Anime Review: Rage of Bahamut Virgin Soul — Welcome to Hell

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Pre-Review Background

While Studio MAPPA is generally defined these days by Yuri on Ice, it was Rage of Bahamut: Genesis (and to a lesser extent Garo: The Carved Seal of Flames) that put them on the map for a lot of anime fans. The show wasn’t exactly a huge hit, but it ended up being a strong cult favorite that made many people’s top ten lists for that year, and has since grown into being one of the best action anime of recent times. So the inevitable cash-in sequel that exists solely to make the fans happy was made with all of the same people working on it except for the writer and a few other production team members that I’d rather not research because the fans who did ended up making a scapegoat out of some people that I’ve been told weren’t directly responsible for certain decisions. Then Anime Strike took the show hostage, causing discussion to lower and forcing anime fans to pirate the show whilst cursing Amazon for their greedy business practice.

But is the cursing towards Amazon actually warranted in regards to this particular show, or were their actions an act of mercy? Read on and find out.

General Plot

Ten years after the first series where the humans, angels, and demons banded together to seal Bahamut away, the kingdom of Anatae has become a place where demons are enslaved and/or stuffed under the rule of King Chaorice XVII. But none of that involves our main protagonist Nina Drango, a young bounty hunter who helps out around the town, is actually half-dragon, and can transform into a ferocious red killing machine whenever she gets horny enough (yes it’s as stupid as it sounds). However, said dragon powers attract the attention of last season antagonist and fan-favorite Azazel, who wants to use Nina in order to kill the king and end the discrimination that his friends are suffering from. Unfortunately, Nina ends up meeting the king in civilian clothes one day and falls in love with him, which leads to a series of events that involve many returning characters and a few new ones dealing with Chaorice’s tyrannical rule along with a hidden agenda that honestly anyone who’s familiar with the series should be able to predict by the halfway point.

The plot for this installment ditches the adventure aspect of the first season for more of a dirty kingdom vibe where you have a ruler you want to dethrone and a band of heroes fighting against his might. It also seems to be written for more of a female-oriented audience in mind, as there are a lot of tropes that appeal more to the fujoshi crowd this time, and Virgin Soul itself takes inspiration from lighter fantasy sources compared to its predecessor – specifically Disney Princess films and Fire Emblem. Well, the Fire Emblem thing is probably coincidental since this series is based off a card game and all, but I can definitely see Aladdin in this show. A lot of people have also told me that this sequel aims for more of a political vibe, but I never understood how you could see it that way because the characters barely talk about what it means to actually rule a kingdom or shed light on the inner dealings that Chaorice has to go through in order to run his colosseums. I’ve seen hippies with more of a political edge than Virgin Soul.

Personal Dissection

Let’s start with the good things about this anime first. First off, the animation is great. There are still episodes where obvious cost-cutting is done, the CG monsters look awful, and the twenty-second episode is a bit of a technical disaster, but for the most part, it’s a very consistent show with some great visual highlights. I really liked the climax around the halfway point when the characters mostly shut their mouths and let the action do the talking. The flashback to Jeanne’s past and Mugaro’s birth was cool. And when an important character dies just before the final act, I liked how the aftermath was conveyed with just orchestra for a few minutes.

The angels and demons are still unimaginative douchebags, but they are neatly designed. I liked Jeanne and how they detailed what she went through after the angels forsook her. Azazel, I only started liking in the second half when he faced up to how he got his friends killed in a quite frankly stupid plan he should have prepared better for. I know he’s a fan favorite and all, but I just find him completely stupid and unlikable in both Genesis and the first half of Virgin Soul. However, it was neat to see him grow into someone more humble eventually, so I’ll give the show props for getting me to warm up to someone I really couldn’t see the appeal of for a long time.

As for those Rage of Bahamut action scenes, they’re still good when they bother to show up. A shame that they very rarely show up in this installment. Most of the time when Nina transforms into a dragon, it’s only for a minute, and enemies attacking her suddenly gain the aiming abilities of Stormtroopers if they were put in an XCOM game. When she fights in her human form, assuming the show lets her, the action is shot too slapstick-y to take it seriously. And apparently, the animation team thought prioritizing budget on ballroom dancing, unfunny skits, beam spams, or just plain walking was a higher priority than having the characters kick some ass. To be fair though, the ballroom dancing does look good. I’ve seen a lot of Welcome to the Ballroom haters praising this show for actually animating the dance sequences, and it’s hard to disagree with them on that. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with focusing budget on the other two, as the skits were never that groan-inducing and I like to see characters soak up the setting.

