Netflix’s Bastard!! revival demonstrates how fantasy animation has evolved over time.

It's a retro anime in every (metal) manner that matters.

The recently released Bastard!! Heavy Metal, Dark Fantasy anime is essentially a sword-and-sorcery fantasy series condensed from the 1980s. Bastard!! follows the narrative of the antihero wizard Dark Schneider, who nearly destroyed the world by attempting to awaken the God of Destruction, Anthrasax, but is now striving to prevent it from happening again.

The Netflix series is a reboot/remake of a 1992 straight-to-video anime based on Kazushi Hagiwara’s 1988 manga, and it’s effectively a time capsule of the ’80s, featuring a lot of what was popular at the time — including the building blocks of “old-school fantasy animation.” To be clear, “old-school fantasy anime” does not merely refer to animated Japanese fantasy that was released prior to a certain, arbitrary date. It’s more of a distinct approach to fantasy and a certain manner of doing things that happened to be honed in the 1980s.So, using Bastard!! as an example, what exactly was the subgenre about? For starters, old-school fantasy anime tended to borrow heavily from other, mostly Western sources, as Bastard!! does with heavy metal and D&D.

The moniker “Dark Schneider” is derived from Udo Dirkschneider, a former member of the metal band Accept, and “Accept” is also the incantation that activates his abilities. Other musical references in Hagiwara’s book include Dark Schneider’s hallmark spell, Venom (like the English metal band), and the kingdom of Metallicana’s presence inside its world. The series also borrows heavily from Dungeons & Dragons, another ’80s staple, such as the demon Suzuki Dogezaemon, who is clearly modeled on the renowned Beholder from D&D.

However, the pattern may be traced back a bit further. Nans Satomi Hakkenden, a story of adventure, interwoven destiny, and other worlds, was one of the most popular Japanese fantasy books during the late Edo era (1603-1868). It and other nineteenth-century novels were influenced by Chinese epics such as Water Margin. And, as Japan’s borders were opened during the Meiji period, it began to draw influence from European and American fantasy fiction.

That’s why the very aptly named Warrior From Another World (1976) by Haruka Takachiho, the creator of Dirty Pair, who basically just retold John Carter with a high-school protagonist, was the first modern Japanese isekai novel about people being transported to a different world of fantasy. Even Aura Battler Dunbine, widely regarded as the first isekai anime (it debuted in the 1980s), draws inspiration from the West, with its European medieval setting and Nordic-esque aesthetic with a fantasy twist.

Netflix's Bastard!! revival demonstrates how fantasy animation has evolved over time.

Apart from the occasional D&D allusion, Bastard!! is also situated in your typical medieval fantasy setting, complete with castles, elves, knights, magicians, and monsters. Because of how traditional that scenario has grown over the years, it’s the same type of universe that other old-school fantasy titles like Berserk or Record of Lodoss War could easily take place in. This is less common in modern fantasy anime productions, which seek to create whole new worlds or base them on native Japanese culture.

You’d notice right away if Fullmetal Alchemist switched to the universe of Bastard!! It’s not only that their “timelines” don’t correspond. Sure thing, Bastard!! While FMA is set in a fictional Industrial Revolution age, some of the latter’s distant places have a medieval-esque look to them that may fit with characters like Dark Schneider. FMA, on the other hand, is quite particular in its world-building, continuously extending its fictitious universe by, for example, combining the genuine Rule of Equivalent Exchange (the anime’s equivalent of conservation of mass) with the reality of a godlike monster that really controls this physical law.When watching Fullmetal Alchemist, you always get the impression that there is so much more to this world that you can’t wait to learn more about it. At Bastard!! However, you’re told from the start that this is your standard-issue fantasy universe, and the only question you might have is, “So… will the dragons be black, red, gold, or some other color?”

Netflix's Bastard!! revival demonstrates how fantasy animation has evolved over time.

This isn’t a criticism of earlier fantasy anime. Working in a familiar environment requires you to flesh out your characters further or find another hook to assist your creation stand out. Bastard!! went with heavy metal, something few other series have done before or after, and it’s still being talked about over 35 years later.

Another feature that seems to identify old-school fantasy anime is the characters’ need for safety and security in civilization. In Bastard!!, the world is a wild, untamed realm full with horrible entities vying for your internal organs, similar to Berserk or Vampire Hunter D. Human-made cities are the only places where there is peace and stability. In Fullmetal Alchemist, the seemingly calm world of civilization, development, and technology is revealed to be a sham, a veneer that runs on blood and is governed from the shadows by dark forces at the very top.The Shield’s Ascension Hero, too, took its time deconstructing and exposing its standard fantasy world as a place where the ostensibly civilized humans are the true monsters. Demon Slayer, which is steeped in Japanese culture and history, even managed to capture the anxiety about the corrupting power of progress and modernity that has come to define contemporary fantasy animation by giving its main villain a distinct hat.

Netflix's Bastard!! revival demonstrates how fantasy animation has evolved over time.

There are several reasons why fantasy anime shifted gears like way, but the most likely one is because the world appeared to be a less total-crap-sack place 30 to 40 years ago (the ratio of crap to sack varied but never seemed to be one-to-one). Furthermore, the folks in charge appeared to be competent or at least following a set of regulations. That was not the case, of course, but with access to knowledge not being what it is now, it was simpler to believe the lie. And the collective delusion that mankind was staying together resulted in civilization being a safe haven in the world of anime, with all of its threats being “external.”

Human-made castles function as seals in Bastard!!, preventing the monstrous Anthrasax from rising and wiping out the entire world. In Death Note, however, it is the contemporary golden kid Light who emerges as the true monster, even when up against the genuinely gigantic death god Ryuk. In summary, the villain calls in current fantasy anime come from within the home.

All of these deconstructions and examinations of “who is the real monster” are standard fare in modern fantasy anime. Geopolitics, racism, and the broader concept of justice are all explored in shows like Fullmetal Alchemist, Rising of the Shield Hero, and Death Note. Bastard!! doesn’t. It’s loud, flashy, and a lot of fun, but it’s not very deep. Schneider actually turns a powerful sorceress into an ally in the new anime by giving her the biggest orgasm she’s ever had… by biting her ear.

Not long ago, fantasy was widely seen as more escapism-oriented (even if some of the most lasting fantasy stories definitely had some deeper parable to them). It was a way to decompress by watching a wizard yell Latin at a dragon and blow it up. That’s not to suggest that all old-school fantasy was shallow, especially in anime. Berserk, for example, is more than just a gore-fest about a crazed man with a razor (symbolic) surfboard strapped to his back, as it delves into topics such as the corrupting nature of power and how a life of vengeance is a life squandered.Even Bastard!! has moments that stand up to scrutiny, such as how Anthrasax was the result of scientists, magicians, and alchemists attempting to construct a weapon that would end all battles.

Again, the calendar does not define “old-school” and “current” fantasy anime. There would be no distinct current Japanese fantasy without certain programs and movies from the past trying out new things, such as creating their own distinctive worlds or occasionally drawing influence from Japanese culture.Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind and Sailor Moon come to mind, the latter mainly based on the legend of Princess Kaguya, one of the oldest Japanese mythology ever. “Old-school” Japanese fantasy is more of a state of mind, which is difficult to put into words by definition. Thankfully, Bastard!! features all of the subgenre’s most known cliches. Heavy Metal, Dark Fantasy, your one-stop shop for traditional Japanese fantasy, with one of the heaviest, most metal anime openers ever. What more could you want?

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