of Rezo’s followers, who was infatuated with the Red Priest, uses sorcery to create a clone of Rezo. Her goal is for the two of them to realize Rezo’s original ambitions.
Copy Rezo (as characters in the series refer to him) initially plays the part of an obedient creature, an object for his creator to project onto. But, once he gains enough magical energy, Copy Rezo betrays his creator and reveals himself to be a being with his own intentions. Lina, Zelgadis and the other heroes don’t seem to fear Copy Rezo very much in their preliminary skirmishes because, well, he’s “just a copy.” They defeated the original already, so a mere clone of that original should prove immanently beatable. As a viewer, I too shared their underlying assumption that a copy is just a knock-off of the original. Well, it turns out that, whatever a copy’s magical DNA might be, there is no logical restriction on that copy surpassing the power of its original. And transcending Rezo is what his copy is living for.
It will likely surprise no one that these scenes drew my mind to Kaiki Deishu’s monologue about fakes in Nisemonogatari. He argues for the counterintuitive notion that a fake is more valuable than its original. The idea is that the fake has to work very very hard to convincingly imitate the original, and this extra labor adds extra value. Such imitation involves not only projecting a foreign nature (one that isn’t yours) but also suppressing your own nature at times, in order to come across as whatever the fake is a fake of.
Kaiki’s view lies somewhere in the middle of the two beliefs expressed by characters in The Slayers. Certainly, Kaiki assigns more worth to the fake than the “just a copy” view expressed by Zelgadis; however, I don’t think Kaiki’s philosophy would line up with Copy Rezo’s either. Despite the fake being more valuable than the original, it never ceases to be what it fundamentally is: a copy. Rezo’s fake violently opposes this line of thought and believes he can grasp for himself an existence which not only transcends his original but also bears no relationship to it. He wants an identity entirely divorced from Rezo The Red Priest. In short, Copy Rezo wants to be an original. Since the original Rezo failed to kill Lina Inverse, Copy Rezo believes he can self-actualize by completing this task.
As the final battle escalates, the fake reveals more and more of his psychology (as villains are wont to do). You see how all-consuming Copy Rezo’s existential crisis is and how mentally broken he is because of his singular focus on it. He demands Lina perform Giga Slave－the spell that defeated Rezo－on him so that by surviving it he can validate himself. An important complication here is that any mistake on Lina’s part will cause what is essentially the end of the world; yet, Copy Rezo is willing to grant the possibility of the world’s destruction in order to find out if he matters, if he is more than just some lovesick sorceress’s accident. Rather than being interested in absolute power or kingship, copy Rezo wants to free himself of a crushing inferiority complex. “Maybe they’re right, and I’m ‘less real’ because I’m ‘just a copy’?” I couldn’t believe I was starting to feel something for this character! I originally thought he was “just a copy” of a fantasy villain archetype.
Most anime fans know that there are a whole bunch of seasons of The Slayers, so this first one couldn’t end any other way than with Lina coming out on top. As with Rezo, Lina has to kill Copy Rezo in order to stop him. With the help of some magical macguffins, she mortally wounds him. After displaying some denial about his loss that is actually kinda uncomfortable to watch, the fake asks Lina why he lost. The diminutive enchantress, as serious as we see her at any point in the season, explains to him that he has betrayed his own philosophy. He is so entirely absorbed in transcending Rezo, that he could not get out of his original’s shadow. His life becomes defined by the thing he wants to divorce it from because he pours that life completely into being superior to that thing. In order to create a meaningful existence entirely apart from Rezo, Copy Rezo needed to create his own life and experiences. Yet, all he is able to do is “stare at Rezo’s back.” He could never see beyond his own arbitrary boundaries as an imitation.
An ancient and magical tree called Flagoon plays a part in defeating Copy Rezo, and the vanquished mage asks to be buried beneath it. In this way, his life and death can serve as lessons for those who participated in the battle. Flagoon overcomes its circumstances to be reborn and grow anew. Copy Rezo, on the other hand, could not prevail against his own internal, emotional crises.
