When a group of children discover a strange cave at the beach, their lives are forever changed. Inside they find a hide out filled with computers and a man named Kokopelli who gives them a curious offer: to participate in a special game in which they save Earth from fifteen giant monsters. To defeat the invaders, he will give them a powerful mecha of black armor. The children eagerly sign the contract, name their new weapon Zearth, and must now take turns to pilot it; but the 'game' is in fact all too real and the consequences of battle become the stuff of nightmares. With no option to cancel the contract, is there any way to stop the game before it is too late for all of them?
StoryBokurano 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.AnimationIn 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.SoundComensating 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.CharactersWhen 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.OverallBokurano 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.
NOTICE: I will be making many references to Narutaru. Can’t help making a joke about it and for all intents and purposes, this is a double review for both series. Damn things are practically the same anyway. Also, this is one of those weird retrospective texts that focuses more on what happens around a series than in it. If you don’t like it, it ain’t my fault. I will also going to be referring mostly to the people who are positive about the show but in case you are not amongst them, feel free to see this as a reason for how misleading the themes of the show can be.Bokurano, aka Narutaru mk2.The guy who makes these things, mangaka Kitou Mohiro, clearly goes for impressions through shock value around children abuse. Where Narutaru was “Let’s have kids being tortured and miserable, with Pokemon flavor”, Bokurano is “Let’s have kids being tortured and miserable, with huge robots flavor”. In both cases, the critters or the robots don’t really play a role in the actual points the titles want to show. They are there for flavor, just like milk is to tea. Down to it, the only focus to both series is “Torture kids, torture them more, and then kill them miserably.” Sounds disgusting and vile, doesn’t it? Well, that’s what makes it so damn special. It’s like Ausvich in a way. You don’t care about the area, as much about the inhuman acts that took place there during the era where being blonde and blue-eyed was totally GAR. But coming back to the original mangaka, I consider him a sadistic bastard. He LOVES to torture his characters and even got a name for it. Only thing, the fandom is so full of idiots they considered all the unbearable suffering to be the most realistic and humane thing ever. Damn, is the world full of cretins or what?Leaving aside the sadist mangaka who was ludicrously given a Nobel prise for being an anime humanitarian, the rest of the staff ain’t any better as people either. Take the animation studio for example. It is made by the most lame Studio GONZO, which is synonym for a disaster waiting to happen. And yet many people actually liked a show made by them. That tells again how smart the fandom is. There is also another thing going on with the directors of the series. This was their first and only project and they hated it with passion. Now aside from the fact they gave a promising title to a bunch of rookies, which is stupid in the least … WHO THE DEVIL GIVES PEOPLE TO DIRECT A SHOW THEY HATE? I’ll tell you who, GONZO does. They did their best to mutate the true meaning of the original manga as best as they could and to make the whole show as pathetic as possible (which is the standard policy GONZO does to all its shows regardless of their directors hating them) and most of the fandom DIDN’T EVEN FIGURED IT OUT! How stupid can they possibly be? As for me? I never liked the show past a few episodes. I immediately hated how the scriptwriter aimed to make them suffer as much as possible, and how the robot action was completely useless, and the plot was so disjoined, and the ending was such a cop-out, and lots of other shitz so many other idiots LOVED WITH PASSION! Jesus, we are full of sadists! Where Narutaru lacked an overall objective in its story and was mostly random arcs about kids in happy-go-lucky situations going from bad to worse, Bokurano actually tries to have one. Saving the world with a huge robot!…Pretty lame-sounding, doesn’t it? What are we to like this premise, twelve year olds? (EVA 01 stares angrily towards me) Errr… What I meant is that it basically uses a childish concept as means of shock effect. And it works too. Imagine the Care Bears dancing happily around a tree and then suddenly the tree sprouts teeth, eats them, goes “munch, munch” and them spits out their bloody sculls.…Yeah, nice way to kill your childhood innocence. Bokurano is similar. Just like its older brother used cute little critters, this one uses big robots. You think it’s going to be childish but then turns into Happy Tree Friends … without the humorous irony.Does it work? Erm, yes, it works as shock value for sure. It really is GASP material the first time you watch it. The thing is, shock value is a one-time special ability. Just like any super attack in any shounen series, it only works once on each individual. The second time you try to use it, the opponent has a way to counter it, block it, negate it, or in the case of the viewer “It’s not as shocking anymore!” Therefore, it needs to have other elements to keep the viewer still interested in replying the whole mess. …And this is where it all falls down. Narutaru was bad in this regard as the complete lack of general direction as a story meant that you have no reason for you to want to relive the whole mess. What is there to watch? Bokurano kinda fixed that problem by adding the objective of world salvation. Ok, now you can watch again the process of how they try to do it.