Bastard!!: Heavy Metal, Dark Fantasy 2022: Dark Schneider’s ‘manliness’ scandalizes oblivious spectators, cheers up ‘retro’ role-players

Dark Schneider, as depicted in the 2022 Bastard!!: ONA series. Pic credit: Liden Films/Netflix.

The latest anime adaptation of the Bastard!!: Heavy Metal, Dark Fantasy (BASTARD!! -暗黒の破壊神-) manga by Kazushi Hagiwara that has been on hiatus since forever (2010) is out and about. Well, the first cour is. When the second one will stream is yet to be announced.

Still, what has been made available is illustrative enough; if you haven’t seen Bastard!! yet, expect plenty of nudity, arrogance, heavy metal, and cheesy pick-up lines. Bastard!!: Heavy Metal Dark Fantasy is inspired by (Advanced) Dungeons and Dragons after all, and that’s exactly what role-playing AD&D is like… or used to be.

There’s no reason why the second cour would be any different, so if you like the first 13 episodes, look forward to the continuation. If you don’t, better give up the idea of the anime changing its course because it won’t… and it sure as hell shouldn’t.

To put things into perspective, the first chapter of the Bastard!! manga was published in the previous millennium, specifically in 1988 when there was no internet and role-playing was a pioneering project. The times were different then, and so were the people.  

Fast forward to the present time on steroids with very different people and one might rightly wonder whether the remake of the original Bastard!! anime OVA (1992/93) will manage to withstand the test of time.

From obscurity to mainstream: Evolution of RPGs

To be fair, RPGs have changed as well (“evolution” is not necessarily the right term). They now need to accommodate a far larger audience with rather divergent tastes since hobbies have been violated in order to fit into the entertainment industry.  

More or less, everything has been molded into one industry or another, inescapably pushing people to more uniform viewpoints and a generalized goal — being better than the competition. That is not the genuine premise of RPGs (even though it may appear otherwise to an unaware mind).    

Thus, RPG systems are falling victim to the trend, having become a slaughterhouse of sorts, with players thinking more of how to level up faster than how to enjoy role-playing while leveling up.

The original D&D was published nearly half a century ago (1974), when role-players enjoyed socializing and brainstorming ideas rather than being better than others. If anything, they were forming companionships where players complemented one another.

The latest, fifth edition, debuted in 2014. Merely by looking at the respective Player’s Handbook covers, you can observe how the trends have changed from fun to strictly business (leveling up, in this case). Anime have undergone a similar makeover (refer to the ikemen culture explained below).

AD&D Players Handbook, 1st edition, 1974 (left), and AD&D Player’s Handbook, 5th edition, 2014 (right). Pic credit: Forgotten Realms Fandom.

To top it off, the passing of time brings forth some other unavoidable challenges as well, repetition not being the least significant. Leaving occasional deviations aside, half a century of extravagant magicians, badass fighters, self-righteous clerics, zealous paladins, and a whole slew of other classes and sub-classes has made the genre lose much of its original appeal, particularly because role-playing has been made mainstream and recycled in every format imaginable.

From the Gorgon to the catoblepas: overactive imagination meets fantasy RPGs

Moreover, fantasy RPGs have never been flawless… far from it!

To begin with, the whole problem with fantasy is that — unlike other genres of fiction— it blends apples and oranges without consulting common sense because literally anything goes. The more-the-merrier concept capable of fulfilling any and all role-players’ fantasies coupled with the changing trends and tastes has resulted in a mish-mash of settings (AD&D’s Forgotten Realms is just one of many) populated with eccentric adventurers and a menagerie that, for the most part, serves the sole purpose of PCs’ leveling up.

Many of the “monsters” (per AD&D’s definition) come from mythologies of various cultures but have either lost their original traits or have been given additional ones to make them into something entirely different… which is not necessarily bad as long as there is a shred of solid reasoning behind it. Sadly, most of the time there isn’t.

The catoblepas is one notable example. Originally, it stayed true to Pliny the Elder’s original, resembling a cape buffalo with a head always pointing downwards due to its weight. The catoblepas petrifies anyone it casts its gaze upon (sort of an African variant of the Greek gorgon, minus the snakes), and that should be terrifying enough, but no!

Over the years, the AD&D’s version of the catoblepas has had to evolve from a deadly cape buffalo to something that appears to be a mixture of a gnu, hippopotamus, warthog, and a lizard that is admittedly still deadly, but adventurers may simply feed it some eldella ferns (don’t google it; it’s fictional!) and its gaze will be rendered useless. Easy-peasy! Fast level up!

