Bokurano

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VivisQueen's avatar By VivisQueen on Aug 24, 2010

Story

Bokurano is almost a new kind of mecha show, considering it deliberately skimps on action in favour of personal drama. Although physical fights abound, their lack of pomp precludes titillation; giant robots exist but they are cumbersome and finish each other off quickly. Rather, essential conflicts occur in the everyday lives of the children piloting the robot Zearth, throwing up questions of societal failings and human insignificance. As such, I urge thrill-seekers to pass this one by while more traditional science fiction fans should draw closer.

Likening the show's premise to children making 'a pact with the devil' ignores the fact that the devil could never match the original manga creator Mohiro Kitoh (Shadow Star) in pure sadistic creativity. Forget dodgy deals with Satan; just being born one of Kitoh's characters guarantees a short existence replete with biblical punishments. Bokurano's 'game' binds the heroes in airtight rules that make the notion of escape nothing more than a pipedream. Worse, the children discover these conditions mostly through trial and error, each revelation rendering the situation more abject than before. Like agreeing to a game of russian roulette only to realise just as you're about to pull the trigger that there are six bullets in the chamber instead of one. Numerous ironies also sprinkle the plot like salt on a gaping wound. The heroes' pilot seats, for instance, look like their favourite childhood chairs, which seems a mocking reminder of the innocent lives they will never have again.

Few can deny how much Bokurano recalls Neon Genesis Evangelion. The two have no substantial link (although Kitoh interestingly designed one of the Angels for Evangelion 2.0: You Can [Not] Advance) and I make no assertions that Bokurano is influenced more strongly (or at all) by NGE than any other mecha show. Rather, I simply point to their shared interest in the protagonists' identity crises and resulting psychological deconstruction. Like Shinji Ikari a decade before them, the children in Bokurano suffer familial unrest, usually because of strained relationships with their parents. Every episode or two recounts one child's search for a sense of purpose, contextualising their dysfunctional behaviour and seamlessly relating it to the universal struggle. Luckily, we find among them more determined Asukas than unresolved Shinjis and fortuitously no trace of the blank slate Rei.

A more fundamental difference is that while NGE entertains using spectacular battles, Bokurano would much rather prick the senses with unnerving visual and aural cues. The mecha do not arrive in ceremonial launching sequences but beam into the city without anyone noticing. A citizen will sit in a park watching life go by or drive to work one morning when, the next time they look up, an armoured behemoth is silently blocking their view. Zearth is an ominous black mass that comes accompanied by a chug-a-chug noise as though inside it were a giant ticking clock. Its signature move is looming. It stands above the cityscape like a shade, a totem pole of misery, a demonic form dreamt up from a futuristic version of hell. Perhaps the most affecting scenes include those where combatants throw the enemy robot to the ground and win by ripping out something that looks disturbingly like a still-thrumming heart.

Bokurano offers a challenging fusion of nihilism and hope and it does so by doing things that other recent mecha shows simply lack the audacity to do. Hopefully, that comes as good news not just to me.


Animation

In design, the show wins no awards and deserves none. With muted colours and bland character designs, Bokurano looks a competent if unambitious Gonzo product. Moreover, if an untrained audience can say 'this part is CGI' then the CGI fails. During battles, glossy robots lumber towards each other and bash each other in undignified fisticuffs, crushing beneath them cities carved seemingly out of glass. It brings to mind Gigantic Formula, a comparatively unworthy 2007 mecha series that also mistakes drifting block models for animation.


Sound

Comensating for disappointing visuals, the show delivers one of the greatest opening themes I have heard. Ever. With a haunting but catchy sound and rich pop vocals from Chiaki Ishikawa (also 'Prototype' for Gundam 00 Second Season), 'Uninstall' fires the imagination for ninety seconds before the episode has even started. I have not stopped listening to it regularly since that summer. The two ending themes also warrant some extra attention, although the in-episode score succeeds mainly in enhancing the dark atmosphere rather than standing out in its own right.


Characters

When not battling alien invaders, the fifteen main child characters suffer realistic if unusual problems. I mean that they grapple with suicidal parents and terminally ill friends, not necessarily what to wear to the school disco. The mecha game relates to their troubles either as an interruption, an oblivion in which to drown their traumas, or even a tragic convenience. They repeatedly ask themselves why they should be the ones to give up their lives to save the earth. Is it fate? Is it a trial? Is it punishment? The cruellest answer is the truth: they were at the wrong place at the wrong time. They are not chosen ones. Society at large has no idea they even exist and the minds behind the game are indifferent to whether they win or not.

