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.
Bokurano, aka Narutaru mk2. The guy who makes these things, mangaka Kitou Mohiro, has a thing for shock value around children abuse. 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”. It used to be a big deal at the time, until many other similar anime came out (Madoka Magica, Rainbow, Made in Abyss, Re:Zero) and made those shows to feel far less special. The sadistic pleasure many anime fans get from such anime though didn’t go away and to this day we get the same excuses of a show being realistic or deep or mature because it tortures endlessly its characters.Anyways, you are not going to watch this anime for its animation, since it was made by the most lame Studio GONZO, and directed by someone who hated the source material and wanted to have his own twist. It was a disaster waiting to happen. WHO THE HELL 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. And yet a lot of people still liked it. There’s your maturity!Anyways, you are not going to watch this anime for its plot, because it sucks ass. Kids pilot mecha to save the world, yuppie duppie doo, where have I heard that one before. It has the twist of kids dying when they use the mecha which leads to the whole misery motif so many like. It’s basically “Wow, I will be dead soon; how will I spend my last hours alive?” That aside the plot is slow and stupid. 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. You can take out the robots and the salvation of Earth and it will make almost no difference. The story could easily be remade to be the last moments of children with terminal diseases. The robot battles are flashy extras that offer little to the actual plot, which is non-stop suffering. Having negative consequences is not the same as having convenient moments of tragedy, since they are so extreme to the point they don’t differ from any other classic mecha show where the good guys always win and all the buildings get fixed in a few days. It’s why whenever a civilian is killed, he will conveniently be a relative of the kid currently piloting the robot.What ultimately ruins the premise is the simple fact that for most of the show the children will have no control over what is going on. They were tricked into a situation they didn’t know it had negatives and then they are expected to die one after the other for the greater good without again be able to do anything about it. Yes, if they disagree the world will be destroyed and all, but tricking the saviors into giving up their lives is not heroic at all. It’s evil. There is no way in hell I will describe the main characters as “realistic and sympathetic” as so many called them. They are typical kids with no control over what happens. I don’t want to be like them, they don’t inspire me, they are not heroic, and nobody with a healthy mind would want to be in their shoes. The only thing people remember about them is the tragic situation they are in, they don’t actually care about them as characters. If you don’t believe me, ask them if they can even remember how they are called. I bet you 90% of them won’t be able to mention a single name without looking it up. Also the director didn’t like the manga ending and changed it to a happy one, so all manga readers hated the anime for ruining the premise.Also, I need to repeat that the mangaka really loves to torture children in more than one ways. As if being chosen to die ain’t enough he also makes sure their parents are assholes, their house gets burned, their girlfriends cheat on them, and someone kicks their puppy. All at the same time. I fail to see the realism so many are yapping about. It’s as miseryporn as it gets. Being miserable does not make something realistic, much less better than cheery series. It only means the watcher finds pleasure in the most overblown, impossible to believe, ludicrous things, as well as in the suffering of innocent people. Take that as you will.
This anime isn't for people who are desperate for second to second intervals of fanservice and action. That isn't to say that there is a significant absence of action, but rather it isn't the point of the story. It's a tragic character backstory of children who are fated to hurt. I watched it hopelessly, half-wishing it wasn't just a story and that I had some power to make these lives better--to save them. People who can appreciate a good story and have a bit of a masochistic tendency to actively look for stories that will break their hearts every 20-some minutes--this anime is for them. I typically watch anime like Deadman Wonderland and Future Diary. But this anime will be marked on my list as a classic. My soul is still recovering from having watched this anime several years ago. Only consider watching this if you are able to brace yourself for an onslaught of sobbing. I suspect a bit of sadism from the creators, but I also have a bit admiration for their talent.
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