The catoblepas, Jan Jonston, “Historia naturalis de quadrupedibus,” Amsterdam 1614 (left) and the catoblepas, as depicted in AD&D (right). Pic credit: Wikimedia Commons and Forgotten Realms Fandom, respectively.

When PCs aimlessly wander about looking for the next target, where’s the joy in role-playing?

Not to mention that AD&D is one of the most unrealistic RPG systems. I.e., when the player accumulates sufficient HPs (hit points), they may fall from an 83-ft-high castle right on a spike and survive in one piece — they just need to rest up to replenish HPs! A high-level warrior may kill off entire villages single-handedly no matter how many people are attacking him/her simultaneously as long as he/she takes care not to fall below 1 HP, and so on.

How is all this relevant?

Bastard!! features multiple high-level characters, so if you’re expecting them to be mere mortals who defy the rules of AD&D, you’ll be disappointed. And, yes, there’s a curious menagerie straight from The Monstrous Manual (or The Monster Manual, depending on which AD&D edition you prefer). Apples and oranges at their best, especially when spectators are unfamiliar with fantasy RPGs.

Beholders, AD&D, 2nd edition (left) and Suzuki dogezaemon, Bastard!!’s variant of the beholder (right). Pic credit: the D&D official website and Liden Films/Netflix, respectively. Trivia: Suzuki dogezaemon was originally named ‘beholder,’ but the Japanese AD&D publisher issued a complaint, which caused a huge shock at the time. Hagiwara then changed the monster’s name to ‘Suzuki dogezaemon,’ saying he was inspired by his editor Suzuki doing a dogeza. However, the editor’s name wasn’t Suzuki and he didn’t do dogeza at all, so it turned out to be a pun.

Bastard!!, heavy metal, and scandalized digital souls

Hence, the right question here is: do new generations actually grasp the whole idea behind the flamboyance of fantasy role-playing? (Note the term “fantasy;” not all RPG systems follow as flashy a pattern as fantasy RPGs do.)

Or rather: is there still any point in cheering on the concept of the original fantasy RPG systems in the digital era?

Perhaps the Bastard!! ONA may serve as an experiment. From what I have seen so far, reviews range from a “cliché plot” to “over-the-top voice acting” to “a nonsensical amount of injuries (and blood loss) casually sustained by characters.”

Except, the first was altogether common for fantasy RPGs when the manga launched, the second aligns  with now middle-aged role-players who are show-offs by definition, and the latter is perfectly compliant with the AD&D rules as explained above, so Kazushi Hagiwara is not to blame.

Affix to that “ecchi humor” (and plenty of hot scenes to boot, I might add) and “the essence of manliness furiously emanating from most of the male cast” and you’ll get a fairly good explanation of Bastard!!.

Spice it up with heavy metal and some notable icons of the genre (King Diamond, for example) and — et voilà!

Bastard!! ONA’s Di-Amon (top) and King Diamond (bottom). Pic credit: The Bastard!! Official Website and Arrow Lords of Metal, respectively.

To get an idea of what the fusion of fantasy RPG and heavy metal could do to a fan back when the Bastard!! manga was just starting out and what I mean by “flamboyance” and a “show-off,” take a look at a typical Manowar promo:  

An 80’s Manowar promo. The band embraces the sword and sorcery sub-genre of fantasy and has maintained a strong cult following over four decades. Pic credit:

All of the above-mentioned is — as you hopefully may predict at this point — typically more than welcome by old-school role-players (I’m guessing Manowar members would concur), because when they started role-playing it wasn’t clichéd — it was challenging, liberating, and improper enough to make anyone’s parents infuriated.

That is what rock & roll (and heavy metal, by extension) is all about, too. “If it doesn’t upset people, it’s not rock music,” as Type O Negative’s Peter Steele used to say.

So, make no mistake about it, Bastard!! is expected to do exactly that — challenge the rigid thinking patterns, upset your parents, and scandalize delicate spectators. Seems to me it’s doing a hell of a good job!

Mainstream anime and changes in perception

As you already know, the first Bastard!! anime adaptation aired in 1992 and 1993. Back in the day, neither RPGs nor anime were mainstream. The 6-episode anime series was licensed by Pioneer Entertainment in 1998 and released on three VHS set tapes. The series was re-released on DVD in 2001, which is to say it was popular enough outside of Japan to deserve another go at younger audiences.

