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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Bastard!!: D.S. is too M***** F****** Awesome...

When it comes to fantasy anime & manga for adult audiences, specifically ones with a large amount of violence & gore, there are only two titles that I can full-heartedly recommend: Berserk & Bastard!!. Naturally, Berserk is a world-renowned name and is even getting those new movies soon (which I hope can deliver), so I'm going to talk about the latter here... And I better do so before Dark Schneider finds out and kills me for not putting his title in front of Berserk's.

Kazushi Hagiwara's Bastard!! Ankoku no Hakaishin/Dark God of Destruction debuted in the pages of Weekly Shonen Jump back in 1988 (roughly a year before Berserk's debut). It's crazy action, fanservice, violence, gore, continual breaking of the fourth wall (usually by Dark Schneider himself), and downright raunchiness was extremely popular & something that Shonen Jump had not really seen before... And it wasn't long until Bastard!! went from weekly serialization to being a seasonal special for the magazine due to it's content to running irregularly & then finally being moved to the seinen-oriented Ultra Jump magazine in 2001, where it still runs irregularly to this day. Honestly, Hagiwara is one of those rare mangaka in the industry who is allowed to effectively publish his manga whenever he feels like it, which means that new Bastard!! chapters do not appear in every issue of Ultra Jump, and considering that Ultra Jump is a monthly magazine fans sometimes have to wait a while for the story to continue. At the same time, though, whenever a new volume comes out, which still carries the Shonen Jump label, it's an immediate best-seller... And, damn, does the art look beautiful ever since the move to Ultra Jump. But let's backtrack a little to when Bastard!! was still in Shonen Jump's pages, as from 1992 to 1993 an OVA series based on the manga's first story arc was created by AIC. Does this OVA maintain the "Heavy Metal Dark Fantasy", as Viz puts it, styling of the manga?

In the near future the apocalypse occurs; in only seven days Ansla-Sax, God of Destruction, brought human civilization down to nothing before finally being sealed away. It has since been roughly 400 years since then and the Earth has become a world based more on medieval times, but with a change: Magic and mythical monsters have become commonplace, with a multitude of kingdoms living in peace... That is, until a powerful wizard known only as Dark Schneider (D.S. for short) decided to start destroying the kingdoms for seemingly no reason other than destruction. During his adventures he gathered his Four Lords of Havoc, Ninja Master Gara, Thunder Empress Arshes Nei, the ice wizard Kall-Su, and the dark priest Abigail, and together they were close to their goal, until D.S. was killed by Great Priest Geo Nort Soto of Meta-Rikana. Fifteen years have since passed, and the Four Lords of Havoc are now at their closest to fulfilling their goal of creating a Sorcerer's Kingdom. All that remains are the four kingdoms that hold the four seals to Ansla-Sax, and with the kingdom of Judas destroyed Meta-Rikana is next on the list. With no choice left, Geo decides to unleash his trump card by having his daughter, Tia Nort Yoko, perform a virgin kiss to her childhood friend Rushe Ren Ren, so that she can unleash Dark Schneider, who was never killed but instead sealed inside Rushe. The only problem is whether or not D.S. is willing to help, though.

Bastard!! is an interesting mix of high-fantasy, violent action, & comedy, and it's that mix that brings out the best in Bastard!!, especially due to Dark Schneider himself. When the man is on screen he steals every scene, coming off as cocky, brash, sarcastic, & egotistical, yet at the same time, on the inside, you can tell that there is a caring human being in there... Somewhere. D.S. is truly a one-of-a-kind main character, and he knows it. When fighting the vampire Di Amon in episode 4, D.S. outright tells Di Amon that there is no way he can beat D.S., and that's because Di Amon is the burly, stupid, muscular villain who will never beat the suave, handsome, amazing main character of the story. Bastard!! knows when to be absolutely serious but when it doesn't have to be it's downright sarcastic about what it is, and D.S. is simply a ringleader that takes the viewer on a crazy train of a ride, complete with twist & turns here and there that you wouldn't necessarily expect. The action is wild, the comedy is great, and if you love D&D-style fantasy then you'll love seeing all of the different monsters that appear.

