Naked elves? Appellate Judge Rob Lineberger grabs a stack of ones, puts on his Middle Earth garb, and dives in to check it out.
Warning! Naked elves ahead!
Is there anything, anything, geekier than watching an anime series devoted entirely to getting elves naked? Please don't answer—I've just spent the last several hours doing just that.
Facts of the Case
Hollywood starlet Airi, gun-crazy Ritsuko, martial arts master Junpei, and a tank are accidentally summoned to "Middle Earth" by an elven priestess named Celcia. When the mortified Celcia tries to send them back, the spell goes awry and bursts into five fragments. These fragments adhere to the skin of five random elves dispersed across the land. Thus begins a madcap quest to unclothe five unfortunate elves and regain the transportation spell!
All right, you got me! Yes, I was intrigued by the naked elves premise. So are you; otherwise, you wouldn't be here reading this review. Busted.
If you're expecting soft-core porn with Galadriel look-alikes, think again. Though Those Who Hunt Elves isn't technically in violation of mismarketing, the naked-elf hullabaloo is overstated. A handful of vaguely detailed, skin-colored elven forms is not that racy. In fact, almost any recent anime with a moderate jiggle factor is racier than this modest series.
Does that mean that Those Who Hunt Elves is without merit? Not at all. In fact, Those Who Hunt Elves is a breezy, comedic jaunt that any anime fan will immediately "get." The series basically places three anime stereotypes (and some heavy artillery) into a loosely constrained quest scenario. The show is free to make as much or as little sense as it wants to. It can be episodic or continuous. It can treat the characters seriously or throw caution to the winds, and none of it will violate the spirit of the show. In other words, Those Who Hunt Elves is all for fun.
Most of that fun is based around the characters. Junpei is a typical meathead, fists and feet ready to dole out carnage. He is given the benefit of some wisdom and a bedrock code of behavior, which prevent him from being a mindless cutout. His warrior ethic gives him unquenchable stamina for chasing down hapless elves or pursuing a foe to the ends of Middle Earth. Fortunately, Airi is usually perceptive enough to spare Junpei his exertions. She uses her acting abilities and intuition to bluff foes out of their clothes. When both are outmatched, Ritsuko and her tank wait in reserve to lay down cover fire.
Let's not overlook the central source of tension. Celcia the high priestess joins up when she realizes that the group is going to ravage the entirety of Middle Earth until the five key elves are rendered naked. To spare her people pain and embarrassment, Celcia takes the form of a cute puppy dog and tags along. Her magical abilities are as impressive as her form is ridiculous—an observation that Junpei misses no opportunity to comment on. Their constant bickering drives Celcia nuts with frustration and makes Ritsuko green with jealousy.
The show goes through several permutations and plot twists in the course of the quest, and we like to avoid spoilers here at DVD Verdict. Therefore, I will concentrate on three early-ish episodes that I think best represent the strengths and weaknesses of the series.
Episode seven, "Horror! Catch Me in a Flower Field," exemplifies the offbeat humor of Those Who Hunt Elves. The episode begins as a moody horror story that is so generic you can't help but laugh. The gang rides the T-74 tank (which, incidentally, has been imbued with the spirit of a cat) through an impenetrable fog. They remark that if this had been a real ghost story, they would have encountered a spooky Victorian mansion by now. Lo and behold, a spooky Victorian mansion rises out of the mist. The gang goes inside and gets scared to the core by dusty furniture and shadows. But before you know it, "Horror! Catch Me in a Flower Field" morphs into a Woodstock-like party in a field, where little mandrake elves get drunk by soaking in glasses of wine. Through cleverness and luck, our heroes recover a second spell fragment and set off again. The odd juxtaposition of gloomy horror in a rainstorm with ribald debauchery of plant-elves in a sunny field highlights the absurdity of the show. The self-referential jibes and parody elements work well, as do the innumerable anime in-jokes.
Episode Eight ("The End of Life! Until the End of the World") does a great job of tieing in elements from previous episodes while working as a stand-alone story. The self-reference picks up immediately: Ritsuko is fascinated by a ghostly elf, only to have Junpei remark that she was terrified of ghosts "in the last episode." "The End of Life! Until the End of the World" wanders into la-la land when the gang uses astral projection to catch the ghost, leaving behind the cat-tank to guard their bodies. This works well—until a rabbit happens by; the tank leaves, and the distraught innkeeper disposes of their cold bodies. The humor is effective, but also feels strained, as though the writers are trying to outdo the zaniness of the last episode. It is still highly entertaining.
Next comes "Moved Deeply! Dance Beautifully Dear!," which highlights some of the flaws of the show. The episode is basically a rendition of "Cinderella," which is a drag because we all know the tale. The references feel borrowed. The story doesn't have much to do with previous episodes, so we're jarred into a non sequitur of a setting. Junpei is reduced to a mindless jock, Celcia a shrew, and Airi a conniving, all-knowing mastermind. Such artless reduction of the characters to their typical qualities makes them less interesting.
The series progresses in this manner, gathering steam only to lose it through the occasional forced moment. Some scenes work, such as when the group runs out of toilet paper, or when Junpei stands with those who think the Earth is the center of the universe. But some moments are completely expected, especially the key turning points. What do you think will happen when all of the spell fragments are recovered? (Hint: If you think "the teleportation spell will work perfectly and everyone goes back to Japan," this point may be lost on you.) Even with its flaws, Those Who Hunt Elves is offbeat and funny.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The show enjoys creative character design and a mercurial (and therefore continually interesting) environment, but suffers from noticeable lack of animation. In many episodes, the animation slows to a crawl, or even freezes altogether into a static image. Those Who Hunt Elves is less than ten years old, so such shortcuts are hard to justify—especially in a 12-episode-per-season series. The transfer is nice and clean, however.
The Japanese voice acting is fantastic, with Sailor Moon vets Kotono Mitsuishi and Seiyuu Michie Tomizawa heading the charge as Celcia and Airi. The English cast?…well, I wasn't as taken with them. Why is it that comedy seems to require overwrought buffoonery of the English vocal casts? I was impressed with the flexibility of the musical score, though, and the audio had no show-stopping flaws.
I was bothered by Ritsuko's insufficient character development. She got some "special" time, but her character never defined itself. The same goes for those poor elves who were stripped without probable cause.
Even though the previous releases of this series had DVD extras, Those Who Hunt Elves: The Complete Collection does not. Given the recency of those releases, significant remastering probably wasn't an issue, so I can't think of a good reason to leave out extras that already exist.
Those Who Hunt Elves is an absurd anime parody, in the vein of Excel Saga but with a slower pace and more character development. If the shrill, zany pitch of current anime parodies grates on your ears, the lower pitch of Those Who Hunt Elves may be the ticket. Its comedic timing is more natural, which means fewer jokes sneak in—but they are funnier because of it. It doesn't have real nudity or violence, so its MA rating is misplaced. I won't crown it the queen of anime comedy, but Those Who Hunt Elves is a pleasant diversion.
We demand extradition to this dimension so that the accused may have an unbiased trial.
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