However, with all that said, let’s get into the things I didn’t like about this show. And by that, I literally mean “everything else” to the point that I’m questioning where to start. First off, the pacing in this show is horrid. Those of you who think the first half was a great start for Virgin Soul obviously watched a different sequel than I did, because it was nothing but exposition, world-building, and that godawful “let’s make the audience think something is going to happen by constantly hinting at it whilst having these fun characters interact in a way that doesn’t advance the plot” mentality the entire way through. Rage of Bahamut was never good at dialogue-heavy stuff, so why on earth the continuation decided to rely on that to tell its story, I don’t know. Seriously, were people really entertained by that part in Genesis’s sixth episode when Jeanne gives a giant exposition dump to Favaro regarding her role as well as the history of the kingdom? I know I wasn’t, and that was pretty much the majority of Virgin Soul’s episodes.

And not only does it take forever for something to happen, but there are so many moments where the show is clearly padding for time in order to fill two cours, like when Azazel’s friends get massacred due to his poorly conceived plan and Nina reacts by examining the scene for a full minute before trying to turn into a dragon and failing, which goes on even longer. When the characters are thrown into prison, they’re stuck there for around four episodes due to repeatedly failed prison breaks and Favaro giving this story about how he met Nina, which doesn’t add anything to the plot and was cliched as hell to boot. And don’t even get me started on those numerous scenes showing demon carcasses for the sole purpose of saying “discrimination is bad” and nothing else. This is all first half stuff too. It gets even worse in the second half when large sections of the screen time are dedicated to building up the main romance, which only exists as an excuse for later plot twists because the writers thought that having the main villain be tight-lipped about the details of his plans until the finale was more important.

The plot itself is just really horrible. It’s a complete rehash of the first season only with more bloat, a smaller scope in terms of setting so we don’t get any sense of adventure, and really crappy anti-racism themes that are eventually dropped for a really crappy love story. But let’s start with the racism themes first. I don’t care how bad the demons were in the first season. What they did to humans then does not justify what humans do to them now, and the fact that the show goes so far to show how horrific the prejudice is with piles of demon child corpses and their bodies being used as trophies is just exploitative to me – especially considering the racism becomes forgotten later on.

There isn’t a single thing about racism told throughout the runtime that an elementary school kid wouldn’t know, and I’m sorry, but unless you’re at least the high school level, you shouldn’t be bringing up that sort of controversial subject matter. Why? Because it’s boring to be educated on something you’ve known since you were a little kid, and you risk becoming insulting to the the experts who go through their lives handling these sorts of heavy issues and don’t appreciate you downplaying their contributions.

It becomes particularly awful when it’s revealed that Chaorice doesn’t even really care about the persecution he’s allowing to happen. He’s just doing it as a side gig whilst working on his main objective, which I won’t spoil, but it’s completely obvious around the halfway point, especially since Rage of Bahamut is based on a card game and thus the narrative isn’t quite Witcher 3 levels of complex. And speaking of that objective, no amount of distrust can make me overlook the fact that there were so many better alternatives that didn’t involve massacring a large amount of people, and there was no reason he couldn’t just leave it to future generations to clean up the eventual mess either considering him and his grandchildren will most likely be dead of old age by then. Hell, even if communicating with the demons and angels would have been harder for Chaorice, at least it would have been more interesting to watch. In this time of paranoia, we could really use a story about addressing racism through language rather than violence. But no, he wants to get things done now because he has parental issues. Really cliched, really arbitrary, and really pathetic parental issues.

Honestly, my tolerance for the show was gone before the love story ended up sucking the life out of many hardcore Genesis fans, but let’s not downplay that tragedy either. Simply put, it was badly conceived. Trying to redeem a horrible mass-murderer by giving him a teenage love interest is fundamentally flawed in about a thousand different ways, and trying to make that the focus of the story would be awful no matter what the genre. But when it actively gets in the way of the action, the characterization, and the story progression, that’s when it truly gets obnoxious. There were so many bad things that wouldn’t have happened if Nina would just get over the fact that her first love was an asshole – and this is discounting that one time she couldn’t fight off some guys because some of them were too handsome. I know she’s a teenage girl, but I’m pretty sure most of that demographic would draw the line under their boyfriend trying to kill their friends multiple times. Hell, most real-life bad boys would understand that that’s going too far.

Speaking of Nina, you know all those criticisms people had of her character and how useless she is to the big picture, functioning as nothing more than the main antagonist’s morality pet? Well they’re all true. She never moves the story forward, her entire character revolves around being the main antagonist’s love interest, she only gets one satisfying fight scene, and the majority of the plot wouldn’t happen if she would just do something besides dress up Mugaro in drag. I’ve been informed that the reason people liked her at first was because of her mysterious dragon powers and how she could only transform if she got horny, which I never found to be the least bit funny. Also, are you fucking serious? Who cares if a person can turn into a dragon in the Bahamut world? That happens in fantasy stories all the time. It’s like getting excited when a man suddenly reveals he’s a robot in a sci-fi story.

