Drifters had a lot of hype behind it. Hellsing has an iconic place in anime history, and this is supposedly what comes next from the people behind it... and boy does it show. The art style is distinct and very much geared to be memorable, it has the same bits of silliness interspersed in the super-seriousness, and there are plenty of people getting hacked to bits. These are all good things.
But people forget that while Hellsing is definitely awesome, it isn't all that great as a show. Sure, it's not bad, but it isn't great. Likewise, Drifters has not reached a point where I can say "wait, this is actually amazing". It's counting on a second season for that, I suppose. But even so, it feels like an incomplete creation from the start. While there were questions in Hellsing that were there to tease out interest, here there is a far less subtle approach.
The rule of cool is more than enough if done correctly. Hell, some of the greatest successes have relied so heavily on it that there's very little left beyond. Drifters has everything you'd expect. Swords, fighting, some supposedly epic plot, super-powers, a struggle of good (but somewhat evil) and evil (with supposedly some good), some moments that just beg "take a screenshot of me and show the world how glorious this is", and so on. This could have been enough.
But what can I say? Right now, a lot of shows have a cool-factor that's pretty high. Viewers have become jaded to it, or want it to be so blatantly egregious that Drifters just doesn't register. Yeah, another shot of a guy smiling with things burning in the background for the fourth time this episode... not gonna cut it. The whole thing about being cool is that you can't just copy things, you need to do something that stands out. Not really a thing here.
Writing (story and characters):
What Drifters doesn't have is a story or characters that feel special in any way. The writing isn't complete garbage, it just isn't good. I'd expected the people behind Hellsing to learn from their mistakes and kick things up a notch. They didn't. It isn't so much that the story is bad, it's just that it is more or less the title and a couple of extra sentences, and the rest is irrelevant. It's an excuse for fight scenes and being cool™.
In many ways we've not seen much more than character introductions and some reason for a war. There are some cheap attempts at emotional manipulation to get us to care, but those seem to go against the character of the show. The second season might make this better, but here, beyond the gaping plot holes, we have a show that didn't really end on an ending note. It's just sloppy writing.
The characters... they're one dimensional. There's no need to be gentle about this. This isn't their role to be rich and complex, they're supposed to be fighting badasses from planet badass. I don't expect much in the way of character development in the second season. Hell, the protagonist's character can be summed up as "lives to fight and nothing more". It just isn't the kind of show that has more than that, despite some undertones that pretend as much.
Despite the qualms I have with the story and characters, this is pulp action writing done well. We have a premise, we have excuses to fight and characters that like fighting and... go. That's broken up by moments of levity (which are childish and not particularly well done), as is required by this type of format, and there's nothing more to it. It's a decent ride, and the writing focuses on what the show is supposed to be about.
Art (animation and sound):
Is there a contest for "most annoying bird voice" in anime that I haven't heard about? Seriously, screw the people behind this terrible idea. There are characters that are voiced in annoying ways, there are others which are voiced pretty damn well, but if I have one qualm about the voice acting is that compared to Hellsing where we had Walter and Alucard, here we get a much less iconic approach. The soundtrack is actually pretty good, and the effects are nice though.
We all wanted to see Drifters for the animation. Whatever qualms one may have with Hellsing, it has some of the most memorable character designs of all times. And we get some of that goodness again. There are some excellent character designs, and the animation when working well is very effective. What it isn't though, is truly exceptional. If we'd have had a powerhouse like Madhouse behind it, perhaps it could have given a complete justification for this. That being said, the backgrounds are great, the character designs have flair, and the animation has some moments of greatness.
I have to note that I liked the opening. It's got a nice catchy song, the animation is rather raw and sets the tone for what the show wishes to accomplish. That's probably the high point of the art as far as I'm concerned. The low point is the annoying way they draw eyes... I get it that they want to have something special, but it seriously looks stupid in a show that tries to be cool.
Drifters was probably always intended as a spectacle, and is written that way. I have some issues with the voice acting, and the animation is far from perfect... but we do get a good dose of wow-factor. That's all that's required. Also, the opening is a breath of fresh air.
Drifters is rather good. It toes the line between childishness and serious business, and that's fine. If anything, my main issue with the writing is the attempts at being deep which are tacked on. So far, I can recommend the show for people who want to enjoy the standard Sienen action show executed straight up, if a bit on the childish side.
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