Containing the incomparable bombast of Code Geass' Goro Taniguchi, Back Arrow is a case of telling you exactly what it is on the label. Giant robots, political intrigue, plenty of nudity, and a villain that escaped from Dark Precure; Back Arrow has it all!
This series is streaming on Funimation
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Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.
Look, Steve, we've had to watch a lot of fun, weird, and boring stuff for This Week In Anime, and far be it for me to question what we get assigned but why did we watch Broken Arrow this week? It's not even anime. And it's not even a RWBY-situation where folks made a cartoon where people have pointy chins.
I'm sorry, Jean-Karlo, but as someone who once presented a Sakura-Con panel about why Twin Peaks is anime, I can't look at that poster and tell you in good faith that it cannot be anime.
Anime contains multitudes.
But where are the giant robots?
The robots are there if you believe. They're also there, period, if you watch Back Arrow.
Yes! This week, Steve and I were very lucky to watch Back Arrow. Yet another show I had known nothing about, this show kicked its way into my heart in a way that only a good tokusatsu can. And while I normally would hesitate to recommend toku, Back Arrow has enough flair and substance to make me wanna tell you guys: this is the good stuff.
Also, considering we ended up posting an unconscionable amount of gratuitous panty shots last week, we decided it's only fair we pay our debts with some manservice this time.
Right away, Back Arrow reminds me a lot of that old classic, s-CRY-ed; we have a political conflict fought out between extremely colorful politically opposed characters with superpowers/robots themed after their personality—and none of Hisashi Hirai's same-face!
So, the story goes that the world of Lingalind is surrounded by an endless wall. Two opposing nations have divvied the world between them: the vaguely-Amero-European Supremacy of Lutoh, and the Pan-Asian Empire of Rekka. The two nations butt heads with their Briheights, giant robots powered by the user's conviction.
I like how it immediately throws viewers into what feels like a fully realized world with its own technology and history. Like, from minute one, dudes start talking about these falling capsules called "Rakuho" and, while strange, you just infer they're a regular occurrence from the way everyone acts about them. Except for the one that contains a nude man. That turns out to be unusual.
Thankfully he's a completely normal person.
He's got a perfectly normal name, too, and the show lets us know it:
I love that Symphogear-ass subtitle so much.
BTW: I am all for the fake-out intro that Back Arrow gives us. The show is set up as a great sci-fi-flavored romance between the great General Kai and his Diviner friend Shu Bi fighting against a foreign power. Nope! It's... something else!
Man, I haven't seen the "spinning hand-holding freefall" maneuver since the first Vandread ending. This is just clawing at the old "00s science fiction" itch that made younger-me very happy back in the day.
It also reminded me a lot of vintage Gundam, with the way a group of hapless kids stumble into possession of a world-altering superweapon that makes them the target of shitty adults on all sides. It has a lot of Tomino-esque weirdness in its plot, characters, and sense of humor too. And names.
I mean, our titular character names himself that because it sounds like the Japanese word for "dumbass." That's beautiful. Tomino would be proud.
And outfits, don't forget the outfits.
Just a bunch of normal cowpokes 'round these here parts. I'm glad, too, the show gives our boy Bit some exposed midriff. For equality.
Anyway, Back Arrow winds up in the care of Edger Village, and his presence causes total upheaval for the town. Foreign forces start chasing after Back; he came in on a Rakuho (a satellite), he wants to break down Lingalind's wall, and he possesses a unique ability. His Briheight has no conviction, and where most other pilots die when their Briheight is destroyed, Back can dispatch Briheights without hurting their pilot.
I love that the "conviction" thing makes absolutely no sense, but the anime is so committed to the idea that it manages to work regardless. Like, I think your conviction is supposed to define your robot's special Stand-like power. However, in practice it means the guy with fire powers just has the conviction to "burn everything." Meanwhile, Back's lack of conviction means his special power is...cloning himself??
It's so dumb, but that's why Back Arrow is good.
It's also a good way of masking budget limitations for the CG models. See, the rank-and-file soldiers all have identical Briheights because they all share the same conviction of "loyalty to the country!"
