This is review number two hundred and three. This anime is part of the Spring 2007 lineup. This is also a requested anime review. I recently opened a recommendation box where I ask people to give me some anime they want reviewed. I’ll only be taking in recommendations this June so if you want an anime reviewed, click the picture of the adorable Mix at the right side of this blog. You can’t miss her. I won’t be taking anymore after that. I honestly wanted to try this out and I mostly got super mainstream anime requested. I also am glad that I capped it off to only three because most of them might’ve given me ten which is scary. Hey, I’m a completionist so that’s OK. I’m also preparing for the rest of Winter 2011 and Spring 2013 so I just want a good challenge as I review 1000 anime.
Anyways, I’ll be reviewing Bokurano. It’s a twenty four episode anime about a bunch of kids and a robot. It’s pretty straight forward. Or is it? It’s a pretty decent show and, heh, I’m being nice when I say that. Let’s read on.
The anime is about fifteen kids attending a summer camp. They are in a small island participating in a nature activity. They don’t really know each other that well because they come from different schools and it takes time for them to warm up to each other. During a nature exploration though, the kids decided to visit a cave near the beach. It’s a normal cave but they decided to go deep inside it. There they find some computers and signs that someone was living inside it. They soon meet a man named Kokopelli that tells the kids he is actually making a game in the cave. He needed beta testers and the kids agreed to play. They registered and before they know it, a large robot appeared in their island. Kokopelli then tells the kids that this game is for the battle for the world. The chance to save mankind from evil robots seems to be an exciting idea for the kids and they cannot wait to pilot their own robot for combat. The kids don’t know though that they just became part of a game where there are eventually no winners and the only thing awaiting them is death.
Taking the Pants Off
It’s pretty weird reviewing an anime from 2007. God, this was the year of Baccano and Lucky Star. This is certainly a great time in anime. I cannot wait to actually dive into the seasonal lineup for this year. For now though, I’m reviewing Bokurano. This had a lot of buzz during its release. I remember because I was in an anime club and, at every meeting, our president would announce some anime news to break the ice. There’s really only one thing you need to know about this anime. It’s from the mind of Mohiro Kitoh. He was the guy that created Shadow Star Narutaru. Basically, he was raping our minds long before Gen Urobuchi decided to tell anime stories full of nihilism. Kitoh doesn’t stop at nihilism. He is known for crafting deeply disturbing stories about children and the darkness of humanity. To get a better idea, let’s just say that he loves having children as his main characters and they often die in horrific manner and most are abused in such a way that it borders the uncomfortable. This was the case for Bokurano. The manga is really amazing. I’ve never read it myself because I’m anti-manga but it had such a huge following that the anime adaptation was soon reviled part way through its airing. There’s a nice story here but one thing that Bokurano proves is that Mohiro Kitoh’s great sense of storytelling seems to be too much of a task to be adapted.
The anime started out pretty normally and actually pretty slow. It had a large cast that certainly looked hard to balance but the flow of the story was pretty stable. The premise is pretty simple. The kids are contracted to participate in fighting giant robots using their own giant robot. Kokopelli stated that there are fifteen robots that will come to Earth and they must defeat them all. There was a moment of doubt and caution but the kids eventually decided to fight the robots. The idea of piloting your own giant robot to save innocent people is a tempting idea that no kid would really ever pass up. Plus, the idea of becoming a hero the world recognizes is a fun idea. Of course, fifteen characters piloting a robot seem to be overkill and the actual purpose of the game is still shrouded in mystery. It’s all minor details though compared to an awesome mecha life that rivals those in comic books and movies. There is a twist though. There is only one pilot for each battle chosen randomly. The robot they are piloting runs in “life force” or the life of the kids. When the battle is over, the kids would die. The reward for beating giant robots is apparently losing your life. This is where the anime really hits a high note. Take pre-teen kids that are usually angsty and rebellious then drop the notion that they will die if they win or lose is something that will really test the kids. The anime is soon about the kids weighing their options, finding a way to cope while having the big responsibility of protecting Earth in their hands. Yeah, this sounds like the perfect formula for some psychological trippings if there ever was one.
