One minute, Shimazu Toyohisa is battling for his lord and his life on the bloody field of Sekigahara. The next, he finds himself standing in a narrow hallway before a bespectacled suit at a desk who abruptly shuttles the confused samurai off through a gap in the bricks and into an unfamiliar world. As Toyohisa tries to wrap his head around what’s just happened to him, he realizes he’s not the only great warrior to be plucked from his or her time and deposited in this strange place. He doesn’t know who has brought them here, or why, but, being a hot-blooded soldier and seeing an obvious enemy, he just decides to do what comes naturally…and fight.
The Lord of the Rings meets Bill and Ted’s time machine as elves, dragons, and hordes of goblins mix with the likes of Joan of Arc, Hannibal, and a pistol-toting pair from the Wild Bunch in a quest for dominion over one very mixed up country. Falling into either the Ends or the Drifters, the involuntary immigrants unconsciously choose sides when they arrive, their every action monitored and recorded by various observers, some friendly, some not. What comes next is a hard-to-follow but undeniably interesting–and occasionally very funny–ride.
Drifters can be a little confusing. Every now and then the linework is too consistently thick (though limited use of definition-assisting screentone often makes up for it) and it’s not always easy to identify who’s talking or whom you’re looking at in the extreme close-ups (yes, I see those are bugging eyes, but whose?!). It can also be gruesome (Toyohisa’s a bit obsessed with parting his opponents’ heads from their bodies, and the bad guys are very bad). And Hirano’s rounded, exaggerated art often devolves into scratchy cartoonishness for comic effect. Minus a few speed bumps, however, it fits the crazy, over-the-top story just fine. Rarely attractive, his characters make no less impact on the page or on the reader due to the strength of their outsized personalities. Toyohisa, for instance, has a good heart, despite his penchant for symbolic decapitation. He’s crazy-skilled and fearless, but he can also be dense, and his rather cleverer new comrades, though not without flaws of their own, waste no time in mocking him and using his fiery yet malleable nature to their small group’s advantage.
One thing this volume does lack is the presence of a visible editor in the form of helpful translation notes. Not every transplanted warrior is common knowledge on this side of the world (nor, I would think, on Hirano’s) and some brief end-note explanations of who they are and why they are historically significant would have been much appreciated. As it is, I had to resort to Wikipedia and Google searches and still couldn’t identify everyone.
While the suggested age noted on the back cover of the pdf preview edition says the book is appropriate for readers 13 and up, the publisher’s website gives a more accurate 16. Oddly enough, despite the violence and mild language (a handful of instances of “shit”) in the actual story, it’s the author’s coarse, inane omake and chattering at the end of the volume that inch it toward more mature territory.
Drawing from different periods in Japan’s history (Heian, Warring States, Edo, WWII) and ancient and modern conflicts from across the globe, Drifters is a wild, dark fantasy / sci-fi / action / alternate history series with bold art and a fun, unpolished sense of humor.