Slayers: The Ruby Eye
Slayers has a significant, if not quite mainstream, presence in North America. With about a hundred TV series episodes, a pile of OVAs, movies and a domestic release of the Slayers pen and paper RPG supplements (for Big Eyes Small Mouth, of course), it's hard to enter a store that carries anime/manga and not bump into something related to said fantasy/comedy. Yet only recently have fans been able to sit down and read the novel that started this whole mess, written back in 1990.
I would like to warn our readers in advance - if you're a huge fan of Slayers, then you know exactly what's going to happen in this book. It is almost word for word (well, event for event, at least) identical to the first season of the anime series.
In that sense, it really doesn't offer anything new. And yet as the progenitor of such a prolific series, it is undeniably interesting to see how it began. If we treat this release well, we might be lucky enough to (one day) receive translations of the Record of Lodoss War and The Twelve Kingdoms novels.
Until recently, such a request would seem pretty far-fetched, but now that we can read Ring, Battle Royale and Musashi in English, it seems like the sky is the limit for the importation of Japanese culture.
While we get into the nitty-gritty of the Slayers mythos, perhaps culture isn't the best word to use. Of course, I mean that as affectionately as possible. After all, the main characters of the story are not exactly the most sophisticated personas in Japanese literature.
Take Lina Inverse for an example. This novel is told from her point of view, in first person. Hearing her words, her thought process, and her justification for extreme behavior, offers something very different to my understanding of the Slayers universe.
Lina has a voracious appetite, despite her diminutive build, though she doesn't spend nearly as much time devouring food as she'd like. In this novel, we quickly discover her fear-inspiring prowess as a sorceress. She is not merely powerful - Lina's greatest strength is her ability to think on her feet.
Then again, that is also her biggest weakness. While she might have the offensive skills to support her sometimes offensive wit, even Lina gets into a few situations that could've been made far better had she just minded her business and kept her mouth shut.
Thus the introduction of Gourry, a dyed in the wool hero, makes perfect sense. Gourry is a textbook specimen of the standard warrior protagonist. Dashingly handsome, virtuous, deadly with a blade, and not exactly the sort of fellow to do well with problems of the thinking persuasion. For Gourry, most situations can be boiled down to right or wrong, good or evil, sleep or stay awake. In this novel, he doesn't appear to be as dumb as he seems in the animated version of the story. It is understandable that the animation would have a tendency to exaggerate the traits of characters in the novel. I wouldn't suggest that this incarnation of Gourry is a toned-down version of his TV persona, but he does seem more realistic in the novel than he has in other formats.
In general, Slayers is an entertaining parody of the fantasy genre as a whole. Kanzaka treats his subject matter with respect and is clearly a fan of fantasy, but his knowledge of the genre gives him the ability to hit it where it hurts - in a good way, naturally.
As a large fan of fantasy myself, I find Slayers immensely amusing. While most people think of the slapstick humor the anime series is known for, there's certainly more to it than simple visual comedy, and this novel shows that clearly.
The book was translated well and reads smoothly, though it feels more like a young adult novel than a standard adult fantasy work. This is a very different read from the far more mature Battle Royale or Ring novels, though fans of Slayers should know what they're getting into.
Like Lina, the book is very short; at least it is priced about the same as any other paperback novel. It is broken up into four long chapters, but I believe it only took me about an hour to complete.
In essence, this is a brief, well-written summary of the events in the first anime season. While that is nothing especially exciting on its own, its availability in English is noteworthy enough to warrant its purchase. It may not be able to hold its own against more mature works of humorous fantasy, such as books by Piers Anthony (Xanth), Robert Asprin (M.Y.T.H.), Terry Brooks (Landover), or Terry Pratchett (Discworld), but it's a good start and a welcome addition to domestic shelves.
All I can say is please, keep the Slayers novels coming! (And could you start working on those Twelve Kingdom books, too? Thanks!)