When I look back at some of my favourite anime series, I am met with the worrisome notion that I am perhaps the devil incarnate. I adore Neon Genesis Evangelion and Mahou Shoujo Madoka★Magica, they are two franchises I have, and will continue to throw money at, a la the Philip J Fry meme. But what do these two series have in common? They feature children undergoing mental breakdowns. Children having existential crises. Children being turned into flesh confetti…
Now, there isn’t a particular feature on AnimePlanet or MyAnimeList for ‘recommendations on child suffering anime’ (perhaps it’s a list I need to draft), but I was recommended an anime that I believe to be the third piece of the misopedia triforce: Bokurano.
As I was recommended Bokurano off the back of the other two, I wasn’t particularly ‘taken aback’ by Bokurano’s flair for genre subversion. Despite all the promotional material featuring giant bots slapping each other about, this is by no means a typical ‘mecha’ anime. Arguably, the battles between the rock ’em sock ’em robots are perhaps the least interesting aspect of Bokurano.
On the surface, Bokurano’s opening episode is a wee bit clichéd. 15 young teenagers take a summer holiday to an island in Japan’s Kanagawa Prefecture. They explore a cave where they encounter a room full of computers and an eccentric chap named ‘Kokopelli.’ Having no sense of ‘stranger-danger,’ the children agree to play a game where they will pilot a humongous mecha-like creature, eventually referred too as ‘Zearth’ to defeat enemies intent on destroying Earth.
Unlike Madoka, Bokurano’s opening theme and intro sequence (‘Uninstall’ by Chiaki Ishikawa), doesn’t attempt to mislead the audience into believing this anime will be a jovial blast. When one of the lines is, roughly translated:
‘Where in this thin body do I find the strength to stand?’
‘I was told that I am just one of the countless specks of dust on this planet,
But that is something I cannot yet comprehend.’
You know you’re not sitting down for super fun times with friends.
It’s true to say that Bokurano doesn’t try maintain whatever fragile façade it had of being ‘slice of life’ for very long. It turns out there is more to this ‘game’ than Kokopelli lets on! Lives are at stake, and this anime has about as much respect for the human life as I do for Homoeopathy, American pale ales or the anti-vaccination lobby, which is not very much, if none at all. The death toll in this anime is staggering, and much of it is mentioned as an aside!
That isn’t to say that the children are mercilessly killed off before becoming well fleshed out characters. Bokurano does tend to follow a formula; a chair (representative of the child) is chosen, seemingly roulette style. The child with the chosen chair must pilot Zearth in the next battle. It’s a formula that, rather than becoming prosaic, actually works very well. Bokurano ( ぼくら の ) translates to ‘ours;’ it’s narrative centred on a collective of children pushed to the same emotional extremes, but with different motivations. Each child is dedicated an episode or two to explore their backstory. Debatably some are stronger than others. Without giving too much away my favourites featured:
Daiichi (50 year old kid), a stoic boy with an absentee father, who dedicatedly looks after his 3 younger siblings.
Mako (fashion kid), a girl with a passion for textiles who is frequently bullied at school because her mum was a prossie (prostitute to non-Brits).
Chizuru (chastity kid), a girl with a monkey for a dad who has a fair few disturbing liaisons with her teacher.
As mentioned, not every character is afforded an interesting backstory. Particularly Takashi (football kid), the first pilot, whose thing was that…err… he is energetic and used to play football! Although, in the grand scheme of this anime, he was probably the best off.
Following the first few episodes, my fiancé exclaimed, “Is this anime going to make me care about any of these characters!?” Let’s be clear, this anime doesn’t fall into the trap of trying to make every child character likeable. Which is patronising and non-indicative of the human condition. Children are people and some people can be real dicks. ‘Kako-kun’ being a particular meat truncheon, but I’ll let you make up your own mind about him.
Don’t go into this anime expecting a high animation budget with flawless action sequences. In fact some of the CGI battle sequences are quite clunky and are beginning to show their age. Bokurano leans towards a muted colour palette rather than the bright, attractive shades of something fantastical. This suits Bokurano nihilistic overtone to a tee.
There is a danger when writing a review for Bokurano of making it come across as an unending slog of misery and death. This is perhaps an oversimplification.
Aside from being deathy, Bokurano encompasses a plethora of issues and themes, including (but no limited too): grief, hope, fatalism, reconciliation, chairs, orphans, adoption, under age sex, self-harm, football, fashion design, real estate, the Japanese military, gravity defying mouse-like entities…
Now here are a bunch of pretentious statements:
Bokurano is a multi-faceted emotional roller coaster. Bokurano is a psychological drama with science fiction elements, whose ‘tour de force’ is its exploration of the interpersonal relationships between characters.
More importantly is fecking brilliant and you should watch it.
I’m going to lie down in a dark room now with a stiff drink.