Drifters – 05

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This was a particularly shitty episode of Drifters – and I say that not due to a lack of quality (it remains consistently average most of the time), but due to the sheer amount of excrement used as a weapon against the Orte soldiers in the Elven Rebellion. The three samurai help the Elves train for the battle, then Toyohisa leads the fight, which is waged with arrows and blades covered in crap, and a well full of crap so wounds can’t be washed.

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In this regard, Nobunaga shows just how ruthless he can be, employing the very natural processes of life and death to his advantage, and rightfully expecting the Orte troops to crumble once they see the tactics being used against them.

However, Nobunaga also knows that Yoichi isn’t the biggest fan of such “dirty tricks”, nor that Toyohisa knows how to do anything other than compel others to fight and then fight himself. He proposes the storming of the lord’s castle, but it’s up to Nobunaga to formulate a plan to do so.

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The castle-storming (involving the elves disguised as troops returning…the Orte don’t seem that bright) leads us to a discovery that makes the enemy even more baldly despicable: not only did Orte abduct all of the female elves, but soldiers have been free to have their way with them in a filthy, hellish nightmare setting that make Toyohisa change his mind about accepting anyone’s surrender. If they’re going to act like beasts, he’s going to slaughter them like beasts.

The three amigos made some progress, but we may be starting to see cracks appearing between them even as their quest to conquer everything in sight is just beginning. And while this episode wasn’t marred by any other Drifters or Ends, showing us the dirty, smelly side of war was ultimately more gross than engrossing.

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Drifters – 04

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Drifters has its intense, ostensibly serious moments, but very often they are upturned by a sudden bout of comedy, such as when Easy, who is in the Dorridor to tease Murasaki, finds that he’s currently away from his desk.

Basically, Drifters is in on the joke, and it’s out to show you can have a story about famous historical figures going at each other for the sake of a world not their own without being as rigid as bamboo or dry as Fall leaves. You can have a little fun.

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I like how Oda Nobunaga, the ostensible leader of the Three Surly Samurai, decides to step aside and let Toyohisa be the commander who leads the Elves in their rebellion.

First, he respects Toyohisa’s ability and relative youth. Second, at his age he prefers to be the one who pulls the strings on the side. Third, and perhaps most silly, is that Toyohisa went and sat in the middle, between Nobunaga and Yoichi. And that’s where the leader sits.

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The narrative of a village of (surprisingly old) Elves who have never known freedom or war taking a stand against their masters isn’t all that interesting, but making the Three Samurai their “coaches” in this enterprise, and all their inherent bickering and bawdiness, is pretty entertaining, and helps the medicine go down, so to speak.

These are three guys who can back up their arrogance (and other typically undesirable personality traits); indeed, it makes sense they act and talk the way they do: They’re used to getting their way, and when they don’t, blood that isn’t their own usually spills.

Magician Olmine isn’t yet sure how these Drifters fit into the Octobrists’ larger struggle to save the world, but she knows they’re too human, and too quick to help the weak and downtrodden, to be Easy’s Ends.

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Drifters – 03

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As I mentioned last week, I don’t find the overarching conflict being fought between the Octobrists (with Drifters) and the Black King (with Ends) to be particularly coherent or compelling, but thankfully that doesn’t matter, because the Drifters and Ends themselves have been enough to carry the show along nicely.

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It was a shame we didn’t see any of our cranky Samurai trio until the very end (when they find the hapless Octobrist magician who’s been observing them), but that disappointment was quickly tempered with a bunch of new faces, or I should say old to very old faces.

While their leaders/facilitators (the Octobrists and Black King) aren’t that interesting, most of them are…and also pretty funny at times, keeping things from getting too stilted.

On the End (AKA “Offscouring”) side: A sadistic pyromanic Joan d’Arc who has clearly renounced God; the blizzard-summoning final surviving member of the doomed Romanov family, Anastasia; and Hijikata, the former vice commander of the “Shingensumi” special police squad who can summon the ghosts of his men to hack people down.

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This week’s historical figures on the Drifter side include Scipio Africanus and Hannibal from Roman times, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and Kanno Naoshi, a WWII fighter pilot with a wonderful penchant for cursing who just arrived. Kanno decides to side with the Drifters by gunning down the Black King’s dragons when he gets traumatic flashbacks to the bombing of Tokyo.

Both End and Drifter are essentially superheroes, as if passing into this new world has imbued them with superhuman/supernatural powers. As such, much like the Avengers, X-Men, or Jedi, they are front-line heavy hitters, capable of taking on entire armies by themselves. Once could also liken them to reusable tactical nukes.

One intriguing element is that Drifters and Ends are given roles and abilities surpassing even their great statures in normal world history. Some are bigger names than others, and all react to their situation in different ways. Kanno’s decision to take out the dragons was motivated by his experience in the previous world, just as Joan just wants to watch shit burn now, because that’s what happened to her.

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The Drifters at the besieged kingdom are safely evacuated to fight another day. But when Olmine explains to the three Samurai (who were left out of the fighting altogether this week) what the deal is, they react in appropriately amusing ways: Toyohisa is apathetic, Nobunaga is unconvinced, and Yoichi simply isn’t interested. But something tells me once they’re given an enemy to fight, they’ll reconsider their inaction. They’re just not catching the Octobrists at their best.

Drifters continues to be a wonderfully over-the-top action / adventure / comedy that has put a clever twist on the utilization of historical figures in anime. They’re neither too-faithful reproductions of the guys and gals in the books (which are themselves open to interpretation) nor completely unrelated.

It’s a surprisingly welcoming show that doesn’t demand we take its milieu any more seriously than the titular Drifters, but simply enjoy the ride.

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Drifters – 02

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The Gist: Shimazu saves the two elves who saved him, then goes to the elf village to burn the crops and kill all of the invading soliders. He, Nobunaga and Yoichi follow their warlike instincts, unaware they’re being watched by the Octobrists, to be used as soldiers themselves in a battle against an opposing army of “Ends” led by a woman named Easy.

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This episode serves up much of what our three main drifters seem to like most: fighting, bleeding, killing, and dominating others. Taking baby steps, Nobunaga decides to “claim” the elf village, and he and Yoichi are impressed with how quickly and viciously Shimizu pulls it off. There’s no one who presents any kind of challenge to any of these three warriors, but they’ll take what they can get. Blood is blood.

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And blood we get. The violence on display is intense, but nothing that needs pixelation, and in the case of the so-called knight in charge of the village burning, they mostly get what they deserve, with an extra super-samurai flourish to their deaths. Shimazu isn’t just fighting for fun, he’s also fighting for the elves, two of which saved him, and lets the reluctant townsfolk finish the wretched knight off. It’s the violent saying “have at it” to the non-violent, and the latter group acquiescing.

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I continue to enjoy how these three fighters (aged 50, 30, and 19) bounce off each other, and particularly how they seemed to have eased into roles: Nobunaga the cunning commander; Shimazu the front-line brawler, and Yoichi the stealthy ranger. No one is ordering anyone around, mind you, but the guys seem to be getting along and moving with a single purpose.

That may well be exactly what the man in the corridor of doors intended, as it seems he’s locked in some kind of time-transcending battle against a gothy woman who is able to turn the white hall black. Mr. Glasses is fighting with Drifters; the girl with something called “Ends.” Apparently, the survival of the world depends on this battle. I don’t really care about all that (at least not yet) but the three main lads are fun enough to watch banter and bludgeon that I may eventually care.

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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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