I now have a new top 10 favorite anime series — possibly ranked as high as number 5. I'll have to rewatch it to be sure, but one thing I do know is that I fucking absolutely and fantastically love Bokurano.
There. Now don't read any more of this page (or ANY OTHER online reviews) and go and watch it now. Seriously, I guarantee you that every other review that you find about this show is not going to be as generous as I am, and they're going to spoil the ever-living shit out of this incredible series without warnings in their opening paragraphs in a sad, sad attempt to try and make themselves look cool. Unfortunately for them it'll just make them look like tools. They're all a bunch of assholes — every last one of them.
For those of you who chose to remain because you're pussies who simply can't trust me (or you're one of the few who hid your face and closed your eyes during most of Lelouch's rebellion in CG and don't plan on seeing Bokurano anyway)... *sigh*... You're just going to end up ruining a few of the major surprises that this story hits you with at many points during its run. So be it.
Bokurano (which translates to "Ours") starts out with a group of kids on a summer nature program on the seashore. They soon stumble upon a deep cave near the beach they're exploring, and they find a man with a bunch of high tech computers hiding in it. No, Kokopelli (the stranger in question) wasn't doing anything indecent or perverted (unlike what 95% of real Japanese men would have been doing), but he says that he's been developing a new video game and that he needs 15 beta testers since he's almost done with his programming. The group of 13 year-olds (and one 10 year-old little sister) happily agree to help (well, the 10 year-old's douchebag of a brother refuses to let her sign up), and after placing their hands on some weird hand-print contraption, they're warped out of the cave and made to wonder if any of that stuff really just happened. The good news for the kids is that they aren't going mental, but the bad news is that they soon find themselves in the middle of a shitstorm the likes of which only a man who hates children with a passion of a thousand supernovas exploding at once (like the guy who wrote Narutaru [aka Shadow Star]) can write them into.
In signing that hand-print contract, the kids are recruited into piloting a giant (500 meters tall) robot that looks like... Fuck me, I don't know what the hell it looks like other than IMMENSE. This robot (that the chillun name the Zearth) is piloted by one of them at a time (the first battle's pilot is Kokopelli) in a cockpit that features nothing but a circle of mismatched chairs — each seat being a double for one that holds special meaning for each kid. Soon it's explained that every contract signer is forced to do battle with an enemy robot — each just as large (and strange) as the Zearth — that simply warps in from out of nowhere. At this point (after the first child battles and defeats his alien attacker), the kids think that it's still a ton of fun, despite the 2,000+ casualties caused by the no-holds barred fight in the middle of a coastal town, but soon after the melee the piloting boy falls off the shoulder of Zearth (after a celebratory pat-on-the-back by a cohort), and the kids realize that "Shit! We's can dies too!" What they don't realize right away though is that instead of "can dies" they should have been worrying that they "wills dies."
WARNINGS OF SPOILERS (well, even more than I've already spit out)
After Kokopelli disappears, following his giant robo-battle (he battled before any of the kids, remember, Mr. Short Term Memory?), the kids receive a new sensei of sorts... Actually, the term sensei tends to bring up visions of wise individuals who have a student's best interest in mind; in this case, Dung Beetle (a small, hovering, demonic, sadistic, evil-looking, assholic mouse-thing) does his best to fuck with his charges' minds, and he taunts them and tries to get them to turn on (or rape) each other for his own amusement. So anyway, Dung Beetle comes along and starts explaining the rules of this robo battle royale to his charges — which quite honestly should have been explained to the poor fucks before they even signed up for the ride, but like I said, Dung Beetle is the ultimate in asshattery. Some of the rules are as such: 15 robot fights will take place total, with the fate of the Earth hanging in the balance. Each fight has one child piloting the Zearth, and if he or she loses, then everything in this world (actually, everything in this UNIVERSE) gets erased. If the child wins, they'll proceed to the next round... Well, "they'll" meaning all the kids except the last pilot... Who fucking DIES, due to the fact that the Zearth is fueled by the pilot's life force.
I told you, this thing is one giant mind fuck and an "I HATE You" letter to children everywhere. They're damned if they do, and damned if they don't. And on top of all this, Dung Beetle mocks each of their deaths, and laughs at each new pilot when they're selected (and they're marked by some funky tattoo somewhere on their body lest they forget that they're about to die one way or another), and he's also been known to mock their virginities and their family lives when he's feeling frisky. I'm serious, think of a douchey character in any movie, book, or television show that you've ever seen or read: Biff Tannen, Chet Donnelly, Tom Cruise... They are nothing but amateur assholes compared to Dung Beetle.
