El-Hazard: The Magnificent World is a seven-episode OVA series released from May of 1995 to January of 1996. Animated by AIC, it shares part of its creative team with that of Tenchi Muyo!. But though the creative lineage may be the same, El-Hazard couldn’t be much more different from its interstellar counterpart, trading Tenchi’s heavily Japanese interpretation of space-faring culture for a world and story with a much more western flavor.
El-Hazard falls into a subgenre of fantasy that could most easily be summarized as “stranger in a strange land.” As in similar anime such as Aura Battler Dunbine and The Vision of Escaflowne, the plot sees otherwise ordinary people from Earth transported to a fantastic world where they gain extraordinary powers and become caught up in political intrigue and military conflict. Front and center among those transported is Makoto Mizuhara, a high school student drawn to mysterious ancient ruins that had recently been unearthed under his school by an earthquake. There, he meets a beautiful, exotic woman who, without much explanation, sends him and the few others still on the campus hurdling through time and space to the world of El-Hazard.
While comparisons to series like Escaflowne or Aura Battler Dunbine might bring to mind a great deal of romantic drama and explosive action (and El-Hazard certainly has both), it’s also a far more comedic tale as Makoto and his alcoholic history teacher Masamichi Fujisawa quickly enter the good graces of Princess Rune Venus of Roshtaria. This is partially to do with Fujisawa using new-found super-strength to defend her from an ambush conducted by Bugrom (humanoid insects that the human nations of El-Hazard are warring against). However, it also has to do with the fact that Makoto bears an uncanny resemblance to Rune’s missing sister, Princess Fatora. And if Makoto ever wants a chance of seeing home again, he has to agree to dress up as the princess and pretend to be her, ala The Prisoner of Zenda, so that no one suspects that anything is wrong.
No sooner does Makoto get conscripted into royal drag that he’s also conscripted into another job; delivering a message to the three priestesses of Mt. Muldoon that the alliance needs their aid by unsealing the Eye of God; a Roshtarian super-weapon that might also hold the key to sending Makoto and the others back home.
Oh, the others? Aside from Makoto and Fujisawa, two other students also made the trip. The entrepreneurial Nanami Jinnai, who gains a power to see through the illusions of a race known as the Phantom Tribe, and her older brother Katsuhiko, who is, well…special. Back on Earth, Katsuhiko had cheated to win the student body presidential election; Makoto had found this out by accident, and plans had been made for him to testify at Katsuhiko’s impeachment hearing. This, along with Katsuhiko’s recollection of a long series of events in which Makoto constantly and consistently one-upped him in every facet of life, causes him to go straight off the deep end. When he arrives in El-Hazard, he by chance happens to fall in with the Bugrom, thanks largely to his newfound power to communicate with them. After convincing them that he is their destined savior, he’s given command of the Bugrom army and embarks on a path of conquest.
Eventually, Makoto and Katsuhiko cross paths when both are in pursuit of Ifurita, an ancient demon god of destruction. Katsuhiko gets there first, giving him her power. But it also turns out that Ifurita, that emotionless doomsday weapon, also just happens to be the warm-hearted woman that sent Makoto and everyone else to El-Hazard in the first place. What gives?
Though I won’t spoil anything further, suffice it to say that question is answered, as are numerous others, such as the nature of Makoto’s own power, where the Phantom Tribe fits into the picture, and what happened to Princess Fatora. The series ends on a satisfactory note that closes the loop, and in my own opinion remains as one of my all-time personal favorite anime productions.
Of course, just as Tenchi Muyo! was spun-off in about seven different directions and given sequel after follow-up, El-Hazard didn’t stop there, either. Unfortunately, the quality of the subsequent series, a four-episode sequel OVA (El-Hazard: The Magnificent World 2), a twelve-episode television series (El-Hazard: The Alternative World), and a twenty-six episode alternate universe television series (The Wanderers), all take a sharp decline following the original. The writing in particular goes downhill, losing what made the original series so appealing in favor of more standard harem anime humor. The Alternative World even has a “bonus” thirteenth episode that was produced for the home release, which is nothing more than a genre-typical bathhouse episode. The best thing that can probably be said about any of the sequels is that none of them actually have that much of an impact on the original series and can be safely ignored.
While the follow-ups are largely flawed, the original series still holds up. And though there are certainly elements of harem comedies like Tenchi Muyo! present in The Magnificent World, those elements are largely subverted and overcome based on the strength of its writing, characters, and story. And though it’s a universe that will probably not be revisited again after the lackluster sequels, the original series is one still worth a return trip.
El-Hazard: The Magnificent World was released on DVD in North America by Pioneer Entertainment (a.k.a. Geneon). It’s rated for ages 13+ by the publisher and contains references to alcoholism, adult language, adult themes, nudity, and violence.