Reviewby Theron Martin,
Rage of Bahamut: Genesis
BD+DVD - The Complete Series
Favaro is a roguish fellow who prides himself on living it up and spending whatever money he earns right away. Kaisar aspires to be a knight, like his father. Both are bounty hunters, and they were childhood friends until an incident that Kaisar blames Favaro for led to his father's death and family's disgrace. Now Kaisar pursues Favaro even more diligently than his bounties. A chance encounter that both have with the beautiful, otherworldly Amira and a poorly-thought-out lie on Favaro's part lead the two on an epic adventure, one which eventually involves a seemingly-young necromancer, the holy maiden Jeanne d'Arc, all manner of scoundrels, and a plethora of knights, angels, gods, and demons. At stake is the potential unsealing of the dragon Bahamut, an avatar of destruction so powerful that gods, demons, and humans had to work together 2,000 years ago in order to imprison him. Should he get free, it would be the veritable end of the world for everyone. And yet someone seems dead-set intent on manipulating Amira into unwittingly doing exactly that. . .
Now this is how you make a game adaptation!
Specifically, Genesis is a companion piece to the app-based card battle game Rage of Bahamut, which at the height of its popularity had a worldwide English language user base in excess of three million. Instead of trying to do something as clunky as adapt game mechanics, though, director Keiichi Satou (Karas, Tiger & Bunny) and series composer Keiichi Hasegawa just used the setting and crafted an independent tale done in the spirit of a classic Western-flavored adventure, one peppered with supernatural influences of the highest degree. The result is an epic tale of gods, demons, dragons, and a handful of mortals who get caught squarely in the middle. In other words, just about everything you could ask for in a fantasy adventure yarn.
“Epic” is a word which gets well-overused in anime (and other media, for that matter), especially where mere 12-episode series are involved. Not in this case, though. From the fantastic opening scene, which features Satan and Zeus teaming up to bind the rampaging Bahamut, the series conveys the epic scope that it will work with, and it periodically reinforces that with grand scenes of spectacular battles and realms both divine and infernal. The scrambled mythology throws out Christian entities like Michael, Gabriel, Satan, Lucifer, Azazel, and Beelzebub alongside Greek entities like Zeus, Bacchus, and Cerberus and a host of other beings which almost certainly include Norse and Celtic representatives. It tells a tale with no less than potential apocalyptic consequences and puts its heroes through all manner of derring-do in the spirit of old-school adventure movies. And it does so with style and panache.
A particularly strong core cast heavily contributes to the success of the series. Favaro Leone (yes, it's probably not a coincidence that he was named after a famous director of spaghetti Westerns) was my Character of the Year pick for 2014. He has a roguish, swashbuckling spirit of a kind rarely-seen in anime (or at least rarely-portrayed this well), the kind of character who is dedicated to enjoying life as much as possible and does not fret much about being morally ambiguous. For all that, he still (usually) does the right thing despite himself. The more proper and dignified Kaisar is his foil, an opposite to Favaro in every way except that he's even worse about letting his emotions get the better of him, and yet on the occasions when the two actually do work together it's magic. Amira, meanwhile, is a child's soul in a very powerful woman's body, which in execution is less demeaning than it sounds and, in fact, proves to be literally true. The way she evaluates everything on its edibility is the series' running joke, and the relish she takes in simple things light eating and dancing is fun to behold. Her foil is also an exact opposite, a dry, acerbic 200-year-old necromancer stuck in the body of a little girl. (That the others don't seem particularly bothered by her manipulating the dead to help them is also a sort of running joke.) Surrounding them are pious war maidens, scheming demons, righteous angels, prostitutes, slavers, pirates, and a drunk god who collects bounties via magical bracelets – which is in itself an interesting system.
