Drifters First Impressions
“What the hell!? Where is this?! Where am I?! Who are you? Damn you… I’m going back… to Satsuma!”
It’s odd to say this, but part of me had forgotten how unique Kohta Hirano’s style was. Drifters was Hirano’s follow up to the wildly successful Hellsing manga, and it was released in the same magazine as its predecessor, Young King OURs. This also means Drifters is the first anime adaptation of Hirano’s work to air in 14 years. Thankfully, even if I am unfamiliar with the source material, I am confident when I say that this is looking to be a far more loyal adaptation than the original Hellsing anime. Furthermore, while certain elements have carried over from Hirano’s previous work, the narrative of Drifters is a notably different beast than that of Hellsing, though that may be at the slight expense of western audiences.
Drifters is built around the idea that warriors throughout history were pulled through portals into another world. In this first entry we are introduced to Shimazu Toyohisa, our main character and a swordsman who died in battle in 1600, Oda Nobunaga, the famous Japanese warlord who died in 1582, and Nasu no Yoichi, a warrior born in the 12th century. Right off the bat, there’s a minor issue in that most of the historical events that are referenced are likely to fly over the heads of most western viewers. This isn’t as problematic as one might anticipate, but I always find it mildly odd to see a bizarre fantasy narrative constructed using historical figures. It should be noted, while our three main characters in this episode are all from Japan, many of the other characters that show up in this series are from other locales, so it’s unlikely that the historical references with be solely directed as a Japanese audience. Most of the episode, following the opening which presents the Battle of Sekigahara where Shimazu Toyohisa was historically killed off, focuses on the characters explaining the state of events to him. Even though Nobunaga has been dead nearly twenty years from Toyohisa’s perspective and Nasu no Yoichi has been dead for nearly 400, they claim to have only been in this new world for a brief period. The episode ends with hints regarding some enigmatic forces with plans for our eponymous drifters, but that remains vague and most of the episode is devoted to establishing the characters and setting.
The production for this show is gorgeous, and largely matches the quality seen in the Hellsing Ultimate OVA series, and, in fact, you could be forgiven for thinking that Hoods Entertainment had just recycled some of the footage. The first episode is appropriately bloody with the soldiers in the Battle of Sekigahara spewing blood at every turn. The violence isn’t at Hellsing Ultimate levels, but few things are. While some historical context is bound to be lost in translation, the characters are well constructed to an extent that even those who have practically no familiarity with Japanese history should still be in a position to find them engaging. Hirano tends to specialize in taking ridiculous and bombastic concepts and imbuing them with a rich underlying mythos and sense of character. As an opening episode, this flows surprisingly well given both its shift in setting and given the fact that providing a smoothly flowing narrative is most notably not something I would list as one of Hirano’s strengths. Of course, it is possible, having not read the manga, that this is due to the production studio ironing out wrinkles. Either way, the end result feels polished and well constructed. Overall, this is looking to be one of the must watch series of the season.
Before I wrap up, a few Notes and Nitpicks:
- There is some trepidation amongst fans with reference to how this anime will end, since that manga that it is based upon is still ongoing. The first Hellsing adaptation had an infamously questionable ending, so I personally doubt that Drifters will go for an anime-unique ending unless it’s penned by Hirano. The more likely outcome is that it will end on a “To Be Continued.”
- In case you were afraid that this series wouldn’t have enough Nazis, apparently this world contains an empire constructed by Hitler, because, of course, it does.
- There is a joke pertaining to Oda Nobunaga’s intimate relationship with his page, Mori Ranmaru, that got a chuckle out of me, even though it was just an inch away from flying over my head. Japanese history is definitely more of Birdy’s forte.
When it comes to a taste for ultra-violence, you can probably effectively judge whether or not you will like Drifters based on your feelings towards Hellsing Ultimate. I found it to be a polished follow up with some intriguing ideas. If you think it won't offend your sensibilities, definitely check it out.