Thursday 6 October 2016

First Impressions: Time Bokan 24

Time Bokan 24

Their name might not get batted around as much as it used to, but once upon a time Tatsunoko Productions was among the very best anime studios Japan had to offer. As well as spawning the likes of Speed Racer, Gatchaman, Tekkaman and Casshern, Tatsunoko was also known for its Time Bokan series – which among its various sequels and spinoffs included Yatterman. Now Tatsunoko have come together with Professor Layton creators Level-5 for a brand new instalment, simply going by the name of Time Bokan 24.

When junior high student Tokio is transported to 24th century, he’s recruited by Space Time Administration Bureau thanks to his ability to withstand the time travel phenomenon known as “Time Bokan”. Together with his partner Calen, her parrot Peralino and robot Pikobo, the group travel through time attempting to uncover the “true history” – learning that famous historical figures and events are not like books would have you believe. However on their tail are the Akudama Trio, made up of Bimajo, Tsubuyakki and Suzukky - employed by a group known as History Paradise to ensure history remains the way they tell it.

Last year’s Yatterman Night gave us a twist on the classic Time Bokan formula but this new series takes the franchise back to its roots – time-travelling, historical figures, big machines, a boy/girl duo vs a trio of villains, slapstick comedy etc. It’s a basic setup that’ll likely have nostalgia value for those who grew up with its other numerous incarnations, while at the same times keeping things simple for newcomers. We get to know the characters largely through exposition, and though there isn’t much to say about them yet they are all likeable at the very least. Anyone who’s not familiar with Time Bokan or Yatterman but watched Pokemon will feel right at home with the Akudama Trio, as Team Rocket are basically a spiritual successor to what Tatsunoko have being doing with these villains since 1976.

With historical figures playing an important part in the franchise it’s fair to say that Time Bokan has always had an educational element to it, and while this is still true of Time Bokan 24 the way they go about it is particularly surprising. For example, did you know that Cleopatra wasn’t a famous Egyptian queen but in fact a husband-wife Manzai comedy duo by the names of Cleo and Patra? Time Bokan 24 is all about turning history on its head in the name of comedy, dispelling what has been chronicled for centuries in favour of the most ridiculous ideas they can come up with. When the initial premise for the show was released one might think that these ideas might be what’s threatening the “true history” but nope – history is essentially the bad guy here. Such a simple switcheroo might seem like nothing, but it changes your entire perception of the show as you wonder just what exceedingly silly concepts they can come up with.

There is a heavy element of toy advertising to the show however, which shouldn’t come as much as a surprise since it’s primarily aimed at young children. The first episode alone contains multiple stock footage shots of Tokio’s wrist-mounted Bokan Brace, showing off its features to ensure kids will be immediately pestering their parents for it. The episode also features a good amount of robot action, showing off a combination gimmick which is also bound to help shell out a few more products. It all sounds terribly cynical, but truthfully apart from the aforementioned Brace shots it doesn’t come across like one huge toy commercial. Wacky robots have been a staple of Time Bokan since the very beginning, and within the show it just feels like a natural progression of that.

Time Bokan 24 is juvenile and has absolutely no regard for historical accuracy – and because of that it’s just so instantly loveable. You have to respect a series that’s perfectly happy to throw out historical accuracy in favour of comedy, and in doing so Time Bokan presents a plot where learning doesn’t feel forced. Visually it carries that Tatsunoko/Level-5 quality you’d expect, and while seemingly generic the characters are instantly likeable. Time Bokan 24 isn’t a series that’s likely to be on many people’s watch lists this anime season, but those who do find the time to check it out might find themselves pleasantly surprised.

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