Yeah! Even outside of production concerns, that's what I mean by taking a dumb idea but making it work through smart thematic execution. Also, so much of Back Arrow's thoughtful stupidity makes sense through the lens of its staff. It's a very blessed (or very cursed, depending on who you ask) collaboration between director Goro Taniguchi (Code Geass, Planetes, Maria the Virgin Witch) and writer Kazuki Nakashima (Promare, Kill la Kill, Gurren Lagann, BNA, etc.). Those two names literally explain almost everything.
It helps that Back Arrow isn't trying to be secretly totally smart, you guys (leers at Code Geass), and isn't concerned with being actually smart like Planetes or Maria the Virgin Witch. And it wouldn't be able to anyway, Nakashima couldn't write a protagonist with more than one brain cell if you held him for ransom.
Said Nakashima never.
To be fair, Shu is kinda the stealth protagonist, but Back Arrow is certainly committed to disguising that as much as possible.
We'll come back to this fabulous troll in a minute.
At any rate, Back causes the spotlight to be shown on Edger Village something hard; Atlee and Elsha, two girls in the village, wind up getting Briheights of their own, and quickly enough the entire village moves into a giant warship they found and flies off in search of Lingalind's wall so Back can destroy it.
And this is where we start to see the show's wonderfully subtle political commentary, such as "leader who is willing to bury an entire village under rubble just to save himself the headache of international diplomacy."
Or "innocent children experimented upon and framed as dangerous rebels when they choose to protect themselves from abusive practices."
A plot point, incidentally, which shows up at a "pretty boy farm" full of diegetically-sparkling bishonen, one whom is named Bruh.
So it's around here that we need to come back to Shu Bi. The royal diviner of the empire of Rekka, Shu Bi is able to uncover that destroying Lingalind's wall might devastate the world—so he betrays Rekka and joins the Edger villagers in a shockingly intricate plan in order to make sure Back can pull it off. He even dupes his own subordinate, Ren, into reporting his betrayal to the emperor!
Yeah if you love to watch the one character hogging all the brain cells in a story just swim mental laps around everybody else, you'll love this smug bastard.
But whereas Back Arrow is still a big cipher, Shu legit does have a compelling backstory about being sold into slavery to repay a town's debt, forging a powerful blood bond with the equally ambitious Kai, and then the two of them rising through Rekka's ranks to become powerful enough to change the country for the better.
He might do it with a smile on his face, but Shu is totally aware that his machinations require betraying his old friend. Of course, knowing how Shu is one step ahead of everyone else, he no doubt did so knowing Kai being punished for failing to bring Shu back would lead to him redoubling his conviction through self-punishment.
I also love his betrayal here as a strong and resonant political theme. Nakashima's politics, despite their progressive intentions, often become muddled in his execution, but here, Shu flatout rejects the idea of changing an oppressive system "from the inside." Some institutions are just too far gone, and some walls are made for smashing.
I'm interested to see if this conflict develops further, with Kai perhaps doubling down on his conviction to reform Rekka, while Shu commits to his radical approach.
In a fair and just world, it would lead Kai to double down on his relationship with his boyfriend and shout, "You bitch! That Granedger doesn't love you like I do!", but I digress.
So Kai is just sulking in prison like Achilles in his tent while Shu helps an idiot plot the end of life as we know it.
Shu is an absolute zero stone-cold bitch, and he's delightful.
And he enjoys it, too!
More to the point, when Shu has fully settled in with the Granedger, he reigns in the impulsive Bit by "promoting" him to the role of Admiral of Tactics—which in reality means Bit is Shu's gofer who doesn't even know when he's being dunked on.
Yeah, none of the Edger citizens really trust Shu, but they're all in the unenviable position of having a big dreadnought-sized target painted on their collective back, so they're stuck with these weird allies. That doesn't mean they're happy about it, though, and the villagers' protests are another running theme.
This also falls in line with the larger overall "adults suck" theme, as the village chief there eventually just gives up and shoves his responsibility onto Elsha.
Just remember: if there's one thing all robot anime can agree on, it's that adults are bad, and robots are good.
I wanna come back to Elsha for a minute, because she and Atlee are definitely unsung heroines of this show. Also, they're girlfriends, but I digress.
Going back to my s-CRY-ed comparison from earlier, Elsha and Atlee's concerns become significant. Elsha has the role of village chief forced onto her, and she deals with it as best she can as she makes deals with Princess Fine Forté of the Supremacy of Lutoh in exchange for their safety. Atlee, on the other hand, is the sheriff, and concerns herself with the spirit of the law rather than the word of the law. There's a curious bit where her conviction is described as "somehow, I'll bear it and make it through."
