What They Say:
Shimazu Toyohisa, a samurai from the historical Battle of Sekigahara, was moments from death when he stepped through a door. Transported to a world both like and unlike his own, he finds himself in a new war and a new fight—but he is not alone. By his side, Japan’s most notable historical figures Oda Nobunaga and Nasuno Yoichi will join him in this new world at war. As they discover more about their roles as “Drifters,” they’ll face the “Ends,” a group of Europe’s most brilliant and deadly minds led by a man cloaked in darkness who seeks to bring destruction and devastation to this world.
The audio presentation for this release brings us the original Japanese language track in stereo while the English language dub is given the 5.1 boost, both of which are encoded using the Dolby TrueHD lossless codec. With this essentially being an action series the mix here is definitely a big part of what helps it work and the encoding brings it to life in a big and bold way. The stereo mix is stronger than I expected in some ways but it delivers a really engaging forward soundstage mix with blades swinging, the heavy troop movements, and some of the bigger set pieces with the razzle dazzle across the entire soundstage. The English mix boosts all of this up and the dialogue feels louder as well but it captures much the same feeling and it definitely draws you into the story more. The dialogue has similar moments since there are some big pieces for this and lots of yelling at times and it just clicks very well. It’s a clean and clear mix throughout and we didn’t have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2016, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. Animated by Hoods Drifters Studio, the twelve episode series is spread across two discs with nine on the first and three on the second. The show is one that has an incredibly strong looking design to it with some great fluidity to the higher action sequences that give it a lot of impact, moving smoothly and making for something that truly stands out. I loved the design of the series even with all of its murky color design because it has a sense of power about it and the encoding captures that. The movements are smooth and problem free, the red of the blood has a real richness about it, and some of the other areas just pop in all the right ways all while sticking to this very dark tone. There are likely a few bits here and there where the darker scenes may not hold up as much, or even a bit of gradient showing, but by and large this is a strong looking show with an encoding to show it off with.
The packaging for this release brings us a slightly thicker than normal Blu-ray case with an o-card slipcover that replicates the case artwork, just with better reds and the brightness overall thanks to the cardstock. The front cover gives us the strong image of Toyohisa in full movement with blood everywhere and it definitely works even if the angle feels a little wonky. The expression alone makes it stand out as it’s not what we usually see on the shelves these days. The back cover keeps to the reds and darker colors and has a nice illustration image of the three main Drifters we deal with to the right while the left breaks down the premise well with the summary. The extras are clearly broken out and we get a few nice if dark shots from the show. The technical grid covers both formats clearly and accurately with how the show is encoded. While there are no inserts included with this release we do get some of the great key visual material on the reverse side that stands out well with its cast of characters and the darkness to it all.
The menus for this release leans into what makes the show work by running clips of some of the fast and attractive looking sequences. It does stick to the darker colors but looks for things that are a touch brighter in order to engage and set the tone. The various pieces definitely work well on a loop to watch and I like the way the logo through the middle adds a little more weight to it even if it obscures some of the animation that you might connect with. The navigation stripe along the bottom is set a bit above the bottom so it’s not just a flat block of color and we even get some nice shades to the red for it. The navigation itself is straightforward and easy to access both as the main menu and as the pop-up menu during playback with everything moving smoothly and problem free.
The extras for this release are definitely pretty solid even if it does lean hard into it for the dub fans. The basics are here with the clean opening and closing and the promos from the Japanese side that I always enjoy. We get a pair of commentaries from the dub cast with one on each disc and those add some good play by play bits of fun for the fans. The big inclusion is the dozen Inside the Episodes pieces that were done up for streaming to draw people into the show previously. They range in running time but are a good five or six minutes on average and they’re very fun to see the cast talking about the show in different ways with what it does, a very welcome bonus piece.
Based on the manga by Kouta Hirano, Drifters is a twelve-episode anime series that aired in the fall of 2017. It’s based on the manga of the same name that has five volumes since kicking off in 2009, which means it’s a fairly standard Hirano approach. I love what he did with Hellsing but it was such an interminable slog between releases that the grand concepts can’t match up to the execution because it takes so long. So with Drifters I was certainly interested in it because I love his style of design, and that the production here doesn’t skimp on the comedy style wild takes mixed into it, I also knew that I was largely going to get a first-chapter kind of feeling from it. But that in itself can be worthwhile if the execution is strong and the team here delivered just that.