But what really makes the love story so frustrating is that its ultimate goal is to have the audience on Chaorice’s side. And I’m sorry to those who like him, but I have no idea why anyone would want to support someone who thinks genocide and slavery are acceptable if it means conquering a greater evil. First off, it wasn’t a good idea when Code Geass R2 tried to make us sympathize with Lelouch at the very end. Second, when your only moral compass to the good side of this plan is a teenage girl you have no chemistry with AND NO ONE ELSE, you’re nothing more than one of those possessive assholes who can’t see beyond his own happiness. Third, it’s genocide and slavery. Even if trying to convince the gods and demons would have been harder, you know what else it would have been? A more interesting story that really delves into the gray areas of racism. It’s not like you guys would have been in a hurry either. There’s no way a certain seal would have become broken until at least several lifetimes.

You want to know what happens at the end of the series? Without spoiling too much, Chaorice gets what he wants in a really boring and really quick beam spam war, pays a price for that is in no way equivalent to the crimes he committed in order to achieve his goal, and everything gets swept under the rug with an overlong epilogue scene before ending on a cliffhanger that hints at an invalidation to everything the series has been building towards. Um, what the fuck? You’re telling me that everything the characters went through was all for nothing? I sat through twenty-four episodes of shitty humor, shitty romance scenes, shitty death scenes, and shitty character development for a story where nothing important happens by the end? I’m still recovering from Koi to Uso pulling this shit, Virgin Soul. I didn’t need you adding to the pain.

All of this leads to my biggest and most obvious problem with the anime: Virgin Soul is completely unnecessary. From the obvious padding to the lack of ambition in scope whether it be plot, character, or setting related, this sequel reeks entirely of an arbitrary cash-in rather than something the creators made because there was more story to tell. And there wasn’t either, which was why I never trusted it to begin with. Yes, Genesis had a lot of flaws that needed addressing and I don’t look too fondly on that show these days, but it also had plenty of fun parts and ended with all of the important characters having their arcs concluded. The only thing a continuation could possibly accomplish from that jumping point is compound on the faults and make things worse in the process.

Conclusion

Honestly, I’m done with anything Rage of Bahamut-related. I was never in love with this series to begin with, and the increasing decline in quality the longer it went on killed my interest in looking forward to anymore. The plot of this series has never been anything more than standard Japanese video game fantasy tropes spruced up with well-animated set pieces, and when the set pieces aren’t there, the show just gets so boring with its “we need to band together to stop a greater evil” plot beats. Yes, those Tales games set the standards for that…more than a decade ago. You’d think we would have evolved our anime fantasy plots into something more substantial now, but then again, Anime Strike has been setting the fandom back to the age of fansubs, so progress is a bitch.

I was never excited for Virgin Soul from the start because continuations to a self-contained anime have never been good, but this series was just worse than I was expecting. So little action. So much padding. Poor handling of its anti-racism themes. Pretty much hated every character aside from Rita after I was done with it. And it wasn’t funny either. The only reason I finished it is because I’m used to watching bad shows and the animation occasionally did something cool. Plus, I was curious regarding what a continuation of this franchise would actually accomplish. I didn’t like the result from the very start, but I kept going, hoping it would defy expectations in some way. And it did at times, but more often than not it would just get stupider and stupider to the point that I really wanted to stop watching. It really got that tedious. Seriously, fuck the person who decided this show should have been twenty-four episodes long.

On the whole, this sequel was just a waste of time, and I want everything related to this franchise to stay as far away from me as possible. And I’m not attempting to brag here either. I really wanted to like Virgin Soul despite my reservations. I wanted it to fix the mistakes from the first Rage of Bahamut and truly become that special blockbuster anime it never quite achieved. But if this is the answer that the production team gives me, then this series has truly run out of ideas.

Additional Quips

  • Also, I’d advise against online discussions for this show because sooner or later, they devolve into invoking Godwin’s Law.
  • So who wants to buy a Rage of Bahamut: Genesis blu-ray from me for thirty bucks?
  • To the people asking if this is as bad as Eureka Seven Ao, answering that would require me to rewatch that show and I’m obviously not going to do that. Psycho-Pass 2 might be worse, but it’s also a lot shorter.

4 responses to “Anime Review: Rage of Bahamut Virgin Soul — Welcome to Hell

  1. In hindsight, it was a good idea for you to cancel the let’s watch of this show, since there would be nothing to talk about, unfortunately.

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