The Series' Origin and the Real-World History Behind it
Shingeki no Bahamut: Genesis, or Rage of Bahamut, began life as a digital card game that came out in early 2012, although you wouldn't think that just by watching it. The game exploded into popularity, dominating the Top Grossing Chart in the US App Store several months after its release in February, and it has consistently remained popular outside of Japan. The game itself revolves around choosing a side between Men, Gods, and Demons, and adventuring around the world of Mistarcia in search of cards to do battle against other players.
While the show is a direct adaptation of the setting, Rage of Bahamut: Genesis is actually a prequel to the events of the card game, taking place an unspecified amount of years before. However, there are nods to the show's origin backstory with the bounty hunters, who using magical bracelets gifted to them by their boss Bacchus, capture their bounties by turning them into cards for easy transport. It's a minor detail, but one that players of the original card game might appreciate.
Even though the card game is the primary source material, both the game and show pull heavily from real-world mythologies and folklore, primarily Biblical and Middle-Eastern in origin. The titular character, Bahamut, is named after an immense fish in Arabic mythology that was so large that it took more than three days for its head to simply pass you by. The Arabic version seems to have none of the blatant maliciousness of the anime version, however, instead taking the role of the supporting the earth. This is in direct contrast to anime-Bahamut, who wants to destroy everything.
All of the angels are taken directly from Biblical lore, although in the cases of Raphael, Uriel, and Gabriel they have been gender-swapped for no readily apparent reason besides to make things more interesting. Even Michael, the one good angel that remains male, looks androgynous to such an extent that some viewers of the series may easily mistake him for a woman. As for the demons that retain angelic names, Lucifer is one that everyone can recognize, although he is an entirely separate character from Satan in the series. Ironically, for such a meaningful and major name, his role is very minor in comparison to the weaker and lesser-known Azazel, the fallen angel that represents scapegoats, one of the primary antagonists in the series who even has his own character arc.
Azazel's top two henchmen, Pazuzu and Cerberus, hail from different mythologies. Pazuzu, a giant, lion-headed demon, is actually very close to his original depiction in Assyrian and Babylonian folklore, where he was the king of demons of the wind. In Cerberus' case, however, there's a bit of a departure. Instead of the three-headed dog that guards the gate to the Underworld in Greek mythology, Rage of Bahamut gives us a scantily-clad girl with a couple of dog sock-puppets that serves as her other two "heads".
As for other gods in the story, Zeus and Odin appear, the patriarchal heads of the Greek and Norse pantheons respectively, though only in the prologue. Bacchus, one of the more consistent characters, is named after the Roman god of wine and revelry, which should come as a surprise to absolutely no one.
However, Rage of Bahamut doesn't only pull from mythological sources when fleshing out its world. Jeanne D'Arc is similar in almost every way to the famous Maid of Orleans who fought during the Hundred Years' War, aside from the magical spear that shoots beams of holy light to rain death on demons.
Pictured left: Cerberus
Some may want to call the series out at this point for being unoriginal with the sheer amount of figures pulled from history and mythology, but this actually works in Rage of Bahamut's favor. Using these famous names instantly attaches personalities and expectations onto these characters, due to their associations, which allows the audience to connect to this new and fantastical world right off the bat. While Pazuzu and Bacchus may not be household names, almost everyone around the world has at least heard of the likes of Zeus, Odin, and the angels for those with a passing knowledge of the Abrahamic faiths.
What Makes Rage of Bahamut Unique
Well, first off, it has one of the most metal openings in almost all of anime.
Besides that, initially it may seem like Rage of Bahamut is just another generic fantasy anime, but that quickly proves to be a false assumption. The first thing that will stand out is the animation. Every episode has top-notch quality that makes for both impressive backdrops and fluid motion. The characters are expressive in a way that isn't typically found in anime, thanks in part to an art style that drifts away from the more common styles seen in modern anime.
So, Rage of Bahamut has style, but what about substance? Sure, it looks pretty, but is the narrative interesting enough to make one actually care about what's happening on-screen, or are people only going to watch for the eye candy? Thankfully, Rage of Bahamut has both style and substance in spades, thanks primarily to the main four characters.
