Slayers: The Ghosts of Sairaag

By Hajime Kanzaka and Rui Araizumi. Released in Japan by Fujimi Fantasia Bunko. Released in North America by J-Novel Club. Translated by Elizabeth Ellis.

Like virtually every English-speaking fan, I was exposed to Slayers via the anime long before Tokyopop put out the novels way back when, and also long long before J-Novel Club rescued them. This means that more than anything else, I am surprised at how short and plot-heavy these books are, having absolutely no time for anything that would count as a breather. The author’s afterword in this book talks about the fact that he frequently sketches out hints of backstory that he then never gets into, because doing so would “make the world smaller”. Which is a very fantasy author way of thinking, I suppose, but it also means that character development and depth take a backseat. No one suffers more from that here than Sylphiel, the newly introduced priestess, who gets to be nice, have a seeming crush on Gourry, and that’s about it. Now, to be fair, that’s all she was in the anime too, but at least it took 8-9 episodes to show us that.

The book starts badly, in misogynist fantasy “of Gor” territory, with Lina and Gourry captured by some goons who decide to rape her, and Gourry convincing them not to by implying Lina has syphilis. It’s meant to be funny, but isn’t. It turns out that EVERYONE is after them lately, as there’s a wanted poster with their faces, as well as Zelgadis, on it… and the bounty for their capture is being paid by Rezo the Red Priest. Which is a surprise to Lina, who killed him in the first book. Getting of the bottom of things takes them to the woods outside Sairaag, a city that was destroyed in the legendary past but has now recovered and is a bustling metropolis. They meet up with Lantz (remember Lantz? From Book 2?) and a bounty hunter named Eris, as well as Sylphiel, who Gourry had met previously in an adventure that is frustratingly never explained to us. Can they escape the Red Priest again? And is this really him?

There are some strengths here. Sometimes the humor does work – there’s a wonderful part where Lina and Gourry fend off a fishman by simply changing their clothes, as Lina says they can’t tell humans apart… then she fails to recognize Lantz because he now has a beard. Rezo – if that is who this really is – makes a suitably creepy villain, especially at the end, and the artwork showing him off is horrifying. And the reveal of another villain is pretty well handled and surprising. Unfortunately, the book’s shortness as well as its deliberate avoidance of depth means that other things meant to be tragic and horrifying just aren’t. Our heroes never enter Sairaag or see anyone in it, so its destruction – again – lacks any impact, especially as Sylphiel recovers pretty fast from the loss of everything she’s ever known. It desperately needs fleshing out, something that anime actually did… well, not much, but at least they actually go to the city!

Basically, more modern fantasies have spoiled me for character depth, and Slayers can sometimes seem lacking as a result. This is the danger of iconic series who have been imitated a bit too much. In the meantime, for those anime viewers wondering where Amelia was during all this, well, the anime swapped book 4 and 3. Which means next time we get to see both Amelia AND Phil, something that makes me happy no matter how short and outline-ish the book ends up being.

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