Several of these moments are probably going to stick with me for a while, and there is quite a bit of food for thought here. In a way, it almost feels like I was the first person to have ever seen this arc because I’ve not heard a single soul mention it. Granted, it’s certainly not what The Slayers is known for or reputed to be good at, and it’s likely not what the viewer is approaching the series to get. But, the arc is executed so well and not in a way that detracts from the show’s brand of humor. Nor is it too tonally jarring because, rather than suddenly jumping into a new mood headfirst, The Slayers has the good sense to step into it gradually while not forgetting about why people are watching in the first place.
Anime fans can miss out on stuff like this final arc of The Slayers when they choose to only engage with a show through a tweet or a clip. Anime critics, myself very much included, can be too quick to definitively write a show off, which can have a ripple effect within the community. It’s a difficult balancing act to allow shows the room to unfold while not wasting time on media we find unappealing. Regardless of where we draw the line, though, giving anime second chances to impress us might result in some pretty amazing revelations.
I think part of the issue in terms of a lack of discussion of older series is a lack of incentive. If you want to grow one of the biggest ways to help with that is to comment upon things that are already relevant and subjects of discussion, because then those who are looking for commentary upon that topic can find you, and not simply those looking for you (more accurately your style of content) specifically. If instead your goal is to simply have discussions with people this focus on relevant topics of discussion is also incentivized, because that conversation exists, instead of having to be created with little foreknowledge of whether or not it’ll get attention. You see this in titles (like that of this piece even), where discussions of older and/or less relevant topics will have evocative titles about some general issue or points of discussion, because that will simply attract more attention.
Of my 22 videos 20 are on anime that were airing or had just finished, and 2 are on general topics of discussion for the community that are ongoing, because the thought that comes up when I think of covering an older series is inevitably along the lines of “if I want to cover this, unlike with newer series which I may want to cover just due to that relevance, it’s because of a pure passion for the work, and as such this will be important to me. Why wouldn’t I wait until I’ve got a larger following, one large enough that plenty of people will see my piece on it regardless of the subject’s relevance? Why not wait until the fact that I’m covering something at all is itself relevant?” Especially for someone playing the long game it’s a difficult question to answer, because “I can always cover it later, and reach more people by doing so.”
That being said I definitely see value in covering a broader range of series, and I’ve got both a video on an older (although not yet “old”) series nearing completion and a piece for AniFem in production on a series of a similar age. It’s a battle that as you note we’ve all got to fight, so minna ganbatte!
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Ah! I should add that recency also plays a role, beyond just recency bias. For newer shows we can watch it and have an idea and decide to write about it, whereas many of the older series are ones that we have already watched, and in many cases ones that will require at least partial rewatches in order for a piece on them to be written, even if we have the basic idea.
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This recency comment is 100% true. It’s why I haven’t written about so many of my favorite things!
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Thanks for the comment, VL. The title of this piece actually wasn’t chiefly meant to be provocative. It follows the naming scheme of Slayers episodes. But, you have to be familiar with the show to know that, so no harm no foul.
As far as choosing what to talk about, I understand where you are coming from. I’m lucky that I have a strong platform such that, even if I talk about something with little relevance, it will get a few eyeballs on it. Even before I helped start this site, however, I was writing about things like Madou King Granzort on my personal blog! I’ve always been the sort to chase passion and creative fulfillment as the primary goals rather than building up an audience; I assumed the latter would take care of itself if I just kept at the former. I’m quite fortunate that it seems to have worked out that way!
