The Summer 2022 Preview Guide
BASTARD!! -Heavy Metal, Dark Fantasy-
How would you rate episode 1 of
BASTARD!! -Heavy Metal, Dark Fantasy- (ONA) ?
Community score: 3.8
What is this?
Modern civilization and the world was destroyed by the God of Destruction, Anthrasax, in 7 days, and then is sealed. Hundreds of years later, the sorcerer Dark Schneider leads a group in an attempt to control the world. Dark Schneider, in the end, is sealed in the body of a young baby, Rushe Ren Ren. 15 years later, his group, minus Scheider, attempts the same mission by unsealing Anthrasax so they can redo the world. To save the Kingdom of Metallicana, a girl named Yoko releases Dark Schneider from her friend Rushe. Now, Dark Schneider fights his former comrades, but not for good; he fights to protect Yoko, and to have some destructive fun.
How was the first episode?
While I've never read the original manga, I was pretty interested in this Netflix revival, just for how out-of-place it is in the current anime landscape. Nowadays all our male nerd power fantasies are about Hiro Potatoman getting isekai'd into the land of Underage Slave Wives With Overpowered Stats, their favorite video game. So I was looking forward to seeing a callback to the old days, when our male nerd power fantasies were about creating ridiculous OCs in overly convoluted DnD modules inspired by cool album covers you saw at the record store. And this first episode certainly delivers that exact kind of 90s anime schlock, though it sags a lot in the middle, and that worries me for how well this whole project will work out in the end.
Fact is, shows like this need a lot of energy and momentum to keep this particular kind of overwrought, heavy metal cheese working. If they don't, then the audience starts thinking about the implications of heroine Yoko having to kiss a child on the mouth every time she needs to summon the evil wizard living inside him, or why all the bad guy characters just stand around for several minutes while the good guys argue about a plan, and you might start to lose some folks. For the first several minutes this premiere absolutely nails it, throwing out a ridiculous science-fantasy post-apocalypse setting where a horrific monster known only as The Dark fought a giant dragon mech in a battle so devastating it wiped out most of the Earth and sunk continents somehow leading to the medieval magical world the actual story is set in. It's a ridiculous, bombastic opening that makes little sense, but that doesn't matter because the presentation is throwing all its weight behind it.
But after that, the show quickly loses its momentum, mostly because the rest of the premiere takes place in one room with a bunch of disposable fodder characters, and the episode becomes an exercise in waiting for Dark Schneider to show up and inject some actual character into the rote fight against the army of evil monsters. Things pick up once King Asshole of Dickhead Mountain actually arrives in all his awesome-to-a-13-year-old glory, but even then there's not a ton to keep me interested. It's funny and kind of charming that all the big deal magic spells are named after real-life metal bands (Except for The Damned, they're definitely more punk rock) and Schneider himself is amusing as the amalgamation of every prepubescent nerd boy's idea of being cool. But he doesn't really have anyone to play off besides Yoko, and their dynamic isn't enough to carry the entire episode, even with gratuitous amounts of gore courtesy of our “hero.”
And that's potentially a big problem. I'm not coming to Bastard!! expecting tastefulness or thoughtful writing, but I do need some kind of entertaining banter or exciting action to help all the schlocky Iron Maiden-style fantasy go down smooth. Maybe these are just some necessary pains from establishing this story, and moving forward things will regain that goofy, indulgent energy. But if it can't, then there's not much to keep me coming back to this one, no matter how many scantily clad anime girls with 90s mullets it throws at me.
Things I remember about the original Bastard!! anime: it had lots of heavy metal references I didn't get and the world's catchiest ending theme. The former is definitely still true, and thus far my greatest disappointment is that the latter is not, but even with my sad lack of metal knowledge, there's something that's very fun about this story. It's every bit as over-the-top as the first reboot to air this season (Spriggan), but there's a differently campy edge to it, like someone ran a Boris Vallejo artbook through an anime filter. (Reminder that Vallejo's art is usually NSFW, if you go to look him up.) It's delightfully, darkly bizarre.
I'm not sure that it needed the post-apocalyptic angle, however. The opening minutes of the episode involve a voice-over telling us about how the darkness in the human heart took form and destroyed the world in a fight against a guy in a dragon mech, and while that's decent backstory, it also doesn't feel like necessary backstory. It does let us know that, despite how reviled he's become, Dark Schneider was originally a good guy and the only person capable of standing up to Darkness, but given his relationship with Yoko, it in ways detracts from his character development. Rather than giving us that bit of information, it might have been more rewarding to allow us to see that Dark Schneider and Lucien are truly two halves of the same whole; that one is simply the distilled goodness while the other is the loud aggression of a single person. And honestly, that reading of the character fits in with the whole “human darkness is overwhelming the world” angle in a more subtle way than us straight-out being told that this is a concern in the story's world.
But subtlety isn't really Bastard!!'s thing, is it? If the emphasis on Yoko and Sheila's boobs – or the ridiculous emphasis on Yoko's “purity" – didn't clue you in, the absolute scenery-chewing from the villain Lord Osborn or the comment “The giants! They're huge!” probably did the trick. It largely works, because this is a loud story that's interested in screaming its plot while embracing its absurdities; Dark Schneider was saying things along the lines of “You didn't think I'd die just because you killed me?” long before Anos Voldigoard. And that's really part of its charm. If you're looking for nuanced storytelling, you're not likely to find it here, but if you're hankering for some loud, ridiculous action with no grounding whatsoever in the real world, this is looking like an excellent choice.
