Protto gives summer ’15 anime Rokka: Braves of the Six Flowers a look-see.
Rokka – Braves of the Six Flowers Episodes 1-5: Petering Out
Eh? Ehhh?! …Whoa, tough crowd. This show is hemorrhaging interest in it fast. Or my interest in it, anyway. It just doesn’t have enough going on for me to keep my attention; not enough for me to get my brain juices flowin’, y’know? Well that’s not necessarily a bad thing. A show can lack the substance if it’s got the style to hook me. It’d be like empty calories in junk food (incidentally, I’ve never been big on junk food in real life outside of, like, an occasional piece of chocolate). But Rokka seems to have lost that around the first episode too, so…
We’re jumping ahead, though. The anime takes place in some standard fantasy world – what is its name again? Fuck me – where evil demons periodically attack humans. Wait, calling it “standard” isn’t fair, because this world invokes more Mayan influences in its cities’ architecture. Or maybe it’s Aztec. Close enough. Point is, you won’t see many European castles appearing in the backdrop. Anyway, when these demons attack every few hundred years, six and ONLY SIX Chosen Ones appear to tide the surge of evil and save humanity. The story follows Adlet Mayer, a cocky young man who proclaims to be the strongest man in the world and his adventure to destroy the looming menace after he becomes one of the chosen six. But soon after meeting up with the rest of his party members, he discovers that there… IS A SEVENTH CHOSEN ONE! Could one of them be a spy for the demons?! You’ll just have to watch and see!
Well I am watching, but I’m not sure I like what I see. I keep having to replay certain portions of each episode because I find my eyes have drifted off from my monitor before I’ve realized it. To be perfectly honest, I’m actually finding it difficult to even muster enough to say about the show in a full-length article.
Perhaps it’s because the characters are so middle-of-the-road? When I saw the first episode, I thought the main character would be able to put his money where his mouth is. See, much like Batman, he uses a bag of underhanded tricks to catch opponents off-guard instead of outright brawling them. Obviously, he’s not really the strongest man in the world, but it was an interesting departure to see a character use his wits and cunning to effectively best his enemies as opposed to hearing some boring, dense braggart go off on a spiel about honor and then drag on a fight for ten episodes like in most shounen. But ever since then, he’s revealed himself to be that very same dense braggart with a boringly unshakeable sense of honor that I’ve come to despise. Seriously, why does he already want to believe in all these other weirdos whose faces he never even saw until a day ago?
The rest of the cast doesn’t fare much better. We have the naively kind, but mischievous princess who is out-of-this-world hot (also, what’s with the cat themed armor and bunny ears?); her unflappably dutiful knight whose rigid mannerisms conflict with the main character; some sniper chick whose personality is as stark and blank as her skin tone; the unflappably dutiful female leader of the group; a super strong, sadistic loli; and a mysterious, eccentric weirdo. I know, I know, it’s only been five episodes. But come on, that’s why you have to grab me as soon as possible! If I’m already disinterested in all of the characters by the fifth episode, well…
Perhaps it’s because the world building leaves so much to be desired? Man, I just don’t care about what happens to this place. Everywhere we’ve been to has been near devoid of human life. Sure, there was that city Adlet visited in the first episode and those downtrodden villagers in the second, but is that it? Apparently, demons are going to kill millions of people if they win the war, but I’ve yet to see many of these supposedly endangered lives so far.
Plus, ever since the second half of the first episode, so much of this world’s generic lore has been force fed to us in typical anime fashion: two people capitalizing on a lull in action to awkwardly stand around and lecture everything at us. Maybe it’s simply a case of anime’s limitations in its runtime. Maybe taking up two to three twenty-minute episodes to set up the story is bad pacing, but really, is giving us a history lesson over some fake still murals any better? Besides, I still can’t say I understand the particulars of this universe very well, and I tried to pay attention, honest! Like, who is this demon king who’s about to be revived again? Why does he want to destroy humanity? ‘Cause he’s evil? Who are these supposed mahou shoujo-esque Saints, and for what purpose do they exist? Why do they have powers? Who are these gods who are giving them these powers?
Speaking of which, how do these powers work, anyway? Apparently there are dozens of mahou shoujos out there somewhere, all of which have been given dominion over a specific type of magic. The princess, for example, can summon blades out of thin air, and the loli has powers over swamps… or something. Are these powers random? Are they only useful in situations related to combat? What about the other types of magic? How do they work? Like, how did the other six Chosen Ones enter and get trapped inside that fog barrier in the fourth episode when it was already up and running? Geez, so much to consider.
