Drifters: Battle in a Brand-New World War, is the latest of Kouta Hirano’s work to get an anime adaption. If you are familiar with the adaptations of his previous work, Hellsing and Hellsing Ultimate, then you already know a lot of what to expect of this show. Blood, violence and badass people doing badass things and looking incredibly stylish doing them.
The opening moments of the series are typical of many historically based action anime that have come before. We are shown the battle of Sekigahara in the year 1600. Shimazu Toyohisa, a fearsome samurai clad in red, storms the battlefield and cuts through all those foolish enough to stand in his way in a bloody flurry. It eventually falls to him alone to face Ii Naomasa and his men at the battle’s conclusion. This battle is known in the history books to be Toyohisa’s last, as he would fall to his injuries while fiercely standing against enemy forces. Bloodied, badly wounded, and moments away from death, Toyohisa suddenly finds himself transported to a long, white, sterile corridor flanked with many different doors, and a desk curiously placed in the middle. At this desk sits an enigmatic glasses-wearing man named Murasaki. Without explanation, Toyohisa is flung through one of the doors where he lands in a world of fantasy creatures and magic that is currently at war. However, he is not the only one in this world to have experienced this. Many others among history’s greatest warriors, leaders and tacticians, across different eras and cultures, have also been sent to this world. They are known as Drifters. He makes allies of other Drifters such as the warlord Oda Nobunaga and renowned archer and military leader Nasu no Yoichi, who join him in his fight to free the fantasy races of this world. Standing in their way is the sinister Black King and his army of twisted monster races as well as his formidable warriors: the Ends. These other historical figures have been plucked from our reality’s past, but are ones who have abandoned their humanity and have gained supernatural powers. Now they pledge their loyalty to the Black King and will wipe out the Drifters at any cost. Both of these sides wage war with one another and their allies to determine the fate of this world and its people.
The story and the action involved is as ridiculous as expected with a concept such as this. Essentially the gimmick of the series is the potential face-off of these famous warriors from the past. This is essentially the equivalent of what is known in pro wrestling as “Fantasy Booking”, except instead of Hulk Hogan facing The Macho Man Randy Savage, we have something like Joan of Arc facing the Sundance Kid. Really that’s the core of what it is: the fantasy of seeing how great warriors of differing times and cultures stack up against one another, and there is a lot of enjoyment to be found in it. Sometimes there can even be some interesting nuance to be found in these conflicts: different views of honour, implementation of battle strategies, ideologies, and utilising the different weapons of their time. Though, don’t expect these battles to have much emotional weight. They are very much style over substance, and often the backstories of the characters’ battles feel rushed through or dropped in to give us an explanation for their behavior but without allowing us the time to really empathise with them. Even several allied characters, such as World War II fighter pilot, Naoshi Kanno, and Japanese Imperial Navy admiral, Tamon Yamaguchi, are only given the most brief of introductions, with very little of note coming from the parts they play in Season 1. In terms of the larger narrative of the world war, it moves at a decent pace from battle to battle, although, it feels like the deeper reasons for this conflict are not really explored enough for the first season. The episode count for the series is only 12 episodes, and by the end it doesn’t feel like it has reached the appropriate endpoint for a season. Feeling more like an introduction and only scratching the surface of many of the arcs begun.
The animation is handled by Hoods Drifters Studio and for the most part it is executed well. It has a very similar appearance to that of Hellsing, effectively adopting the manga’s use of heavy inking and dark-toned shading into the visuals to convey its edgy aesthetic. Kouta Hirano would often remove background settings entirely from the page in favour of textures or even pure black. Characters would have a white outline making them really stand out from the page. While this is not done like for like in the animation, the same effect is achieved with bold linework outlining the characters and making them pop to the foreground. Hirano’s striking character designs have also been translated particularly well, maintaining their distinctive, bold appearance with many familiar callbacks to Hellsing again. Toyohisa’s jet-black jagged hair, twisted smile, and eye-catching red garb is very similar to the appearance of Alucard. Then there is Olminu, who has many design similarities to that of Integra Hellsing, with her glasses and long fair hair, while her outfit is very similar to that of Seras Victoria (similarly, both are the viewpoint characters for their respective series). There is some odd-looking CG animation in the opening battle of the series, but it is very little and camouflaged well with the heavy use of shadow in the animation. The animation may not be particularly fluid, often it is actually rather rigid, but what the animation lacks in flowing motion it more than makes up for with its distinctive style.
The opening and ending credits of the series also showcase some unique animation to the series. The opening incorporates a mostly sketched style that looks like that of an animatic, while the ending credits incorporates filters that make them appear like impressionistic paintings. These techniques will definitely not be to everyone’s taste, but can be appreciated for having their own distinctive visual style.
Hayato Matsuo and Yasushi Ishii composed the music for the series, with Ishii coming for yet another Hirano adaption, having previously composed the music for Hellsing. He returns with his trademark combination of rock and jazz fusion that integrates well with the over-the-top action to really emphasise that this anime is about the cool and ridiculous rather than taking itself too seriously. The opening theme, “Gospel of the Throttle Remix”, performed by Minutes til Midnight, sounds more like a typical American style rock track than the flamboyant anime openings many of us are used to, however, it does lend itself to the edgy tone of the series. The ending theme, “Vermillion”, performed by Maon Kurosaki, is more typical of what would be expected of many anime. Featuring strong female vocals, but also still making sure to incorporate some squealing guitar solos for good measure, just to make sure that rock motif is still represented.
The voice acting in both Japanese and the English dub is as over-the-top and infused with attitude as you might expect. Yuichi Nakamura and David Wald portray Toyohisa well, really getting across his brash, intense nature. Other unique personality traits among the main cast such as Nobunaga’s twisted, sometimes perverse nature and Yoichi’s effeminate tone are conveyed really well through the acting (Naoya Uchida, Robert McCollum, Mitsuki Saiga and Justin Briner respectively) and don’t feel imposing enough to the point where they are caricatures. Though, many of the characters that are portrayed as other nationalities with various accents put on (all Japanese characters have an American accent in the English dub) can seem quite caricatured, often sounding out of place, particularly when you can recognise the actor from their other work. The moments of humour in the series, often shown with simplified animation, are also acted exceptionally well. Particularly with generally dark characters breaking tension with ridiculous outbursts that brings a welcome change of pace every so often.
Drifters: A Battle in A Brand-New World War Blu-ray and DVD contains:
- All 12 episodes from Season 1
- Glossy 40-page booklet of character profiles, location details and other series information
- Character-art magnets
- Exclusive art cards
The set also comes in a neat little slipcase (loaded from the side) that should be forgiving on your shelf space. The on-disc features are fairly bare with the only extras being trailers for the series itself and for those who are particular about subtitles they are white, but are absent for the Opening and Ending. Unfortunately, the collection does not contain the three OVAs that have been released since. They are technically part of Season 2 but their staggered and independent release may have given hope for their inclusion in this collection. Hopefully they should be included as part of the second season when it eventually sees release in the UK.
At its heart Drifters: Battle in a Brand-New World War, is a ridiculous premise: cherry-picking history’s greatest warriors and tacticians for an all-out, balls to the wall battle in a fantasy world of mythical races and magic. It sounds like the result of a fever dream, and that’s probably why it’s so much fun (as long as you are not put off by excessive amounts of gore). This is not a story that carries much narrative weight, at least not at this early stage, but it’s unashamedly violent and relishes its crazy concept in a way that you can appreciate it for what it is. A gleefully hyper-violent action fantasy anime where historical figures duke it out to find out who will come out on top, and who knows, you might learn a bit of history along the way. Probably not, but you’ll enjoy the ride!