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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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...