The premise of the anime is really good because it took the idea of a straightforward mecha battle with the usual “chosen ones” and then throws a big wrench at that concept. The kids are now forced to decide if they would want to die to save the Earth or let the whole thing burn. There are fifteen of them though so their decisions are obviously going to get some reaction towards the rest. The idea of finding out you’re going to die via a random selection can take a huge toll on you. Would you run or fight? Would you have peace of mind sacrificing yourself to protect the world? Can a decision so that big be something thirteen year olds should ever decide for themselves?
The anime had a slow start but eventually started moving at an intriguing pace at the fourth episode when the summer camp is over and they must live on with the fact that they will die at a moment’s notice. The first half of the anime pretty much focused on the pilots that would be chosen. There are a lot of characters but I’m glad there is a decent way to feature them all. The anime usually starts by presenting one character’s backstory. The one common theme among the kids is that they all have family issues and the anime slowly peel away at what exactly is wrong with that dynamic. From simple rebellious phase to abusive parents, the characters all had situations unique to them. The effect of their unique family dynamic usually takes a toll on the kids. Then the anime would reveal that they will be the next pilot. During this time, all bets are off and the kids all had their own way of handling the situation. Most of them grovel and wallow in despair at the thought of their life ending way too early. Naturally, this is the most basic response. With the characters getting so pathetically desperate, it soon becomes interesting to see how the flow of events would go down. If you combine the personal problems with the desperate notion to survive then you basically have a bomb ready to explode. This was the beauty of the anime. It shows just how ugly humans can be and how dark they can become. Rest assured that things do get a bit dark in the anime. It’s actually a welcomed darkness that is befitting of the psychological implications of the story. After all, they’re just kids and they’re personally troubled and then they’re at a point where they’re about to die with nothing left to lose. Anything they do doesn’t matter anymore because they’ll be dead anyways and you might as well go out with a bang. Fighting huge ass robots seems to be the perfect way.
Not all stories are dark though. Approaching the second half, most of the characters would react pretty differently. They don’t have the desperate notion that you’d expect and they mostly have peace of mind after being chosen. The show slowly becomes a bit dramatic as we take a look at the life of the various characters. Some of them don’t have personal problems. They’re just normal kids with normal circumstances placed in an unfavorable position. The darkness that made the first half of the anime good eventually vanishes to make room for some needed drama. Most characters would do some pretty wonderful things during their last moments and they rarely think of themselves.
While I personally would’ve enjoyed a darker progression, a bit of hope and comfort does seem to fit with the flow of the story. After all, not all characters are feeling angsty or rebellious. Some are well adjusted with more of a personal conflict bugging them. Simple conflicts like liking a girl but having a hard time to confess, leaving behind their siblings, not being able to see the birth of their younger siblings or leaving behind a life that is too important to abandon are among the personal conflicts the kids face at this point. They mostly embraced their position as sacrificial lambs and go out with dignity. I’d say the story took a martyr path at this point which I personally had time enjoying. I’m not saying I prefer darkness and desperation over drama. I just wasn’t able to fully connect with the characters and process everything presented to me.
Towards the second half, things got progressively convoluted. The premise of the anime is a mecha battle involving preteen kids facing a life altering decision and learning to cope with it. The anime slowly had another plot point pop up regarding the government. The country of Japan is getting destroyed because of all the mecha battles. The robots are so big that the innocent people are like ants compared to them. The government soon started contacting the kids and cooperating with them to stop this game. They wanted to save the country and the kids but the technology of the robots proved to be too advanced for the current capabilities as humans. This plot point was pretty straight forward at first because it was mostly concerned about the basic rundown of the game and the actual situation the kids are facing. There was a nice veil of mystery that was slowly being revealed as the show progresses. It was a smart approach. We get to see the kids hopelessly cling onto hope while we see the higher authorities fumble over how to counter the invading robots. The story would often shift to the government trying to research the robot the kids are piloting hoping to make sense of it all. There are also scenes where higher ups are discussing about the future of the country regarding the robots. I actually like this plot point at first because it gave the show a nice element of politics and humanity. There are a lot of people dying and building being destroyed because of the battles and it needs to stop. Humans are not that simple though as the government’s intention soon turned into something else.
