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The Fine Print
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Bastard!! © 1992 Kazushi Hagiwara / Shueisha
Heavy metal sorcery takes center stage in our look at anime's dark prince of spellcasting. By Benjamin Wright, with sorcerous backup from Michael O'Connell and Aaron Dawe
A hulking Minotaur cuts a bloody swath through legions of brave swordsmen, as deadly as if it had sprung fully formed from the pages of the Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual. Nobody can stop it, and all seems lost until a lone figure blocks its path. He is a tall, handsome man with long white hair, standing in front of a cowering, voluptuous princess. The majestic sorcerer readies a mighty spell... but wait a minute, he's totally naked! Too late to worry about that, though, as the mage eradicates the monster with a bellowed incantation - "Megadeath!!!"
What you've just read is standard fare for Kazushi Hagiwara's manga sensation, Bastard!!. Ostensibly named after the classic weapon of sword-and-sorcery tales - the Bastard Sword - the title could just as easily be applied to the story's hero, Dark Schneider. This white-haired rogue has thrilled Japanese readers for a solid 20 volumes now, and his adventures have also been animated as a six-part OAV series. With a new video game for the PlayStation now on sale in Japan, and its popularity growing with each manga volume, Bastard!! is "All That," and then some.
Like another battle-crazy and wildly-popular manga, however, Bastard!! can't be taken totally seriously. Akira Toriyama's world-famous Dragon Ball is a long, complicated, intense, and mega-violent story, but many of its heroes can be complete goofballs in a story that doesn't exactly shy away from slapstick, and everybody's name is a silly reference of some kind - usually to a vegetable. Similarly, Bastard!!'s story is long, complicated, intense, and mega-violent, but its hero is a major egotist, and everything in the comic is a reference to either Dungeons and Dragons or heavy metal music. Most of the incredibly destructive spells tossed around by DS and his peers are named after metal bands, including Slayer, Stryper, Guns N' Ro (Guns N' Roses), Venom, Accept, Exciter, "Hellion" (a Judas Priest song), Obsession, Mace, Kiss, Tesla, Riot, Accused, Raven, Exodus, and Megadeath, and take note that Lemmy of Motorhead was originally going to call his band "Bastard." Still, potential readers should be aware that it's not a comic for everyone, with T and A aplenty and blood and guts galore.
Jarring though it may be, this fusion of drama and irreverence is what makes Bastard!! work. While the comic may seem to be a big joke told at the expense of every fantasy story ever written, it's more than that. Bastard!! does indeed poke fun at the conventions and expectations of fantasy (and manga), but it escapes the danger of devolving into pure farce by telling a gripping story and populating it with fabulous characters in a myriad of intricate relationships. That way, its satirical edge translates as hipness rather than silliness.
The events of the Bastard!! manga take place in a classic sword-and-sorcery world, one which bears an almost actionable resemblance to that of the Dungeons and Dragons role-playing game. However, this fantastic world is actually a post-apocalyptic environment - it's our very own Earth, long after a malevolent deity has all but annihilated human civilization. Since that awful time, society has regrown and re-organized into a medieval structure, complete with kingdoms and castles, swords and soothsayers. The apocalypse also brought about the appearance of dragons and horrible monsters, and with technology having been all but lost, magic is the new weapon of war.
Fifteen years before our story begins, an evil sorcerer named Dark Schneider - also know as DS - and his Shitenno, or "Four Lords of Havoc," attempted to destroy the world. They were almost unstoppable, but the champions of the kingdom of Metallicana (Pioneer calls it "Meta-Rikana," but we all know what it's a reference to, don't we?) managed to force the mage's essence into the body of a baby named Rushe Renren. At the start of the manga (and video story), this boy is now a wide-eyed, tender teenager under the care of the curvaceous madien Tia Note Yoko, youthful daughter of Metallicana's high priest.
This new peace doesn't last. The mage's four generals soon reappear, now serving a demonic tyrant called Anthrasax (a.k.a. "Ansla-Sax"), and proceed to lay siege to the kingdom of Metallicana. Unable to counter the warriors' awesome power, the priesthood has no choice but to release the evil sorcerer Dark Schneider from his living prison in the desperate hope that he can save them from his own soldiers. DS can only be released from Rushe by the kiss of a virgin, and the pure Yoko is called upon to do her duty.
Dark Schneider rises again, and immediately demands vengeance from the priests for his imprisonment... but then he changes his mind and fights off the invading hordes. Was it simply the immediate threat which made him save his old enemies? No... having been inside Rushe for fifteen years, DS feels the same love for her that Rushe does. Having been turned into Metallicana's reluctant savior by his psychic connection with his "other half," Dark Schneider sets out to re-recruit his four generals (Gara, Arshes, Abigail, and Kall Su) and lead them against Anthrasax.
Dark Schneider is an evil wizard, being neither a typical hero nor a typical mage. Bearing no resemblance to the long-bearded, old-but-wise magicians we know from J.R.R. Tolkien stories, DS is tall, handsome, well-built, sports a mane of white hair, and spends a great deal of his time unabashedly naked (sometimes visibly aroused), even in battle! He's also physically violent, lecherous, foul-mouthed, and (for the D and D-minded, chaotically aligned. He used to be pure evil, but his fifteen year imprisonment within an innocent (and pretty much wimpy) boy has warped him into a conflicted man, one who must turn his hatred toward the evil he once embraced... all because he shares Rushe's adoration for 14-year-old Yoko! Arrrrrgh, he can't stand it!!
Schneider's evil half is actually in love with Arshes Nei, one of his former Four Lords of Havoc, but Rushe's feelings for Yoko are enough to let her push DS around, and he's constantly undecided as to which of the women he wants more. Even so, his insatiable lusts push him to drool over, chase after, and grope every pretty woman he meets (politicial correctness is not a high priority for DS - he is evil, after all).
The video's six episodes (three volumes from Pioneer) only cover the story up through the Four Lords of Havoc's battle against Abigail (about Volume 6~7 of the manga), suffice it to say that many spells are cast, many innards are spilled, and many virgins are deflowered. The manga, however, continues on for twice as many more volumes, and Hagiwara's artistic skills increase with each installment. In the story's early chapters, Hagiwara's greatest artistic influence seems to be Kimagure Orange Road's Izumi Matsumoto, but over time, Hagiwara's style evolved into a distinctive blend of exquisitely rendered sex and violence, detailed with layer after layer of screentone.
How to Get It
Excerpted from a longer article in Animerica Vol. 7, No. 2.