Original Story and Character Design: Kazuto Nakazawa
Director: Hiroki Hayashi and Yoshiaki Iwasaki
Screenplay: Ryoe Tsukimura, Kazuhisa Onishi, and Mitsuhiro Yamada
Art Director: Nobuhiro Sue and Satoshi Kuwabara
Director of Photography: Hitoshi Sato
Sound Director: Yashunori Honda
Music: Seikou Nagaoka
Production: TV Tokyo and Pioneer
Dindrane's Anime Warnings:
Anamorphic: N/A, appears in its original 1.33:1 format.
Running Time: 245 minutes
Rating: Suggest for 13+
My Advice: Own It.
The genre of El-Hazard is difficult to pin down. At heart, it is a fantasy, a magical tale of multiple dimensions and alien creatures, but it is spiced up with adventure, science fiction, mythology, comedy, war drama, and even a tad of romance farce. Luckily for viewers, the multiple aspects of El-Hazard the land and El-Hazard the story are manipulated with skill and care by the authors and artists who created this DVD collection.
First, a bit of explanation: this box set consists of the seven episodes of the first El-Hazard OVA series, as well as the four episodes of the second OVA series, both called The Magnificent World. These came first. Also available from Pioneer and related to El-Hazard's continuum is El-Hazard: The Alternative World, which is a set of OVA episodes that continue the story from this box set. Separate from this continuum is The Wanderers series, which is a retelling of the El-Hazard story originally broadcast on Tokyo TV. The Wanderers alters many of the details of the original El-Hazard story, and should be seen as a recreation, not another installment in the series. This box set, however, contains those OVAs that started it all and are the best installments in the El-Hazard universe story.
The plot of El-Hazard is simple. Makoto Mizuhara, his teacher, and his arch-enemy are transported by a strange girl, who claims to know Makoto intimately, into an alternative world known as El-Hazard. Makoto and his allies are swept up into a war between the peaceful people of El-Hazard and the vicious Bugrom people, an insect-like race that thrives on destruction. Defeating the Bugrom with as few casualties as possible is the crux of the tale. The second OVA set, contained on the third disk of the box set, goes more deeply into the stories of the priestesses of El-Hazard.
The characters are uniformly interesting and colorful. The usual Anime character conventions are all observed, but are given a slight tweaking, preventing them from being cardboard cliches. The main character/hero, for example, spends much of the first story dressed as a girl (long story). Mr. Fujisawa does a good job of being comic relief, and Jinnai is good at being evil without being completely unsympathetic and simplistic. Unlike many other dubbed Anime tales, none of the voices are particularly irritating; the voice actors do a good job of matching their tone and voice modulations to their characters' personality and mood. Jinnai is the source of the majority of the profanity in the series, but this is used to highlight his lack of self-control and the imperfections of his heart. The translation pulls no punches and does a good job of retaining the clarity and meaning of the original.
The quality of the DVD leaves nothing to complain about. The colors are nicely saturated, and the sound is crisp and clear. A particular pet peeve of mine is credit music twice the volume of the show itself, or fight scenes that frighten my neighbors; this DVD has none of those issues. The volume fluctuates when it should, but not when it shouldn't.
The extras are interesting and suitably plentiful. Art and Anime geeks who like to know how these things work and miss the "making of" specials often found on live-action DVDs will be soothed by the Art and Line Drawing Galleries. The Line Drawing Gallery is the real stand-out on the disk, including many images of concept evolution. Both galleries include not only characters, but places, machines, and more. The scene access is pretty standard, but is suitably exhaustive. You'll be able to jump to your favorite lines or action with little waiting. The creditless openings and closings are good for those days when you just want to sit back and enjoy the artwork alone, and the Dimension Tables, while brief, give a bit of information about the various El-Hazard worlds, explaining such things as the differences between the Wanderers and the El-Hazard OVA series.
The DVDs themselves are simply decorated and labelled. The case, however, is a standout, displaying beautiful El-Hazard watercolor art. It is sturdy cardboard supported by clear plastic to hold the disks themselves and allowing more scenery to show through. A pamphlet decorated with more art pages is included, listing the chapter names on each disk, along with the DVD credits.
Blending the elements of fantasy, art, and even mysticism, El-Hazard is an interesting story worthy of being set alongside the classics of Anime. The storyline is complex enough to be satisfying, but does not overwhelm the viewer with meaningless detail. The eye candy aspects are legitimate, but again, never attempt to mask poor storytelling. El-Hazard is everything good Anime should be, and is very little good film in general should not be. There's something here for everyone--grab your boxed set today and be swept up into the magic yourself.
Review submitted by Dindrane
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