Slayers volume 1: diving into a classic

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Confession time: I’ve never seen Slayers, despite it being widely regarded as a favourite ’90s anime by many folks. I’ve always been curious, though, so when I saw that J-Novel Club had been publishing translated reprints of Hajime Kanzaka’s original light novels, I decided to jump in and give it a go for myself. I could just watch the anime, of course — but I thought it would be interesting to go right back to the source material and see where it all began.

For the unfamiliar, Slayers is a fantasy series that focuses on the misadventures of a young sorceress named Lina Inverse. The original light novel series runs for 17 volumes in total, though the first volume was originally intended to be a one-shot, so stands alone by itself quite nicely.

Slayers is an interesting blend of styles and tones. While the setting is fairly traditional fantasy, complete with fantasy creatures, magic, Dark Lords and suchlike, there are undercurrents of comedy and satire. Lina’s first-person narration reads as if she’s talking directly to the reader, allowing for some mild fourth-wall breaking at times, and her responses to many of the things that happen in the story read very much like they’re poking fun at conventions of Japanese popular media at the time. We’ll come back to that idea.

In the first volume of Slayers, we join Lina as she’s just robbed a bandit camp — an encounter which, she casually notes, involved her killing the bandit group’s leader. It’s immediately clear that Lina is most certainly not a goody-two-shoes sort of heroine; her sole motivation for raiding the camp was that she was bored and felt like getting her hands on some treasure, rather than any noble intentions about freeing the local populace from evildoers.

Things don’t quite go according to plan for Lina, though, as the surviving bandits prove themselves to be quite relentless in their pursuit. Fortunately, Lina stumbles across a swordsman named Gourry, who initially refuses to believe that Lina is anything other than a little girl lost in the woods, even after she shows her own martial and magical prowess when they are beset upon by the pursuing angry brigands.

Since Lina was just sort of bumming around not really doing anything in particular, she decides to follow along with Gourry at least until they reach the next town — at which point it becomes very apparent that Lina has a habit of making trouble follow her wherever she goes. It appears that among her spoils from the bandit camp is a very valuable artifact of some description, and some obviously evil types are very keen to get their hands on it — initially by force, and subsequently by negotiation after Lina all but destroys a tavern by eviscerating a team of trolls that came to subdue her.

One of the interesting things about Slayers’ first volume is the shifting sense of morality that surrounds most of the characters. While Gourry is one of the few characters who is clearly “Good” alignment, to a stubbornly pig-headed degree at times, everyone else has allegiances and motivations that can shift around at a moment’s notice, making their various encounters consistently interesting to see unfold.

A particularly excellent scene in the first volume of Slayers demonstrates this perfectly, as well as showing how the work as a whole is more than willing to poke fun at some of the conventions of Japanese popular media from the period — particularly some of the less salubrious aspects, such as the tendency for female characters to end up getting raped.

In the scene in question, Lina has been captured and is hanging from the ceiling in an abandoned church. Refusing to give the villains any sort of information or cooperation, one of the leading baddies in the scene instructs one of his henchmen to rape her. The henchman in question is a werewolf, and refuses to carry out his boss’ order on the grounds that he doesn’t find the 15-year old Lina attractive, and that he’d rather have sex with a monster than an underage girl.

Understandably perturbed by this insubordination, the villain in question then instructs a fishman henchman to rape Lina instead, failing to realise that the fishman is so “fish” that his understanding of procreation is for a woman to lay her eggs, then for him to fertilise them outside both of their respective bodies.

Ultimately frustrated by this increasingly ridiculous series of events, the villain in question resorts to nothing more than impotently spewing insults at Lina as she hangs there mildly amused by the entire situation — which was all caused by her referring to him as a “hack” in the first place. And no, she doesn’t get raped.

Slayers is full of stuff like this. Although her narration and dialogue often puts her across as a rather endearing airhead, it becomes very apparent over the course of the first volume that Lina is actually a very clever individual indeed. We repeatedly see her making incredibly creative use of her spells, making the best of bad situations and expertly coping with the unexpected, even if she doesn’t completely understand what is going on.

The story and the events that unfold are fast-paced, energetic and constantly exciting, and while the original “one-shot” intention for this first volume means that things escalate and wrap up neatly rather more quickly than one might expect from a series of fantasy novels, it’s entirely in keeping with the series’ overall vibe for “the big bad” to be defeated at the end of volume 1 of 17.

Slayers is an enjoyably easy read, and complemented by some delightful ’90s illustrations from Rui Araizumi. J-Novel Club’s translation by Elizabeth Ellis (who also worked on the company’s translations of Full Metal Panic! and Amagi Brilliant Park) gets across the series’ infectiously manic energy very well indeed, and I’m looking forward to discovering more about Lina and company’s subsequent adventures.

Slayers is available now in Kindle format on Amazon. Physical editions also exist but can be unpredictable in their availability. For more information, see J-Novel’s website.

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Pete Davison
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