Dragon Slayer Anime Review
Dragon Slayer (ドラゴンスレイヤー) 英雄伝説 - 王子の旅立ち
Dragon Slayer Eiyu Densetsu - Oosama no Tabidachi
Dragon Slayer: Heroic Legend - The Prince Embarks on a Voyage
US Release By
Semi-serious High-speed Fantasy Action
2 25-minute episodes
1992-10-21 to 1992-11-21
In a world where magic reigns supreme and demons walk the land (i.e. generic fantasy), there is a small island kingdom (no, not that one). Besieged by an evil sorcerer and his hell-spawned minions, the king is dead, and the prince flees the ruins of the castle under the protection of a loyal swordsman. Ten years later, the queen is still missing, the land is overrun by demons, and the happy-go-lucky prince is having a ball cutting up monsters and getting ready to reclaim the throne. As he fights with the resistance, he is joined by a spunky sorceress in training, a mysterious sorcerer, and three brave swordsmen in his battle to save the world from the forces of darkness.
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Dragon Slayer takes an altogether generic fantasy story and turns it into something fun and funny--whether intentionally or not--by cutting out all but the most important plot points and then putting the whole thing on fast-forward. It blazes through the story like a checklist and the hyperactive battle scenes could be played at half the speed and still look lively. Toss in a few amusing characters and several pot-shots at sappy sentiment and you've got a something that looks painfully cheesy and dated on the surface, but kept me chuckling through to the end.
The highly caffeinated fantasy style of Dragon Slayer should appeal to any fan of barely serious fantasy or frantic action, and might be worth watching for anyone looking for a quick breather from epic fantasy tales that take themselves too seriously.
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Dragon Slayer has "yet another low budget cheesy fantasy hack and slash epic" written all over it... you just have to read it very fast. Thing is, Dragon Slayer barrels into the cliche with such speed and spunk that it creates a whole new "hyperactive generic fantasy" category for itself. By ten minutes into it I was having a really good time, and it manages to keep it up right to the end.
Basically, if you took a standard, lengthy, serious fantasy epic (Record of Lodoss War is an obvious target), cut out all but the most vital plot points, and then fast-forwarded through everything left (which is about half swordfighting), you'd have Dragon Slayer--a fantasy epic on a caffeine bender.
Seriously, it's hard to get across just how over-the-top the pacing in Dragon Slayer is. The action sequences are absolutely frantic--high speed hacking and limbs that fly by so fast you won't even have time to realize they were severed. More notably, the story is just as manic--every plot element is introduced then dealt with neatly in about 30 seconds.
It's like the writer handed the director a checklist and his paycheck was based on how short he could make a movie that included everything on it: Introduce bad guy. Check. Dragon attacks village. Check. Free slaves. Check. Have dramatic argument. Check. Visit magical temple. Check. And so on.
Of course, this rapid-fire method of storytelling doesn't exactly make for compelling drama, but that's not a bad thing. Had Dragon Slayer taken the time to properly develop the tired list of fantasy standbys, it would have just been cheesy. As is, there's no time to do much more than say "Yup." before the story has sprinted onward.
What little plot it has isn't taken very seriously anyway, which only adds to the fun. I respect any series in which a quiet moment (meaning about two seconds in this case) watching the sunrise abruptly turns into the characters mocking that kind of sappy sentimentality. Even the death of one of the main characters is summarily dealt with (and turned into a probably-intentional joke) when, moments later, his twin brother shows up to fill his shoes. I can see it now: "Well, we need to kill him for the plot, but he's too cool to get rid of." Problem solved. Check.
Anyway, the plot is barely functional but way more fun than it probably should have been, and I give the writers credit for repeatedly taking a standard serious scene and turning it on its head. The characters are pretty much stock light fantasy as well, but they also sport enough odd quirks and bickering to satisfy me.
The art in Dragon Slayer is more along the lines of what you'd expect for an older, low-budget flick: not terribly detailed, and a bit rough in spots. The backgrounds are a little sketchy, too, but mostly just bland, and the character designs are average.
The animation, however, is a different story. In terms of character animation and style, it's mostly similar to other anime of this sort, but the battle sequences aren't quite like anything I've seen before. The frame rate in the action sequences is very high, but instead of taking a normal motion and making it more fluid by adding additional frames, they just crammed as much action as they possibly could into each shot. Think of it as Jackie Chan-style action, except with swords. Had they slowed the battles down to a reasonable speed, the show probably would have been twice as long, and it would have looked like any other mid-budget fantasy anime. Whether this fast-forward style is annoying or fun will depend on your taste, but it goes quite well with the rest of the pacing, and basically sets the tone of the whole thing.
I've only seen the dub, which is mostly unremarkable. There are no great acting triumphs (not that there could have been), but the actors keep up with the pacing and spirit well enough. The music, like everything else, is stock fantasy, and barely noticible.
In all, Dragon Slayer is standard cheesy action fantasy fare, but thanks to seriously over-the-top battle scenes, a rapid-fire plot, some amusing characters, and a generally caffeinated demeanor, it's just plain fun to watch. Not deep, not cool, not even close to good, but fun. If you enjoy barely-serious fantasy, frantic action, or just have seen enough epic tales that take themselves too seriously, you might well have discovered a diamond in the rough with this one.
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Kind of stands alone in the frantic fantasy category, but isn't all that different from Record of Lodoss War in setting. As for silly fantasy, there's always Slayers, but the seriously stupid Dragon Half has more in common with this series. Rune Soldier Louie is also worth mentioning as a relatively straightforward fantasy series that never takes itself seriously. As for the rapid-fire pacing, Elf Princess Rane is the absolute pinnacle of the concept, and Excel Saga goes there with a huge dose of weird added.
Notes and Trivia
Dragon Slayer is loosely based on the fantasy RPG video game Dragon Slayer: Legend of Heroes (ドラゴンスレイヤー英雄伝説; "Dragon Slayer Eiyuu Densetsu"). Produced by Falcom and released in 1989, it was available for a wide variety of systems in Japan and also made it to the US, but only for the TurboGrafx-16.
That original game was part of the lengthy Dragon Slayer franchise of almost completely unrelated games (not unlike the much-better-known Final Fantasy franchise); only a handful saw North American release until recently. That first Legend of Heroes game ended up spawning its own series, which outlived its parent series; it consists of eight games as of this writing, with more in production. Again, only the first in the series had an English version produced until fairly recently, when a few remakes started showing up on the PSP.
There is also the similarly-named OVA series Xanadu: Dragon Slayer Legend; it's an anime adaptation of Xanadu, one of the earlier games in the Dragon Slayer series. It also doesn't have much to do with this anime apart from "Dragon Slayer" in the title.
US DVD Review
No DVD version has been released in any country as of this writing, although there was a Japanese LaserDisc version.
Fairly violent, but it all goes by really quickly, putting it in the 13-up category at the strictest, 10-up if you consider the high-speed violence cartoony.
Violence: 3 - A fair amount of gore, but it's practically on fast forward.
Nudity: 0 - Zip.
Sex/Mature Themes: 0 - Nada.
Language: 0 - Really nothing.
Formerly available in North America from Urban Vision on subtitled and dubbed VHS, both long out of print.