By Hugh David.
In the distant past, the winged dragon Bahamut threatened the entire world of Mistarcia, but humans, gods and demons banded together to seal away its power. To keep it locked away, the seal was broken into two parts, and given to the eternal enemies: gods and demons. Two thousand years later, a woman steals the gods’ half of the key. The race is on to find the thief before she can reunite the halves and wake the dragon. DON’T WAKE THE DRAGON!
The only words that possibly might strike more fear into the heart of an anime fan more than “based on a light novel” or “based on a dating sim” are “based on a mobile game.” But production house MAPPA has bucked the trend with Rage of Bahamut: Genesis, producing a vivid, stylised, and thoroughly enjoyable fantasy adventure that is quite unlike anything else out there right now on the anime scene.
Of course, you could be forgiven for thinking this was more epic fantasy in a European vein after the spectacular, monsters-and-magic laden battle that opens the first episode. This is what we’re finally seeing after a decade of The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, and Game of Thrones, except that Rage uses that initial battle in much the same way Peter Jackson uses the opening battle from The Fellowship of the Ring: as a jumping-off point for events much later on in the timeline, and as a gathering of key characters. Flashbacks from these characters to that battle help structure the plot and the motivations, mostly for those described as demons in this world.
Our heroes, however, are much younger, born in the later era in which the bulk of the series takes place. And what an era it is! Full of visual nods to swashbuckling cinema and spaghetti westerns, fans of the Pirates of the Caribbean saga and the Zorro films will find themselves very much at home in the early Mediterranean-like settings. The duelling bounty hunters, roguish Favaro Leone (named clearly with the famous Italian director in mind, but also the latest in a longline of Lupin nods) and fallen knight Kaisar Lidfard (who is clearly the inheritor of the sobriquet Captain Tightpants), are cut from familiar cloth. They are, however realised here with stylings that make clear a yaoi-esque reading of their childhood friendship-turned-adult-hatred is both appropriate and intended. Leone in particular is sexualised far more than the female characters encountered to begin with, which makes for a refreshing change. Later there will be a demon whose appearance suggests Elfen Lied’s Lucy cosplaying as Raquel Welch in One Million Years BC. The pair find themselves involved with women of magical power, demoness Amira and necromancer Rita, while their intertwined back story starts to resonate with the older era of demons and grand manoeuvring they are discovering through these other two and yet more characters we meet.
This is a great example of how to adapt a game. MAPPA has created a narrative that balances classical fantasy, swashbuckling adventure, grim horror and demon political game-playing to highly entertaining effect, all set in a richly realised world. It comes strongly recommended to fans of Beserk, Claymore, Lord Marksman and Vanadis and Baccano.
Rage of Bahamut: Genesis is released in the UK by Anime Limited.