With the rise of the internet and anime (and pretty much everything else) becoming mainstream, the market has since been flooded with diverse renderings of most curious combinations, often coupling stereotypes with consumerism in a bewildering manner and poor taste. The infodemic has made the masses stupefied rather than liberated and neither role-players nor anime fans are an exception.

Thanks to that, the fantasy RPG platitude “anything goes” has reached new heights, blowing Bastard!! out of proportion in turn.  

Thirty years after the original animation was made and twelve years after the manga went on hiatus, Bastard!! is back once more to shock the audience… except, the momentum is lost never to return. King Diamond is an old man now, half of the spells referencing heavy metal classics of the past era are lost on the youngsters, and after all the anime the world has seen, Bastard!! is now being dismissed as a cliché.

What’s more, “manliness” has become derogatory, role-players of today are not the show-offs of Dark Schneider’s type like their predecessors, and I wouldn’t be surprised if women’s rights movements took offense at half-dressed female characters crushing on the male heroes.

For, that’s how they used to be called originally — heroes.

The heroes of today are completely different. Bastard!! parades a slew of heroes (and anti-heroes, for that matter) of the past millennium, so how is the anime expected to stand out, let alone withstand the test of time?

I’d venture a guess that middle-aged role-players into anime would rejoice… probably. If nothing else, as time goes by, everyone inevitably gets started on the “things were better when I was young” mantra.

However, there’s a problem there, too. Judging by the ikemen culture having been administered to Bastard!! by the book, the ONA is obviously aiming at audiences unfamiliar with the original animation.

The ikemen culture is not particularly popular among older anime fans and, ultimately, the whole point of a remake is to attract new audiences. So, where’s the catch?

I might be being too naïve, but given the latest developments regarding Hunter x Hunter, perhaps Kazushi Hagiwara is planning to resume the Bastard!! manga after 12 long years?

Wishful thinking, probably. The reason is likely the prospective profit, as per usual, based on the success of “Stranger Things,” but hope dies last.

Lecherous Dark Schneider meets the ikemen culture

So, what exactly is the ikemen culture?

The term “ikemen” (イケメン) literally means “good looking men.” The entire Japanese pop culture has been infested with it and anime haven’t been spared. Specifically, the ikemen culture underlines the feminine qualities of good looking men that balance out their masculine qualities. This applies to both the looks and the psyche.  

When you know that, it should become transparent how “the essence of manliness” (not to be confused with “toxic masculinity”) has become outdated.

You’ll have a difficult time finding newer anime featuring male characters who are depicted realistically. I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered Gangsta (2015); Golden Kamuy also comes close, appearance-wise. Apart from these two, nothing else comes to mind (don’t get me started on AoT; compare the manga and the anime and you’ll see beautification en masse).

Pretty much all anime that don’t comply with this pattern are now being labeled “retro,” so the original Bastard!! animation wouldn’t stand a chance in 2022.

The Bastard!! remake thus shows more attractive characters with fewer clothes (sometimes without any clothes, as a matter of fact), but the updated design doesn’t change the fact that the characters originate in the late eighties of the previous century, and so do their brain patterns.  

Dark Schneider, as depicted in the 1992 Bastard!!: OVA series (left) and Dark Schneider, as depicted in the 2022 Bastard!!: ONA series (right). Pic credit: Anime International Company and Liden Films/Netflix, respectively.

Hats off to Liden Films for staying true to the original manga!

Dark Schneider may be more “polished” in appearance, but his psyche thankfully remains unchanged. In that, at least, fans of the manga may find satisfaction: he’s perfectly flamboyant, arrogant, politically incorrect, loud, and retains his six packs (which he displays left, right, and centre).

A perfect depiction of the womanizer who is building a harem and has no problem uttering something along these lines matter-of-factly:

“I’m not some impoverished groveling commoner, you know? I was chosen by the gods. A handsome hero blessed with dazzling beauty. My power is on a whole different level and I will rule the world.”

Too clichéd?

You just have to hand it to AD&D for enabling a meager mage to build a warrior physique and develop a delusion of grandeur… which in the end turns out perfectly normal in that rootin’-tootin’ setting!

And if you can’t make head nor tail of this gallimaufry, that’s fantasy role-playing for you!

Bottom line, whether you like or dislike Bastard!!, one thing is certain: the ONA will invoke a strong emotional response. The spectrum it ends up on is up to your sensibilities. Watch at your own risk… and enjoy, if you can! As for myself, I loved every minute of it.

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