That's not to say that the rest of the cast doesn't pull their weight, though. Yoko is both tough but also vulnerable, knowing that she has a mission to do when she's called to do so but also knowing when she's over her head. Gara is both awesomely badass yet also amusing to watch. Much like D.S., there are moments that he knows that he's in a story and will even comment on it. For example, in the last episode he's called out on not killing the monster he's fighting when he had the chance, explaining that there's no fun in killing something off-screen before telling the viewer to keep watching. Arshes Nei is an interesting character in that she has loyalty to D.S., who took in her as a father but is also her lover, but at the same time is forced to have to kill him due to certain circumstances (i.e. it's a spoiler, so I won't tell). This makes her fights very emotional and the character does a great job bringing that out. There are also the secondary characters, like Von Jovina, Meta-Rikana's best knight who seemingly can never die, Lars, D.S.'s ultimate rival from 15 years ago who has been reborn as a small dragon, and even Geo himself who all have their little charms to them. The only real major character who doesn't get his big moment to shine is Kall-Su. Abigail does get the last episode to shine, but the most Kall gets is a few scenes where he's talking to Abigail as well as a short scene where he freezes the kingdom of Waitos-Neiki's castle.

But Kall-Su's lack of development is really due to a flaw with the OVA itself: It's technically unfinished. Now it's nowhere near as bad as the Nakoruru OVA since Bastard!! does have an okay stopping point, but Bastard!! was originally planned to be 8 episodes. Unfortunately, after the release of episode 6, production on episode 7 was being done until one of the higher-ups, possibly director Katsuhito Akiyama, was arrested. Admittedly, I'm not positive what the arrest was for but I remember reading once that it might have been weapons possession. Still, the arrest resulted in the OVA being cut short at 6 episodes. Though it does suck that this OVA is technically unfinished that shouldn't detract from being able to enjoy this anime, though, as it still tells a fully functional story from start to "finish"...  It just doesn't have 100% closure.

The OVA, though looking somewhat dated due to the time it was made, still animates really fluidly and looks really great now, 20 years later. Katsuhito Akiyama (Gall Force, Inazuma Eleven, Monkey Turn, Guyver TV) did a really great job here, maintaining the original manga's style and keeping everything moving at a great pace. There are some parts cut out, specifically the fights with female warriors Sheen Harri and Kai Harn, but what is adapted is done so with great accuracy. The music was done by the legendary Kohei Tanaka (GaoGaiGar, G Gundam, One Piece, Sakura Wars), and his epic style fits in really well with the world Bastard!! creates; Tanaka's orchestral pieces are simply amazing. There is no opening theme, per se, but the ending theme, "Monochrome Trouble" by Toshinori Yonekura, is possibly the raunchiest and dirtiest song ever associated with an anime... And I love it. With lyrics that translate to stuff like "The chain around your collarbone was a mess.  I fixed it with my tongue," there really isn't any hidden meaning here, and singing alongside the song is so much fun, even when you know it's so wrong. When the OVA was dubbed and released in North America Yonekura did perform the song in English, renamed "I'm In Trouble", but the lyrics were altered to be less raunchy and nowhere near as image-filled as "Monochrome Trouble". Still, "I'm In Trouble" is an enjoyable-enough version to listen to.

The Japanese cast does an excellent job here, headed up by Kazuki Yao's (Judau Ashta in Gundam ZZ, Shinobu in Dancougar, Franky, Jango, & Bon Clay in One Piece) performance as Dark Schneider. Yao's D.S. is so amazing that I can't imagine any other seiyuu delivering as good of a performance; he nails D.S.'s sarcasm, seriousness, silliness, cockiness, and badassery so pitch-perfectly. Yuka Koyama (Helena in Dead or Alive) does a great job as Yoko, bringing out the rough bitch that she can be while also showing her weak side just as well. Tessho Genda's Gara is done with a great gruffness that fits Gara's look and is a great example of Genda's ability to handle tough badasses. Rei Sakuma (Kazumi Amano in Gunbuster, Shampoo in Ranma 1/2) voices Arshes Nei, bringing out both a grown-up half-elf when she has to fight while also bringing out an innocent little girl when Nei is at conflict with her emotions. Toshihiko Seki (Kall-Su), Masami Kikuchi (Lars), Shigeru Chiba (Di Amon), & Ryuzaburo Otomo (Abigail) help round out an overall excellent cast.

