Reviewby Nick Creamer,
Rage of Bahamut: Genesis
Many years ago, the powerful dragon Bahamut was sealed away through the combined efforts of humans, gods, and demons. But now, half the key to his prison has been stolen, and the world stands on the brink of disaster. None of that means much to the carefree Favaro, who'd rather spend his days chasing bounties and women than worry about mythic destinies - but when the mysterious Amira curses him and tasks him with bringing her home, Favaro's life is going to take a world-altering turn whether he likes it or not.
MAPPA have been making quite a name for themselves recently. Founded in 2011 by Madhouse founder Masao Murayama, the studio has collaborated on two impressive Shinichiro Watanabe productions, Kids on the Slope and Terror in Resonance, as well as assisted Madhouse on Hajime no Ippo. Having cut their teeth on Watanabe shows (and the inimitable Teekyu), MAPPA leapt into two productions at once for the 2014 fall season - the acclaimed tokusatsu adaptation Garo and the mobile game tie-in Rage of Bahamut: Genesis. You wouldn't think a fantasy mobile game would provide the most fertile material for an adaptation - but MAPPA have clearly made the most of the opportunity, as Rage of Bahamut: Genesis is a show like few others.
Rage of Bahamut does not really feel like an anime - it feels like a Hollywood adventure movie. It riffs on tropes from adventure serials and Spielberg movies far more than shounen manga or Japanese cinema, and even its underlying aesthetics all take cues from a familiar but decidedly un-anime playbook. It is the kind of show that introduces characters with searing on-screen titles as they leap from cliffs on horseback, quickly shifting to a swordfight atop a rolling waterwheel before blowing up a horse-drawn carriage with demonfire. It is Pirates of the Lost Arc of Demons and Dragons.
The story opens by introducing the smirking, afroed rogue Favaro, uptight knight Kaisar, and mysterious, clearly-more-than-she-seems Amira, a set of familiar fantasy-archetype protagonists that are eventually joined by snarky necromancer Rita and a wide cast of heroes, villains, and drunkards in between. The Hollywood-ness of Rage of Bahamut is clearly felt in the characterization of this group - Favaro comes off like a lost cousin of Jack Sparrow, and his constant verbal and physical sparring with onetime friend Kaisar (“until you killed my father and stole my honor, you scoundrel!”) is a warm rapport that brings any number of classic daredevil/straight man frenemy-bonds to mind. The show has an easy humor that emerges naturally from the base personalities of Favaro, Kaisar, and Rita, and following them feels like its own reward even when the story drags. The heroine Amira unfortunately gets the short end of the characterization stick, as her childlike wonder at the human world never really expands into a full personality. Not only does this make it difficult for her to really bounce off the other characters, it also ultimately results in an emotional disconnect, when the bond she's supposed to share with the other leads ends up becoming dramatically important.
Fortunately, most of Rage of Bahamut's running time doesn't care about fussy stuff like romance or feelings - Rage of Bahamut wants to have a good time, and it definitely knows how to do that. The show's first half is rife with fun action setpieces and a real sense of both fantasy invention and narrative momentum. The overall plot of “help Amira travel north to reunite with her mother” offers plenty of opportunity for fun digressions - Favaro and Amira attempt to capture a demon bounty, the whole gang gets trapped in a zombie village, mermen fight zombies on a ship that's being devoured by a giant enemy crab, etc. There's both a strong sense of narrative freedom and a rock-solid foundation of engaging story structure, making the show initially feel almost like a greatest hits montage of adventure vignettes. And the show's production makes sure none of these ideas are wasted.
Bahamut's Hollywood influences aren't just limited to its writing - the show's visual pacing, shot framing, and even animation feel distinctively western-influenced. There are few of anime's classic tone-establishing shots here - outside of occasional dramatic pans setting up new setpieces (or one horror movie-influenced early episode), almost all of Bahamut's shots convey information and then get out of the way. Dramatic camera angles give action scenes a sense of kineticism and style, and occasional blood splatters or water on the "lens" create a self-conscious illusion of immediacy. Action scenes flow with engaging animated motion, with character personalities portrayed in both their larger physical gestures and very expressive faces. Music erupts into orchestral strings for fights, matches dragon drama with ominous chanting, and lends sword duels a jaunty personality with horns and castanets. And all of these setpieces play out across a dramatic variety of locations - battles shift from cobbled towns to haunted forests to demonic dungeons and everything in between. At its best, Rage of Bahamut is a popcorn adventure of the highest caliber.
The show can't keep it up, unfortunately. Right around Bahamut's halfway point, the energy starts to drag, and the show gets bogged down in one location and conflict as the larger plot slowly explains itself. Bahamut is an amusement park that relies on the constant introduction of new shiny attractions, and having the show slow down to detail Amira's backstory, the threat of Bahamut, and the finer points of demonic politics does the show no favors. The production also experiences a very noticeable dip in this middle stretch - not only does the show largely stop introducing new settings, but the animation and even character modeling suffers a dramatic reduction in quality. The show apparently just didn't quite contain a full season's worth of steam.
Fortunately, Bahamut recovers somewhat in the final stretch, with the last two episodes nearly matching the opening salvo's level of energy and execution. And even in the show's weaker moments, the characters do their best to keep audience spirits high. Favaro and Kaisar's slowly rekindled friendship is an endearing hook, and Rita enlivens almost any scene with her deadpan (no pun intended (because she's a zombie, that's why there'd be a pun there)) sarcasm. Rage of Bahamut isn't a totally consistent watch, and it's certainly not the most thematically or emotionally substantive production, but overall it's still a lot of fun and a welcome stylistic digression from the usual action-anime fare. Not bad for a mobile game tie-in.
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : B+
Art : A-
Music : B
+ Strong aesthetics and characters make for an engaging adventure ride; western style influences give the show a unique personality.
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