Cidolfas's Anime Reviews: El-Hazard: The Wanderers
NOTE: This is the TV series, not the OVA series(es), which I haven't seen.
El-Hazard is a very light-hearted fantasy anime. If you've had your fill of shows which take themselves way too seriously, but aren't in the mood of the wackiness that often passes for humor in anime, you'll enjoy this one.
The basic idea is as simple as it gets: Makoto Mizuhara, high school student with a penchant for science, has an experiment which goes crazy and gets himself, his friend Nanami Jinnai, her brother Katsuhiko, and his sake-loving, mountain-climbing teacher Mr. Fujisawa, all thrust into the magical world of El-Hazard. Jinnai (the brother) is a caricature of an anime villain; back in the real world he concentrates on dominating the Student Council, but once he falls in with the Bugrom (a race of giant bugs with a Queen named Diva who strangely resembles a sexy human) he changes his tune towards dominating El-Hazard. His laugh is way over the top, and he often trips over his own feet, which serve to keep him from ever being too scary, but he's still remarkably clever in his plotting, which keeps him relevant. He has an obsessive rivalry with Makoto, who is consistantly bemused at Jinnai's overdone outbursts.
Makoto and Fujisawa end up falling in with the kingdom of Roshtaria, with its beautiful Princess Rune Venus. At first the series concentrates on Makoto and Fujisawa's quest to return home, meeting up with a variety of colorful characters, including three idiosyncratic Great Priestesses, a talking cat (natch), a hilariously messed-up and rather ditzy "devil", and more big bugs than you can shake a sugar-coated stick at. I also liked the fact that they don't instantly stick everyone together and spend twenty episodes having hijinks; there's a progression of events rather than one separate episode after another.
What actually happens during the series, though interesting, isn't anywhere near as important as the attitude the series has towards itself. Although the storyline is serious, there are always funny things happening - pratfalls, comedic mishaps, people being just a little bit ridiculous. It's helped by the music, which keeps the atmosphere light. I was smiling often, and laughed out loud quite a bit. It's a refreshing break from either super-serious shows, or super-funny ones which tend to be nonsensical. There are a few examples of fanservice, too, although not to the extent that it reduces characters to pinups.
The relationships between the characters are surprisingly nuanced, although there are some that are papered-over. (Alielle seems to be a bit of an afterthought for most of the series, and her rather creepy obsession with "pretty women" is never explored, although I'm told both it and she are of more relevance in the OVA.) There are at least two separate love stories that grow throughout the plot, and are done quite well, avoiding the usual traps of instant "fated" romance and saccharine gooshiness.
Overall, I enjoyed the series a whole lot - more than I would have expected after seeing the premise. It's the kind of "fun romp" anime you keep hearing about but never really see a good example of. Unfortunately I wasn't able to get ahold of the English version, but the Japanese one is quite well-done, with some great performances (Nanami is a bit screechy, but that's about it). Definitely recommended!
Favorite Character: Ifrita.
Overall Rating: 9.0