After the flashy opening scene the series does not let up for a minute, with an initial chase scene between Favaro and Kaisar which involves rooftop antics on horseback and other exaggerated stunts which would have been at home in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Battles against demons follow, as do massed combat scenes on Jeanne d'Arc's front. (And a historical note here: Jeanne d'Arc was known as the Maid of Orleans because she came to prominence by breaking the siege of Orleans in 1429, hence the name of the Orlean Knights that she leads.) Events are briskly but evenly-paced as the central quartet – sometimes together, sometimes not – move toward the goal of reuniting Amira with her angelic mother, with no big lags and plenty of room left for demonic manipulation that is nearly as intense as any action scene. The story does not aim for any deep meaning and, frankly, does not need it; this a sensationalistic action piece, after all, and it excels on those merits.
For as strong as its cast and epic scope are, the sumptuous production merits are the real stars here. The visuals, led by Studio MAPPA, may not be perfect in their quality control and tend to show the most flaws in the middle of the series, but they nonetheless feature an unusually high level of detailed animation in both action and non-action scenes alike and provide some robust CG effects. This results in a number of truly spectacular battle sequences, but also delightful simple scenes like Amira's well-choreographed dance with Favaro in an early episode. Director Saotu also plays around a lot with camera angles, and even has the camera occasionally get splattered by things when using a low-angle perspective. Gorgeous settings, whether in a medieval capital city, a fiery hell, a brightly-lit divine realm, or a decrepit village, complement a diverse and highly distinctive set of character designs; you will find little concession to standard anime visual archetypes here. The most outstanding feature is the way the unearthly beauty of some characters – especially Amira in her not-human form – contrasts with vastly more ordinary appearances of common folk. (This is partly accomplished by giving divine characters an almost incandescent effect.) Colors are suitable sharp and rich or dank and gloomy, as the scene demands. While the level of graphic violence is substantial, this is a mostly clean production on the prurient front, with fan service limited to small amounts of backside nudity by Amira and Favaro and one female character temporarily getting a sexy wardrobe change (which reflects a dramatic personality change) at one point.
Complementing the visuals is a powerful musical score, one which uses dramatic orchestration laden with heavy vocals alongside energetic numbers with a decided American Southwestern flavor; think of the castanet, guitar, and trumpet-powered sounds of classic spaghetti Westerns and you will have a good sense of the effect that the series is aiming for. At times the score may get slightly overbearing, but it does fully capture the cinematic feel that it was clearly aiming for. This is also the kind of thing that requires a true Surround Sound audio experience in order to fully appreciate, which is perhaps the best reason to watch it on something larger than a computer screen. Opener "Existence" by SiM was my pick for the top opening theme of 2014; somehow heavy metal seems exactly appropriate for a series like this. Closer “Promised Land,” which features Amira, is a starkly contrasting melody which nonetheless also fits the series well.
The English dub provided by Funimation is a capable one, with smart casting choices made for most roles. Chris Rager uses a vocal style for Kaisar reminiscent of a classic, pompous noble knight, which fits the part well, and while Ian Sinclair does not give Favaro quite as sly an edge as the original performance does, he nonetheless gets the characterization right. The most curious performance is by Jad Saxton as Jeanne, which is a bit of a different role for her. She seems to be trying to channel longtime-ADV-regular Tiffany Grant in her vocal style and never seems comfortable or fully consistent doing so. The English script is not as snappy or interpretive as Funimation scripts normally are, but I do not consider that a negative in this case.
Funimation is releasing both a regular edition in a slipcover sleeve and a Limited Edition which comes in an artbox with a substantial art book. Other Extras for both include English episode commentaries for episodes 1 and 12, clean opener and closer, and a preview for Episode 1. They also include the recap Episode 6.5 and its episode preview, albeit in the Extras menu.
Although the series does sag a bit in the middle in both artistic and storytelling senses, for me this still ranks among the best all-out action series of the past few years. Its engaging look and minimal dependence on standard anime designs and archetypes give it a high degree of cross-over potential, to the point that I would not be surprised to see it pop up on Toonami at some point. Whether it does or not, it is a series that I can heartily recommend for any fan of fantasy literature and/or adventure stories.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : B+
Animation : A-
Art : A-
Music : A-
+ Spectacular action and dance scenes, engaging core cast, strong musical score.
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