El Hazard sure has a magnificent world

A long while back, the FYEs in the DC area were all closing down, and as a result their full-retail-price DVDs were knocked to near Amazon Marketplace prices after a 90% discount. I picked up a few things, and among them was something I had been meaning to see since my formidable years as an anime fan–El Hazard.

The first anime to really fascinate me with their inherent Japaneseness were the early incarnations of Tenchi Muyou. Scouring sites about Tenchi and related anime brought about mentions of El Hazard every now and again, and as a result I took something of a passing interest in the show.  It looked somewhat similar to Tenchi (not surprising, considering AIC was behind both,) and it had a lot of those unique Japanese elements I found fascinating about anime at the time. Of course, by unique Japanese elements I mean school kids in uniforms and said school kids having Japanese names. Sadly, my local Blockbuster did not stock El Hazard, and beyond that my resources were pretty limited as a kid, so I gave up.

So here we are, nearly 10 years later, and I just finished up the first El Hazard series. Upon watching it, I was overcome by a strong feeling of nostalgia. I get this every time I watch ’90s anime, but along with that, another thought struck me: “This would be way cooler if I was 13.”

But before I launch into bad mouthing the show, let me tell you about the parts I liked.

I’m something of a fantasy virgin. This is entirely because I’ve been turned off to the genre over the years, as I honestly don’t give a shit about wizards, dragons, dwarfs and stuff like that. I find I can only really enjoy such settings if they’re excuses for tits and ass, like Zero no Tsukaima. But El Hazard impresses me. I think it’s because the word draws less on the typical fantasy look of a Medieval England that never was, and instead draws from the east for inspiration. The architecture is very reminiscent of the middle east, with palaces topped with the sorts of domes you see on buildings like the Taj Mahal. Fleshing out the world even further, characters’ attire and hairstyles also draw from the same eastern aesthetic, but are at the same time infused with ’90s anime design elements, resulting in rather unique outfits. The various tribes at war with each other are all visually interesting as well, especially the goofy Bugrom.

Like a lot of OVAs of the period, the animation is extremely well done. It’s true to that mid-90s style seen in higher budget productions, with really exaggerated and cartoonish movement, and character designs adorned with all the visual quirks unique to the era. The animation actually gets better as the series progresses, with the first episode being a little un-even, and the last episodes being very smooth and crisp.

The first three episodes are tons of fun, delivering chuckle-worthy humour while also moving the story along at a good pace. Not all of the characters struck me as totally memorable, but I did take a liking to the hilariously irresponsible teacher Fujisawa,  clingy loli-lesbian Alielle, and neurotic genius Jinnai. Makoto, the main man, is a bit too much of a spineless harem lead for me, and his really girly-sounding Kansai accent doesn’t really do him many favours. Nanami, Jinnai’s sister, is a pretty funny gag character with her near super human ability to make money quickly, but sadly her character’s screentime gets reduced to just her arguing over who loves Makoto more with another one of the female characters in the show.

Pumped after those first three fairly well done episodes, I was excited for the plot to take a turn for the serious. Between all the joking around, the writers plant some intriguing seeds for future developments. And while these seeds all blossom, they don’t do so very beautifully. Half-way through episode four, I was actually feeling a little bored. I thought that this might change with the last two episodes, but it didn’t. The issue is that these final episodes seem to lack real urgency. Maybe it’s just due to my hilariously poor attention span, but I feel those last four episodes could have benefited from being an episode shorter. The events themselves aren’t too bad, if fairly standard. There were some good scenes as well, but I feel they could have been woven together in a more brisk and punchy manner.

As I alluded to earlier, there’s also a really half-hearted harem element that’s shoehorned in around half-way through the show. They try to create tension between Nanami and another female character, Shayla Shayla, but it doesn’t really have the same fire as the Ryoko and Ayeka confrontation. Ryoko and Ayeka’s rivalry is established early on in Tenchi, and has actual history. The rivalry between Nanami and Shayla seems thrown in as an afterthought.

In the end, like I said earlier, I probably would have been more impressed with this as an impressionable 13 year old anime virgin. It’s not bad, really. It’s fun, short, and not a bad way to spend some time. But presentation means a lot to me, so those last couple of episodes do bother me a fair bit. I hear there are other El Hazard series beyond this, including a sequel to this OVA and some TV series. I also hear the further series are bad, but I don’t know if people are referring to the other OVA, or the two TV series. Either way, I probably won’t be watching them. At least, not any time soon.