Drifters is probably the one series I’ve been eagerly awaiting since viewing the OVA a couple months ago. The product of
Hellsing’s creator Kouta Hirano, Drifters offers a gritty, dark, and over the top setting complemented by sharp, pulpy artwork. One need look no further than this show for Fall’s popcorn action flick.
Not Your Mother’s Log Horizon
Drifters at its core follows the recent trend of “trapped in another world” shows, ranging from standard fare Log Horizon/SAO to the darker Overlord/Grimgar, and even the satirical genre deconstruction KonoSuba. On this scale though Drifters definitely falls more towards the dark side. Famous warriors/statesmen are seemingly plucked from the jaws of death and assigned by a bespectacled bureaucrat to a fantasy world. Basically take the heroic servants of the Fate series, have them reborn in the world of Overlord, and you get Drifters. It’s not a novel concept (Outbreak Company had a variation on the idea), but Drifters looks to spin it differently by emphasizing the action. Bloody action. We can see this already with the stylized Battle of Sekigahara, where Shimazu Toyohisa hacks, slashes, and all but immolates himself in order to behead Ii Naomasa. Those familiar with the Hellsing OVAs will understand the centrality of this ultraviolence, but for everyone else expect this overarching style to continue. Drifters is going to be all about the pulp action slaughter.
Of course any action-heavy series wouldn’t be complete without some good (read, over the top) characters and we are not disappointed here either. Shimazu represents your typical samurai clad in courage, honour, and a powerful desire to see his enemies without heads, while Nobunaga (in yet another anime showing) offers up a distinctively piratical appearance (eyepatch included) and temperament. Then there’s Nasu Yoichi, whose function besides a trap is an arbiter of sorts between the other two hotheads. Hirano’s artwork gives all three a wickedly dangerous appearance in addition to their personalities, the sort of sharp, aggressive designs often found in Western comics or graphic novels. The character art make the violence all the more entertaining, the smirks and piercing eyes amidst the blood and body parts drawing out excitement much the same way as blowing something up. Using actual historical figures like this is especially fascinating because (at least for those familiar with them) it gives a good sense of suspense and an eager “I know what’s coming” sort of reaction. Also helps most famous figures have plentiful stores of melodrama and emboldened honour in their personalities, two useful qualities for enlivening any sort of action sequence.
As for the desk jockey behind it all, there’s precious little go off of (barring his function as a transportation middleman) and even less for the elves, let alone the two individuals shown at the end of the episode. Thankfully, however, all (well, most) will be answered in next episode. I guarantee it.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Similar to Hellsing, Drifters’ Achilles heel will likely be the comedy. Hirano is not the most skillfully comedic of authors, and his writing often struggles to create jokes which are both well-timed and funny. Hellsing particularly suffered from this in certain parts, but at least stuck to largely typical situations anyone could understand. Drifters, however, employs both the daily humour and distinctively Japanese concepts in its comedy (so far at least), making most jokes fall flat. Thus the weaker half of this episode, where a potential introduction to Drifters’ world turned into a dull exposition on Shimzau’s parochialism, Nobunaga’s melancholy, and Yoichi’s looks. Don’t expect this aspect to improve noticeably over time either, it’s unfortunately one of the quirks of the creator.
If one can look past these comedic issues, however, there isn’t likely to be a better action series offered this season. Given Hellsing’s fantastic set piece battles, Drifters will likely to follow the same format, especially if next episode doesn’t deviate from the OVA (hint hint). It’s no spoiler to say things improve greatly once the fighting begins and our cast of characters gets fleshed out. If you’re even remotely interested I recommend sticking with this one, it only gets better from here.
Nobunaga was largely responsible for introducing arquebuses into Japanese combat, so it’s fitting he should wield one here in Drifters. Also interesting is how he is hinted to die at the hands of the Akechi instead of through seppuku.
Yes, Yoichi is a man. Don’t be that surprised, even Nobunaga and Shimazu are put back by his feminine appearance.
Although I heavily mention the action here, expect some interesting moral topics to appear on occasion too, particularly regarding politics, war, and identity. Anyone who remembers the Major’s speech will understand the potential for such things to come up.
ED: 「Vermillion」by Maon Kurosaki