El Hazard: The Alternative World Anime Review
Ijigen no Sekai Eru Hazaado
Alternate Dimension World
US Release By
Fantasy Comedy Adventure
13 25-minute episodes
1998-01-08 - 1998-03-25
The El Hazard crew from the OAVs is back for more dimension-hopping fun. Miz has finally managed to tie the knot with Mr. Fujisawa, which means that she'll be retiring, and the new Priestess of Water is on the way. The young priestess-to-be, Qwaoor, is as sweet as could be, but has an extreme dislike of bugs (pity the Bugrom) and (of course) quickly takes a liking to Makoto.
And then a weird old guy in a trans-dimensional orb who claims to be the Master of the Universe has a little chat with Jinnai and the whole crew ends up getting scattered across another alternate world. Oops. Now the Earth folks aren't the only strangers in a strange land. With floating farms, a slightly unhinged emperor and his cold-as-ice general, and a capital city powered by a Spring of Life, what a strange land it is.
One group is enjoying peaceful farm life, another is captured by a bunch of bugs, while at the Imperial Palace the Emperor has gotten it into his head that Makoto can fix the dying Spring of Life... or else. Then there's Fatora, Allele, and Allele's dead ringer (and male) cousin Parnase (what is it with lesbians looking like the guys in this series?), a dangerous team in any world.
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El Hazard: The Alternative World picks up where the El Hazard OAVs left off. Yes, that's right: At last, continuity! On the positive side, this sequel develops the characters in new and interesting ways, offering more maturity and depth for Makoto, a more filled-out Nanami and the new "sweet girl" Qwaoor, and more fun with the now-married Fujisawa and Miz. On the negative end, it's marred by a plot spread thin over several unrelated groups, a Jinnai shortage, and a horribly abrupt, painfully unsatisfying end. At least the production values and interesting world are more or less up to par for the series, and the quality Japanese voice cast is back and in tip-top shape. Oh, and there's a hilarious romp of a bonus "purification ritual" episode tacked on to the end that makes up for the lack of humor and lesbian hijinks elsewhere.
El Hazard: The Alternative World is not the place for the unfamiliar to start the series, and it's not quite the sequel fans of the OAVs might wish for, but they should still enjoy this addition to the series. If nothing else, give praise that it offers some sort of continuity.
Full ReviewSwitch to Quick Review
El Hazard: The Alternative World picks up where the El Hazard OAVs left off. Yes, that's right: At last, continuity! While a huge relief to fans sick of Pioneer's reboots (the first El Hazard TV series and countless Tenchi Muyo do-overs) it also means that you'll be pretty lost if you haven't seen the OAVs--you're doing yourself a disservice if you start here.
My view may be colored by the sweet relief that can only come from proper OAV continuity, but for all the oversights and disappointments in the plot, I found this sequel enjoyable and a worthwhile follow-up.
There's an all-new Alternative World to explore, and though it's a very different place from El Hazard--a frozen wasteland dominated by a powerful industrial empire--it doesn't disappoint. It isn't flashy, but it definitely shows imagination and a bit of a sense of wonder. This time the natives of El Hazard are just as out of place as the Earth-folk, a fun change of pace.
The setting is different, but all of the old crew is back for more. As usual, they're a fun lot, with a good dynamic and plenty of variety. To shake things up just a bit, Miz and Fujisawa are now married (something that's handled well and feels true to the characters), and young Qwaoor is introduced as the replacement Priestess of Water, filling the "just plain sweet" gap in the character lineup.
Predictably, Qwaoor takes a liking to Makoto, which introduces the mild romantic tension between her, Nanami, and Shayla Shayla (for a bit) that makes up much of the emotional drama in the series. Though adding another girl seems like overkill given that Makoto is already very "taken," she provides enough competition to bring out the more serious side of Nanami's personality and to give Makoto's devotion to Ifurita more of a challenge.1
This slight change in the emotional tone of the story is appealing to me, since it makes Makoto, who was already an unusually mature boy-hero, feel like he's growing up. Nanami also gets a more dramatic twist. Unlike your generic "Oh, no, too many girls" guy, he continues to be a rather thoughtful young protagonist, including--unexpectedly--some time to quietly pine for Ifurita.
Also on the "more mature than expected" front, Fujisawa and Miz get some screen time in the first half of the series as an amusing married couple, a refreshing change from the teenage lovebirds so common in anime. We also get to see a bit of Rune Venus involved in a budding romance, though that subplot is completely abandoned at the end, a complaint I'll get to later.
On the subject of complaints, in addition to Ifurita being (unsurprisingly) absent, Jinnai--the character who made the OAVs--doesn't have that much to do. Thankfully, he does manage to squeeze in a bit of gloating at the end, so all is not lost.
Getting back on track, the characters are split into four groups for most of the story, only loosely interconnected and not converging until the very end. Although this cuts down on the fun interaction that could have been, it creates interesting group dynamics and helps keep the large number of characters from turning into a jumbled mess. The series is relatively successful at keeping everybody's exploits interesting while having most of the main plot development going on in Makoto's camp. This keeps the story flowing smoothly, but it also means that everyone else doesn't do much of any import, and bypasses the potential for a complex, interwoven story.
Then again, since this incarnation of El Hazard follows the tried-and-true Pioneer theme of having a plot that we (the viewers) just don't get all that clued in on (barely-explained mystery abounds), keeping the actual plot as focused as possible was probably a good idea.
The writing in this series is on par with the OAVs--not brilliant, but generally solid, with a good blend of mystery, drama, and comedy. Things start out on a light note, but as the story progresses the humorous moments thin out and the level of drama increases. I missed some of the funnier bits (I particularly wish it had kept up the emperor's oddball personality quirks) but the transition is smooth enough that it's not jarring, and it does get some good momentum going.
