El Hazard (1998)

“Abandon all hope ye who enter here.”

Mokoto Mizuhara is a student at Shininome High School.  During an altercation with his rival Katsuhiko Jinnai, Mokoto stumbles upon a ancient ruin under Shininome High. A mysterious woman appears before Mokoto and refers to him as her lost love. Baffled and confused to say the least, Mokoto hasn’t the slightest idea as to what to make of this. Without warning the mysterious woman transports Mokoto to the land of El Hazard.  Awakening to this new world, Mokoto finds himself caught in the middle of a war between Roshtaria and the Bugrum Forces.  Before long, Mokoto discovers that not only was Jinnai transported there as well, but he is also leading the Bugrum forces in their invasion of Roshtaria.  Not only that, but in seeking to destroy his rival once and for all, Jinnai awakens an ancient demon named Infurita – who much to Mokoto’s dismay, looks exactly like the woman who transported him to El Hazard in the first place. Now Makoto must contend with a desperate rival and an ancient demon standing between him and his way back home.

Cliche anime protagonist #3,967.

The story of El Hazard sounds fine on paper. It has the typical fish out of water story in Makoto being transported to another world. It also places the protagonist in the middle of a war and does a commendable job in using the war to raise to the stakes in the rivalry between Makoto and Jinnai. However, it doesn’t take too much dissecting to see how and why El Hazard falls apart.

The war between the Roshtarians and the Bugrum loses all sense of urgency and tension when – in the first or second episode – you find the Bugrum are indeed giant bugs. Let me be clear that we aren’t talking Starship Trooper sized insects or the nightmarish bugs seen in Blue Gender. With the exception of the larger beetles which operate as drop ships, the vast majority of the Bugrum are bipedal insects about the size of an average human. Not only that but the Bugrum have the intelligence of a paperweight and only half the attention span and this is not played up for laughs either. The anime really tries to drive home the point that the Bugrum are bad news but it’s almost impossible to take them seriously until Jinnai gets involved and even then it’s only by proxy of a combination of the collective stupidity of our heroes, and Jinnai getting his hands on the demon Infurita can the viewer look at the Bugrum as a threat.

THIS^ is the abyss staring back at you.

Let it be said that the anime does get a point in its favor because the animosity between Makoto and Jinnai is not based on good contra evil, rather the two characters have vastly different ideologies with regards to interpersonal relationships and life in general. By nature, Makoto is laissez faire while Jinnai is more authoritarian in nature. The problem with this dichotomy arises on two fronts around the time the anime shoots itself in the foot.

At its core, the antagonism between Makoto and Jinnai simply stem from opposing views – but neither these views nor the past interactions between the two characters warrant the vengeful spirit of the conflict when they get to El Hazard. Suddenly, Jinnai is leading an army to conquer the world and kill his rival Makoto. This level of animosity was not present within the relationship between these two characters until Jinnai gets his hands on the Bugrum army. Further still, while Jinnai did advocate authoritarianism, he was not by nature a megalomaniac until he got his hands on Infurita. One might argue that this attitude was always beneath the surface but that is questionable in and of itself as Jinnai’s violent streak didn’t even exist until it was made necessary by the contrivance of the plot. In essence, Jinnai was not a villainous character by nature and was instead – made into one because the anime does not have a true antagonist or rather – Jinnai by default was only an antagonist because the story had to revolve around Makoto. While this a big problem it’s far from being the only one.

Infurita wondering how to be more bland.

El Hazard provides us with a romance tale between Makoto and the demon Infurita and in anime this can work. In fact it’s so cliche it’s been a trope long before El Hazard did it which is why it’s baffling that something this basic wasn’t handled better. As stated earlier, Infurita actually meets Makoto early on, identifies Makoto as her love, and then teleports him to El Hazard where the anime starts proper. Of course, as the cliche demands Infurita doesn’t recognize Makoto when they meet. So we’re left with a romance tale that largely sees Makoto expressing his heartache and angst while Infurita dances between indifferent and confused.

Seeing as how Makoto only had one conversation with Infurita before she teleported him to El Hazard, his emotional performance about how much she means to him seems out of place. On top of that, things become even more absurd when we see that Infurita is a machine. While I’m aware that anime has this ridiculous hangup that machines are alive and can fall in love that doesn’t it cut it. Especially when the machine in question is a life-size windup doll. Jinnai activated Infurita by literally, sticking a key in her back and turning it until she started up. I am not even kidding about this. Yet we’re supposed to believe that she, that is to say it, somehow falls in love with Makoto. This is not even the worst contrivance in the anime because somehow the writers felt a need to introduce a love triangle between Makoto and two other characters when they couldn’t even get this one right.

Even in drag the ladies still want him.

There is a love triangle between Makoto, his childhood friend Asami, and warrior priestess Shalya. This love triangle stems from the fact that Makoto saw Shayla naked and in anime logic that means a girl automatically falls in love with you. And of course Asami is here because she’s a trope herself rather than an actual character. By the end of this series no less than three women want Makoto but he’s one the blandest characters I’ve ever seen. He somehow, somehow has even less charisma than Tenchi Muyo. Worse yet, despite the seriousness of the war the characters have time to get into petty arguments about who is shipping with who. Infurita just leveled a country but Shalya and Asami have time to fight over Makoto. Not only is this insulting to women but it’s insulting to viewers in general because we’re supposed to believe the characters are in a dire situation but it’s hard to do that when they’re acting out an episode of Dawson’s Creek.

Arabian Days

Animation is a mixed bag. Some of the landscapes are beautifully drawn and the architecture has an Arabian style which is very elegant and unique. El Hazard also showcases brilliant colors which gives the anime a nice look. However, the characters themselves have the worst designs and color palette I’ve seen outside Naruto. This is also true of the fight scenes and thank animation budget there aren’t many of those, because when fights break out in this anime characters bend with such unnatural flexibility you’ll wonder what happened to their joints. Not only that, but the animators actually made wind, water, and fire behave in the same way and they all have the same colors to boot.

The music and the voice acting are both woefully sub-par with the only notable soundbite being Jinnai’s laugh and that’s only because it’s so bad it has to be heard to be believed.
These are the DVDs. Not sure why you’d want them.

I tried to enjoy this anime but it shows poor quality at every turn. Unlikable characters, bad animation, and a story that begs to be given more credit than it actually warrants has presented me with an anime that I can’t even recommend for a session of MST. True, there are worse anime out there but it’s a short list.

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