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.
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.
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.
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.
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.