…And it still fails.You see, it’s not really about saving the world. It’s about kids in miserable situations. It’s like “Wow, I will be dead soon; how will I spend my last hours alive?” So you can pretty much screw the whole battle for the salvation of Earth. Although losing the battle automatically means that Earth will blow up, it’s not really the point at all. The robot battles are as I said flashy extras that serve very little to the actual plot. They do provide mystery as in many cases the cast tries to figure out what the hell is going on here, and in some other cases it does affect the story as the damage from the battles affects the lives of the rest of the world. All that unfortunately happens too rarely and in very convenient moments to actually feel natural in-story. For example, if someone is killed by a bad robot, he will be relative to the kid piloting the robot at the moment. Practically, the story could easily be remade as individual arcs around the last moments of children with terminal diseases. You can take out the robots and the salvation of Earth and it would make almost no difference. What I mean is that although there are 14 kids that are supposed to be the main cast, the story always focuses on one or two at the most at any given time, leaving all the rest as background decoration, until their time to fight and/or die comes along. Now, I am not an ass to demand 14 characters being exposed at the very same time. But I do demand for all of them to be equally important to the story. They could for example do a Bacanno! type of non-linear story, where we see the same events happening all the time but through different perspective, each time from a different kid. We could have 1 battle with a bad robot in the whole series and each kid gets to fight it at the same time. That would make it concrete. But no, what we got was a singing contest. The kids were taking turns, waiting like drones for an invisible force to choose their turn and then all of a sudden they would be thrown in a dreadful situation where they are supposed to resolve it before fighting for the last time in their lives. It works as shock value but at the same time it has no overall binding with the damn setting of the story. You don’t give a damn about the setting; it’s a vague stage for overblown drama. You don’t give a damn about the story either; it’s an excuse the mangaka used to start killing his characters in a sadistic way. Not to forget to mention all that political mambo-jumbo they threw in that serve as nothing else but detracting from the main themes of the series. Why have them if they make the story even sloppier than it already is? That translates to bad storytelling. It was bad in Narutaru; it tried to be better here but in fact it ain’t.I must also point out that the anime version pulled the adaptation decay turd on us and changed the ending to be happy in a way. The directors didn’t like sad endings, plus they were working for GONZO so anything that shitty studio changes and deviates from the source material, could only result to failure. I preferred the sad and grim manga version far better and I definitely wouldn’t want someone from that god awful team to mess with any premise. They can only change things to worse. And so I get to the characters, the part thousands around the world describe as “realistic and sympathetic”. … My ass they are. The story is supposed to be about contemporary Japan of today, normal kids of today, having normal lives of today. And all you get is the most forced drama imaginable, just for the sake of cheap thrills. A kid would have a normal life and all of a sudden he needs to pilot some robot and die in the process. Aside from the noble ideal of sacrifice though, lots of shitz magically appear in his life. All of a sudden his parents become assholes, his house gets burned, his girlfriend cheats on him, and someone kicked his puppie. All at the same time. YOU CALL THAT REALISTIC???But I know why so many people out there were fooled by this travesty. It’s because they were all accustomed to shitty cartoons and anime, with hyperactive youths, superpowers, and the power of friendship that magically makes friends mortal enemies and resurrects the dead. Suddenly they get these meak kids without superpowers and OMG THEY ARE THE MOST REALISTIC CHARACTERS I HAVE EVER SEEN! Then they show their simple everyday lives and OMG IT’S SO REAL! And then they pilot robots while having cancer, their father gets murdered, their cat get run over by a car, and their socks are smelly and everyone goes OMG THAT IS SO TRAGIC!TRAGIC???!!! It is the most overblown, impossible to believe, ludicrous thing that can ever happen and you LIKED IT??? Since when do real people do all this shit? And don’t pull the old “This is anime and it doesn’t have to be so real” routine on me. You called them real and simple and you get NOTHING OTHER THAT THOSE! And REAL??? This is not some slice-of-life, its main themes