Thursday 29 March 2018

Anime REVIEW: Time Bokan: The Villains Strike Back

Time Bokan: The Villains Strike Back
Time Bokan: The Villains' Strike Back is available in streaming form on Crunchyroll

In 2016 Tatsunoko Productions' Time Bokan series made its grand comeback with the history perverting Time Bokan 24, tearing textbooks to shreds as it revealed everything they taught us to be a lie. After ending with the promise that it would be back for more and some successful television ratings, the series was true to its word and returned at the end of 2017 with Time Bokan: The Villains Strike Back. What ensured was another 24-episode joy ride into the past, with Tatsunoko once again teaming up with Level-5 for more semi-educational chaos.

The Akudarma TrioCalen & Tokio, the "protagonists"

It's time for the Akudarma Trio to take centre stage as Bimajo, Tsubuyakky and Suzukky return to collect more Dynamonds to please Oyadarma - their employer and owner of the History Paradise company. In their travels into the past they'll meet the likes of Thomas Edison, Babe Ruth, Tokugawa Ieyasu, Hiraga Gennai and more as they learn some weird and wonderful facts left out of the history books. Of course where Akudarma goes, the Space-Time Administration Bureau is sure to follow.

Meanwhile the Space-Time Administration Bureau have gone through a bit of a shake-up, with Tokyo and Calen now taking missions from new commander Mirai and joined by a new robot helper - the lecherous 0-3. But behind Mirai's sweet and innocent facade lies a far more aggressive personality, as well as a secret mission where Bimajo is the prime target!

Mirai, the new commander

With the first Time Bokan 24 season throwing education out of the window and instead creating wacky reinterpretations of historical figures, it would have been quite easy for the sequel series to just continue on as if the show had never gone away. After all, when you're making up your own history literally anything could happen. But surprisingly The Villains Strike Back actually goes back on the original's anachronistic mantra, opting for a more educational approach where interesting trivia becomes the hook of each episode. In the beginning it doesn't feel quite as memorable or charming as its predecessor since it can't be quite as zany, but that does eventually wear off as the show begins to find its footing. The factual element of the show is presented in quite a neat way, and does genuinely feel like fun bits of trivia that a child could remember and then reel off. The comedy element hasn't been completely lost either, as the characterisation of the starring figures is still pretty ridiculous at times. 

A change in format also brings about a change in framing, and as the title suggests it's now the villains the viewer primarily follows. Switching up to a villain focus is hardly new even for Tatsunoko - after all not only did they practically write the rule book on "villainous gang of three", but back in 2015 they also brought the identically formatted Doronbow Gang to the forefront with Yatterman Night. And just like that series, this switch-up highlights just who make these shows worth watching. The Akudarma Trio are a delight to watch, and seeing them travel through time just further emphasis how bland Tokio and Calen were when they were serving the same role.

Akudarma take their ordersThe gang meet Alexander Graham Bell

There are other little changes too that make a big difference to the overall picture. Though the climax mecha battles remain a series staple, the overall toyeticness of the show feels considerably less overstated - there's much less stock (aka advertising) footage thrown around, and less focus on whatever the mecha of the week is. Even if it's not the case, it certainly feels like this season had far less toys to sell than its predecessor. But undoubtedly the most surprising thing about this series is just how self-aware Time Bokan 24 has become. The first season certainly wasn't without its problems, so in addition simply shaking things up the show also uses these issues as a further source of comedy.

Episode 20, in which the group meet Alexander Graham Bell, truly enforces this as the characters take calls from an "audience" that's wise to all the nonsense it's pulled during its run. Among the topics raised are how the Bokan Brace has just suddenly disappeared, what exactly is a Dynamond to begin with, how Calen's boyfriend storyline didn't go anywhere and even how dull of a character Tokio is (it isn't the only time that last one comes up either). Time Bokan 24 is at its best when its having fun with thing, but it shines even more when it's poking fun at itself

The staple mecha battlePrince Shotoko

However just because the show has become aware of its flaws doesn't necessarily mean it's learned from them. The Mirai/Bimajo subplot that runs throughout the entire series isn't quite as wasted as the "Calen's Boyfriend" storyline was in the first season, but it's still a case of the show holding onto most of its cards until the final few episodes. You could definitely argue that a children's slapstick comedy show probably isn't prioritising ongoing plot and that's a fair point, it would just be nice to see the show do something more with the little it does have.

There's also the new problem of having to watch Akudarma, who (despite what Tokio and Calen say) are basically the protagonists at this point, lose each week without fail. They are the characters the viewer follows around each week, and they're the ones that make the effort to seek out and learn about the target in question. Then just as they're making headway, Tokio and Calen swoop in to win the subsequent competition and mecha fight. It's like watching Wacky Races wanting Dick Dastardly to win at least once, only here the "villains" are the ones far more deserving of the prize. Even giving them just one break every once in a while, but its just agonising to see these great characters try and inevitably fail. 

Just what is a Dynamond?0-3

Time Bokan: The Villains Strike Back should be commended for its move to shake up the original's format and lose some of the obvious baggage that was letting the series down. However in doing so it creates new problems for itself, becoming a series that's incredibly fun but often frustrating to watch thanks to its repetitiveness and predictability. But this time around, maybe you'll actually get to learn a thing or two rather than just sit through what was essentially a well-put together toy commercial. Time Bokan 24 still isn't breaking the mould by any means, but it's having a damn good time doing what it does. And who knows, maybe you will too.


Dinobolt1 said...

I was interested in seeing this series, and while I'm dreading the second season (I think I will be very frustrated seeing the true protagonists lose every episode) I'll still probably give it a go.

But before I watch this, please tell me something. Is there any nudity in this new Time Bokan series? I really wanted to get into the original ones, but aside from the very first one they all feature the female villain ending up naked every episode including the openings. That was what I was talking about in my comment on your review of Saint Knight's Tale; it was while watching those openings that I realized that the anime encyclopedia book wasn't as perfect as I thought it was when it came to content ratings.

If you don't remember that's fine; I'm just asking.

Alex said...

Nope, no nudity whatsoever! Didn’t realise that was the case with the original show, so I guess children’s anime could get away with a lot more back then than it can these days.

Closest thing to nudity in this is a pervy robot.