- El Hazard: The Magnificent World (1995-1996: AIC) 7/7 eps.
Let’s talk about LaserDiscs. LDs were an optical format (they look like record sized DVDs) that was first released in the late 70s but really hit its peak in the 80s and 90s, just before DVDs. This format had a much higher video quality than VHS tapes as well as the all important ability to pause on a frame (well for CAV LDs anyway). However, they were also much more expensive than the VHS format and so didn’t ever really get all that popular. The one place where they were quite popular was South East Asia, with an estimated 10% of Japanese households having one by 1999. To promote the format Pioneer (who held a majority stake in the format) commissioned several anime in the 90s. By far and away the most famous of these was Tenchi Muyo. However, many of the staff from Tenchi Muyo, including director Hiroki Hayashi (Bubblegum Crisis & Sol Biance) also made another production for Pioneer: El Hazard.
The thing with El Hazard is that I dislike it…but I thought it was a decent show, as I talk more about the show you might catch on to why I hate it. Our story begins in a Japanese high school, as all anime seem legally obliged to do, where a mysterious ancient object has been discovered in the basement. A few high jinks happen which result in our protagonist, Makoto, opening the mysterious object. Out pops a lady who seems to know Makoto and who proceeds to send him, his teacher Mr Fujisawa, the student council president (and slimy git) Jinnai, and Jinnai’s sister to a mysterious fantasy world. Yes this is an isekai, as if you haven’t had enough of those! This fantasy world is one of those typical 80s & 90s fantasy worlds that has random bits of super advanced technology in it (think Windaria, Mozaika, or Escaflowne. As an aside, I would love to know where this style of fantasy came from and why it died because it was absolutely dominant for those two decades. Anyway, El Hazard is split into two halves: one controlled by an alliance of human kingdoms and one controlled by humanoid insects called The Bugrom. Jinnai ends up with the Bugrom, is heralded as a messenger from God by them and is quickly given control of their army which he then uses to try and conquer the humans because he is a raving lunatic and a bit of a dickhead. Meanwhile Fujisawa and Makoto end up with the humans. It turns out that Makoto looks identical to one of the two princesses who has been mysteriously kidnapped. The alliance needs to pretend they have both princesses because both are needed to use the super weapon called The Eye of God. So Makoto pretends to be the princess whilst various shenanigans occur including him and Fujisawa going to the Priestesses of Muldoon in order to unseal the Eye of God. This all ends up with, predictably a big old fight between the alliance, the Bugrom, Makoto, Jinnai, and a mysterious third party. Oh, and that woman from the basement is explained.
It is actually a fairly decently well written story with lots of moving parts and interesting twists. Unlike so many of these OAVs I watch I’m not able to explain the whole thing in a sentence, which is nice! Having said that, nothing in it is particularly original and it is all super predictable. You’ve seen this show before, many many times. Some of the character were quite nice twists from the norm though. Mr Fujisawa was the absolute highlight of the show though. When he came to El Hazard Fujisawa gained super powered kung fu abilities; the catch is that they only activate when he is sober, something this alcoholic chain smoker struggles at. His struggle with his own lust for booze is entertaining and he has by far and away the best action sequences in the whole show.
Speaking of action sequences, this show doesn’t look as good as I was expecting. Considering that this was made to promote a prestige format and was by much the same staff as Tenchi Muyo I kind of expected this to look fantastic. Sadly, it is all a bit lacking. The work on the design front is pretty good, with generally fun character and background designs, but the animation and storyboarding are severely lacking. Many of the action sequences are recycled footage mixed with still frames while in general the shot choice and composition is quite dull and uninteresting. There are also quite a few animation errors at the beginning and near the end, and not even the fun kind of mistakes! I was honestly surprised by all this and it does kind of sting a little because a really strong visual showing could have helped lift what is a fairly generic 90s isekai in many regards. At least the music was pretty cool with a strong identity, playing with middle eastern sounds in a fun way.
So it is a decent but unspectacular iseaki but why do I dislike it? Well I hate it because I can so clearly see where later shows and later isekai took inspiration from it. The show does have a harem element to it with Makoto having three different girls after him, only one of which had a decent reason for doing so. Makoto himself is a bland nothing of a character that one can clearly draw a line from to the Kirito-alikes we get today. There is a raging lesbian, and by that I mean she literally goes after every woman she sees, who appears to be a child because it isn’t like that has caught on or anything…There is quite a bit f other stuff like this which you can see carried over to modern isekai an unfortunately it is mostly the bad stuff. I don’t dislike El Hazard for what it is but rather for what it spawned, which I know isn’t the shows fault.
At the end of the day El Hazard: The Magnificent World is decent. It has a solid if predictable plot, some fun characters, some bland characters, the most lesbian lesbian to ever lesbian, some underwhelming action, some cool design choices, and an interesting score. It isn’t amazing, it won’t blow your socks off, and in today’s world of isekai saturation it probably isn’t that appealing to many of you. It is a shame that the industry seems to have learnt the wrong lessons from it.
Final score: 6C