For me, perfection is something I believe unattainable-- in most all things, really. For perfection to be present, balance must be held at all ends. Indulge in extremes when appropriate, and know when to play subtly. Impose an atmosphere and a mood, but do not make it feel forced. From top to bottom, for perfection to be present, all things must be held in an astounding check, in intricate balance. I say, with no shame or second-guesses, that Bokurano achieves this-- and if possible, more-- with a seamless presentation on all sides. So what, then, gives it this appeal, and how might I put that into words? I cannot guarantee I'll do it justice, but I can try to give readers an idea of what kind of a ride they're in for with Bokurano.
Bokurano puts viewers in the midst of a summer nature school, where fifteen children are present-- eight boys, seven girls-- when they discover a strange cave against the beach. Exploration reveals a bizarre man with a strange setup, calling himself 'Kokopelli'. He comes forward with a strange offer: they can help him test a 'game,' where the fifteen of them will pilot a great machine in defense of the earth against fifteen invaders. By saying their names and placing their hands on a strange black panel, they are enlisted to test this supposed game.
Cut forward, and they awaken from unconsciousness on the beach, unaware of whether they were simply dreaming, or if they truly took part in this enlisting. Questions are soon dispelled as more are raised when a gigantic robot, guessed to be 500 meters tall (which is absolutely gigantic, even by giant robot standards) appears in the ocean. Lo and behold, an enemy appears before it-- and next thing they know, the fifteen of them are in the cockpit of the robot, with Kokopelli at its helm, teaching them how to pilot it. By using their willpower, they can coax movement from it; it is armed with few weapons, and does most of its fighting mano-a-mano.
To paraphrase many more lengthy descriptions, the robot-- dubbed 'Zearth'-- comes with a chilling truth behind it. Any person who pilots it does so at the cost of their life, and thus are our fifteen children-- aged on average at 13 or so-- faced with their conundrum. What they thought was a simple game has indeed become a very truthful fight for mankind's-- for the entire earth's survival. In Kokopelli's place, a bizarre creature called Dung Beetle is there to 'guide' them, but more ultimately determine the next pilot and to ensure the children do not flee from their foreboding fates. He is sarcastic, cruel and sadistic, and all traits are flexed quite openly on the children at various points.
The anime pans out by giving some insight into the next pilot's life, what motives they might have to fight and what they want to protect. Seldom do characters fight for such righteousness as 'protecting mankind,' or 'saving the earth'-- no, these middle-schoolers are often on the forefront for the people that they want to protect-- most typically, their families and friends.
It's haunting, chilling even, how decidedly human they can make these characters appear. Their motives, their reactions-- nearly everything feels entirely-too-believable, creating an experience that is heart-rending and memorable. Each character suffers different, but quite believable plights, never diving too extreme or too dull. While some of them may be clichèd, the presentation hits it where it counts, assuring that even tried-and-true progression can produce an enthralling experience on different levels.
And even beyond the characters' stories, the general theme of the anime is a stark message. Somewhere between survival of the fittest and the failures of mankind lay a depressing insight into how the common person is but a tool for those with greater motives and power. It never preaches it too strongly, and the theme never steals center stage, leaving the characters in the dust; as Bokurano should be, it is character-driven, and it remains so from front to back even while the plot thickens and introduces new elements.
A doubtless 10/10 without contest. Even if the sole focus were the characters' reasons to fight, it would be a hard call for me to give it lower, but Bokurano ties the amazingly written plights of the characters into a layered plot with many levels of conflict.
Bokurano's robot fights are carried out in clunky CG. This may turn some off; however, the robot fights are far from the centerpiece of this anime. Even so, these are not your Gundam 00 fight scenes, nor your Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion drive-bys. These are not meant to be fluid, fast-paced fights-- Zearth is piloted by young children who are in poor grasp of their situation, and as such, the robot's movements are both stiff and frequently awkward. (Well, except in one case.) Granted, over the entirety of the show-- 24 episodes-- the robot fights might take up little more than a grand total of an hour, give or take some small time. Where the show really puts its focus is on the insight to the characters' lives.
And frankly, it delivers. It doesn't give it to us in spades, but this is an anime whose art style keeps everything in check and gets the job done. No bizarre, spiky hair or flamboyant hair colors; no unnecessary cleavage shots or young girls with otherworldly endowments; it is a show that appeals for a more stark and plain look, which might bore some and might draw others further in. The simplistic, yet ever-effective presentation demands attention at, and to, the right points while managing to keep things looking interesting and colorful enough to hold attention.