Getting large portions of the community to discuss anything but currently airing anime is an incredible challenge, one I’m not sure is able to be overcome. On the one hand, it’s quite a good thing that we have a vibrant dialogue going on about what we love. I super enjoy observing and participating in the ongoing yammering about anime on TV. At the same time, I know there are fans who feel alienated by both currently airing anime and the lack of discussion of things they like–from last year to last decade. I’m sure this is a problem to some degree for all popular media, since it’s disposable entertainment. But, since we are a small niche compared to, say, music or film, it feels worse. I think the best we can do is for everyone who is so-inclined to write and video about that stuff to keep it in the fan consciousness and to generate interest from new fans. And, also, respond to folks talking about that stuff.
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This is a tricky subject to handle. I wrote my own piece about why I hate the “three episode drop” rule people use with airing shows, as most of the time people think they can tell the shows potential from just that when they can’t. This is what leads to shows like SAO and Mirai Nikki gaining such popularity because people judged them off the first few episodes whilst they were airing, and ignored better shows that had a slower start.
But then the question becomes: “Why should I carry one watching this show that I don’t like, just because it MIGHT get better”. People don’t want to waste their time watching a show they aren’t enjoying on the off chance that it might get better or end well, it then takes the fun out of watching anime. So now it’s about when to drop a show, because some could argue that you should drop a show when you stop enjoying it but at the same time shows like Madoka and HunterxHunter have bad starts and people would miss out on those gems just because they didn’t start action packed like Akame ga Kill.
I don’t think there is a right answer, since I think the 3 episode drop rule has major flaws, but how many episodes is enough before you’ve given the show a proper chance to get better and it hasn’t?
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First of all, I like Akame ga Gill, and how dare you bring it into this discussion in this way ;).
In all seriousness, yes this is a very tricky thing. A lot of people don’t have time to watch much anime and have to be very picky. I think you can have whatever drop rules you want. I don’t want to be seen as advocating any sort of guidelines in terms of dictating what or how much a person watches. Using the word Dropped in the previous title was a mistake because I’m mainly talking about passing up on a thing altogether because you think you know what it is…though I am also talking about premature drops to a small degree.
What I did want to argue for is that when you do pass up on a show or drop after an episode or two (a) do so as much as possible because you experience first hand that it isn’t for you (b) if you gotta pass or drop early because people you trust convince you, trust their opinion while still being open-minded about the possibility of the anime improving or your peoples’ tastes not squaring with your own in that instance.
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Hey Doc and other readers! First I’d like to say I really liked this post, and would like to clarify just a few things here from what you said on twitter so that way I can assist to quell a misunderstanding people may have about what this post is trying to say.
This isn’t really a post that’s trying to heavily advocate “not dropping any shows”, that’s a huge misunderstanding of what Doc is trying to advocate here. This is moreso saying that sometimes there’s an unexpected light at the end of the tunnel. The topic was more to jump into something he found surprising and brilliant about the show later on and not so much something that makes a closed case about the idea that “dropping a show is never a bad idea”. In fact he is more saying not to just blindly drop shows because people you like said they didn’t like it, because you might miss out on a truly great show. It’s exactly the same as saying not to just falsely love shows just because someone says that Utena is good. Use your own head, consume the show on you’re own and see what you think! Just so you know that I’m not misinterpreting his intent, here’s his tweet about it, also follow Doc on twitter in general if you’d like, he’s a cool dude.
[My own thoughts on the matter]
Just drop things whenever, it doesn’t matter if you do it on 3 episodes, 1 episode, 5 episodes, 6 minutes into episode 6, it truly doesn’t make a difference. I don’t see dropping a show as a statement that “I’ll never return to it again”. That’s fucking stupid to me. I remember watching Slayers randomly at a party once downstairs away from that world because the birthday of the person, and I didn’t know him very well and felt like just watching something instead. Within the first 10 minutes I had thought that it was just another derivative mid 90s DnD style adventure show with very little to offer. But upon reading that there is more to it that meets the eye, I now have a reason to go back and reassess the show a bit more because there is something intriguing. Maybe I’ll find out that that’s the only cool thing, or it is derivative, or whatever but the point is and I stress this SOMEBODY ELSE GAVE ME A REASON TO GIVE IT A SECOND CHANCE. Life is all about these small second chances we can give, we do it for people, so why not for anime. And it’s not like watching something that is a bit subpar to your expectations is going to ruin you anyway; if anything it will give you insight into how you might see this show differently from Doc and maybe you can have your own perspective. Lastly I decided to maybe cap this off with a few recommendations of my own that could perhaps be relevant.
