Drifters is a seinen title based on the manga by Kouta Hirano. The story is set in a medieval fantasy world where both humans and demi humans (such as elves and dwarves) live. This world is soon greeted by two sets of foreigners from the real world - “Drifters” and “Ends”. Both groups are comprised of historical figures tied to war or a fight of their time. They are taken before their death by one of two mysterious people. A man named Murasaki chooses fighters for his Drifters, while a girl named Easy picks candidates for her Ends. What sets them apart are their given roles in this story. The Ends seek out the destruction of humankind and the Drifters are assigned to stop the Ends from their slaughter.
As the name implies, the show’s perspective is from the eyes of the Drifters. Though there is a fair amount of fighters with this title, the anime focuses on three in particular. Toyohisa Shimazu is the appointed leader of the group and is a classic warrior type, whose battle-minded ways make him great in the fights but a bit barbaric outside of them. Nobunaga Oda is a crafty middle-aged man, dubbed the “Devil King of the Sixth Heaven” who doesn’t fight as much as come up with strategy to make the Drifters team a fighting threat. Finally, there’s Yoichi Nasu, a bishonen archer whose aim is as good as his looks. The anime follows these three as they work their way up to be a formidable foe, from freeing demi humans from their serfdom and slavery to coming up with cunning plans in the midst of a fight.
The concept of Drifters isn’t too far removed from one of Hirano’s previous works, Hellsing. Hellsing mainly attracted an audience by blending its dark supernatural characters with hyper violence, occasionally sprinkling in historical references. Drifters changes this mixture – it still has the violence and supernatural elements, but it grounds itself more so in the history. Despite being a fantasy world, it feels more down-to-earth than other shows with this title. The Octobrists are a magician organization that wishes for the Drifters support to defeat the Ends. Though they are magicians, they are only seen using basic spells called “charms”. Their communication, though much more advanced than the setting, relies on a magic sphere on two users’ ends, acting more like a phone than anything magical. Though what we see is limited, it shines due to how it’s used. Toyohisa and the gang use the Octobrists’ magic in interesting ways to serve their needs, showing how easily they adapt to foreign concepts. Spells the Octobrists thought of only for defense are used offensively to surprise and crush the enemy. Even the communication orb was used primarily as a “recording diary” before the Drifters came along! I prefer this creative use of magic over the typical mage/wizard roles seen in fantasy shows.
That’s not to say this show is free from absurd magic. The Ends are characters that have “given up their humanity” for strong magical power. This is seen in Jeanne D’ Arc, who has incredible fire magic, and Toshizou, who uses ghost warriors to assist him in battle. Most interesting is the dreaded Black King, who has power over cellular replication that can heal/hurt single targets almost instantly. What makes these powers exciting is how they’ve been given to the villains, not the heroes. Wits dominate fights against the Ends and seeing how the Drifters turn the tide in battle is a lot of fun to watch. Fans of JoJo Part 2: Battle Tendency will adore these fights, as Toyohisa parallels Joseph Joestar. There’s nothing in Drifters that will make you rethink battles, but there are a few surprises that kept me wanting to watch the next episode.
Drifters has an interesting lot of characters, which is its strength and one of its problems. I find there are too many of them for this short first season and they didn’t need to be here this early on. Characters like Butch Cassidy and Naoshi Kanno really had no reason being here. They may have turned the tide in the battle they were present in, minor as it was, but they’re never really seen beyond this. I’m sure all the Drifters will meet up eventually to take down the Black King’s army, but they didn’t need to be present at this time. This time could’ve been use for more focus on the main trio, in particular Yoichi. Despite being labeled as a main character, Yoichi doesn’t get a whole lot of time or emphasis compared to Oda or Toyohisa. I saw Toyohisa’s warrior life in action in and outside of fights and I saw the humor mixed with dark cunning of Oda. Save for a brief moment talking to his old leader, Yoshitsune, Yoichi felt more like a strong supporting character. I hope that more insight will be given to him.
Humor is another thing Hirano and I generally disagree on. In Hellsing, ugly chibi-looking characters would break the ice at the wrong time and would be a lot cruder than what I like. This returns in Drifters, but I find it’s been toned down a bit. The toilet humor seems less prevalent in these scenes. Though one of Hannibal’s first “jokes” is that he can’t control his bladder, it’s a bit more understandable as he’s very old (though I still could’ve done without it). The humor mainly focuses on references to Japanese war history. This isn’t my strong suit, so moments like the Drifters’ first meetup in Episode 1 went over my head. That said, they normally are quick off-hand jokes, so they don’t fill up the show as much as they give a wink to a history loving audience.
Drifters’ art is what you’d expect from Hirano. Characters have large ringed irises for eyes, thick jagged lines make their outlines, and shadows that cover their face (save for a single eye) are all present. It’s a style that’s distinctly his and works great for his action series. Of course, the series also includes Hirano’s “ugly faces” he uses for comedy but it’s not as bad here. Maybe because there’s less poop drawings or perhaps I’ve grown accustomed to it. The animation team at Hoods Drifters Studio did a fair job. They use CG models at times (such as the soldiers) and it’s not the most fluid, but it’s not bad by any means. Sometimes it’s even in their favor - I like the “rough sketch” animatic look in the opening, more so than the cheap animation tweens that accompany it. The music of the series is upbeat rock and fits the action well. One track I like in particular starts as a flute track played through an old radio before becoming a strange Middle Eastern sounding piece. I didn’t care for the “lazy cool” vocals (with the “aw yeahs” in the verses) and sound of the opening and I do not like Kurosaki’s vocals for the ED (the acoustic guitar in the final episode was a welcome change). The seiyuus all did a fine job, though none here stood out in particular for me.
Overall, I give Drifters a 6.5/10. I didn’t care too much for Hellsing, so I was surprised as to how much I liked Drifters. If you liked Hellsing, or perhaps Hirano’s style in general, this is a must-watch. Those looking for a fun action series akin to JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure will also appreciate this show. Drifters is a bit fantastic in concept and occasionally campy, but it was a fun watch and I certainly wouldn’t mind viewing a second season.
Do you like or dislike this anime? If you haven't watched it, are you encouraged to watch it or not? Leave a comment on my profile telling me what you think of the anime and/or my review.
Thanks for reading and have a blessed day!