I haven't read Kohta Hirano's Hellsing, so I don't know how this series compares, but Drifters is a fun mix of historical characters and fantasy, with some great over-the-top moments stitched together by a solid story idea.
The titular Drifters are a group of time-lost warriors who entered through some sort of portal to a magical realm. They appear to have brought through some sort of library, guarded by a modern looking office worker acting as the gatekeeper. In this magical realm — filled with elves, dwarves, goblins, and your standard fantasy faire — there is a Black King working to annihilate the world. Not to be outdone, the Black King has also assembled an army of time warriors called the Ends, who lay siege on the Drifter's fortress.
Our three main Drifters are Toyohisa, a frenzied killing machine pulled from the Battle of Sakigahara, Nasusuketaka Yoichi, rescued from the Genpei wars, and Lord Oda Nobunaga who needs no introduction. Because they are all Japanese speakers, they form an uneasy band there Yoichi, who has been in the fantasy kingdom for 400 years, takes the leadership role.
We follow these three for about half of this first volume as they get used to their new world and status, and then some of the other time-lost figures appear on the sides of both the Drifters and the Ends. Fighting for the Drifters are the Carthagian Hannibal and the Roman Scipio, who form another language-based duo. Two unnamed cowboys, one of whom I think might be Billy the Kid, man a Gatling gun.
Fighting on the side of the Ends are Hijikata Toshizo, leader of the Shinsengumi, Joan of Arc, and — for reasons I entirely fail to understand — the vanished Russian princess Anastasia Romanov. I get the rest of them. Famous warriors from history. But Anastasia was practically a baby when her family was assassinated and she disappeared, yet she is revealed as some mighty battle queen. I guess Kohta is hoping his readers don't know much about history.
Not too much is explained in this first volume. The warriors are gathered and it is pretty much all-out action from then on out. And some pretty wild action. Air dragon cavalry. Goblin reavers. The mad attacks of Toyoshisa who only knows one way to fight. For some reason the Ends have magical powers that the Drifters don't, which are related to their history. Joan of Arc can summon fire, for example.
I wasn't really thrilled with Kohta Hirano' art in Drifters. I know that Hellsing has a large following, but this was my first time reading Hirano and I wasn't impressed. The actions scenes are done well enough, but the character's faces seemed off. There mouths are too wide, and in several scenes they look like Japanese Muppets. The backgrounds and scenery is perfect though, so maybe Kohta's skills just don't lie with the human figure.
Drifters Volum 1 comes with a little mini-comic at the end that mainly is just a chance to make jokes about Joan of Arc's breasts. You don't want to laugh, but then you do.
Zack Davisson is a freelance writer and life-long comics fan. He owned a comic shop in Seattle during the '90s, during which time he had the glorious (and unpaid) gig as pop-culture expert for NPR. He has lived in three countries, has degrees in Fine Art and Japanese Studies, and has been a contributing writer to magazines like Japanzine and Kansai Time-Out. He currently lives in Seattle, WA with his wife Miyuki. You can catch more of Zack's reviews on his blog Japan Reviewed or read his translations of Japanese ghost stories on Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai.