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- Reviewer: Marc
- Review Date: 2004-10-31 (updated 2012-10-06)
- 3 stars out of 5 (?)
Bastard!! is an interesting take on gritty fantasy sprinkled with comedy, but it's a mixed bag. On the up side, there's lots of drama, plenty of action (nearly half of each episode is an extended battle laced with drama and flashbacks), some quality tongue-in-cheek comedy, and it's a good-looking series. On the down side, it shifts moods from funny to serious too abruptly, it's a bit sleazy for my taste, the characters are underestablished, and most of the subplots feel like afterthoughts. On the whole, it falls somewhere between a randy parody of the fantasy genre and a reasonably interesting, if somewhat scattered, take on it.
For fans of the manga, the anime will probably be a real treat--sort of an attractive highlight reel--and fans of magical action or low-brow comedy will probably have a ball, too. On its own, it's enjoyable, but too uneven to be anything particularly memorable.
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Full ReviewSwitch to Quick Review
- Reviewer: Marc
- Review Date: 2004-10-31 (updated 2012-10-06)
- 3 stars out of 5 (?)
Despite its popularity, I have to say that I don't think Bastard!! is anything particularly special. As a fantasy action series with a quirky sense of humor, or perhaps even a subtle send-up of its own genre, it isn't bad, but there's too much missing for me to say I enjoyed it as much as I could have.
Something like a much sleazier version of Slayers, Bastard!! starts out like a raunchy fantasy take on the classic Pioneer formula: Serious plot but enough humorous atmosphere to border on a parody of more serious fantasy shows. Fans of old fantasy role-playing games will also get a kick out of all the familiar stuff--beholders, effreets, and hydras (although I never remember encountering a slime that only eats clothes, and slowly at that).
For the most part the action and story are straight-faced, except Dark Schneider (funky name, eh?) keeps throwing out annoying wisecracks and refuses to take the situation seriously. The series also springs a few amusingly unexpected jokes smack dab in the middle of an otherwise serious scene (great example: during one dramatic scene, a character makes an off-handed remark directly at the audience). These bits of clever humor and some rather lowbrow potshots set Bastard!! apart in the crowded fantasy genre.
On the other hand, Bastard!! also feels like it can't make up its mind. Though the humor keeps some long, serious scenes from getting overwhelming, it deflates others. The whole thing continually threatens to turn into an outright parody (or hints that it already is) even though it doesn't look like it was intended to be. The abrupt transition from tongue-in-cheek to straight toward the end particularly bothered me--the humor is left feeling out of place.
It also seems to end just as it's starting to get rolling, likely a symptom of compressing the lengthy manga into a 6-episode series.
Whether there's too much, too little, or just the right amount of humor, the serious parts are also different from what I was expecting. To use a food analogy: Bastard!! is the main course without any of the additional dishes that make it into a complete meal. There are lots of meaty battles (literally about half the runtime), the battles are stuffed with character-driven drama, and the series is well-seasoned with jokes. But that's all that's on the table.
The initial setup, which makes vague references to the collapse of modern civilization and the rise of magic, is railed off in some cheesy narration in the first couple of minutes of the series (and repeated at the beginning of every single episode). The fantasy standbys of grand villainous scheming and advancing armies of monsters are reduced to a few hurried cutscenes. A whole bunch of hints at subplots--the princess mentioning "my brother's enemy...?", some evil lieutenants, and whatever's up with the whole dark god thing--are introduced, then dropped completely. Even downtime and character building between Yoko and friends is essentially nonexistent.
What's left is this: Each episode starts with a short summary of how the armies of darkness are advancing, a little plot, then it's time for an excuse for a fight between Dark Schneider and some major villain. The remainder of the episode is devoted to a long, dramatic, sometimes tragic battle between the two. In the case of former friends and lovers turned enemies, these endless battles come complete with lots of flashbacks of their earlier days together.
I'm oversimplifying slightly, but it boils down to a series with all the basic pieces and not enough episodes to flesh them out. The drama and set-up for the battles is there, but we don't have enough time to get to know the characters (when they aren't fighting) or their past relationships. The entire large-scale war feels like an afterthought (oh, look, another castle falls to the rampaging army... now on to the dramatic battle), and the foundation for this whole messy plot never even comes close to being explained.
Since a large part of the series is composed of action scenes, I have one last complaint to make--a lack of scale in the magical fights. At several points people would point out that Dark Schneider had just used some incredibly powerful spell, and yet every time he seemed ready to wipe out the villain in an unexpected display of his vast power, he'd turn out to be more or less evenly matched. In some cases he's just toying with his opponent, but he has an awfully tough time with such mundane opponents as a cursed sword. Even though I usually prefer it when the hero (if you can call Schneider that) is in the same league as the villain, this seemed like a series just begging to have him outclass everyone he comes up against.
