Rage of Bahamut Genesis
Episodes 1-3

by Rose Bridges,

In a magical version of medieval Europe, Favaro Leone is a bounty hunter—which means hunting down all manner of supernatural baddies, from rogue alchemists to necromancers, in exchange for the cards that come out of their talismans. He has a tumultuous history with the fallen knight Kaisar Lidfield, who resents Favaro for making a fool of him. After Favaro takes down the latest demon-summoner, a mysterious woman catches him bragging about going to a city called Helheim, and as a result, saves him from another demon he has to defeat. When he wakes the next morning, though, Favaro finds himself with a demon tail, now contractually bound to the mysterious woman Amira. They travel together in search of the mysterious Helheim, encountering various adventures along the way. Amira is also on the run from knights looking to capture her for stealing a so-called "God Key". This story runs on the engine that drives so many of anime's best and most popular fantasy series, from Fullmetal Alchemist to Puella Magi Madoka Magica, where a protagonist with one singular goal or wish is slowly drawn into something much bigger than themselves with the potential to rearrange their view of their world. So why does Rage of Bahamut Genesis feel like nothing else we've seen before?

If you let your mind go and allow the story to take you for a ride, it's very easy to forget that you're watching an anime at all. Anime has its own very particular visual language that can feel jarring for Western viewers, even those of us who've digested heaps of it. The camerawork in this series, though, is much closer to that of Hollywood live-action film, which makes it far more engaging for me, as someone who can get very impatient and crazy with the pause button. Rage of Bahamut's wide zooms and tracking shots give it the big, "epic" feel that Hollywood pulls off effortlessly even in its more mediocre offerings. Even otherwise excellent fantasy anime can struggle to achieve this level of scale. Suffice to say, this is a good one to show your fellow nerd pals who love American superhero and fantasy action movies, but could never get into anime. This is easily the most "gateway drug" series of the season, if not the whole year.

Bahamut also revels in references to American film genres, especially westerns, from naming a town "Wytearp" (after the Wyatt Earp of O.K. Corral fame) to our hero's surname Leone. From the first episode, it feels like a brighter, more modern version of the 1930s Warner Bros. medieval adventure films, the kind you'd expect to star Errol Flynn. However, as the series goes on, it deviates from that idea, becoming bigger—and creepier—in scope. There's more to this than larger-than-life swordplay; Bahamut's got enough darker fantasy elements, from horned and spiky-tailed demons to seedy bars to even zombies, that it more closely resembles the Lord of the Rings brand of fantasy that dominates silver screens today. For all its bombast, there are also plenty of smaller interactions—from Favaro and Amira sharing their pasts over drinks in episode 2, to Kaiser's conversations with Rita about family in episode 3—that add a more intimate, personal element to those characters and their journeys, leaving viewers aching for more about why they're here and where they're going.

The series comes to us from Studio MAPPA, and it's not the only fantasy-adventure epic they're making this season. It might be tempting to dismiss Bahamut as a more family-friendly GARO, but while it's certainly lighter on the violence and sexual content, it's just as thematically rich. It's easy to forget, with the runaway success of shows like Games of Thrones, that series don't have to be bleak and gritty to have something meaningful to add to well-worn genres like fantasy. What exactly Bahamut plans to give us is difficult to determine only three episodes in, but it feels very fresh—even if the "mortals shouldn't meddle in affairs of the gods" stuff is well-worn territory. That "freshness" may be to due to sharing its high-end animation and visual design with another recent MAPPA effort Terror in Resonance, a series so visually and sonorously wondrous I wanted to like it far more than its inconsistent, toothless writing deserved. It's a good thing that with Bahamut, we already have more substance to back up the oodles of style.

This substance is carried largely by the show's great characters, who are well-acted, colorful, and fun even if they easily slot into familiar archetypes. Protagonist Favaro, with his distinctive orange poof of hair, is the most fun to watch and root for, but the equal parts ditzy and mysterious Amira, and determined sad-sack Kaisar (and his mullet) deserve praise too. Even the characters who haven't had much development yet show promise, like the pink-haired dog-goddess servant girl and the two round puppy-puffs that she keeps as pets. The music isn't anything to sneeze at either, with the sort of soaring orchestral treatment that adds a lot to the wild, epic feel of something like this.

Bahamut may be based on a card game and feature card-collecting in the story, but it's no Yu-Gi-Oh! It clearly aspires to be more than just a 24-minute weekly advertisement, and to pull in an entirely new, diverse audience regardless of potential interest in the source material. This is one to share around with anime fans and newbies alike, as long as they love some old-fashioned swashbuckling adventure with their dueling angels and demons. Rage of Bahamut Genesis combines a perfect mix of thrills and chills to make it this season's must-watch.

Rating: A

Rage of Bahamut Genesis is currently streaming on Funimation.

Rose is a graduate student in musicology, who has written about anime and many other topics for LGBT site Autostraddle.com and her own blog. She tweets at @composerose.

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