As the show progresses, the focus is no longer just at the kids piloting the robot. It soon shifts to the various political people controlling the country and the various adults that try to interject the absurdity of the whole giant robot battles. The story tried to accommodate the backstory of new characters as well and some various melodrama regarding them. While I enjoy seeing new characters join the cause, the whole point of the anime soon became lost. This started out as a depressing story about kids playing a game where they automatically lose that soon evolved into a melodramatic story about the precious lives of the kids that turned into a story about the political powers and their interest with the robots that turned into a story about the melodrama of new characters and their various circumstances. In other words, this show slowly turned into a massive clusterf*ck. I was personally confused at the progression of the anime. It seems to be slowly started to look disjointed.
This anime actually had a lot of problems that just started building up. First of all though, there was massive hate for the anime because of how it changed a lot of things from the manga. There were certain orders of death that was changed and certain events cut from the anime. The director of the anime, Hiroyuki Morita, soon admitted to hating the original story and asked Kitoh if he can “save the children” to which Kitoh agreed to as long as they aren’t saved “magically”. I think he means via Dues Ex Machina. It was an absurd request because why are you working on something you do not fully support. It eventually pissed everybody off. The changes soon became drastic come the second half.
To be completely fair though, the alterations weren’t the reason the anime slowly crumbled. It’s actually simpler than that. The 11 volume, 66 chaptered manga was crammed in a twenty four episode twenty two minute per episode anime format. Morita could’ve changed the whole damn story and it still wouldn’t work because there was just too much information crammed in the anime that eventually started making no sense if you watch it. After all, how the hell can you decently tell a story of kids dying, the government interested in dubious things, the mecha battles, the mystery behind the mecha battles, the martyrdom of some of the kids, the personal side stories of the adult characters and the overloaded theme of despair, greed, hope, survival, family togetherness, and unity with a coming of age backdrop in just twenty four episodes? Well, you can’t. You just can’t. It’ll be convoluted way too easily and the anime will slowly lose direction.
The anime is so overloaded with a lot of things that the story really took a huge hit. The entire structure of the anime is faulty from the very start. It was pretty straightforward, at best, and very dialogue heavy. There were so many things crammed in the story that it kind of just flowed by itself trying to reach the end. It was missing one vital thing. The audience couldn’t keep up. One thing that was greatly missing was a personal connection with the story and the characters. I wasn’t able to connect with them on any level so the events of the anime were really shallow and most were boring. I mean, seeing a guy die after seeing his life turn around should’ve made me care and maybe even cry. I was willing to cry for this anime yet I can’t because I just didn’t care for the anime. “Oh, look. One of the adults died before she can do what she was planning to do all this time. I should be sad. Oh, look. Another mecha battle is commencing completely unrelated to the death of that character. I can’t feel sorry for her? The anime doesn’t take the time to make me care? Oh well. The story is moving at a pace of its own anyways.”
The story is also predictable. I’m guessing the manga was predictable as well but it had a lot of emotion to back it up. When it needed you to be shock then you will be goddamn shocked. The anime doesn’t have that emotion behind the story. It could never have one with how much stuff was in coupled by the story going at its own pace. Whether you saw the plot twist coming from miles away or not, it doesn’t matter. The story will progress regardless. At first, I was going to chalk it up to the standard of 2007 being simple then I realized Baccano had a lot of stuff in it as well yet managed to be awesome despite the setbacks. Bokurano could’ve done so as well but it just couldn’t. If the story wasn’t predictable then it was damn confusing. There were certain things the anime casually presented that were part of a plot twist and then there were moments where a lot of information was presented at the same time with little clarity. One example was the parent of one character being the person that leaked classified information to the public. There was already a scene where she was collecting information discreetly and discussing how the public should be noted. The blow was softened by the scene so the plot twist lost its shock. Another example was the scene where the characters noticed that the robot had nine lights on its head. The following revelations flowed naturally with no one giving a clear explanation. I was honestly lost as I watch the anime. Someone was an extra but they had enough numbers to battle all the evil robots yet they need two more members to complete the roster. So they had an equal amount but they needed to add more to get an equal amount because the first equal amount actually had things subtracted from it. Ugh, so much stuff.