That's not to say that the English dub is bad in comparison, though, since it's just about as good, and also amusingly filled with alternate stage names for some well-known actors. D.S.'s voice, for example, is credited as "James Penrod", who people might know better as Daran Norris, a.k.a. Vincent Volaju in Cowboy Bebop the Movie, Tasuki in Fushigi Yugi, and Cosmo in a small little Nickelodeon cartoon called The Fairly Oddparents... Yeah, D.S. = Cosmo, and Norris does a great job with Bastard!!'s lead character. Gara is voiced by "David Lucas", a.k.a. the legendary Steven Blum (Spike in Cowboy Bebop, Makoto Shishio in Rurouni Kenshin), and Blum delivers a great laid-back style to Gara. Yoko is voiced by Wendee Lee (Faye in Cowboy Bebop, Haruhi in The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya), and she delivers a great English counterpart to Sakuma's Japanese voice. The rest of the cast includes the likes of Richard Hayworth (Kall-Su), "Richard George", a.k.a. Richard Epcar (Abigail), & G. Gordon Baer (Von Jovina), and overall the English dub is definitely worth listening to as well.

This is the Limited Edition release, complete with an awesome figure & more artwork.

This OVA was licensed by Pioneer, before they became Geneon Entertainment USA, and was released across three VHS tapes back in 1999. In 2001, all 6 episodes were compiled onto one DVD in both a regular edition as well as limited edition that included Kotobukiya's D.S. Jugulator Ver. poseable figure. Unfortunately, Pioneer's DVD looks to be based off the VHS release, featuring English title screens for the episode titles, or simply hardsubbing the episode titles for episodes 1 & 6, as well as only having the credits & ending theme play after every even-numbered episode. Granted, it's nothing truly major, but it would have been nice to see the DVD release not have any of these edits retained. Also, if you haven't noticed from some of the terminology used for some of the characters & places, Bastard!! references heavy metal music a whole lot, & Pioneer's dub & subtitles altered the names of some references to make them less obvious. This is fairly annoying, as spells like "Megadeth" & "Helloween" become "Mega D'Su" & "Harowing", not to mention "Anthrasax" becoming "Ansla-Sax", "Bon Jovina" becoming "Von Jovina", or the kingdom of "Iron Maiden/Aian Meide" becoming "Iron Maydon". In my very first list of older anime that deserve license rescues I brought up the Bastard!! OVA, and it's stuff like this that makes me want to see this OVA re-released. Viz's release of the first 19 volumes of the manga uses its own spellings and variations on these references as well, leading to there not being any sort of consistency in naming, so a re-release could bring about some consistency, along with having the fixed video. As it is, you can get the DVD for a fair price still, though the limited edition easily goes for over $100 now. Also, Geneon did release the OST back in 2005, and that can be had for pretty cheap, too.

And this is the Japanese DVD cover...  I prefer what we got.

The Bastard!! OVA is a fun romp through a fantasy world that differentiates itself from the other types of fantasy worlds that exist in anime & manga. It's mix of violence, gore, comedy, fourth wall breaking, and general awesomeness makes it pretty original, even today, but it must be stated that this anime is only the tip of the insane iceberg that is Bastard!!. The Dark Rebel Armies story arc, which the anime adapts most of, is fun and enjoyable, but it's the story arcs that happen afterwards that truly make Bastard!! such an awesome fantasy manga. The story gets crazier and eventually apocalyptic, D.S. gets more foul-mouthed, violent, and womanizing, and the violence & gore level can sometimes give Berserk a run for its money. It's a shame that Viz isn't doing the Bastard!! manga anymore, and it's also a shame that Bastard!! only has this OVA in terms of anime adaptations. As it is this OVA is definitely worth hunting down and watching, but I'd ****ing kill for a new adaptation that goes even further into the story... Not to mention a license rescue of the manga, maybe by Dark Horse?

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