Now, fans of the lengthy Bastard!! manga may see the whole thing differently. If you're already familiar with the overall plot, the characters' relationships, and have had your fill of downtime, you may well love watching a collection of great scenes from the comic condensed into six well-animated, action-packed episodes. Coming into it cold, though, Bastard!! is yet another epic with everything but the crescendos edited out.
I will give credit to some of the characters. Although a lot of them are almost afterthoughts--Rushe, though painfully cute, is only onscreen for a few minutes, and most of the non-magical heroes are shallow at best--the ones who get the screen time are rather interesting. Dark Schneider is an interesting mix of self-absorbed player, almost-maniacal former villain (with the definite edge of still not being much of a good guy), and, somewhere deep down, kind of a nice guy.
Two of the villains--Ninja Master Gara and the Dark Elf Arshes Nei--also have quite a bit more personality than your average evildoer, and are entertainingly torn between their former admiration of Dark Schneider and their current allegiance to another cause. Yoko and the Princess are less filled out than I was expecting, but they're at least likable damsels in distress (Yoko being a damsel with attitude). Oh, and I do have to give credit to one minor character--the heroic knight Von Jobina managed to snag a spot in several episodes where he talks big then is promptly whupped by a much more powerful villain--subtle, but pretty darned funny if you think about it.
One last dichotomy before I move on: Bastard!! is stuck between being sleazy fantasy and overly modest. The first couple of episodes are particularly raunchy, no doubt a send up of this sort of thing in standard fantasy. Still, a few scenes (a clothing-dissolving slime, a lengthy scene with Yoko chained up topless, and even Dark Schneider strutting around in the buff several times) feature more skin on camera than I would have expected. On the flip side, you've got Yoko making a big deal about having to kiss a boy, when that kiss will save dozens of lives including her own (and possibly the world), and in one case the villain's evil torture consists of nothing more than that same slime. Again, the latter is amusing as a parody, but the former is just silly.
On a more objective note, Bastard!! is, if nothing else, very good looking. The battles are long, very nicely animated, fairly well choreographed, and feature lots of flashy magic spells and even some sword fighting. What little out-of-battle character animation there is is only slightly less impressive. The art is a darker, rougher take on AIC's usual attractive look, featuring plenty of style (a few very nicely-laid-out moonlit flashbacks). The character designs aren't wildly original, but Schneider and the villains are sharp and distinctive (Arshes Nei more than makes up for Yoko's generic look). A few of the backgrounds are too rough or plain for my taste, but most are detailed and at least sufficiently interesting.
Kouhei Tanaka's music is often overblown, but as dramatic fantasy scores go, quite good.
Last up is the acting. The English dub is poorly acted, and not terribly well translated either, a major source of complaints from Bastard!! fans. The original Japanese, on the other hand, is distinctively cast and well-acted in the variety of action and dramatic scenes, as well as the humorous moments. The action scenes benefit more than usual from the acting--they chant a whole lot of magical gibberish and make it sound reasonably convincing. The standout role is Kazuki Yao as Dark Schneider's unusual voice--cocky, slightly annoying, but with a hard edge, and he usually sounds like he's enjoying everything in some sort of sadistic way. On the flip side, Rei Sakuma makes Arshes Nei believable as the torn villain she is.
There is, however, one thing that's better in the dub: the introduction. It was in English even in the original for some reason, but they thankfully re-dubbed the extremely cheesy-sounding narration with something better. Oh, and by the way, although I've heard a lot of complaints about the accuracy of Pioneer's subtitling, I can say conclusively that at least on the DVD the translation is accurate enough.
All in all, I enjoyed Bastard!! as a somewhat unusual fantasy series, but it's a mixed bag. It hints at a story, has lots of drama, fighting, and even comedy, but in the end the mood is erratic, the characters are underestablished, and it lacks a general sense of coherency. For fans of the manga, the anime will probably be a real treat--sort of an attractive highlight reel. Fans of magical action, low-brow comedy, or classic role playing games will probably have a ball, too. For everybody else, it might be fun as a randy sort-of-parody of the fantasy genre or a reasonably interesting take on it, but it's too uneven overall to be anything particularly memorable.
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The most similar series that comes to mind is the considerably cleaner and lighter Rune Soldier, and the unfinished Gestalt, which is a sort of gender-reversed shoujo take on the same concept. Also has a lot in common with Ruin Explorers, which is less original but cleaner, and Slayers, which is almost certainly better, though Bastard!! is somewhat more serious than either of those two. There are also a variety of non-fantasy Pioneer shows that share some themes with Bastard!!, such as the darker Hellsing.