What sets these four apart from the lead protagonist groups in other anime is what connects them, especially in the beginning of the series. More specifically, instead of love or duty, they are instead tied together by a messy web of misunderstandings. Favaro, the main protagonist, doesn't experience love at first sight when he meets the beautiful and mysterious waif Amira; he begins to plot how to make a quick scam out of her. Rita the zombie necromancer girl chooses to aid Kaisar whenever she can, but since Kaiser's actions are the reason for her zombification, he doesn't understand her motivation behind helping him.
Misunderstandings are what keeps the protagonists connected throughout the story. Watching all four stumble through those misunderstandings and into each other is a delight to watch and part of what makes Rage of Bahamut so unique from others in its genre. They're also all presented with having as many weaknesses as they do strengths, and not just in terms of combat ability. Amira's childishness is presented as both endearing and bothersome, sometimes flipping within the span of a single minute. Favaro has a strange sense of pride that gets him into almost as many situations as it gets him out of, and Kaisar's inner conflicts can either hinder him greatly or make him shine above everyone else.
If there is one thing I had to point to if pressed to explain what makes Rage of Bahamut so unique, it would be its characters. Another point in its favor, if people don't feel like watching a long series or simply don't have the time, is that it's short and sweet, clocking in at just twelve episodes that tell a concise and riveting story.
If you've already watched Rage of Bahamut and want something similar, then frankly there isn't a whole lot out there that's exactly the same. However, there are still plenty of shows with a fantasy setting and based around strong characters, the first of which that comes to mind is Ookami to Koushinryou. Both have similar premises, with a mostly-average human man running into a supernatural woman that he then travel the world with, but Ookami to Koushinryou's appeal comes more from the conversations and in-depth looks at medieval economy, which is in stark contrast to Rage of Bahamut with its heavy focus on action and thrilling escapades. Still, both shows are highly entertaining in their own ways.
If action is something that you desperately need while searching for something like Rage of Bahamut, then there's a little show called Shingeki no Kyojin that you might have heard about over the past few years. While both shows take place in fantasy settings and have a big focus on action sequences, they're fairly different otherwise. Still, the similarities are close enough that you won't be getting a completely different experience.
In terms of narrative structure, Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica comes to mind as one of the most similar to Rage of Bahamut. Both shows have a strong cast of characters that are fueled by their misunderstandings of both their circumstances and each other, both shows have a ton of fantasy action, and both shows are short, telling their stories quickly and brilliantly. If you haven't seen it already, Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica is an anime I highly recommend.
Who is Rage of Bahamut's Audience?
I've heard Rage of Bahamut described as "Pirates of the Caribbean meets Diablo", so if that sounds like something you'd dig then this show is absolutely for you and you can skip the rest of what I have to say. If you want more of an explanation, then read on.
High fantasy sometimes suffers from a lack of direction, and I say this as an avid fan of high fantasy. The narrative gets too caught-up in showing off the more fantastical aspects of the world without grounding it in a way that helps the viewer feel like the world actually exists. Characters feel stilted and don't act like how you'd expect real human beings would. The list goes on.
Rage of Bahamut is for people that want a high fantasy story filled with characters that resonate with them. Even Rita the undead child feels more human than several "human" anime protagonists I could mention. When I say human, I'm referring to having a collection of strengths, faults, and personal desires that drives them and makes them feel like a living, breathing person. You know, like anyone you'd meet in real life.
Feel free to watch this with a significant other or like-minded friends, since there's something for everyone to enjoy in the young adult crowd. I'll also go ahead and say that if you have a child with a vivid imagination or love for fantasy, then go ahead and watch this with them. I do suggest some adult supervision, however, since there are sometimes some unnecessarily long shots of Cerberus in a compromising position. That's as bad as it gets, though, and it's really not that big of a deal.
Is Rage of Bahamut a perfect show? Of course not, and perfection is completely subjective, anyway. But if there's one thing I want you to know about Rage of Bahamut, it's that the series is flat-out fun, which is important. If you're looking for fun, then give it a shot. You won't regret it.