Mecha shows generally cast teenage heroes purely as empty vehicles for vicarious enjoyment. After all, a largely teenage audience will relate better to an inoffensive teenage protagonist. Bokurano's main cast, however, feels more intricately crafted. Take Masaru Kodaka, who shows a premature Darwinian view of life by shooting at cats and admiring cruelty as strength. For him, the only certainty in the universe is that his father, a cut-throat businessman, is untouchable and therefore he is too. Perhaps this is why the show enjoys breaking him down at the start. Masaru, as the most self-assured and most comfortable with killing, fully underestimates his vulnerability. Others have more time to develop their attitudes, resulting in each becoming an odd mix of child and adult - they frame their concerns like children, but they resolve themselves like adults. Most poignantly, despite having no choice but to fight, each one finds his or her own reason to do so.

I'll also briefly mention Dung Beetle, a rat-like mascot who is supposed to guide the children through the game. His beady black eyes and violent slash of a grin, however, instil no confidence whatsoever. In him lurks a current of malevolence that bleeds through during his shrill outbursts of glee at precisely the most awful moments. His behaviour is a combination of detached, bored disdain and morbid gags that seem too forced to be completely genuine. But he too has a story.


Overall

Bokurano revives in the mecha genre a higher calling than just empty thrills. It has superficial attractions for fans of dark, cynical plots - sadistic punishment of children, for one - but they are merely the icing. As a show concerned with the value of humanity in such an infinite universe, Bokurano toys with children's lives in a ruthless bid to lay bare their souls.

8/10 story
7/10 animation
8/10 sound
8.5/10 characters
8/10 overall
CrazyAce01's avatar By CrazyAce01 on Jun 10, 2010

Story:  8/10

Bokurano was a big surprise.  Stumbling across this anime by accident, I very curious  after hearing it referred to as a lesser-known diamond in the rough.  Needless to say, a combination of excellent storytelling and masterful character development has instantly made this anime one of my favorites.

The story in Bokurano shines in its unflinching realism.  This is the key factor which makes the anime stand out.  There are no unexplained powerups.  There are no crazy people running around and killing people at random – when people die, it’s for very real, sometimes painfully logical facts.  When the characters do trapeze on the brink of sanity, it is because they have been slowly and excruciatingly pushed there by their circumstances, rather than by the arbitrary whims of the director.  Everything that happens could happen.  This simple, firm sense of reality is a welcome relief in a world of anime that is often saturated with the ridiculous as studios reach for ever more “original” ideas.  This believability factor is a great strength in Bokurano’s favor – despite the fact that it reaches into the unbelievable realm of sci-fi for its plot.

Technically, the anime involves giant robots and can be classified as a mecha.  However, these robots are unlike the common “mobile war-suit” that tends to clutter most of the genre.  These move sluggishly and tend to engage in almost primitive hand-to-hand combat with one another, turning fights into dramatic slug-fests on a Godzilla-level scale.  After watching battle after battle of quickly darting, machine gun-toting mecha duke it out, this change is really refreshing.  The giant robots behave how I would expect a giant robot to behave: think The Iron Giant.

However, the plot doesn’t quite make it to highest tiers – occasionally, awkward pacing and predictability caught up with it in a few episodes.  Despite small but noticeable blemishes here and there, Bokurano managed to consistently surprise and engage me.

Animation:  6.5/10

The quality of the animation was up to par.  It was smooth and well-drawn, never getting in the way of the experience.  However, there wasn’t anything particularly breathtaking, and the level of detail was relatively bland.  In many cases the simplicity worked in its favor, but there were also many times when a little more work would have gone a long way.

Sound:  8.5/10

The OP, Uninstall by Chiaki Ishikawa, is very, very good.  It’s instantly catchy if you like pop/techno – I sat listening to it for the greater part of the episodes, and it fits the anime very well.  The ending themes didn’t stand out quite as much, but were appropriate and satisfying.  The anime was often silent but for effects and dialogue, which worked in its favor.  Background music, when present, worked well to create an appropriate atmosphere for each scene.

The voice acting was superb.

Characters:  9.5/10

Bokurano has a multitude of characters – at least 15 major characters, and arguably about 20, depending on how you interpret it.  Usually, when any media attempts to create a large cast, the audience winds up confused and lost while the characters end up near clones, foils upon foils, or just plain shallow.  Bokurano doesn’t just avoid this trap, it laughs in its face before dancing around it merrily.  Every character was explored in exquisite detail with time to spare.

As they take turns piloting the robot, each episode or so becomes a mini-arc devoted to that particular character.  Each has their unique set of problems, some more so than others, that most people would ignore or run from, but the life-threatening situation they’ve been placed into locks them in a room with their issues and throws away the key, forcing them to confront their demons.  Some succeed in that endeavor, while others fail, and therein lies the motive power of this show.  Each character is a very real person with problems anyone might have – the types of dilemmas that go unspoken, fermenting in families for years.   Pressing abrupt solutions to these problems quickly builds an emotional cleaning house of captivating proportions.

