Original version posted January 1, 2018 on The Cat’s Cradle

Some people like to party on New Year’s Eve, myself included. However, my idea of a party is plopping down on the couch with a bottle of wine, a pound of fudge, and a stack of anime films on VHS. And believe me, having a couple glasses of wine makes watching 1990s anime even more hilarious. (The previews were a blast even before the feature presentation started.) This has become a yearly tradition, so I wanted to share our animated adventure from December 31, 2017.

Slayers: The Motion Picture
Release date: 1995 (Japanese); 1998 (English)
Rating: PG/Shonen

Daniel and I already love Slayers, which riffs on D&D and fantasy tropes. It’s primarily sword and sorcery, but you’ll also get some more modern-ish stuff thrown in, like souvenir shops selling jellyfish T-shirts or a water wizard wearing a top hat and a speedo. (Yes, that looks as terrifying as it sounds.) Most of it is over-the-top silly, but there are some moments that suddenly hit you in the gut with terrifying and/or gross visuals, or a really skin-crawling idea. The prime example I can think of from this film is when the sorceress Lina Inverse comes to a village and the inhabitants turn out to be walking corpses animated by a demon who then, just to prove that he can, destroys the souls of the humans still trapped inside the rotting flesh. That’s… rather far removed from the bumbling bandits and clam-eating contest at the beginning of the film.

Peacock King: Spirit Warrior, Part 1 and 2
Release date: 1994 (Japanese); 1997 (English)
Rating: TV-MA/Seinen

This was set in a more or less modern era, but with exorcist Buddhist priests facing off against robotic Neo-Nazis. This was a lot more serious and dramatic than Slayers, but the progression of the plot actually makes far less sense. (They enjoyed using the plot device of, “Let’s repeat all of the mythology that we introduced to the audience at the very beginning of the movie!”) While the mystical elements are clearly fanciful, there’s a lot of tantric terminology and historical references. The music is really neat too! And yet, despite the story being an illogical mess with cardboard characters and rather random shots of gore, the ending still hit a pretty powerful emotional chord. (This was the obligatory anime-with-a-depressing-ending-where-everyone-dies, and we were quite happy to move on from there.)

Dragon Half
Release date: 1993 (Japanese); 2000 (English)
Rating: TV-PG/Shonen

The final film of the night was actually a 2-episode OVA. Dragon Half flips between realistic scantily-clad teenage girls… to chibi scantily-clad teenage girls. The characters (especially the main half-dragon girl, Mink) clearly have no idea that what they are wearing is wildly inappropriate, and yet really act like typical teenage anime girls, with family drama and female rivalries. There are medieval castles, music CDs, magic swords, and laxatives. It’s laugh-out-loud hysterical in its absurdity so that it almost seems like a comedy for kids. But the dub definitely adult, filled with cussing, sexual innuendos, and characters with names like “Dick Saucer.” (No, I’m not kidding. That’s the name of the popular rock star Mink and her girl friends have a crush on.) Like… neither of us really knew what to make of it, whether we should be laughing our asses off (which we did) or be utterly shocked at how this managed to pass U.S. censors (which we were). I couldn’t even find ratings on the boxes of the tapes themselves… except for “Parental Guidance Is Suggested.” (The manga listed “shonen” as the demographic, so that’s the rating I had to go with.)

All in all, we really enjoyed this little adventure into the world of old-school anime. They may not look as sleek or polished as the newer anime, but they have a charm and style all their own. We look forward to continuing this New Year’s Eve tradition!