I award it 10/10, and again because I find myself hard-pressed to come up with flaws, or points where it might have been lacking, or otherwise failing to get the point across or appearing gimmicky.
What first got me interested in Bokurano at all was the opening, Uninstall by Chiaki Ishikawa. A haunting, terribly fitting and yet darkly beautiful song that crowns the anime starts out by giving it enough of a suitable introduction, and ends up representing something deeper than that. The first half of the anime ends with another of her songs, Little Bird-- a gentle tune that serves only to compound onto the loss and sorrow the anime delivers in heapings. The second half ends with her Vermillion, again accomplishing that depressing feeling.
But what we should really look at is the soundtrack to the anime itself; the music tends to feel somewhat ambient at most points, with light, non-intrusive tunes that range from innocent to sad (noticing a recurring set of words here, with reference to this anime?). The battles are sounded off by percussion-heavy, intense songs that aren't exactly what I'd call 'hot-blooded,' but rather set the immense pressure the battles are to represent.
There are a few good, solid, memorable tunes here-- but for all the good heartfelt, intense music can do, the sound team behind Bokurano manages to make ambient instrumentals and quieter, more subtle songs feel as powerful as their more flavorful cousins. While I won't claim the entire soundtrack is wildly memorable and you should worship it (as I will the characters), I will assure that it never feels out-of-place, and accomplishes what it needs to, when it needs to. It doesn't do anything extravagantly out-of-character and yet it manages to make consistency feel fresh and appropriate.
Once more I award 10/10 for the impressive delivery, and here not necessarily because I can't find flaw-- I wouldn't say it tries "something different," but it does try something that doesn't necessarily see a lot of field time, and it manages to make it work beautifully despite its plain appearance.
So we arrive at last to the crown jewel of Bokurano's appeal; its wide array of believable, interesting, and tragic characters. Each comes part and parcel with a different family life, and each of those lives tends to tie in, in some way, to their motives that drive them to fight. I won't detail each and every last one of them, as that includes fifteen characters and while there are arguably one or two who could be called 'main' given their role and significance in the character relations, they are all technically 'main' characters. I will allude to a few characters, however.
About my favourite example to give off for this is Daiichi Yamura, a young boy whose father left him and his younger siblings at a tender age. His father's parting words left him with a strong desire to keep a home he might come back to, despite his uncle generously giving him work and offering him and his siblings a home to stay at. Strong, independent and intensely mature for his age, Daiichi's simple, by-the-book living shows the traits of a strong person whose stoicism belies much pain.
Daiichi's fight is for his family; for the world his younger siblings could be happier in, the world his uncle's generosity could be repaid in. He promises to take his siblings to an amusement park, only to find out soon after that he is Zearth's next pilot-- and that time is ticking quite quickly. When his enemy threatens to destroy the amusement park, Daiichi knows he must protect the promise he made as well-- even if he would not be around to see it fulfilled.
His episode arc ends with an utterly depressing scene of his siblings arriving at the park, only to ask where 'big brother' is, and when he would be coming back before breaking down into tears. His last words to them, as his father's were, "There's something I have to do," leave them confused and hurt. The writers are all-too-efficient at portraying this and reflecting it onto viewers.
That, too, is just one of the many arcs that carry out over the course of the show; most of them are punctuated in utter depression, or at the very best a bittersweet feeling. It's not a happy show, and while there are a few scenes that might garner a chuckle-- most of them thanks to Dung Beetle, perhaps surprisingly-- the majority of the anime holds to its dark theme.
Without a doubt, Bokurano's characters deserve a 10/10. More, even; the presentation of this show's characters just can't be done justice so simply.
I'll admit I am wholly biased in favour of Bokurano as it is quite easily my favourite anime, hands down. Granted, I hope my fandom does not drown out the points I tried to make; do not let the inclusion of giant robots turn you off at the start. They are a small part of the greater tragedy that Bokurano aspires to be, a portrayal of human elements all-too-true. It is an experience that is timed perfectly, neither overstaying nor understaying its welcome, and pleases in the non-distracting simplicity of its presentation belying the depth of its themes. My recommendations and praises can only do it such justice; I would implore any interested parties to pursue watching Bokurano as soon as they find the time, for it is a rewarding, memorable and touching experience, the likes to which few other things can compare.