Karavansara

East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai


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Dark Schneider is back: Netflix’s Bastard!!

I admit I was worried.
Bastard!! was one of the anime/manga series that I remembered from the ’90s – over the top, seriously silly, filled with bouncing breasts and juvenile humor, together with a setting straight out of AD&D and a plot that was basically an excuse to show more violence and, yes, more toned thighs and bouncy breasts. The brainchild of a guy that was a self-admitted fan of heavy metal music and roleplaying games, it was the quintessential late ’80s/early ’90s … thing.
And it was all right.

But now?
We are in 2022, and Bastard!! is back, and on Netflix.
And I heard a few people worrying about the dread effects of political correctness and “wokeness” (I heard grown men cry because in one snippet of preview they caught sight of two women kissing), but I was much more worried about the fad for “grimdark” – after all, with a main character that’s called Dark Schneider, and a tagline that reads “Heavy Metal Dark Fantasy”, Bastard!! is the sort of anime that could easily get the grimdark treatment, for the viewing pleasure of all the sociopaths out there.

So yes, I was worried.
And I was not happy at all with the Italian dubbing, so I dropped the series after about 5 minutes.

But I was able to finally get an English dub (not my first choice, I prefer subs myself), and while Dark Schneider still sounds too damn youthful for my tastes – and the dub fails to capture the surprisingly and hilarious vulgar Japanese of the original – I finally sat down and watched the series.

For the uninitiated, Bastard!! (the two exclamation points are required) is a sword & sorcery series set in a post-apocalyptic world that’s regressed to medieval level. The four kingdoms are being menaced by a dark army hell bent on resurrecting an ancient goddess, and the only hope for humanity is Dark Schneider, a centuries old evil wizard that was once the leader of the dark army – but has been trapped inside a kid’s body these last 15 years.

The series follows Dark Schneider’s exploits after he’s been brought back – and he has to face his former allies to protect the few people he’s come to care for.

And I am happy to report that the new incarnation of Bastard!! is still a lot of fun, it is still incredibly silly, and nicely padded with bouncy breasts and juvenile humor. It is violent, stupid and inappropriate, but it is happily free of angsty grimdark trappings. Bastard!! winks and laughs out loud too much to be grimdark. It does indeed look like something that reached us from, say 1991 via some rip in space-time.
It is also pretty close to the original comics as I remember them from thirty years ago.
The character design is very ’90s, but the animation’s better – and we get new music on the soundtrack.

All in all, silly entertainment – not the sort that shakes the pillars of civilization or changes the life of the viewer, but in this time, in which TV is trying to feed us fake memories of how it was to play AD&D in the ’80s, it is good to find a show that actually captures with surprising accuracy the mix of cliché, silliness, wanton destruction, inappropriate jokes and loud music that characterized those saturday afternoons, so many years ago.


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Lunch break with the ninja

Back in the early ’90s, I was part of a growing number of fans of Japanese animation in my country. In Italy we had been hit by a wave of anime since the second half of the ’70s, and then a decade later the floodgates opened with OAVs and movies. fanzines were printed, clubs were formed.
I said “in the early ’90s”, but it was actually in 1993 that I dropped out of that community, as I was starting to see things I did not like. What had been a passion, born of an interest for wild and wonderful stories and great art, was turning into a playing field for little Hitlers, people that wanted to dictate what people should or should not see – “why are you reading Marvel comics? You are supposed to be an Otaku!” – and a few individuals were starting to make an awful lot of money fleecing the fans.

I know I turned and walked away in 1993, because that was the year Ninja Scroll hit the screens.
And today at lunch break I watched it again for the first time in 28 years.

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Lupin the 3rd – The First

I had heard about the new, 3D CGI animated movie in the Lupin the 3rd franchise about one year ago – more or less when I learned of the death of Monkey Punch, the artist and writer of the original manga from which the character was derived. I was curious about the movie, but for a number of reasons, I had no opportunity to watch it.
Until last night.

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Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust

Not all fun shows are on Amazon Prime, and in fact last night I spent two hours of fun revisiting Yoshiyaki Kawajiri’s Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust, an animated feature from 2000, based on the long-running series of Vampire Hunter D novels by Kikuchi Hideyuki.
The movie can be found on Youtube in high-quality, and is well worth taking a look at if you like dark fantasy, horror, and Dying Earth stories.

Because here’s the fun thing – in building his narrative universe, Kikuchi Hideyuki threw in everything: classical vampires and vampire lore, post-apocalyptic fiction, Dying Earth-style science fiction, melodrama and high-octane action (that the trailer above uses to the hilt), Spaghetti Western. The end result is an original product, in which every tried-and-tested element gets twisted and changed, surprising us every step of the way.

The Kawajiri movie captures the setting, also thanks to the character design based on Yoshitaka Amano’s original illustrations for the novel.
The film is beautiful, the world is intriguing, the story not as silly as it might seem.

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Not good, but very hard to kill: Blade of the Immortal

Hiroaki Samura’s dark fantasy Blade of the Immortal was the last manga that I bought regularly before I decided it was too expensive a hobby, and I did not like the local fandom anyway. The fact that the Italian publisher of the series went belly up halfway through the comic’s run was also part of my decision to let it go, and with it let go of the whole hobby for a decade or two.

But now, as I am digging into the Amazon Prime Video catalog, I was quite surprised finding there is an animated series, released as an Amazon Prime Original, and it can be viewed in Japanese with subtitles.
Well, why not?

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Learning from anime

I’ve had this idea, about a series of posts about what I learned about storytelling from various media I used to spend my time with as a kid. This was in part inspired by a chat I had this morning with my friend Lucy, but it’s a little more complicated than that.
As a kid I watched a lot of movies and TV series, cartoons both western and Japanese, I read comics, I read novels and short stories and non fiction… each of these shaped the way I think about stories, and I think it might be fun to try and take a look at all these influences.

And I’m starting with anime because… ah, because we need to start somewhere, right?

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Going through the Second Barrage

A lot of online reviewers were less than kind with Black Lagoon‘s second season – called The Second Barrage. Most lamented the absence of Dutch and Benny from many episodes, the excessive focus on Rock and Revy’s “relationship”, and the less frantic action. So I was rather curious to see what it would look like.
And to me it looks… quite interesting.

To recap, Black Lagoon is an early 2000s anime/manga series set in the ’90s, and focusing on the day-to-day lives of a team of mercenaries, the Black Lagoon Trading Co., operating in the South China Sea. The first season follows four successive narrative arcs, throwing in a lot of firepower and an ample cast of supporting characters – including an organization of gun-running nuns, a Triad’s boss that is obviously Chow Yun Fat from A better tomorrow II, and a formidable unit of former Soviet special forces, known as Hotel Moscow, now working for the Russian Mafia.

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