Fall 2014 wasn’t a great season by any means, but in addition to the expected sublimity of Mushishi Zoku Shou, it was partially redeemed by two surprises that couldn’t have been more different. Gugure! Kokkuri-san looks like it will sell around 4500-5000 in the first volume – not bad at all for such an oddball of a show – and if Stalker is right, Shingeki no Bahamut may actually do a bit better than that. The ending of the series was fitting in many ways, and hopefully the “I’ll be back” end card will be prophetic.
When I say “surprises” I really mean it, because both these series were off my radar screen prior to the start of the season. I wouldn’t say either of them were classics, but both of them were highly entertaining and very successful at telling their story – in the case of Gugure! a bittersweet comedy adapted from an ongoing manga, and in Bahamut an “adaptation” that may as well have been an original. Being derived from a card game it was obvious huge changes would be necessary, and I think it’s better to view Bahamut as being for all intents and purposes an original series.
I think this show got the ending that every good anime deserves, but very few get. It had plenty of action without stepping on the character moments. It struck a perfect balance between tragic and happy (though the shippers might not think so) in giving us real sacrifice without it encompassing the entire cast. It was exciting and involving from start to finish, and as with most of Bahamut it was executed with a great deal of flair and style. And if it was mostly predictable in terms of the seeming mysteries of the plot, that kind of fits the series’ vibe of an old-school Hollywood epic anyway.
You don’t get a chance to use words like “epic” too often with TV anime, but I’ve wanted to more often with Bahamut than with any series since Zetsuen no Tempest, probably. This was a show that never stopped going big – lots of shouting, lots of crashes and fireballs, giant Cthulhu airships, Gods and Demons fighting over a plot with the fate of the entire world at-stake. The visuals were big, the emotions were big, and the soundtrack from Ike Yoshihiro – maybe the season’s best – soared to match them at every turn.
The finale was pretty self-explanatory – and mostly lacking in surprises – but the joy was in watching it play itself out. Lavalley turns out not just to be a bad guy, but the bad guy – Martinet himself, pulling everyone’s strings (even Beelzebub’s). And we get Gilles de Rais’ name dropped in anime again (I admit I didn’t specifically see that coming). Favaro did indeed turn out to be the fated knight (Jeanne looked pretty bummed). Kaisar’s bounty hunter wristband did indeed prove key in apprehending Martinet. And Kaisar did have a trick up his sleeve when he shot Favaro – an antidote-tipped crossbow bolt.
That last bit somehow suits the nature of Kaisar and Favaro’s friendship perfectly – one shoots the other in the chest to save him, and in return the other chops the first one’s arm off to save the world. Amira and Rita had their moments, and Amira and Favaro as a couple too (including a very tender one here) but in the end Bahamut was really a buddy picture about two mismatched heroes and their love-hate relationship. It was fitting that it should end in the way that it started – with the two of them riding across a causeway – and that we got a couple of final “Favaro!” in before the final whistle.
The only real downer here, then, is the fate of Amira – though things looked pretty bad for Favaro there when Bahamut self-destructed and we never did find out how he survived (though light one leg, to match Kaisar’s arm). I hated to see her (seemingly) go, but this is the sort of series where a happy ending for everyone feels like a bit of a cop-out. And I thought Amira was sent off in grand style with that final conversation and kiss with Favaro (try not to thing about her chronological age). Like pretty much everything else in Bahamut it had the feel of a movie ending from the middle of the last century, and not a hair of it seemed out of place – right down to the movie-style credits crawl we got after the epilogue.
It would be too dismissive to call Shingeki no Bahamut a simple pleasure, but it’s certainly a very straightforward show. A good old-fashioned swashbuckler with a rogueish hero, a damsel-in-distress, a delicious stew of myriad mythologies and a great friendship as its spine. It’s nice to see MAPPA involved in a series that looks as if it might actually make a few Yen, and they did stellar work here – clearly Cygames and the production committee felt comfortable that the promotional value of this show would be considerable, because the budget was commensurate. Big budgets don’t always equal big production values though, and director Satou Keiichi and his ultra-experienced team imbued the entire enterprise with a great sense of hybridized anime-Hollywood style. This series was a blast, and one of the real pleasant surprises not just of Fall but of 2014 – and here’s hoping there’s a few more “Favaro!” in our future.