Rage of Bahamut: Genesis made a huge splash in 2014.
It had a unique and fun setting, and it solidified MAPPA’s place as a rising anime studio. So, having the sequel, Virgin Soul, be not nearly as good after three years of waiting is a bit disappointing. It’s not a terrible show by any means, but it just doesn’t capitalize on what made Genesis so fun and exciting, and I want to break down the differences in the two series to explore why Genesis is so good while Virgin Soul is just barely average.
To get it out of the way, let’s start with the one thing I think Virgin Soul does better than Genesis, which, conveniently enough, is the opening scene. Genesis opens with the gods, demons, and humans of old attacking the legendary Bahamut with all their might in the hopes of defeating him and saving the world. While it works pretty well in establishing world setting and mythology, the scene itself is pretty standard fare that you could pull out of a dozen other generic fantasy anime. The directing and soundtrack aren’t that great either. This whole thing might work much better as passing comments from side characters throughout the series. Yes, it has a direct bearing on the plot. However, it doesn’t really start overtly affecting our main characters until well into the series.
In contrast, the opening of Virgin Soul is one of the best parts of the show.
It quickly establishes a potential new villain for the series by having him kill off literal gods. This recontextualizes Bahamut’s world around the idea of humanity’s rise in power at the expense of other races. It sets up some great intrigue as to how much the world has changed since Bahamut was defeated at the end of Genesis, creates a new set of themes involving cultural dominance and racism, and gets us excited to see how our heroes will deal with this new crisis.
Unfortunately, intrigue is about as far as Virgin Soul gets in regards to surpassing its predecessor. After this opening scene, the series becomes much less focused and meanders between a bunch of different ideas, and the muddled nature of these ideas makes them much less compelling. It’s not that any of these ideas are executed horribly, though there are a few that come off as hamfisted. However, trying to focus on the king’s ambitions AND the racism against demons AND Kaiser’s faltering social status AND Nina’s introduction AND another subplot related to the angels all at the same time is far too much of a burden for the opening episodes any narrative to handle.
Having too many ideas is far from being a bad thing on its own.
However, too many ideas crammed into a single space just makes the story feel bloated and off-balance. It doesn’t allow for each idea to be explored properly and with enough depth.
Meanwhile, the first episodes of Genesis show us almost the complete opposite, where the story is short, sweet, and to the point. Favaro and Kaiser are rival bounty hunters looking to make some cash. Then they get swept up in a mysterious adventure plot surrounding the half-angel Amira as cryptic hints of a looming threat begin to emerge. The entire first half of the series generally sticks to a monster of the week format. This gives us time to learn about the characters and grow attached to them before everything hits the fan in the second half. While that second half eventually falls apart, what kept me going was the fact that I legitimately cared about the main cast.
Speaking of the cast, let’s get to what I think sits at the heart of the differences between these two shows. The characters in Virgin Soul aren’t necessarily bad, and some even have the potential to be great, but a lot of the writing around them feels either really awkward or just downright stupid, especially with the comedy elements.
Like you have this scene where Bacchus is trying to figure out if Mugaro has heterochromia, so he tries to secretly take a peek at her eye while she’s asleep even though it was never established that Mugaro was actually hiding her eye vs. just having long hair that hangs down over it like half of all the fucking anime characters in existence and Bacchus could’ve just asked like a normal person, so instead he ends up getting kicked in the face by Nina and is labeled as a pervert. Or this other scene where Nina reveals that being excited by good-looking men makes her transform into a dragon so Azazel suggests that he should literally fuck her in order to use her powers to help the demon cause.
And don’t even get me started on Nina herself.
I’m as much a fan of the genki girl archetype as anyone else, but this just isn’t a good version of it. Yes she’s bubbly and cheerful and an all-around fun gal. But, much like the rest of the show, they throw this jumbled mess of ideas on top of her. It makes her character much more confusing and often contradictory in terms of the actions she takes.
And of course there’s the dumb transformation thing too. I get it: anime can make really dumb ideas turn out really well. Still, a high fantasy setting with heavy-handed discussions of cultural hegemony and literal racism and genocide is not the place to have your kooky anime bullshit. The scene in episode 6 where Nina becomes unable to defend herself because, BY PURE COINCIDENCE, the people who are trying to kidnap her are a bunch super-hot guys, was the final straw that led me to drop the series.
Compare all of that to the straightforward simplicity of the characters in Genesis. Favaro is a fun-loving trickster, Kaiser is a chivalrous gentleman, and the actions they take reflect these personalities. Despite how overused this kind of setup is, Genesis has the perfect pair of protagonists. The way they play off each other in natural, genuinely comedic ways makes them all the more fun to watch.
Even the flaws of the characters in Genesis are much more believable and interesting.
Favaro is a brutish rogue that loves women and partying. He chooses to live life in the moment, and his skills as a bounty hunter allow him to do that. However, this also turns out to be his Achilles Heel because if gives him a big ego and often gets him into trouble.
Kaiser is a fallen noble who works as a bounty hunter in order to regain his status. He despises Favaro for something that went down between them in the past. He’s an upstanding and chivalrous person on the surface. However, his stubborn adherence to honor and pride ends up blinding him to the truth.
In Virgin Soul, nobody seems to have any believable character flaws that make them more interesting.
The flaws that they do have just feel unnatural. They exist more to progress a certain plot point rather than have an actually engaging personality trait. Great characters feel like real people. Unfortunately, the only new character in Virgin Soul that feels like a real person is the main villain. Making us see the heroes as boring and unengaging in comparison to the villain is hardly a good writing strategy.
Even some of the characters returning from Genesis aren’t as interesting. Nobody cares if Bacchus wants to return to heaven because the idea doesn’t surface in Genesis. If it was, then it was in passing and not given any focus whatsoever. Now it’s suddenly a big character conflict in Virgin Soul? That’s kinda hard to believe.
Even Kaiser isn’t as interesting as he was in Genesis. They replaced the headstrong and prideful gentleman with a boring and reserved knight captain who’s worried about his own position. This is even more bizarre considering that the events of Genesis have taught him not to act this way. If there was more at stake for Kaiser than just that, then this change in character could be believable. Maybe give him a family that he had to provide for. As it stands, however, they just decided to completely change his character in that ten year gap.
In the end, Virgin Soul fails two basic tenets of storytelling.
- Focusing on an idea and logically building on it.
- Creating believable characters with engaging personalities,
In contrast, Genesis pretty much nailed both of these for most of its run. Its overambition, while admirable, ultimately led to its downfall. This seems to be a problem with original MAPPA properties on the whole, but that’s a topic for another time.