Review/discussion about: Shingeki no Bahamut: Virgin Soul
Shingeki no Bahamut: Virgin Soul turns the phrase “a helping hand” into a reality with Rita and the literal one she keeps at her side. Granted, it’s technically Kaizer’s, but he’s a happy, helpful little guy regardless. As for Virgin Soul itself, it could have also used a helping hand. For, while certain parts receive a thumbs up, earning two (let alone three) thumbs up is sadly not in its palm reading.
The first season of Shingeki no Bahamut (subtitled Genesis) surprised pretty much everyone when it first landed on the community’s lap back in Fall 2014. Based on a mobile card game, people (maybe rightfully so) expected failure for the project before it even released. Instead, it shattered preconceptions, becoming one of the best fantasy-adventure anime in recent times with its lovable characters, diverse set pieces, and awesome production values.
This introduction is necessary because Virgin Soul – the sequel to the original and the anime-of-the-day today – incurred expectations in the other direction. People were no longer skeptical of the premise; they wanted more of the same. Strangely enough, the show almost seems to have predicted that these thoughts would be the case, for the anime itself likewise goes in the complete opposite direction.
The most obvious detail is that the main character is now female (Nina) rather than male (Favaro). Moreover, Nina does not get her own set of new companions but instead shares time alongside both sides: the majority of the major players from the previous season and the new ones from this season.
It goes much deeper than just the protagonists, though. For instance, the scope of adventure has been tuned way down since nearly the entire story takes place in, around, or goes back to the capital of Anatae rather than across multiple, singular areas. The humans (with Charioce at the helm) square off against the angels and the demons simultaneously rather than everyone eventually working together to save the world. Bahamut himself is now a footnote as the conflicts which matter most are mostly interpersonal rather than situational. And the outcome for the main pairing reverses in the end (with some notable sacrifices as compensation).
Other examples exist, but those presented above should suffice in revealing how Virgin Soul clearly wishes to separate itself from the notion that this sequel is a replica of the original. Better yet, it succeeds.
The narrower setting provides a more grounded feeling for its scenes and its thematic ideas on racism. The separation of humans, angels, and demons forms separate subplots which explore their sides to a larger degree. The reduced presence of Bahamut in the writing places greater variety and different insights into the plights and the backgrounds of its characters. And the ending as is leads to a definitive conclusion for this specific tale in-universe rather than leaving it open-ended (which the post-credits scene suggests being the case in hindsight).
Not to say that the anime completely foregoes its origins. Screams of “Favaro!”, while not as prominent, still creep in time and again. And the fantastical elements persist within places like Nina’s hometown or in relation to the magical warfare conducted. In this way, the anime appeals to its roots but refuses to succumb to narrative repetition from said roots.
So, yes, Virgin Soul is very much a new entity. And, as the first half of its run demonstrates, it revels in this differentiation. Unfortunately, with double the number of episodes (yet another distinction between both seasons), the show incurs double the number of chances for potential problems – problems which it ultimately encounters in the back half of its run.
For starters, the show just sort of forgets to explain a lot of its throughputs or outright drops some of its ideas. Particularly, the important thematic concepts with the demons and their mistreatment fizzles out after Azazel’s uprising does the same. Worse still, poor explanations (last-minute or otherwise) come off as either incredibly questionable or ridiculously unreasonable, especially regarding the grand underlying scheme. And the character moments do not have the necessary gravitas to back up the drama and the setup which preceded them.
Despite its shortcomings, the anime still dishes out some ambitious battle scenes, and its strong comedic style weaves in and out of the story per usual. Unfortunately, its follow-through just doesn’t quite reach where it needs to be, leaving the audience wondering what could have been.
ART & ANIMATION
Arguably speaking, the artistic merit within Virgin Soul represents its strongest aspect. Two key features of the artistry stick out the most: the background art itself and the cinematic techniques employed.
Despite the fewer number of topographical locations, the anime often includes fantastic set pieces with a large amount of detail and a grand sense of scale. These backgrounds may involve a high-rise view of the capital and its slums. They may also involve picturesque scenes of the nighttime sky. They may even involve establishing shots of heaven or the dragons’ domain. Whatever the case may be, Virgin Soul puts the audience in awe of the beautiful backgrounds it creates from start to finish.
The cinematic techniques are also a major positive. While not nearly as prevalent as the background art, these moments usually catch the eye quite quickly in how cool, slick, or fun they come off as being. Rotations tracked mid-rotation. Transitions based on fallen items (e.g., a liquor bottle) from one area to the next. Dazzling lights as a perspective filter. And that’s just in the first three episodes. Throughout the entire show, such moments can be found, giving it another step up in the visual department.
