Certainty of death, *small* chance of success… What are we waiting for?
This is how you do a card game adaptation. Step 1: Take the basic mechanics and/or setting of the game. Step 2: Create an interesting cast of characters who work well together, even if they need to be original. Step 3: Use the setting as a jumping off point to tell a good story. That seems simple, but the key is to not remain shackled to the game. Use its assets, but always remember the most important thing: tell a good story. That’s what Shingeki no Bahamut GENESIS did, and it worked damn well.
Step 1: Take the basic mechanics and/or setting of the game
This was fundamentally a promotional effort for the Rage of Bahamut game, so they needed to use some the the basic mechanics and/or settings to do their job. The mechanics they used were, wisely, minimal … we saw some demon summoning that felt like it was out of a card game in the first episode, and bounty hunters captured people into stone cards, but that was it. Those the source material was a card battle game, this was absolutely not a card battle game anime, which is very wise, because those are always a bit silly. Some of them can work, but you can tell a much better story through conventional means.
As for the setting, it was all there. The three sides (Man, Gods, and Demons), and the neigh-invincible Bahamut. I don’t know if any of the environs were taken from the card game, but it doesn’t matter either way. In this case, the setting can be best understood as a D&D campaign. The world is already there, as are some common mechanics, but the important details—the story and all its characters—are up to the specific creator to decide. Too much dictation from the card game would strangle the story.
Step 2: Create an interesting cast of characters who work well together, even if they need to be original
Next, you need your characters. Enter Favaro, Kaisar, Amira, Rita, & all the rest. (Storytelling side note: Steps 2 & 3 are not necessarily done sequentially. Often they’re done at the same time. It’s easier to talk about them one after the other, though.) I checked into it a little, and it looks like Favaro and co were created specifically for the anime, which was a smart move. They could have plucked a few cards from the existing game and turned them into their heroes—which they did, to a degree … Jeanne D’Arc and others seem to predate the anime—but for the central characters, it’s better to make them up yourself to make sure they work. It’s easier to splice the new characters into the card game later on than to try to tell coherent story with ill-matched characters. Once again, let’s use the D&D comparison, or any RPG for that matter: It’s fun to have famous characters show up, but it’s better to start off your characters as interesting heretofore nameless schmucks, so you can tell a new legend about their adventures.
And let me just say that the main four are great characters. Favaro especially, with his “Screw fate!” attitude that masks a surprising amount of concern for others (Kaisar and Amira, especially), though he’d never admit it. (Well, he did with Amira, but never with Kaisar.) Him giving Kaisar a reason to go on (taking the blame for Kaisar’s father’s death) said so much about his character so quickly, and added such depth. It’s hard to infuse so much character in a single moment (trust me there), but they did.
The others were great too. Note that they’re not especially unique: Amira, for example, is the archetypal half-demon/half-angel, which we’ve seen plenty of times. That doesn’t mean she doesn’t work. She was crafted specifically for this story, so who cares if we’ve seen that kind of character before? She fit, which is more important. Plus, any show that gives me an antagonistic bromance like between Favaro and Kaisar is a winner in my book.
Step 3: Use the setting as a jumping off point to tell a good story.
As I said, the story is key. You’re not going to get anyone interested in this card game if you tell a crappy story. So you use the setting to tell an interesting story in its own right. Not one that’s intricately wrapped up in the cards, but one which uses the characters and settings found in some of those cards. The mechanics aren’t important! What’s important is making people go “I want to try this out. I’m going to play as Man and use Favaro and Kaisar!” to get them into it. It’s so that, when they see the Jeanne card, they remember what happened in the anime and smile. It’s so they want to visit that world again, and have their own adventures there.
Which is why telling an adventure story was such a good idea. An adventure/high fantasy epic. How often do we get these nowadays? Which isn’t to say it was perfect. The dream dragon, for instance, was shoved in there solely to give them the key to victory. But it doesn’t have to be perfect if it’s mostly good, and if it gets the feeling right, which Bahamut did. It was a romp, an epic adventure, and they even had the balls to (spoiler alert) let Amira die at the end. They embraced the tragic consequences of the characters’ actions. Had another show done that, I’d be talking about it with the same breathless admiration. This series prized the story above all else, and gave us a good one to the very end. A classic epic adventure, to be true. It didn’t break new ground, but it was damn, damn good. I’ll take that any season, in a hot minute.
There aren’t many people I wouldn’t recommend this series too. I think this will even enter my lexicon of anime I try to get my non-anime-watching friends to watch, because the lack of Japanese high schoolers, no random ecchi bits, a damn good epic adventure plot makes it approachable for all. This is one of the shows I wish I had blogged this season. With a few writers on hiatus + my having just gotten back from a month overseas, I was too swamped to even consider blogging an unknown show. More’s the shame, because this is a fun series, and I would have loved to talk about it more. But more importantly is that you watch it. Don’t let the lack of weekly coverage fool you. Watch this show. Watch it. Watch it right now! It’s a damn good time, and one I’m sure you won’t regret.
I wrote a book! My first novel, Wage Slave Rebellion, is available now! (More info) My personal site has also moved. Last four posts: Mind meld, Interview with Little Red Reviewer, Sneak Peek: Wage Slave Rebellion prologue, and Action Politics—a FREE short story.