8 May 2009
In the land of the rising sun, where plagarism is regarded more of a compliment than cause for a lawsuit, every anime season is littered with series you have the weird feeling you've seen before, even if all of the characters names are different (though with the liberal number of Keis and Keitaros and Keijis out there, sometimes you don't even get that). But every now and again, along comes a series that takes a tired genre and does something mind-bogglingly original with it.
Bokurano is a giant robot anime. Let's get this fact out of the way first. But once you start watching, you can forget all of the cliches you've grown comfortable with in previous giant robot series. The robot is slow and clunky and the cockpit is made up of very ordinary chairs. Chairs which set the stage for a Russian Roulette for fifteen kids who sign a contract with a creepy old man in a cave, whose very last words are 'I'm sorry'. Calling this a giant robot anime is like calling Code Geass a giant robot anime. There are giant robots in it, but that's not what it's about at all.
The robot fights alone are unique. To begin with, Zearth - the name the children give their robot - is 500 metres tall. 500 METRES. So you know the scale is far in excess of the even some of the more ambitious series. Zearth stands at the same height as the (fictional) Chutenro Tower, the tallest building in the world!
The fights are thus a little different. There's collateral damage whenever Zearth so much as takes a STEP. And then there are the fifteen enemy robots the children must defeat in order to save the Earth. That's the price of losing - the entire planet. While Zearth itself is a traditional bipedal design, some of the other robots are a bit more unusual, and it makes for some interesting bouts. They're reminiscent of the robot challenges Universities occasionally stage, and if you enjoy watching the Robot Fighting League Championships, you'll probably get a kick out of the battles.
Robots aside, what about the characters? It's an interesting cast - not one of the characters can be shoved into a stereotype. First and foremost, they're children, and some of them are cowards, some of them immature, and some of them have downright rotten personalities. But that's what makes them fascinating, as you watch these terribly real, terribly flawed characters tackle something as enormous as the fate of the Earth. You might think that 24 episodes is not enough time to get to know 15 'main' characters, but the pacing is wonderful, and you get invested in each and every one.
The only real complaint I can level at the series is that in the second half, the story starts to unravel a little. It's still spectacular, but some of the character motivations - Ushiro's in particular - start to feel slightly contrived. The actions of the military and media and other peripheral characters wander on to shaky ground, where there seem to be 'evil for the sake of evil' business tycoons and adults acting like the irrational 'I know best' sorts of bastards that live-action Disney films used to enjoy employing for their soft villains. Of course, this is the point where I have to direct you to the manga Bokurano is based on. At about the halfway point, the two stories begin to diverge wildly, due partly to the usual excuse of the anime finishing before the manga was complete, and also in part due to the Director's proclaimed desire to change the end of the series. The creator of the manga agreed, on the stipulation that he 'couldn't use magic'.
I acknowledge that anime adaptations will by necessity wind up a little different to the manga. Applaud it, in fact � not all manga can make a seamless transition to the animated medium without undergoing changes, and sometimes some extra character development or a few story tweaks can do wonders. But one really has to wonder why any director would approach a series with the sort of stance that they don�t want to follow the original at all, especially when every time that happens, what follows is best described as a very beautiful train wreck. Fun to watch, maybe, but you can�t help but feel that train would look so much nicer on the tracks.
That said, the anime should not be discredited simply because the story in the manga is tighter (and magnitudes better, if we're being brutally honest). There are some scenes unique to the anime that are truly heart-stopping. And the animation alone makes it worthwhile - the colours are rich, the scenery detailed, and though the 3D used for the robots has a sort of nineties look to it, the spectacle more than makes up for it.
The soundtrack as well is quite good, but that's little surprise as I've not come across many good animes with bad soundtracks. The opening can be counted among the best, in both music and editing. You won't want to skip it. This is a surprisingly rare thing.
Bokurano is unique, daring, and packs some serious emotional punch. It's the sort of series you talk about years later, when other series have melted into one vague puddle in the back of your brain. Somehow, this show completely flew under everyone's radar, rating quite poorly and showing no sign of being licensed on the horizon, which is our great loss. This should be required viewing for fans of the eclectic, pretentious and giant robot series alike.
A word of warning, though - it will probably make you lose some faith in the human race. Expect to be a little depressed. And that's an understatement.
Overall Rating: 820,999 / 1,000,000 (And it would have been even higher if it had stuck to the manga storyline.)