Shadow Skill Vol. 1
How many redheaded fantasy femme fatales can there be? We were introduced a number of years ago to Lina Inverse, the heroine of The Slayers, who used magic arcana to fight villains when she wasn't stuffing her face with food. Now we have Elle Ragu, the flaming-haired protagonist of Shadow Skill. She's not as funny as Lina, but she's got similar deadly powers and an appetite for alcohol that leaves her with a few bar bills she can't pay. Are they too similar? Perhaps so, and Shadow Skill might just be seen as a ripoff (albeit a serious one) of the amazingly popular Slayers series. Nevertheless, the first four episodes found on the first volume are enjoyable enough, even though there's no signs of a meta-narrative, a few too many youngsters in the cast, and a tendency to "play it safe."
We learn near the beginning of the show that Elle is the 59th Seville. The Seville are not completely explained, but they are apparently a group of awesome fighters that are revered throughout the land for their physical prowess. In the first four episodes, we see that prowess put to good use: whether fighting demon beasts or other humans, Elle has the skills to take down virtually every opponent. She travels with her younger "brother" Gau, and the twosome pick up other adventurers along the way. Where are they really headed? The truth is, they keep moving until they can find work enough to pay the rent and the bar tabs. But that's not a bad life for a warrior...
The show, created in 1998 after a reasonably successful 3 OVA series, doesn't look particularly good. Although the ADV Films' DVD shows no problems, the quality of the video is just OK, and it's likely the color palatte rather than any issues. The animation and designs don't stand out in any way. However, I have to give a lot of credit to the soundtrack for making this show what it is. Although the tunes throughout the episodes aren't obtrusive or even all that memorable, the score made me "feel" many more moments than I would have otherwise. It's perfectly effective without announcing itself, and I liked that element quite a bit.
Shadow Skill has some impressive elements that made me think there was some serious thought in its creation. There is a social hierarchy at play in the program that I don't yet fully understand, but the characters think of each other in terms of classes not unlike D&D. For example, there are particular combatants who deal primarily with the capture of the demon beasts that wander the land, and Elle doesn't want to step on their toes when accepting jobs. There's also a clear history with some characters, like the Seville named ScarFace, appearing just long enough for us to be intrigued to see where they will fit into the series. Apparently, all of the Shadow Skill incarnations were based in a manga series, and in this instance, that background does play a part in enhancing the TV series.
But at the same time, there's a lot here that didn't work for me. Each episode follows standard action cliches, and the "named fighting moves" are typed across the scene, making it all quite silly. It seems that Elle is a serious character, but then the director throws in a few antics to show a comedic side. The tone of the show, in the same manner, is a little schizo, and when it tries to be funny and fails, it's not just a little painful. It seems that each episode has some young person in distress to be rescued, and that convention gets old too. A lot of these time fillers would be more acceptable if I had any hope that some dramatic tension might build over time. However, each episode feels very self contained at this point. It really doesn't do any one thing badly; it just treads a bit too much old ground.
I can't help but feel that there's a lot of potential for Shadow Skill to get better in later volumes. The backdrop has been created by the manga's author -- but will the show ever put it to good use? If the show continues to ramble without explaining the world more fully and just giving standalone episodes, it won't be worth the effort. But there is the possibility that the show is just setting the stage and will open up. That's what I'm hoping, and my hope's big enough to give it a very cautious recommendation. The first volume has a lot of things I want in an anime -- but I'd like it more if it gained focus and started really telling a story.
Shadow Skill Vol. 1 -- violence -- B-