In an older show like s-CRY-ed, they probably wouldn't have given these characters much to do. Here? Back Arrow knows you can only get so much out of Back's idiocy, so Elsha and Atlee are around to show how people react to the consequences of his actions.
Fittingly, Elsha's Briheight is the literal figurehead of the Granedger—it's the control that lets the ship fly.
Ridiculous cowboy outfits aside, they're definitely the down-to-earth, normal, struggling, and exhausted heart of the show. They're normal people—normal kids—who have had to rise to multiple shitty occasions through absolutely no fault of their own.
Hopefully they'll get time to settle down and marry each other once all of this ridiculous sci-fi political intrigue has quieted down.
For now, though, at least they're bumping shoulders with the elite.
Or bumping other things, I guess.
So, this is Princess Fine Forté of the Supremacy of Lutoh. And she is a lot—she's practically a Precure character in a mecha show, which is a mix that I love to bits.
As it turns out, Princess Fine (that's "fi-ney", not "fine" like Fran Drescher's character in The Nanny) pulled a Red Dead Redemption 2 and developed an evil split personality after an accident as a child. And now that she's princess, she has to struggle with a bloodthirsty alter-ego that is actively seeking to undo Fine's attempts at a peaceful change to the world and instead just bathe in the blood of her enemies.
Full disclosure: I hate the "yandere" shtick (apologies to VTubers everywhere), but unapologetically evil women who can and will eviscerate me without a second look and will enjoy it? Hey, I'll buy them a twenty-pack of chicken nuggets at 3 AM.
Now what I love about Nakashima, is that there's no way to tell if this is some pointed commentary on how even "peace-loving" leaders and countries are often just as complicit in the propagation of militarism abroad, or if he just wanted to give her an absurdly evil split personality because it would be fun. And it can be both! I just love that this is the level of unsubtlety he operates on.
It's a good level.
Plus, even Fine and her VA Ami Koshimizu are having a blast chewing the scenery. She is just feeling herself—literally.
And let's not forget the other wonderful citizens of Lutoh, like this hunchbacked mad scientist who comes with his own Greek chorus at his beck and call.
For a minute, I thought he had lobotomized a group of people into being his on-call singers in a sick display of scientific curiosity. Nope! He just has a team of lab assistants who can sing on a dime. Way to combine STEM and the Humanities!
Again, so dumb it wraps around to brilliant. There's also Fine's retainer, who is literally just Lady Oscar from The Rose of Versailles.
And then there's... this guy.
Somebody please fetch this man a particularly strong potion.
This is Rudolf, a nobleman who pulls the strings of Lutoh's political elite from his freaky Caligula palace.
It's not ominous enough for Rudolf to sit upon a throne of people, those are all of Fine's siblings who didn't ascend to the throne.
He also might be the most physically powerful person in the world? I mean, I get that he's supposed to be a grotesque caricature of an avaricious elite class, but since that isn't enough for Nakashima, he's also probably going to be a boss battle.
He's also of great significance to Princess Fine, as some of his blood went into her when the good doctor up there tried experimenting on her split personality. Which... turns out to help? Before Evil Fine can grab a Bind Warper to take matters into her own hands, Fine summons the wherewithal to seal her evil self into a Bind Warper in the coolest Precure scene to not actually be in Precure.
Look, not even the smartest character in the show understands what happened here, so I'm definitely not going to try to.
What are Bind Warpers? We just don't know.
And that's Back Arrow. This show has been an amazing blast, and I really can't recommend it enough. The Brigheights are all cool and for 3D animated robots they work very well. The characters really stick with you, be it through their flashy designs or their hidden depths, and all around this show is just a colorful fun time. Hopefully, we get toys soon!
Consistent with its pedigree, it's a big loud dumb fun time. At the very least, I'm invested in seeing what weird plot and character curveballs it wants to throw at us in the future. And naturally, I'm also interested to see how Nakashima's pet themes develop this time around. Don't know if its manic energy is for everyone, but I've had blast so far! Plus, it's the only anime this season where this scene happens.
Nothing like honoring your dead father by loaning his used underwear to a nude alien. That's the Back Arrow way.