Besides the background art and the cinematic techniques, the designs of the characters shine once again. Returning people like Favaro, Kaizer, Rita, Azazel, and Bacchus maintain their same sense of suave, uniqueness, and flair about them. The newcomers – such as Nina, Charioce, and Sofiel – do the same with their own adventurous, handsome, or beautiful styles. They’re almost instantly recognizable, and they wear their personalities on their sleeves (in an almost-not-figurative manner), so their looks certainly get the job done and then some.
Lastly, the actual animation throughout these episodes rarely lets up. The CG motions during action segments can be slightly out-of-place at times, but they do not halt the momentum of the otherwise well-executed artistry. Sword duels, chase scenes, and emotional interactions make up the bulk of the movement present, and, indeed, the show usually refrains from using CG save for the most taxing segments (such as with super-large enemies and the like). At the minimum, Nina’s dragon transformation sticks with traditional 2D animation, giving her moments as a fearsome beast that much more clout.
From the backgrounds to the techniques, the designs to the movement, Virgin Soul glistens with polish on an artistic level no matter where one stares.
Looking back at the previous season, the main quadruple had a meta stance in that Favaro, Kaizer, Rita, and Amira were a ragtag family of sorts. This season does away with having a tightknit group and instead divvies up the focus into sections between the most important players. Unfortunately for the anime, this spells doom for a big chunk of its cast members.
Nina is the main protagonist of Virgin Soul, and her expedition away from home marks an important fork in her life’s road as a dragon person. Her super-strength lends her talent at hoisting heavy objects during her construction jobs, and her affable personality makes the townspeople welcome her presence. When she isn’t eating gobs of food or arm-wrestling passersby for cash, she can, if caught in that rare moment, be found transforming into a red, fire-breathing dragon.
Her transformation isn’t exactly voluntary, though. Unlike the rest of her clan who can basically do it at will, Nina must fight back such magic within her. The trigger for this magic? Seeing, thinking, or interacting with an attractive male. Her crush on (unbeknownst to her) Charioce spurs these feelings to an even greater degree.
Thus, much of her character revolves around her inability to control her powers and the relationship she holds with Charioce himself. While a nice set of ideas, the execution runs poor. The anime (indirectly) alludes to the fact that her love for Charioce causes her powers to fluctuate between unusable and attainable. However, it comes off more as a plot convenience rather than a source of growth for her given how the explanation behind it remains rather esoteric.
In the show’s defense, her earlier asides with the stalwart king spark the feeling that these two have a bond in the making. On the other end, however, when the dragon issue is not present, Nina’s attachment to Charioce swings wildly. She hates him. She loves him. She doesn’t know what to think about him. This constant churn fails to do much for her character since it ultimately keeps repeating her same thoughts about the man over and over without adding anything extra afterwards.
When neither side is present, she simply coasts along for the ride, having little impact within the events themselves. The anime either defers to other characters instead (because she has next to nothing else going for her) or she cannot contribute to the cause (because she only revolves around her dragon form and her feelings for Charioce). Her mentorship to Favaro and the small tidbits about her father’s death attempt to give her extra layers as a character, but they are not enough to cover her underwhelming role within the story at large.
Charioce does not fare much better. Virgin Soul builds him up as an antagonist but simultaneously humanizes the guy during his undercover stints among the masses. This moral ambiguity sadly goes nowhere because the show refuses to explore more of his character for a vast amount of the season, relegating him to a static situation. Even when it does finally decide to give a morsel, his background (losing a parent, in parallel to Nina) does not equate to much, and his motivations, his justifications only raise an eyebrow to maximum height since he has been so obtuse all along.
Many of the other characters likewise fall apart. Kaisar’s whole arc about honor and doing the right thing goes to waste as he constantly wallows in the same spot. Azazel’s arc has him disappearing for far too long to stay relevant. Mugaro’s arc is mishandled as his supposed drive to help others means nothing in the end. Alessand’s arc has too much back-and-forth. Sofiel’s arc to make amends for her past sins does not reach a satisfying conclusion.
Rita and Bacchus are mostly excused if only because they serve pure supporting roles throughout the season once again. Favaro, too, for this story (to reiterate earlier talking points) isn’t his own this time around. Perhaps only one worthwhile character, then, exists in all of Virgin Soul: Jeanne d’Arc.
Last season, Jeanne lost sight of her faith and nearly cost everyone everything. In this season, she keeps herself composed as the show places an almost uncanny amount of emphasis on her character in the hopes of detailing how this former saint is now simply a humble lady. Her perseverance. Her sense of powerlessness. Her life as a meager farm woman. Her touching aside with Nina’s mother. Her love and her sacrifices regarding her son Mugaro. Her charge to avenge his death. Out of the entire set of cast members within Virgin Soul (and as her name would perhaps foreshadow), Jeanne’s arc feels the most whole and complete among them.
And she’s the only one. Otherwise, Nina, Charioce, and several of the other characters have an inkling sense of purpose and fortitude on a writing level, yet the show cannot capitalize on their merit for the show’s full run.
