Story - 9
Rainbow: Nisha Rokubou no Shichinin (Rainbow for short), as the synopsis tells us, is set in Japan a decade after WWII ended. The longer-term effects of war are apparent everywhere; from abject poverty, broken families - from both post-traumatic mental illness and death - to the desperation of many being exploited by the heartless few. We see all of this in Rainbow, it is an extremely well-rounded account of how lives can be affected by war. However, it's not all doom and gloom, and that's one of the strongest features of this series; we are also shown hope, resilience and the strength of trust and friendship in careful measure.
Rainbow follows the story of seven main protagonists, six of which are 16 years old, while the other is 17, all of whom are sent to a boys' disciplinary school for what are explored through the series and shown to be, petty and/or 'noble' crimes of necessity.
The 'spine' of the group is quickly established as Bro or 'An-chan', (Rokurouta Sakuragi) the 17 year old inmate who has been kept at the school for a year already. He cements the group's trust in himself and each other with his brand of uncompromising tough love, wisdom and physical and mental resilience. The seven quickly forge a deep friendship, though not without conflict, which is challenged frequently by the initial negative force they must contend with, the sadistic guard, Ishihara and the more subtle, calculated villainy of the perverted, predatory school doctor, Gisuke Sasaki. The central theme of the boys all 'coming to each other's rescue' and 'taking one for the team' is quickly established as they prove both their devotion to their friendship and to their own futures by self-sacrifice and team work - and a lot of blood. The story moves on, but the boys still often come to each other's aid, no matter what, all in aid of helping each other reach their goals and work through their past trials/demons and right wrongs when they can.
The story is very well woven, and I was very pleasantly surprised as the story moved on that the forward movement of the characters on their journeys as friends and individuals becoming adults was kept interesting and fresh - and not too depressing. The rays of sunshine are always there, but there is definitely enough pain and toil to keep the viewer from feeling too 'safe' from whatever lies around the corner.
Animation - 9.5
The animation is finely designed, clean and creative. The characters are all well defined as separate entities with their physical attributes and corresponding strengths- which are also tied subtly as relevant to their individual dreams for the future.
There is a lot of violence in Rainbow. There's a consistent theme of violence to cause pain in both sadistic and survival contexts (and also with boxing as an undercurrent to the story and bond between Bro and Mario). However, the violence is done with an almost beautiful execution; fight scenes are fluid and are tailored toward the particular plot feature it is a part of. Overall, the violence (both sexual and physical) plays its part as a constant narrative of endurance, resilience, and often self-sacrifice, without seeming out of place or gratuitous. The sexual violence isn't crude, but is visually blunt enough to evoke disgust/revusion/sympathy where appropriate.
I must give another kudos to the production team for managing to distinguish Bro and Mario from each other throughout their developments. Their physical appearance and personality differ strongly enough to do each justice as separate characters but enough in common to show their 'crossover' in role and their own special connection by the end of the series (without touching spoiler territory).
Sound - 9
Firstly, I absolutely adore the intro to this series, and I ashamedly admit that I skip most opening sequences on any series almost every episode - something I'm now trying not to do lest I miss another gem like this one. The intro music to Rainbow is an emo rock track I'm not familiar with, and I don't particularly enjoy that style of music, but it was perfect for this intro. It's more about animation, I know, but the sequence of art paired with the music is gorgeous. It tells the tale itself and gives an insight into the characters and the beauty they see in their otherwise pretty dismal circumstances in snips that make you fall in love with their unshakeable hope and determination and curious to see how it unfolds.
The VAs were well cast, and add a seamless dimension of personality to each character's individuality.
Characters - 9.5
The characters undoubtedly make this series what it is. The viewer is continually getting to know each character throughout. They're all very different in personality, in history and in their future paths, and the forward movement smoothly changes the flavour of the story and the focus. I could go through the main characters - and I'd love to wax lyrical about all of them - but I couldn't do that kind of analysis justice without spoilers or otherwise running out of superlatives and boring the pants off anyone reading this review.
There is one common characteristic for each of the seven boys, and that is their hearts of gold. No matter who they touch, they are always looking out for others as well as each member of the group. However, they don't live in each other's pockets and are independent and savvy in their own ways, if this weren't the case, it would be unrealistic and jarring. They do their own thing a lot of the time, and cross paths naturally, with bouts of close contact when a need/occasion arises. They also aren't painted as flawless paragons of virtue; they are all real, and make mistakes, and sometimes reject each other. But they all seem to have an infallible ability to cotton on to what they need to do for each other, often selflessly and in concert to varying degrees.
Overall - 9.5
It's difficult to impart some of the finer points and highlights of why I prized this series so much without giving away spoilers or getting half into storylines that have been growing from the start and doing them no justice. This isn't a 'complicated' anime, but it is woven quite finely with tendrils overlapping and complementing each other all over the place.
This is an affecting anime with its roots in emotion, resilience, personal growth and the power of deep bonds. If you're a fan of mature, confronting anime or seinen with these elements, do check this out. But I wouldn't warn people away from this series unless they really don't like violence, drama or adult themes. Even then, they could find an exception here...
I will almost certainly rewatch this down the track.