But there's one huge problem with the whole thing: The series is over before it's over. The story barrels into its climax far too abruptly--the plot in the final episodes is noticeably rushed. Even worse--much worse, in fact, given the ensemble cast--almost all of the many subplots are glossed over or outright dropped. Shayla Shayla's bugs just go away, for example, and Rune Venus' boyfriend flat-out disappears--that's egregious. More frustrating still, the pace is quite leisurely at times--not inherently bad, but it feels insulting when the wrap-up is so starved for time. The series desperately needed at least another episode or two, and it probably should have had a full second season--I'd believe it if you told me it was initially planned for another dozen episodes.
For those wondering what happened to all the cross-dressing fun and lesbian shenanigans, there is one small upside to the bungled endgame and relative lack of levity: There's a bonus "too hot for TV" episode tacked on at the end. This obligatory trip for that famed "purification ritual" has more than enough wacky hijinks to make up for the rest of the series. Between Fujisawa's bad habits and Fatora and Allele's convoluted scheming, hilarious romps just doesn't get much better than this. If you'll pardon my saying so, that's good stuff. It has zip to do with anything else, but at least the series finishes on a lively note.2
The visuals are about par for a good AIC TV series of its era: Vividly colored, sharply drawn, and with imaginative backgrounds. The character designs are true to the earlier series--relatively varied and attractive--although the eyes now share the unusual look of Tenchi in Tokyo and its late-'90s kin. The animation isn't high-budget (more a lack of anything particularly good than anything specifically bad), but I did like the character animation, and the art more than makes up for any flaws elsewhere. The handful of action scenes are also solid.
The background music in the series isn't particularly noteworthy, but gets the job done. The opening theme is quite nice, and the main end theme features pretty, if amateur-quality, singing by Sora Izumikawa. The visuals to go with the outro, however, look like illustrations from a wedding album of Shayla Shayla, which makes no sense and has nothing do to with the rest of the series, directly or in spirit.
The Japanese acting, on the other hand, is as good as you'd hope. Everybody from the original cast is back and in business. As for the additions, Maaya Sakamoto is a bit plain as Qwaoor's voice, but adequate and plenty sweet. Sakiko Tamagawa, on the other hand, is impressive as General Gilda--her voice is every bit as cold and harsh as her exterior, and her more emotional scenes at the very end come across equally well. Emperor Dall is amusingly memorable, showing off the quick switches between drama and goofy that Takehito Koyasu does so well. I can't speak for the English version.
Summing up, El Hazard: The Alternative World is a decent if flawed continuation of the storyline of the El Hazard OAVs. Though a bit more serious, it's at least as good as the OAVs in plot, visuals, and production quality. It is, sadly, marred by a few rough spots, a relative Jinnai shortage, and a disastrously abrupt, insultingly unsatisfying end. On the bright side, there's a hilarious little bonus episode romp tacked on after the finale to make up for the lack of fun elsewhere. It's not quite the sequel fans of the OAVs might wish for, but they should still enjoy this addition to the series.
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Of course if you liked the previous El Hazard incarnations, you should check out this, and vice versa. In terms of serious-ness, the 2nd OAV series is probably the most similar, but it is otherwise a little different in overall flavor to all of them.
Notes and Trivia
Although this is a TV series, it follows the storyline of the two OAV series. It does not relate to the first TV series, which is out on its own, re-using the same characters in an entirely unconnected plot.
The final episode was not included when the series originally aired on TV Tokyo; it was included as a "too hot for TV" bonus with the video release.
Footnote 1: This isn't much of a spoiler, but for those wondering if Ifurita makes an appearance, you could probably guess from the fact that this series isn't set long after the 2nd OAV series that she's still in the limbo she was left in prior to the post-OAV epilogue.
Footnote 2: Actually, in addition to the bonus episode, there is one other subtle but fantastic bit with Fatora. This is a spoiler, but she lays eyes on an icy general and declares, in as many words, "I'm gonna get me some of that," with absolutely zero concern for feasibility or consequences. Now that's the crazy, self-centered lesbian princess we've come to know and love.
US DVD Review
A fine, if not fancy series of DVDs from Pioneer. Each disc includes a chapter index, English and Japanese stereo audio tracks, an English subtitle track, and a very sharp video transfer. Special features are minimal, though.
There's also a box set of the whole series.
With the exception of occasional lesbian hijinks, there is a minimum of serious violence and occasional adult theme or bit of undetailed nudity. Pioneer appropriately rated it 13-up. Note, though, that the bonus episode at the end has a lot more mature humor (and undetailed nudity) than the rest of the series, and would be 16-up on its own.
Violence: 2 - Violent on occasion, but mostly cartoony and no real body count.
Nudity: 2 - Undetailed and minimal nudity. The bonus episode, however, ranks a 3 for undetailed but plentiful skin.
Sex/Mature Themes: 1 - An off color joke here and there. The bonus episode has its share of very raunchy humor, ranking a 3.
Language: 2 - Nothing of note.
Formerly available in North America from Geneon on four bilingual DVDs, as well as a box set of the whole series. Was originally (back when Geneon was Pioneer) also available on four subtitled or dubbed VHS tapes released alongside the DVD volumes.
All of the above are out of print now, but RightStuf still had stock of the box set at last check: El Hazard: Alternative World DVD Box. You can also get the individual volumes or box set quite cheaply used through Amazon: Volume 1, Volume 2, Volume 3, Volume 4, and Box set.