(Recommended, once again, by Cake-o’s Bakery.)
It’s ironic that I ended up watching this directly after Arslan Senki (and that it was recommended by the same person), as both series share many of the same flaws. Whereas Arslan Senki managed to make something out of its story through political intrigue and clearly focusing on such, Drifters is more of an anarchist tribute to Mortal Kombat’s early years. Its story is established and little more, leading the way to boundless amounts of blood, gore, and profanity. This is not a series you’d want your kids to learn from.
Here lies the million-dollar question: What does it all mean? The blood shed, the slurs spouted, the input of historical figures parading the battlegrounds of another world. How does Drifters manage to turn this into a coherent and immersive experience for the viewer? By employing the most safe and inoffensive plot in all of anime. A fantasy world after death is in a power struggle between two people, and both are collecting recruits to fight for their side. One is the good side (despite the “non-good” people) and one is the bad side. The good side wins (with no effort) because they are the good guys. But alas, the season ends with an open ending, so that the second season can come through and leave people clamoring for more. How can I ever live without knowing if the good guys win or not? It’s almost like I haven’t seen this story approximately 258 times in the past few years.
Obvious sarcasm aside, the way the story is presented and how its development is essentially abandoned due to the focus on the series’s characters leaves me to believe that it is something I like to call a “Placeholder setting.” A setting that is only there to justify why characters are there or why certain events happen so that everything else becomes free game. Think of old Super Mario games. Mario runs from left to right, dodging Goombas and Koopas to get to the castle at the end of the path. Why? Because he’s on a quest to save the Princess. Nothing more needs to be established. The rest is explored through Mario’s adventures. Placeholder setting. Drifters is the same way. Characters are transported to a fantasy world to fight for a cause they may not even believe in against an opposing force. Nothing more; the rest is established by their conquest. Placeholder setting. With this context, I can only assume that the story cannot be taken seriously or cannot hold a lot of weight toward the anime’s quality. That, in turn, leaves me with one thing to critique: characters.
The main stars here are incredibly famous figures in the world’s history—most notably people within wars or skirmishes. There’s Oda Nobunaga, because when is he ever not in one of these? Joan of Arc is in here, Rasputin is in here, Adolf Hitler is mentioned at one point, and so on. Adding all of these characters together is evident that this is going to be an all-out war of egos and power, and to some extent it is. What it also is is really boring, and at its lowest points, unbearable. No character really establishes themselves as more than a one-track minded pawn. Nobunaga is what you would expect him to be. The actual lead is a typical shounen lead except he kills a lot. And the archer is, well, not really important. None have the charisma to make one care nor do they interact well with one another consistently enough to make one crave more of it. The humor is on par with Bungou Stray Dogs—some may enjoy that, but to me it’s a death sentence, on top of being incredibly distracting.
One of the most prominent things about Drifters, at least to me, is its attitude. Its vulgar, in-your-face attitude like a prick with a ten-inch dick, flaunting his girth like it gives him worth. It rubbed me the wrong way, and I had to plead with myself not to drop this after episode three. The gall this anime has to essentially praise how little story it has and how blatantly insipid its cast of characters are for the sake of decapitating every unimportant background cast member made me borderline sick. It’s one of those rare cases when an anime actually offends me with how proud of its emptiness it is. It certainly didn’t help with enjoyment, and should it even try to make a case for why I should care for anything, I wouldn’t complain about it. But at the end of the day, Drifters is an empty husk of a product that prioritizes yelling and violence over anything else.
Art is the only thing worth praising here, as it’s crisp, clean, and uniquely within its own that it can at least hold over as eye candy. My one personal nitpick is that I loathe the way these characters over-smile. It looks dumb, and evokes that same “Lookie here! Ten-inch dick!” attitude that makes me want to break this series’s teeth. Characters all look very distinguishable and the amount of variety shows off the animator’s touch for detail. After all, who would expect a dark anime like this one to have an emboldened transgender leading an army towards the final battle? That’s certainly not something one sees everyday in anime.
Without the obvious disdain I hold for Drifters‘s cockiness, I can praise its attempt at broadcasting something a little different. Historical figures duking it out with one another in a parallel world full of elves and dwarves in an ultra-violent exhibition of total conquest? On its own, it sounds awesome. The first episode left me intrigued enough, so I can’t say definitively that this series couldn’t be saved. However, the way it ultimately ended up leaves me without hope for the second season, which I wholeheartedly plan to skip. It’s a love of blood and gore that, stripped of that distinction, is a below-average fantasy adventure with little to care about in the end. Won’t stop people from handing it good scores for cool action scenes, regardless!
Personal Score: D-
Critical Score: C-
The rating for this title and all others can be found on MyAnimeList.