It's just a shame about that ending theme.
You know, given how much anime I watched in the late 90s/early 2000s, I was sure I had seen the original Bastard!! OAV at some point. However, if I did, I must have forgotten it completely, because nothing about the first episode of this new Netflix series felt even the least bit familiar. That said, despite the high production values and new coat of paint, Bastard!! still feels like an early 90s anime. The character designs (especially the female ones) and the casual ultraviolence mixed with slapstick comedy is right at home with numerous works of the time.
But here's the thing: rather than being the nostalgic romp I expected, I found myself equal parts annoyed and angered by what was on the screen. It's been a while since I've hated a character as much as I do Yoko. It's not that she's a walking “violent big sister” trope that gets me; it's the order of her priorities.
Knowing that he was leaving the kingdom undefended, Yoko's father left her access to a super weapon—namely the ability to turn her friend Lucien into the wizard Dark Schneider—should things turn dire. Yet, when the town is overrun and the townspeople massacred, up until the last members of the royal guard make a doomed last stand to protect their liege and become bloody piles of gore before her eyes—she still doesn't use it.
Is this because she is worried about taking so many lives even though they are monsters? Does she fear the political implications of revealing Dark Schneider's resurrection to the world? Is she afraid that summoning Dark Schneider will “kill” the Lucien personality—the friend she's grown up with like a sister? No. The sole reason she doesn't activate Dark Schneider is because, to do so, she must kiss Lucien. Like, not make out with him, just give him a peck on the lips. That's it.
In the end, it's only when her and Lucien's lives are in direct mortal peril that she finally unlocks Dark Schneider—who easily defeats the monstrous army and the evil wizard at their head. All this makes Yoko a deeply selfish and thoroughly unlikable character. Not only does she place her own feelings of embarrassment above the lives of numerous civilians and soldiers, but she'd also rather watch people she's known her whole life die in front of her than give her not- quite-younger-brother a peck on the lips. Holy shit. What an asshole.
Within this first episode, Yoko has already crossed the moral event horizon as far as I am concerned. Nothing she can do will ever make me root for her as a character, and seeing her romp off happily with Lucien at the end of the episode—not even being self-aware enough to see the price of her own inaction—makes me uninterested in watching another episode. Maybe there was an issue with the adaptation or maybe no one thought too seriously about this opening chapter back in the 90s. But let me tell you, in the year 2022, I am already done with this show.
I was born in the 90s, which means that not only was I way too young to discover the original Bastard!! OVA, I also just barely missed out on the heavy metal era itself. The age of Black Sabbath, Twisted Sister, and Metallica is something I can only really understand as a historical outsider, no matter how much time I spend poring through Spotify playlists and educational podcasts. If I did grow up as a metal-addled goblin of the 70s and 80s, though? A feral teen with greasy hair and equally greasy pores, who had Tab Soda running through his veins and the sick riffs of James Hetfield ringing in his ears? That version of James would probably think that BASTARD!! -Heavy Metal, Dark Fantasy- was the greatest goddamn thing he'd ever seen in his life.
This is both a compliment and a criticism, because this anime adaptation of Bastard!! is premiering in the summer of 2022, not 1987, and I am an increasingly grumpy thirty-year-old that can only shake his fist in impotent rage at things he does not understand. On the one hand, Bastard!! is a crass, stupid, and completely shameless riff on all of the cocaine-fueled excess that defined the heyday of hair metal. For goodness' sake, the princess that must be protected here is named Shiela Tuel Meta-llicana, and the main villain of the episode is another evil wizard who takes his name and face from Ozzie Ozzborne, the Prince of Darkness himself. Our main character is a gleefully wicked wizard who deals out snark and ultraviolent head explosions in equal measure. He also lives inside the body of a little boy, only to be released with a kiss from the busty maiden who grew up with him, Yoko (and I'm pretty sure that this is the exact same premise as one of the shorts from that movie Heavy Metal). Did I mention he's called freaking Dark Schneider, which is literally the single most gleefully dumb idiotic name for any character that I have ever heard outside of a Mel Brooks parody?
It's a very silly cartoon, is what I'm getting at, aimed squarely at the lizard brains of every misanthropic, head-banging Gen Xer with a chip on his shoulder. That said, Bastard!! never once pretends to be anything other than what it is, and if you're looking for an outrageously stupid good time, then you may well find it here. Am I going to pretend that I wasn't supremely intrigued by the giant robot-dragon-mecha thing that Schneider apparently popped out of centuries ago, or that I didn't kind of love how the post-apocalyptic hellscape of the 24th-century looks and feels exactly like the cover of a shlocky pulp fantasy paperback novel? No, no I will not. Bastard!! is a stupid-as-hell power fantasy that wants to take all of the cartoonish sex and violence contained in the heavy metal bangers of yesteryear and bring it all to life. I can't say that I loved it or anything, but it has chutzpah, and I can't help but respect its commitment to the bit.
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