The characters were pretty decent. The anime had an original cast of fifteen which was big starting out but the anime was able to give them a decent introduction. Some of the characters also had some decent transformation and their background explored so they’re actually pretty decent. They were missing certain things though like a colorful interaction among them. It all feels robotic, in my opinion, and no one really had a role in the group. They were just a group. Normally, you’d expect a leader. Maybe get a hot character all the guys want. Maybe a cowardly character, a tsundere or something like that. The anime had none of that. Maybe it did at first but with the characters dying, I think the anime realized it didn’t need to have a great character interaction. It was a shame because the characters should’ve left a bigger imprint on the story but they were simply forgotten once they died.
The adult characters are also pretty decent. They gave the story some added intrigue but they didn’t really develop and they dragged the melodrama way too much in the second half. The sudden focus on the military woman and the ex-yakuza was certainly not needed in the anime. I felt that their role was a bit forced but if the story was a little better then I’m sure they would’ve meant a lot more. I did enjoy the role of the politician father in the second half. He wanted to save the children but the rest of the world wanted him to shut up so his life was turned upside down. It was a nice subplot of the darkness the anime abandoned. There were also the greedy adults and the politicians that doesn’t really do much but add contrast to the characters since everyone was out for good.
Then there is Dung Bettle. He is the mascot of the anime. He is a floating mouse thingy with a big head and a little body. He has a nasty attitude and he loves seeing people in despair. He is like the Kyuubey of the anime. They were the mascot that you wanted to just die. He had a very good role in the anime because he was unsympathetic and he basically controls the life of the characters but he is more or less one of them. I love how they humanized him in the later parts of the anime but his dastardly attitude was enough to make him stand out remarkably. Seriously, this character will stay with you because everyone else just had poor personalities.
This anime really had the potential to be amazing. It’s a wonderful psychological anime that can really rattle the mind. I felt that this could’ve easily rivaled Madoka Magica in terms of the strong nihilism and despair both anime was built upon. Madoka is a masterpiece though nicely presenting a story you couldn’t get enough of. Bokurano was a convoluted mess that just couldn’t properly fix itself. It’s a shame. I wanted to love this anime because the premise is solid and the theme that Mohiro Kitoh weaved was very intriguing. There is no doubt that his manga are amazing. He should try writing original anime like Gen Urobuchi. Kitoh has an ideal sense of tragedy involving the innocence and vulnerability of children. Urobuchi has a more western approach to anime that makes it fresh but he adds a lot of tragedy in his works that it just becomes so very special. Kitoh can be greater than Urobuchi in my honest opinion but that’s for another time. Bokurano though had good intentions handled by the director of “The Cat Returns” (the most underwhelming Studio Ghibli piece) who clearly doesn’t understand the beauty of what he is adapting. It’s a goddamn shame.
Sight and Sound
Character design is plain. I think the anime was going for a more realistic look so most of the characters look very unflattering. The girls are pretty in a way. Their hair design is very nice and their outfit was pretty good. They don’t stand out at first but they will grow on you. The same goes for the looks of the guys. They are as plain as they can be. There are some bishies but they don’t stand out. You can only tell they’re bishies if the anime give us a close up of their faces. The adults look pretty normal as well and their outfits pretty much carry their personality. It’s not that bad though.