Dragon Half: If you like the idea of a subversive DnD style satire show, maybe you will like Dragon Half. It’s only 2 episodes long and was has no ending because of what I assume is general disinterest. But I promise you it is one of the funniest comedy shows about a Half Dragon girl to exist. At one point a evil villian walks into a scene and the next cut shows the fogginess around him was a bucket of dry ice. I also think it would make a great primer for a show like this, you can find it subbed and dubbed on chrunchyroll as of the writing of this post.
Rakin and Bass’ The Hobbit: This is not anime but it is pretty much as close to iyashekai a fantasy adventure show can exist. Are you the type of person who grew up loving The Last Unicorn in all its quirkiness? This is made by that same studio. I would put it on right before bed, it should help you get an idea of how a more normal version of this sort of story goes without being completely generic and unwatchable (your mileage on that may vary).
Alright well that’s all I had to say, if you read this far, thank you and I hope you were able to get a better understanding about this post through what I’ve said here.
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ok there was no edit button so u can find the rakin and bass thing by just looking it up, heres a link if ur too stupid to do that http://lmgtfy.com/?q=rankin+and+bass+the+hobbit+full that’s it that’s all I have to say imma go fuck off now and do whatever ttyl guys
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From now one, why I don’t I just info-dump all my thoughts to you and then you can write my post? 🙂 Thanks for writing this, Erato. Your clarification is actually straight up on point and extremely helpful.
I think you might be in the minority as far as dropping doesn’t mean “moving on from this forever.” There’s so goddamn much anime to watch that I think when fans drop a show, they are relieved to put it out of their minds. “Whew, gave that a shot and it didn’t deliver. I can now move on to the billion other shows I want to watch or I have been recommended.” It’s hard to complain about the amount of product we are getting because there’s such a nice amount of variety, but I do think scarcity would breed discernment. Not sure it’s worth the trade-off, so I will just continue to argue for non-definitive one-episode analysis and open-mindedness regarding things you haven’t seen yourself.
I think I was really thinking a lot about passing up shows because you have an idea of what they are which could fit in a Tweet. I actually don’t mind review scores and one-sentence-encapsulations of anime because I think they are useful tools in decision-making. The issue for me is when people use one of these as their only filter, you know?
I need to watch Dragon Half…
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Well written article with some pretty good points as well. I’m a bit curious though…you said the “ending” in your article. Please excuse me if someone mentioned this, but I admit, there are quite a few comments and they are quite lengthy. I was aware The Slayers anime actually had 4 or 5 seasons (hard to tell because the last season(s) had two different names). The ending you described was the ending to the second season. Having watched the series through all seasons and read the original novels which they were based – I agree with your analysis of the second season. Unfortunately…the last one or two seasons….I felt…lacked luster, and was a poor mish-mash of the first two seasons mixed in with newly introduced elements from the novel series coupled with what looks like a poor attempt at merchandising, but I digress. I assume by ending you meant the second season, which confused me as I read the article because the third season was also pretty good.
I recommend that if you haven’t already – try and read the novel series, it’s much darker and more immersive than the animation. The anime feels like they’re just looking for an excuse to always gather the ‘main slayers characters’ together for every major adventure. Don’t get me wrong, the anime is good in it’s own right, but I think the novels had a very good feel that shined through into the anime form.
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So, when I refer to The Slayers, I’m referring to the first season. At the time of this writing, it was the only Slauers TV I had seen. I am watching the second season now, NEXT, and am greatly enjoying it. Expect an article on it! The anime here is definitely the first season though. And I may very well take you up on the novel idea! Are they widely available in English?