MUSIC & SOUND
Virgin Soul takes a page out of the first season’s book by putting together an opening track whose harsh metal construction rings loud and true. Titled “LET iT END”, the song makes the listener want it to do anything but as its intertwined sludgy and melodic vocals, its slick riffs, and its pounding drums charge up the audience for the spectacles the show prepares to unleash.
In stark contrast once again (when remembering that first season), the anime’s first ending track goes for a whimsical piece by the name of “Haikei Goodbye Sayonara”. Much like Nina and her goofy depicted sidekicks, this song tags along a lot of fun, mixing in a healthy dose of catchiness and a slight sense of nostalgia for added comfort. Light piano, a simple beat, rapping lyrics, a tonal shift, and floaty noises get at these feelings and more as the track trots and skips along in optimistic fashion from beginning to end.
The second OP, “Walk This Way”, has no affiliation to Aerosmith, and it isn’t as eye-opening as its older brother. However, what the track lacks in ‘70s hard-rock and crushing blasts it makes up for in electronic atmosphere and grandiose vocal delivery. It swells with soaring buildup and high-flying ambience, breaking out into a majestic escape as it flies ahead.
Unfortunately, that OP is the weakest of the bunch, for the second ED, “Cinderella step”, steps ahead on the ground with EDM and pop in tow. Not that this song outclasses the first OP or the first ED, but the soft vocals, the mellow groove, and the simple jam put the dancing before the walking.
Besides these starters and closers, Virgin Soul also enlists the same swell audio design decisions from before. The voice-acting performances from the returning cast are as top-notch as always. The original soundtrack channels a fervent fantasy feel. The sound-effects across the board give the magic, the duels, and the shenanigans the pomp and circumstance they deserve mid-action.
A specific newcomer also deserves a shout-out: Sumire Morohoshi. Voicing the dragon-girl Nina, Ms. Morohoshi captures the bubbly spirit and springy silliness of the main female lead with ease. Her performance, combined with the OPs, the EDs, and the other music-and-sound elements, makes this portion of the anime one of the strongest it contains.
When trying to follow in the footsteps of giants – which in this case means the excellent first season of this franchise – it can often be a tough endeavor. Ideas change. New avenues are sought out. What once was may not be possible anymore, either by design or by some random mutation.
On this point, and for a sizable chunk of the season, I quite like what I watched. Nina is so happy and so likable that I could not wait to see her next reaction face or her futile attempts at repressing her dragon powers. Bacchus and Hamsa are hilarious, too. They often have been, but their larger screen presence, by themselves and with Nina, gave me extra smiles. Same goes for seeing the old cast again: Favaro’s big dumb grin, Kaizer’s immense sense of pride, Rita’s inherent awesomeness.
I can take it further and write that the whole first half had me hooked. The deeper focus on Jeanne made for an interesting time since the anime put a lot of resources into her, an already-on-the-side character carried over from before. And the initial potential stored within the show, due to the possible interactions and conflicts, had me quite giddy.
As the episodes progressed, though, I found myself less and less intrigued. Not that it fell apart, but it all started to wane in the second half as the anime lost steam. Lame plot decisions. Dwindling narrative focus. Worsening character moments. The show just didn’t have the tightknit flow required for such a huge undertaking.
Inevitable comparisons to the first season also highlight the biggest difference: the original characters are simply better. Nina is a likable lass, but Favaro, Kaiser, and Rita have much more entertaining personalities on their own and much more interesting rapport between themselves versus Nina, Charioce, and Mugaro.
So, yes, the show sadly ends up not having the same magic, the same lightning in a bottle at its fingertips. However, I commend it for trying to go where it did. And who knows? Given the open-ended conclusion, I’m still hopeful that a continuation, whatever or whenever it may be, will maintain that familiar stride. For, if nothing else, this sequel proves that the series still has the chops for stardom buried within.
Shingeki no Bahamut: Virgin Soul is a bit all over the place in terms of its strengths and its flaws, but the positives still outweigh the negatives. Specifically, impressive artistry and very nice musical options mask the troubles with the character writing and the waning second half of the season. Again, it earns a thumbs-up – but only tentatively so.
Story: Fine, a narrative which almost completely opposes its previous installment, creating a successful setup but whose follow-through fails
Art & Animation: Great, the sweet backdrops, the slick cinematic techniques, the lovely character designs, and the appreciable level of movement put the visuals on a pedestal worth praising
Characters: Bad, Nina flounders, Charioce waits too much, and the other vital cast members miss the mark, but Jeanne d’Arc at least has a solid part throughout
Music & Sound: Great, the two new OPs and the two new EDs are diverse and well-composed, and the return to the same audio design decisions and elements keep the ensuing scenes in high spirits
Enjoyment: Fine, while not as giant as before, it was a likable experience all the same
Final Score: 6/10
Thanks for taking the time to read my review. If you want, take part in the discussion below! :3