are about tragedy of the highest degree and regards the meaning of life. There is not a single drop of everyday-real in it. Let me tell you why you liked them. It’s because you are sadists! Just like the mangaka you are emotional vampires, feeding on other peoples’ misery just to find comfort in your own little miserable lives. You are so fed up with super perfect and idealistic superheroes, you find the Average Joe out there and you lash all your frustration on him.And to heck with all the emotional BS; how did you even put up with the retarded plot? We have 14 kids, one is the pilot and the rest just wait their turn? What is their purpose in the show in the meantime; being background decoration until the scriptwriter decides out of the blue to throw in a “The robot calls you to be the next pilot” ass-pulling trope to turn their role from Kid12 to Main Hero? THIS SUCKS!And down to it, do you even care about the characters or are you just shocked so much by the unbelievable drama that befalls them at once to the point you only sadistically care about the drama and NOT the actual characters? I bet most won’t even remember their names and faces five episodes after they are dead because they are THAT forgetabble as characters. But the drama? Oh, no, you will probably remember the horrible things that happen to them in detail. How realistic and humane indeed. THIS SUCKS AGAIN! Hm, what did I leave out? Ah, yes, Art and Sound. I won’t stick here much, sue me. The CG on the robots is generally unnatural but this is expected because the show is animated by that piece of shit studio GONZO. They never made a single CGI model that doesn’t look fake. The character figures look simplistic and unappealing but that is not really a minus. If they were trendy shounen leads, they would be complete sh*t in the context of the story; so at least they save face where they lose it in character motivation. So good job there for a change. … Too bad they are also so blunt-looking you will forget them very soon.Cinematics for atmosphere built-up? Sure, they are ok. BGM? I didn’t lose my mind over it but it was ok. Voice acting? … Hm, they sound natural. Even that mascot critter does not have a squeaky voice. Nice.… but never great. I sure liked the controversial aspect of the series. It’s not really about kids piloting transforming robots and happy-go-lucky protect the planet from evil aliens. It is also thought-provoking in a way, as it does make you think and feel strange about the situations the kids are thrown in. But DAMN everything is based too much on shock value to the point it overshadows everything else. It leaves you with a vivid impression because of the horrible things that happen in it yet at the same time, it has very little to back it up. The second time you try to watch it, you clearly see it ain’t so dramatic because the drama only works once and the actual plot is peanuts. Also, the focus on character exposition is amateurish, as most feel like stunts for most of the story until magically thrown to the position of Main Hero for the sake of… well, dying. Character exposition moments before dying? Talk about Newbie Errors 101. Too many characters, too little time invested on each, too many things befalling each one at once, making it unnatural. I know most anime fans don’t care about that and as long as it shocked them it is considered a success. I on the other hand look at the bigger picture. Does it do it better than other stories with similar elements? Just think about the most famous titles that kinda remind you of Bokurano (and it ain’t Narutaru ). Alien Nine ? Hm, maybe. Elfen Lied ? Far less characters and thus far more focus on each one of them. Madoka Magica ? It’s by SHAFT and has an awesome outro, so it loses to it. Neon Genesis ? Sorry, dwarfed big time. Battle Royale ? Ok, now it is invisible. My, look at that, now it ain’t so special after all. It may rank on the better made but it still feels bad next to the titles it has similarities with. For all it maters, I admit it’s better handled than Narutaru but that’s it.By the end of the show, you will only remember tragic events and not human compassion. You will remember tropes but not characters. And in case you have read the manga you will curse the show for making such a cop-out ending that contradicts it own ideaology. So no, it’s a vey bad show, hyped by sadists and flimsy emos who are easily sucked in by the likes of Titanic or Avatar level of tear jerkers. Not good at all. I even refuse to include it in the good titles of the year it was made. And it’s also a GONZO show; why the hell would I say good things about it? p.s. Here are some overall rating for Narutaru next to Bokurano. Just a last moment bonus and such…Animation: Narutaru:6, Bokurano:8Sound: Narutaru:6, Bokurano:8Story: Narutaru:4, Bokurano:5Characters: Narutaru:5, Bokurano:5Value: Narutaru:3, Bokurano:3Enjoyment: Narutaru:4, Bokurano:5Average: Narutaru:4.5/10, Bokurano:5.5/10
If you have any interest in the story of Bokurano, I'd suggest just reading the manga. Between the poor animation, characterization butchering, extra convulted plot points that lead to more plot holes, and great dialogue such as "Seiki is a good soldier, but doesn't eat his vegetables," or "I'm so thirsty, I could stand under a stream of water and drink it all!" there really is nothing the anime does better than the manga.
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