Drifters – 01 (First Impressions)

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The Gist: Toyohisa Shimazu is a hardcore samurai who holds the line in the Battle of Sekigahara for his lord and uncle to escape. In a fantastic showdown with the lord of the Red Devils, he intentionally allows himself to be mortally wounded, in order to get a point blank pistol shot off and cripple the Devils’ pursuit.

Stumbling, bleeding out, he eventually finds himself in a bright white hallway lined with doors. A silent smoking man sits in the hall with a computer, newspaper and coffee.

Then Toyohisa is sucked through a door and meets other dead members of Japanese history trapped in another world, which includes elves, and no clear sense of purpose…

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Drifters is worth a look because it is mysteriously less historical-fictiony than advertised, visually striking, and packed with details you may miss on your first viewing.

It’s great to see Toyo flick his sword to remove excess blood, even in the background. It’s also great that mortally wounded soldiers don’t just die quietly — but linger and sputter full of arrows and spears. Yet those same soldiers don’t just spring up for more action, as they would in a more forgiving action show.

And Toyo’s suicide is about as perfect as a set piece for a hardcore mofo can be. Yes, he kills his target, yes he walks away from the fight (for a little while) but he doesn’t take out the dozen guarding spearmen in the process — quite the opposite! They take him out!

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Visuals and personality aside, I greatly appreciate that the plot doesn’t feature quirky characters with historical figures’ names doing quirky things in a steam punk/mech/whatever alternate reality.

Those shows irritate me because  using historical names adds nothing to the characters, and lessens any originality in their development and interaction.

Drifters’ choice to use marginally accurate historical characters, thrust into a setting they do not understand — they do not belong in — is a refreshing twist.

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believe it or not, this was intentional!

You may not enjoy Drifters because it is definitely trying very hard to be hardcore and cool. It has lingering shots of growing blood puddles, the occasional ‘flurry of sword slashes’ to indicate lesser foes are being cut down without putting render effort into it, and the color pallete is pretty one-note, shadowy and murky.

Some of the Battle Pacing is odd too. In one scene, the Red Devils seem right in front of Toyo, yet it takes them an extended dialog scene for them to bear down on their horses. In other scenes, foot men appear to move as quickly as cavalry, probably because they are 3D assets and no one noticed the movement settings.

As far as the script goes… there isn’t much of a script to talk about. Half of this opening episode is dedicated to a battle, and the other half features Toyo talking to two historical characters and establishing what happened after their deaths, and a little of how they see him, based on his family history in their earlier times.

It’s all rather ‘safe,’ while not accomplishing much in the process.

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Oji’s Verdict:  Toyo’s smirky expression and the heavy pools of black and creased skin of the art style scream ‘trying too hard for angst.’ However, the style also manages to feel less generic as a result.

But I think what really sold me were the quirky moments that are not significant to the plot. Several of Toyo’s soldiers say “Don’t mess with Shimazu” in a modern sounding way and I swear the music is a little more club-like when they do. Those little juxtapositions gave it life, amidst all the death.

Braverade’s Take: I also enjoyed the fact that while the cast is made up of historical figures, and a lot of history is talked about, the bottom line is we’re left with three warriors from three different times in the unenviable position of being in a world not their own.

I also enjoyed the casualness of their banter and the diversity of emotions expressed in their fireside talk (all while Shimazu’s wounds are struggling to stay closed). The stabs at comedy mostly succeed and indicate that while Drifters is trying to be super-cool, it’s not always taking itself too seriously. And even though I’m no history buff, I never felt lost, nor did it feel like a lecture.

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2 thoughts on “Drifters – 01 (First Impressions)”

  1. Having seen Hellsing and this first episode I don’t really think this is going for “angst” in any way – more like “everyone is A TOTAL FUCKING BADASS AND SHIT”. It’s never too depressing, it has those completely surreal moments like the white corridor, and when it becomes too serious it suddenly drops one of its wacky comedy routines to the point of being jarring. Kouta Hirano seems like a better Tite Kubo to me; his main concern is to drop cool one-liners and badass fights, but he knows his limits and doesn’t overstretch his storytelling beyond what he can handle. It’s still pretty niche, but if you like this kind of dumb hyperviolent action story it’s an amazing treat.

  2. If the reviewers haven’t read/watch Hellsing or spoiled themselves by reading the Drifters manga, then they are in for a real treat. I would sum up Hirano’s writing and art style as “no bullshit, badass-ness that oozes out of every frame” with a bit of random comedy thrown in during conversations to lighten the mood (similar to how Puck is used in the Berserk manga).

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