It was meant to be a simple science field trip to occupy the summer vacation- but for the fifteen children who attend it, it becomes the start of something much more. Whilst exploring the back of a cave at the beach, the children stumble across a mysterious man named Kokopelli, who invites them to take part in a game in which they must pilot a giant robot and protect the earth by defeating an attacking alien force.
Through a mixture of boredom and curiosity, fourteen of the children sign up for the game, only to discover that both the robot and the aliens appear in the real world, and that one by one, each of them must defeat an alien and save the planet from destruction. But when the first of them to pilot dies after his turn is complete, the survivors come to realise that they are now caught in something far more dangerous than a mere game…
With so many mecha series around, it’s easy to get cynical about the whole genre- surely if you’ve seen one set of teenagers jump into a giant robot and save the world, you’ve seen them all. And indeed, at first glance, Bokurano itself seems to share more than a few similarities with the likes of Eva; the giant robot Zearth looks a lot like Unit 1, the aliens appear individually and each look different- they even have to be defeated by smashing their cores. Fortunately, such similarities are only superficial; scratch a little deeper, and Bokurano soon proves itself to be be something different and darker from the run-of-the-mill mecha series.
Since the impact of the story is highly dependent on being completely unaware of what’s coming next, I will endeavour not to spoil any of the twists, but suffice to say that Bokurano has plenty of cards to play in the plot department. The first revelation sets the tone for the series, but there’s more to come, as little by little the game unfolds and the children come to realise the full extent of what they’ve signed up for.
Whilst the main plot is deep in the territory of science fiction, Bokurano doesn’t fail to gloss over the consequences of being set in modern-day Japan; evacuation of civilians and the damage caused by Zearth’s fights are all highlighted rather than glossed over- in fact, the involvement of the Self-Defence Force becomes key to the plot later on. So far, the media hasn’t played much of a role, but they seem set to become more important later on.
Based on its main plot alone, Bokurano would have been a good read, but what really propels it into the realms of excellence is that character development has received equal attention. As each pilot takes their turn in Zearth, we are given insights into their personality, backstory and motivations- a process that gets more refined with each character that falls under the spotlight. They may seem like average seventh-graders, but each of the children has a story to tell- one suffers from the stigma of being a prostitute’s daughter, another faces some unfortunate consequences when she falls in love with a teacher, and so on. There’s a very fine line between making stories too bland and overloading them with so much angst that they become unrealistic, but Bokurano is one of the rare cases when a series manages to strike the perfect balance between these two extremes.
Unfortunately, Bokurano does have one weakness, and that is in its artwork. A very spare and simple style has been used, with lots of plain black-and-white and very little shading. Character designs aren’t particularly striking, and in some cases it is hard to distinguish between one character and another. In contrast, however, Zearth and the aliens are all given a far higher degree of detail.
An intriguingly different take on the mecha genre with plenty of added character drama thrown in, Bokurano never fails to impress. In the space of a few days, it has secured a place amongst my favourite manga series- the next chapter simply cannot come fast enough.