Review: Bastard! -Heavy Metal, Dark Fantasy- (2022)

The late ’80s/’90s fantasy manga series Bastard!! was such a paean to the 1980s heavy metal music scene in the U.S. and Europe that most of its character, location, and spell names are either direct or veiled references to performers, bands, and albums from that decade; so extensive are the references that even a dedicated metalhead from that time would have to have some pretty obscure knowledge to catch them all. (How many metal fans are even aware that The Accused was a Seattle-based band or Venom was an English band, for instance?) Such content seems to naturally lend itself to anime adaptation, and indeed, the manga saw its first adaptation as a six-episode OVA series in 1992-93, one which was a popular screening in the anime and gaming convention scene in the U.S. in the mid-to-late ’90s. Now, nearly 30 year later, Netflix has revived it as a 13-episode ONA series, all of the episodes of which are available in subbed and dubbed form as of June 30th.

The new series covers the same ground as the first five episodes of the OVA series, which means that it adapts The Dark Rebel Armies arc from volumes 1-7 of the manga. Anyone who has seen the original OVAs will recognize most of the events and story beats, though the introductory scene showing the rampage of Anthrasax (a godlike weapon of destruction) is, I believe, new. For those new to the franchise, the story is set 400 years after the modern world was destroyed by said rampage and replaced by an era of magic and monsters. 15 years before current time, the most powerful sorcerer of all, Dark Schneider*, gathered and army and tried to conquer the world, only to be narrowly defeated and sealed at great cost. Now Dark Schneider’s former generals are seeking to revive Athrasax to purge the world so they can make a perfect Sorcerer Kingdom in its wake, and that threatens the nation of Meta-llicana, whose royal family holds one of the seals for Anthrasax. In desperation, Dark Schneider is released to defend Meta-llicana, though he has his own ideas and priorities.

To some extent, this is a harem power fantasy tale, though definitely not of the styles which have prevailed over the last couple of decades. Dark Schneider is a buff, devilishly-handsome bad boy in the purest sense, one sporting an almost demoniacal countenance and flowing locks that would be the envy of any hair band member. He is rude, utterly arrogant, completely narcissistic, and a total womanizer, but he also has the power, looks, and seductive skills to back it all up. He does seem to love his women, and will do anything to protect them (the series’ cliffhanger ending being the most extreme example of this you’ll ever see), but he is still a complete philanderer, too. In other words, he’s the very embodiment of a heavy metal god, a title he would probably relish. Over the course of the series, various different powerful, sexy women fall for him, whether it’s the princess of the nation he’s protecting, enemies attempting to assassinate him, or even a former lover, but the most constant presence is Yoko, the elder sister figure for the boy form in which he was sealed. She released him with a kiss and is the one person who can genuinely rein him in. She embodies the Violent Older Sister archetype more popular in the ’80s and ’90s, which may annoy some viewers, but she is also effectively the series’ safety valve. Dark Schneider can’t go out of control with her around.

The plot of these 13 episode is quite basic: Dark Schneider either gets called upon, or takes it upon himself, to face off in magical and/or sword battles against two of his former generals and their minions. This climaxes with head-to-heads against his former adoptive daughter/lover (yes, you read that right), the half-dark elf Thunder Empress Arshes Nei, who certainly has her own complicated issues concerning her past relationship with “Darsche.” That’s about the most involved the storytelling and character development get at any point, and it does lend the story at least a little depth. This content can be quite fun, though the increasing amounts of sideline commentary on his battles gets annoying in the season’s late stages. All of this transpires with a whopping load of cheesiness, which, coupled with the naming conventions, results in the series having a feel similar to the earlier Jojo seasons. (I cannot imagine that any Jojo fan would not also like this.)

Of course, one of the features of the franchise is its grand displays of magic, and thanks to director Takaharu Ozaki (Goblin Slayer) and LIDEN FILMS, these displays are often spectacles punctuated by the heavy metal homages in their names and sometimes lyrics; for instance, the spell Def Leppard uses the names of the band’s original members in its incantation. In general, the visuals look quite sharp and the animation impressive enough, including character designs which infuse classic high fantasy anime influences with equally classic heavy metal influences. The result is plenty of use of curvaceous figures, sexy outfits, and occasional undefined nudity, though Dark Schneider himself goes around nude more than any of the female characters do. (In other words, the fan service is equal opportunity.) Graphic and sexual content can be intense, but more extreme titles have come out in recent years on one or both fronts; the series is relatively tame on violence compared to the recent Spriggan, for instance.

And this wouldn’t be a “heavy metal fantasy” without, of course, a soundtrack heavily influenced by ’80s heavy metal. Opener “Bloody Power Fame,” from the most recent album by Japanese band coldrain, is a suitably flashy and powerful stage-setter, and metal themes are used throughout, especially for actions scenes, though the soundtrack also uses some effectively dramatic non-metal songs as well. Closer “Blessless by Tielle is also a solid number but not as memorable.

The English dub for this series is a dramatic improvement over the weak one made for the original OVA, with most roles being well-cast and effectively-performed. Curiously, the titular role is not credited; Anne Yatco is credited for DS’s boy identity, but the adult version’s voice is clearly a male performer. I might have liked that voice to be a little deeper or older-sounding, but whomever the actor is (possibly Kyle McCarley, the voice of Yu Ominae in Spriggan) gets Dark Schneider’s attitude just right and effectively conveys the impression that Dark Schneider might be a heavy metal lead singer. The most interesting note here is that Wendee Lee, who voiced Yoko in the dub of the original OVA, returns here to voice two other roles instead: Arshes Nei and the Prophet who appears in a couple of late episodes. Her voice’s tenor is definitely better-suited to Arshes than Yoko.

In all, this new version of Bastard!! is absolutely not a title which should be taken seriously or analyzed deeply, despite its penchant for dramatics at times. Enjoying the series does involve accepting that the protagonist absolutely lives up to the series’ title (the English dub has characters calling him a bastard on numerous occasions), and the series has a bit of a pacing problem in its later stages; it definitely feels like the last two episodes in particular are being dragged out. Also, it annoyingly ends on such a massive cliffhanger that viewers will immediately clamor for another season. Still, it is a satisfying for what it is: a flashy heavy metal/fantasy romp.

Overall Rating: B+

* Likely named after Udo Dirkschneider of the German band Accept – which, in likely-intentional irony, is the name of the spell which releases him

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