El Hazard has always been Tenchi's less popular, but still awesome little cousin. Both series were produced by AIC and were created, in part, by Hiroki Hayashi. The stories are very different but share the same harem-style theme featuring similar looking lead characters surrounded by an assortment of eligible, lovely, hypercolor haired bachelorettes. Although El Hazard's story and cast were every bit as good as Tenchi, if not better, it never achieved the success and notoriety of Tenchi.
El Hazard: The Wanderers originally aired in 1995 and is a heavily revised, television version of the classic OVA series, The Magnificent World. Anime fans should instantly have visions of Tenchi's revisionist series dancing in their heads.
Makoto, Nanami, and Jinnai are high school students living their normal teenage lives. Makoto is a science geek who spends his afterschool time tinkering in the labs. Jinnai suffers from a huge inferiority complex and seeks to rule and enslave anyone and everyone who will allow it. Jinnai schemes his way into the position of student president, but he also has delusions that the disinterested Makoto is trying to undermine him and dethrone him from his position of power. Nanami is Jinnai's sister and actually shares none of these traits. Where Jinnai always had difficulty making friends and influencing people, social skills came easy for Nanami who seems to have a little crush on Makoto.
One night, these three students, along with Fujisawa, a teacher, are at school doing their various extracurricular activities. Jinnai's delusions of persecution get the better of him, so he sabotages Makoto's science project. This causes Makoto's invention to go haywire and open a portal that transports the two of them, Nanami, and Fujisawa to another dimension.
In this new land called El Hazard, there are two warring civilizations: the Roshtarians and the insect empire of the Bugrom. Makoto and Fujisawa are taken prisoner by Roshtaria, even though their Princess, Rune Venus, thinks they are trustworthy. They eventually win the trust of the royalty and go on a journey to visit the priestesses of Wind, Fire, and Water to find a way to return home.
Meanwhile, Jinnai quickly schemes his way into co-ruling the Bugrom empire along with their Queen, the very human-looking Diva. With a massive army at his command, Jinnai makes numerous attempts to conquer and enslave all of El Hazard. Jinnai is one of the more amusing villains in anime. His laugh, which by all counts should be annoying, usually brings a smile to your face. He so eagerly embraces his evilness that it's both ridiculous and entertaining.
Nanami faces perhaps the toughest road of the four. She was separated from the rest and did not share in her brother's luck and land in the middle of a gullible empire of bugs. She becomes an ordinary peasant, dabbles in a few jobs, and finds some modicum of success through her entrepreneurial instincts and cooking skills. Eventually, after numerous near misses, she catches up with Makoto and Fujisawa and joins them in their quest--while still trying to find ways to make a profit in every situation. The group, along with the diminutive, pseudo-lesbian, Alliele, roams El Hazard and meets the priestesses: Shayla-Shayla, Afura Mann, and Fujisawa's soulmate, Miz Mishtal. Their journey is completely sidetracked by having to thwart Jinnai's tireless ambition to take over the world.
In The Wanderers, Makoto's main romantic feelings are focused on Princess Rune Venus, which is a significant change from the original OVA series. I say "main romantic feelings" because Makoto is surrounded by female prospects. At one point or another throughout the series, Nanami, Shayla-Shayla, and even Ifurita express interest in Makoto. Those feelings from the other characters are never fully explored--the main focus lies on Makoto developing a relationship with Princess Rune and then becoming the knight in shining armor who must save her from the Jinnai and the Bugrom.
Another facet of El Hazard that was disappointingly removed was the overt lesbianism. In the original series, Alliele was Princess Fatora's lover, a character who was removed from The Wanderers. Alliele was also a complete nympho who hit on most of the women in the series. In The Wanderers, this aspect is only subtly hinted at in a few episodes.
Along with several characters being completely removed from the original story, Ifurita received the largest makeover. The evil Demon Goddess looks and acts entirely different than her initial incarnation in the OVA series. In The Wanderers, Ifurita is a charming airhead who cannot quite grasp the art of being evil. She is inherently a good character and truly wants to make everyone happy. Unfortunately, she is incredibly na´ve and allows Jinnai to manipulate her into using her awesome powers to further his ongoing quest to rule the world. This leads to some hilarious scenes where Jinnai desperately tries to teach her how be an evil Demon Goddess.
The largest flaw with The Wanderers is its lack of focus. The series feels stretched thin with the vast amount of filler. The usual hot springs make an appearance, but the most notoriously unnecessary episode in this series involves Jinnai's absurd scheme to steal all the vegetables from Roshtaria. The only thing noteworthy to come from that episode is Makoto's sketch of Princess Rune that jumpstarts their relationship. Fortunately, much of the filler in The Wanderers is amusing and develops the characters, but it also distracts from the overall plotline. A few plotlines, particularly one about a kidnapping, are featured in multiple episodes only to end anticlimactically.
This series is reviled by many as a diluted version of a classic series. The criticism is fair, but The Wanderers is hardly the worst case of a remake completely trashing a classic story. If The Wanderers was the only version of El Hazard ever created, then it would not be nearly as hated--the El Hazard franchise also would not be nearly as popular.
Audio: The audio is presented in 2.0 Dolby Digital English and Japanese tracks. The audio quality is serviceable considering its age and the stereo mix. The subtitle track is automatically selected, which made me fear the worst about the English dub. I listened to both the dub and sub on various episodes and the dub cast does a better job at capturing the spirit of the characters. This may also be a result of the changes to the dub script. I watched many episodes with both the English language track and English subtitles on. The subtitles are straight-forward, almost short in some scenes, and lack the style of the dub. The changes that the English language track makes to the Japanese script are minor and usually make the dialogue and jokes flow much better.
Video: This is one of the worst looking anime DVD's that I have seen in years. You can expect to find dot crawl, nicks, scratches, and stains throughout the entire series. The colors in the series at least looked vibrant and touched up. Many of the video issues probably originate from the source material, but this series looked atrocious and made me wonder if I had accidently hooked up my DVD player to the TV's composite inputs. The video is presented in 4:3 aspect ratio.
Extras: There is a full color art gallery, a line art gallery, trailers, and clean openings and closings. A rather unique extra is the inclusion of two animated comics featuring the cast of El Hazard hawking The Wanderers LD's, yes, as in Laserdiscs. Calling these PowerPoint slides animated comics is a stretch, but the inclusion is appreciated.
Final Thoughts: Newcomers to El Hazard should hold off on grabbing this set and spring directly for the vastly superior version, El Hazard: The Magnificent World. If you are digging the characters, then have a look at the sequel El Hazard: The Alternate World. Finally, if you can't possibly have enough of Makoto and the gang, take the plunge and watch The Wanderers. It is a watered down, sometimes funny, filler-infested, television version of the classic OVA series. The quality of the remake never sinks to the wretchedness of Tenchi in Tokyo, but there is still absolutely no reason to watch this instead of The Magnificent World. This series is for diehard El Hazard fanatics only. Rent It.