While there is a larger plot in this the main takeaway from Drifters is to have something that delivers on its violence with some really engaging characters. I’m long past a point where I find historical shows interesting because there are so many and they’re fairly repetitive but I was curious as to what Hirano’s take would be. Its primary focus is on Toyohisa Shimazu as we see him fighting in Sekigahara in 1600 and his death that leads him to a strange room filled with doors and a man behind a desk. This man, known as Murasaki, is engaged in a seemingly long term battle with people as pawns in a fantasy world and he sends his warriors there to fight. Not that Toyohisa has a clue about any of this as he suddenly finds himself bloody and wounded in this new world where he’s known as a Drifter. Murasaki’s playing this game against a woman known as Easy who uses her version of Drifters known as Ends to try and wipe the world clean and end everything. The sides are easily set and while we don’t know much about either Murasaki or Easy, it’s a solid framing from which more can be explored.
Toyohisa’s arrival here has him being brought to a ruined castle where two other Drifters reside, putting him in the company of Nobunaga Oda and Nasu no Yoichi, which provides for some historical context for him as he knows who they are, though he’s fairly dismissive of both. It’s an intriguing group that’s put together because they all have different origin points and perspectives on what’s going on and Toyohisa is all about just engaging in war. He’s a fighter, through and through, and upon discovering some of what’s going on in this world – especially with his first encounter with the elves that are being forced into a genocide – he embraces it. This is easy because as we see through Nobunaga’s observations that Toyohisa is a born warlord and a perfect fit for this world. He takes utter glee in the act of war and embraces it in a way that’s close to certifiable but it works within the context of where he came from and what he’s being put into.
The strength of the show is this trio, supported by the Octobrists that exist to help Drifters, as Nobunaga places it so that Toyohisa is in charge while he orchestrates from behind the scenes to secure a new world for them according to their strengths. It’s standard fare in a lot of ways in seeing them get the elves on track to fight for their futures, and die if necessary, while also doing similar for the dwarves and taking a hard look at how this world and its main nation of Orte operate. A lot of ground really is covered throughout this so that it’s not just a superficial experience as they dig into the various cultures here but rather something that feels like it has some history to it that serves a purpose. This is more so with the elves as they get a lot of time but it pivots into the dwarves as well as the two races hate each other but realize under Toyohisa’s forged bond that they’d not be in this bad of a place if they had worked together against Orte to begin with.
The downside to this show are the Ends themselves. We do get to touch upon a few of them, and some of those running around in Orte that aren’t playing to either side, but they’re largely underdeveloped to the point of being props most of the time. They’re lead by the Black King whose goal is to eradicate everything related to humans and he works with some good stuff, including dragons, while having Ends like Hijikata and Jeanne d’Arc or Rasputin among others. But they’re not fleshed out and simply show up in various areas to set the tone. This keeps us from having a strong opponent to work against and align with Toyohisa and his group against, though we understand the larger threat. A better focus in this area could have made them a lot more threatening and powerful opponents instead of just phantoms to some degree.
That said, there are good moments between the two sides when met and some fantastic action in general. Drifters is pure Hirano in that it is a violent series with heads lopped off, bodies falling like crazy, and the blood flowing with great regularity. The animation and design for it is fantastic and really is the kind of production needed to bring it to life as it would look positively silly under more “traditional” animation methods. It needed the Hellsing OVA treatment like this as opposed to the Hellsing TV treatment and they knew that right out of the gate. There are a lot of very fun moments with the action and violence but what sells it is just how much Toyohisa embraces it as a character and how often Nobunaga comments on it. That gives it the additional weight when we see the gleam in his eye and the movement of his body as he fights.
While I knew on some level what to expect from Drifters going into it considering the creator behind the manga, the anime really surprised me. It’s a strong and tight run here that tells a complete “First Arc” kind of story that gives us engaging characters for the Drifters themselves, sets up a world that’s complicated but accessible, and doesn’t present any easy answers on what to do to really change things – if that’s even the goal for some outside of conquest. I really enjoyed the hell out of this show for the way characters like Toyohisa embrace who they are and how others flock to him in order to protect themselves and seek justice that would be denied otherwise. It’s a visually striking show even with all of its dark elements and it has an engaging cast of characters working within a framework that really leaves you wanting to know more about it and how it all works. Definitely a worthy release in general and one that Funimation put together in a great way.
Japanese Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Episode Commentaries, Inside the Episodes, Promo Videos, Textless Opening Song, Textless Closing Song, Trailers
Content Grade: A-
Audio Grade: A-
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B+
Released By: Funimation
Release Date: October 3rd, 2017
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.