Perhaps it’s because the cinematography is so flat? Really now, I expect better of you, Spice and Wolf guy. I know S&W is a wholly different entity from Rokka, but again, ever since the first episode ended, all the energy and bombast feels like they’ve petered out. In the three episodes since then we’ve focused mainly on wide shots of lush greenery as our heroes hoof it to the demon homeland. Don’t get me wrong, the scenic vistas look nice and everything, but they’re not particularly salient perspectives to frame the story on.
Adlet and the princess ride through fields on horseback and talk. Then Adlet goes off and finds the emotionless sniper chick in an abandoned village and they talk. She runs away into the woods, is tracked down to a brook, and then they talk. Then Adlet and the emotionless chick hike through a forest trail together while they talk. The camera alternates between wide shots and the occasional close-up shot, but every time, the only thing surrounding them is vegetation as far as the eye can see. It’s sooo boring. The most ironic thing you can say about this camerawork is just how lifeless it feels. And then, on the fifth episode, our heroes find themselves trapped in a blue underground dungeon. Wow, man, really?
Maybe the director thought all this setting up wasn’t exceptionally substantial and was simply going through the motions so we can finally get to the intrigue. But perhaps that’s why I’m not feeling it.
Perhaps Rokka’s mystery just doesn’t pique my curiosity. Part of a mystery’s tension is discovering which character has betrayed you by committed the unthinkable. Ideally, you’re supposed to like all the given characters, so much so that you’re hoping against hope that none of them did it. Or at least that your favorite ones didn’t. Revealing the criminal as someone you had initially trusted is then both shocking and heartbreaking. The catch here, however, is the fact that we haven’t really spent enough time with any of these people to care which one of them is the culprit. The show thus far has been too dull, too flat, and too fixated on getting as much of the history out of the way as possible for any of the characters to really shine. I mean yeah, technically you could say that everyone has now been cast in doubt, but that’s because we only just met these seven people one episode ago. How can we know what any of them are really like, or where they were, or what they were doing when our eyes weren’t on them this whole time?
You know, the mystery isn’t even properly set up. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by the Danganronpa games, but the last time I checked, a suitable mystery shouldn’t shy away from having all its clues out in the open. A true mystery has all its evidence laid bare just before, during, and/or right after the event takes place so that A) the audience can experience the thrill of piecing together the events themselves, or B) the audience can see how all the clues come together in a way they weren’t expecting. But see, like I’ve mentioned, I don’t really understand the inner workings of this world’s magic system. So that burning question of “WHO ON EARTH COULD HAVE POSSIBLY TRAPPED EVERYONE INSIDE THE FOG BARRIER?!” isn’t exactly making me do any mental backflips to figure it out.
Well, I say that, but to be perfectly frank, I’ve already narrowed down the list of suspects. It won’t be the emotionless sniper chick after being revealed to be half demon. It would be too obvious. It won’t be the loli because she’s sadistic enough as it already is without turning out to be a villain; also, anime loves its lolis. It won’t be the mysterious eccentric weirdo because he’s already mysterious and it would, again, be too obvious. It probably won’t be the honorable knight because they keep cutting to him making blatantly suspicious-looking facial expressions. That’s a red herring if I’ve ever seen one. So that leaves us with three possibilities: 1) our protagonist Adlet, who has some clearly shaky backstory about how he was trained to be one of the Chosen Ones, even though no one except their god would know who’d be picked, and then conveniently became one. 2) The female leader, who mentions that the magical suits of armor Adlet fought to enter the dungeon only attack people who don’t have the key, which the former has in her possession. And 3) the princess. Technically, she hasn’t actually done anything to stand out (except maybe for that brief moment where she freaked out and broke, uh, something), but you know how anime is these days. Japan has gotten very self-aware lately, so you’d be hard-pressed to find a mystery/horror/thriller anime where the childhood friend/prospective housewife/princess character isn’t crazy/the antagonist/first to die. It’s like how Hollywood is obsessed with having the protagonist’s best friend turn out to be a traitor. Or how video game stories always have the organization you’re working for turn out to be corrupt.
Point is, it’ll be one of them. Watch.