The journeys some of the main characters undertake over the course of the show are amazing.  In particular, never before have I initially hated a character as much as I loved him at the end – he went from being the black sheep to my personal favorite, and it took all 24 episodes for him to get there.  Other characters seem weak, which tricks the viewer into predicting their inevitable breakdown, only to surprise you as they gain strength from their families and friends.  Each one of them must ultimately discover for themselves a reason to lay their lives down for humanity – there is no simple philosophical cure-all, no easy way out, underlining the harsh realism that never goes away.  Watching these characters fulfill their potential was extremely satisfying and involved some of the best character development I’ve seen in any anime.

Overall:  8.5/10

Bokurano really hit home with me.  Extremely well-developed characters and a refreshing storyline combined to form deep, philosophical messages and deliver a moving experience.  It is the type of story that present questions about the world that don’t necessarily have immediate, simple answers; that proffers situations from which there can be no escape, only sacrifice.  Bokurano takes the road less traveled and still beats many others to the finish line.  I highly recommend it to any anime fan.

8/10 story
6.5/10 animation
8.5/10 sound
9.5/10 characters
8.5/10 overall
Alistoru's avatar By Alistoru on Dec 2, 2010

WoW, it's been a long time since I have seen an anime this good. Vivisqueen summed it up very well in her review so refer to there for more, but let me just say I don't give out many 10/10's but this one earned every point. From the haunting music, to the cast of unusually interesting characters, some I liked others I loathed but all of whom held my attention during each and every episode. Many times this anime kept me guessing about what would happen, a truly enjoyable factor for me.

Though technically classified as a "Mecha" show, don't go thinking this about some robots going at it with fast action and awesome special effects. This is an anime with a deep and involved storyline that will drag you in and keep you in the same place with each pilot of Zearth. The robots are a footnote to the pilots and there is nothing "Gundamish" about them.

I don't dare say anymore less I ruin some of the plot but definitely add this to your want to watch list!

10/10 story
10/10 animation
10/10 sound
10/10 characters
10/10 overall
skrotkanon's avatar By skrotkanon on Dec 19, 2010

I was in a bit of a mood one day and casually clicked around on the site when I found this anime that was supposed to be Evangelion with less action. I knew I had to see that, my only gripe with NGE are the numerous and rather long fights that don't really add anything to the characters or story.

So did it live up to my expectations? Kinda, but then again not really. It started out incredibly well but then jumped up and down in quality. If anything, the show isn't very consistent and changes pace back and forth between episodes without rhyme or reason. Or well, there is a reason for it.

Story:

Bokurano is about fifteen children being tricked into a impossible situation, the story starts bleak and only gets more depressing by the episode. While the story trods on we get to know each child, their everyday life, dreams and motivation for fighting. Ah yes, there's mechas in this show after all that have to beat up each other every now and then but thankfully there's not much focus on it. All the focus is always on the children.

It's hard to talk about Bokurano without spoiling anything but impossible choices and moral greyzones is at the heart of it. A lot of the episodes are more or less self-contained with one child in focus and at the end of it the relay baton is passed on to the next one. While this certainly works,  for a important reason this is all we get to know about that particular child which is kinda backwards. Every time we start to like or at least sympathise with one of the characters they get shoved away in favour of another child. It still works, I just wished I'd get to see more of the characters I already liked instead of having to focus on new ones all the time. You get this "child of the week"-feeling kinda like NGE did with the angels for a large part of the show.

The story still gets a high score though thanks to this not being the only thing the show is about. When not about the children it's about the political ramifications of huge robots suddenly turning up and leveling cities while fighting. In the very first fight roughly 2000 people die as a result of earthquakes and flooding. From there it only gets worse.

Another thing I really like is how the adults immediately take action trying their very best to do something about the situation. They aren't useless either which otherwise is rather common in shows with children at the center. Here it's the other way around with the kids turning to parents, guardians and the like for questions and moral support. Because the consequences of their actions weigh heavily on their shoulders and being children they really don't know how to deal with any of it. And while the story moves on the consequences just gets worse.

But at the end the show is about inevitability and hopelessness. No matter how hard they fight their circumstances there's really nothing they can do about it. A lot of the characters drives home this points by wielding and abusing power far outstripping the childrens. You certainly grow to hate them but they fit the overarching theme of the show very well.