The animation is horrible. The characters lose their details when they move and they barely move at all. The anime is dialogue heavy so the characters mostly just talk and you can see only their mouth moves at certain scenes. The animation is lazy at best and limited in its movements. Certain scenes like characters running or sitting looks awkward and unnatural. It’s a missed opportunity because I can tell the anime would’ve been halfway decent, despite the convoluted story, if it has amazing animation. The top notch kind that really just looks incredible. The anime doesn’t have that. It has a poor story and poor animation. I am also not a fan of stripping the story of its violence. Certain scenes that requires blood or something graphic is not shown in the anime. I remember one scene where a guy got his arm cut off yet there was blood anywhere. There aren’t any on his clothes, on the floor or anywhere visible. It’s really lazy animation.
The mecha battles are pretty great though. I love how some of them are designed. The anime also altered some of the enemies but that’s alright. The robots really challenge the imagination and they have a wide range. From weird looking creatures to insects and the conventional robots, I love how they were conceived. The main robot looks pretty good as well. I love the dark color and the extremities being sharp so it looks like its tiptoeing. It’s a different kind of mecha but stays true to the traditional sense. The battles are slow and robotic at best. This was OK though because it matched the flow of the story. It was pretty limited but it had the flashy element most mecha anime needed. The CG on the robots was pretty stiff. This was made in an era were CG was awkward so that’s forgivable. I bet it was amazing back in 2007 though despite the cheap looking production values.
The anime’s OP is “Uninstall” by Chiaki Ishikawa. Oh man, 2007 was a simple year where voice actors aren’t doing their own anime songs. Chiaki Ishikawa is a wonderful singer with a heavenly voice especially when she starts hitting the high notes. This song is my favorite song she ever sang. It just had a nice solid verse and a wonderful chorus. The song is about hope and despair that nicely fits the anime. The OP sequence features all the kids and a few of the main adults with a hint at their role in the anime. It ends with Kokopelli holding the Earth though which was misleading if you know the story.
The anime has two ED. The first one is “Little Bird” by Chiaki Ishikawa. This is a mellow song with Chikai’s voice nicely giving it a dramatic note. The song is, again, about hope and despair told in a very positive light. The song is slow though and very emotional. In fact, the song and the ED sequence, featuring all the characters, had more emotion that the actual anime. The second ED is “Vermillion” by Chiaki Ishikawa. It’s pretty much like the first ED. It’s a sad song with a very powerful emotion behind it and Chiaki’s voice really made the song special. The lyrics are pretty mellow but it is still about hope and despair told in a very lovely way, to be honest. The ED sequence features all the kids holding hand in hand as they float in space.
4/10 “It’s a convoluted anime with a promising premise. It thrived in darkness and drama but ended in shallow disposition.”
I love the premise and I am very curious to try the manga just to see how much the anime screwed up. The anime still had some value in it if you look hard enough. It is poor overall though and it will just make you uninterested as you keep watching it. I’ll be fair though and give the first half a solid 6/10. If you enjoy psychological anime then check this out. If you’re hoping for a wonderful anime experience then this show doesn’t have that.
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It’s good to know that someone else knows Bokurano. It has been years since I’ve seen that anime or read the manga. I do know about some of the changes like the character order. You made some great points, but I do have to disagree with you on a few issues.
You’re right in cramming the whole story into 24 episodes. It becomes too overloaded and fast-paced for it’s own good. I would’ve preferred 39 episodes minimum where you can have more time for the world-building. Dung Beetle/Koyemushi was certainly a brutal mascot who had a very memorable personality. His voice actor was also in Shadow Star (also from Kitoh) where he played a villain who wanted to recreate a Khmer Rouge type massacre which was oddly appropriate given this character. Also, the theme songs were great.
I do disagree with the characters either having no or bad personalities. Some of them are bland which I won’t argue there. Jun was loathsome at first and not just because his VA is the same person who played Ryoma Echizen (I HATE Prince of Tennis), but at least his jerk behavior was intentional unlike that anime. I also thought some of the characters had tragic stories even before they were forced to pilot.
You did a great job in explaining all your points in this anime. Bokurano isn’t a classic, but I do find it to be a bit underrated.