Anyway, after a few battles, and thousands upon thousands of casualties, the military figures out what's going on and they try to intervene. The kids are all for this (and for trying to get the hell out of their contracts), but Dung Beetle barely even acknowledges any outsider's presence. From this point on things escalate to almost absurdly dramatic levels, but as bizarre as the situation is, the story progresses as realistically as you'd expect if 500 meter-tall robots started warping in and beating the shit out of each other in cities in our real world. There are no stupid jumps in logic, and the way the governments of the world react and try to use what's going on to their own benefits is just how you think it might occur here and now. In fact I was quite impressed with some of the talk that we overhear in the military pow-wows in Bokurano: "Do we share what we learn about the Zearth with other countries?" "What if we can't get the kids out of piloting this thing?" "Can conventional weapons destroy the invaders?" "What the goddamn fuck is that sadistic, floating mouse head?!" Questions that I myself was wondering up to that point. And yes, all of these are answered during the course of the show.
END OF SPOILERS
All I've told you is pretty much contained in the first 7 or 8 episodes; there are still tons of twists and deaths, and major political storylines to be had that I will not dive into. I'll just warn you one more time that Bokurano is fucking INTENSELY psychological, and the sense of utter dread is palpable at times. It doesn't pull any punches (and this show goes for the kidneys and the nuts most of the time). The FEEL of this series is completely different from anything else I've seen before. Gantz (the manga only, not the faggy anime) is probably the closest to Bokurano's tone, but still not quite as awesome. Whereas Gantz is all about survival (and gruesome deaths), Bokurano is about redemption (or lack thereof).
Yes, some questions are not answered when all is said and done, but they didn't really have anything to do with the story at hand. This was a story about our Earth, and the kids who piloted the Zearth. All general enigmas regarding them and their place in this "game" are explained. Think of it like the 7-episode Giant Robo OVA: When it was done all the questions about Operation Earth Stand Still are answered, but the many mysteries of the world as a whole are still left open (and you don't really care as they make the story that was just told that much more personal).
Before I wrap things up I do want to talk about the hubbub and the shit being talked about the original manga author and the director of the anime. There's a story going around that the anime director (Hiroyuki Morita) went to the manga author (one Mohiro Kito) before starting production on his series and asked if the author would mind if he "saved the kids" in his animated version of the story. Kito allegedly said something like, "Whatever, as long as you don't use any deus ex machina device or magic to do so, and you keep to the rules of the world." But then Kito went onto his blog (ugh, I detest that word) and ranted and raved to his followers that Morita "hates the story of Bokurano! He is the wrong person for the job of animating it! Do not watch the show! He is the devil! Now, drink your Kool-Aid along with me!!!"
Well, after seeing all of the anime and reading the synopsis of the manga I can tell you that the anime has a larger body count than the manga (which isn't complete yet, but characters that the manga is letting live have all been killed off in the anime), and that the anime does not cop out at all. In fact the anime runs right at the brick wall with its head lowered in a battering ram, and it ACCELLERATES while only a few feet away. So, whether Kito's fears on Morita's directing capabilities were simply unfounded or true (and Kito's crazy rant helped to change his mind) is unknown, but Morita delivered, let there be no doubt about that. What I find quite humorous though is that the only other thing of any real note that Morita directed in the past was Studio Ghibli's G-rated The Cat Returns. A good movie to be sure, but a pure white feather compared to Bokurano's 2-ton, rusted iron wrecking ball of a tale.
So, what did I think of Bokurano? Well, if you read this thing from the beginning you'd know that I already rated it. I don't like to repeat myself, so go back up to the top and re-read if if you've forgotten, dillweed.
Okay, G, so like having kids get tormented by a floating, shit-eating, mouse thingy is always fun and all, and watching them freak out 'cause they's gonna die if they win or lose their next giant robot battle is always good for a laugh... But this Bokurano anime, holmes, well, it ain't got NOTHIN' on the manga it's based on. Yeah, the story is close to the same an' shit, but the robot battles are all expanded from 2 minute slugfests into chapter-long gruesome and weary streetfights. Oh hell yeah! And when Kako flips out in the anime? Oh man, that ain't NOTHIN' compared to how psycho the assho' goes in the manga. And he ain't even jus' "accidentally" killed in the manga neither. He's fuckin' KNIFED in the NECK in order to stop his psychoness, in the middle of an already pitched battle, mothafucka!
Yeah, I remember when our scientists first sent out giant robots into other galaxies, and even alternate Earths. They were meant to be diplomats on peaceful journeys, but every last one of them turned into harbingers of death and destruction. We still don't know if it was caused by them getting knocked around while entering an alien atmosphere, or if a lead programmer messed around with their OS's because his job was over the minute the robots shipped out of the factory, but there was not a one of those automatons who didn't wipe out an entire planet after electing a few preteen children to mock pilot itself in some morbid attempt to make them think that they were responsible for their own people's apocalypse.
If only we weren't so busy on our own planet watching rediscovered ancient media programs about ex-celebrities being forced to live in single houses together we might have been able to activate the robots' self-destruct mechanisms before they completely eradicated the worlds they were sent to. Damn that Vanilla Ice and his zany live action reality exploits!