The reason I'm not giving the story a higher score is because somewhere in the middle of the thing there's this huge plottwist that is frankly rather silly and breaks my suspension of disbelief. On top of that they add another one later on that contradicts one of the main ones so immensely it's mindboggling. It didn't actually change how the story pans out but it still put me off.

 

Animation:

This is honestly one of the ugliest shows I've seen in recent memory. The animation is scarce and what there is looks cheap. While some of the robot fights are kinda cool the CGI is really ugly and the robot designs worse ranging from huge bugs to a barrel with legs. Thankfully at least Zearth is pretty cool.

Next issue is the charcater designs. The majority has narrow skulls with big foreheads and ugly haircuts, long gangly limbs hanging on thin frames with little detail anywhere. Even the eyes look unappealing being way to small and sometimes weirdly shaped.

Thankfully it doesn't really detract from the score, you know all the focus is on characterisation and plots. But honestly, failing at making a 11 year old girl look cute is kinda embarrasing.

 

Sound:

I can't remember a single piece of music from Bokurano except for one I really didn't think fit the scene. I have no idea what it sounds like, I just remember I found the music odd in one scene. Now neither the opening or ending theme where bad, I'd just never put it in my ipod. What's here is simply boring and uninspired, just like the visuals. Now that I think about it, maybe I should have read the manga instead.

The voice acting is what one might call alright. There's no particulary bad acting or casting anywhere but neither is there anything that stands out. In the context of the show this works since it's about normal people in extraordinary circumstances.

 

Characters:

I mentioned a lot of the episodes feeling like filler but thanks to the writing being exceptionally solid even the filler is good. All the kids have believeable if at times a bit too tragic circumstances surrounding them. Nonethless you really get to know all the characters and with a cast well over 20 this is pretty impressive.

A special note goes to Dung Beetle, the most hated mascot I've ever seen. He's a self-centered sadistic freak who gets off on forcing the children to make horrible decisions and seeing them break down. But he's also by far the most powerful character in the show meaning they can't even talk back to him without risking their lives. This makes for a very interesting dynamic. Dung Beetle summons the children to control Zearth and fight another robot. He tells them how things work and is at times a rather helpful guy, even giving advice. On the other hand he tricks and threatens them into doing what he wants because the fights always has to go on. He always has a ulterior motive for all his actions. But he also gets more and more repulsive the longer the show goes on going from freaky and obnoxious to outright vile. The thing is that it always works. I usually hate characters who look down on others with a burning passion but Dung Beetle is just so full of contradictions that he makes for the most compelling character in the whole thing. If there's anything I will remember about Bokurano it's that floating bear with his huge head and malicious grin. What a asshole.

 

Overall:

So the writing was good but the visuals were horrible, the fights uninteresting and the music rather bland. It was still without a doubt very enjoyable watch but I think that if I'm ever gonna re-experience the story I'll read the manga instead and unless you hate reading I'll recommend anyone curious about Bokurano to do the same. Because as I've more or less pointed out before, this is a pretty well-written and sophisticated story with a lot of twists and turns and believeable characters playing it all out.

If you're like me and think plot and characters is what makes a anime (or any show/movie really) then this is definitely worth a try but as I said, maybe you should just read the manga instead. If you on the other hand crave action and larger than life drama you probably won't like this since what there is of action is bad and the drama is often more subtle and realistic than what is usual for anime.

So in short Bokurano is what one might call a acquired taste. What there is is certainly well done but the odd pacing and bad visuals will turn some people off. Nonethless, if you have any interest in sci-fi you should give it a try. Or just read the manga...

7/10 story
3/10 animation
4/10 sound
9/10 characters
8/10 overall
LuluSama's avatar By LuluSama on Jul 10, 2010

Although it is an anime where giant robots fight each other, the action is slow and usually won't last long. No epic fighting scenes here. What this anime is trying to do is to reveal several moral and ethical questions, and is more suited for people who like to think. People who like action series like Bleach or Naruto, probably won't like this very much. People who like  shows like Serial Experiments Lain, will probably love this. It has a similar dark and depressing feel than Serial experiments Lain, actually.

 This anime has one of the most well-thought plots i've seen. The story is original, and it works. I won't go deeper into this matter, because i'd hate to spoil it for someone.

The animation was pretty good at most parts, but sometimes (happened two or three times) a character moved inhumanly fast, but it shouldn't be anything to ruin your enoyability.

I didn't really pay too much attention to sound, and in my opinion it was just fine. Only flaw was that one of the characters voice was extremely annoying. Luckily that character didn't show up too frequently.

The characters was one part i liked alot. There were no "absolute good" characters, and they all seemed to have their own troubles.

10/10 story
8/10 animation
8/10 sound
9/10 characters
8.8/10 overall