Wednesday 3 April 2024

Anime REVIEW: Brave Bang Bravern!

Brave Bang Bravern!

Masami Ōbari is a name synonymous with mecha anime. TransformersDancougaGravionGundam - these are just some of the shows/franchises that the legendary artist and director has leant his talents too. So when it was announced that he would be working on a brand new show in 2024, excitement was naturally high. Combine that with a name like Brave Bang Bravern!, and minds will already be cast back to the super robot shows of old. Outside of Ōbari's name this 12-episode series seems to come from quite humble roots - animated by the relatively new CygamesPictures (Blade Runner Black Out 2022), a subsidiary of video game company Cygames.

Lewis SmithIsami Ao

As a child, US soldier Lewis Smith always wanted to be a superhero. When participating in joint exercises with the Japanese military in Oahu, Hawaii he meets Isami Ao - a straight-faced but incredibly skilled soldier and pilot. During this time a mysterious enemy attacks the island, completely decimating both forces. When all hope seems lost, a giant robot who identifies itself as 'Bravern' appears from the sky and invites Isami to be his pilot. Together, they are able to win the day.

However the fight is far from over, as the enemy - powerful super robots known as 'Deathdrives', have invaded the entire planet. The Deathdrives also use humans as a power source, the defeat of their first opponent leading Smith to discover a mysterious young girl he names "Lulu". Together with Bravern, the militaries of Earth fight back against the Deathdrives while both Lewis and Isami learn what it truly means to be a hero.

Isami meets BravernBravern

Right from its very first episode Bravern showed that it wasn't afraid to make a gamble. With very little in the way of promotion or key images prior to its airing, the premiere episode painted the show as a fairly grounded real robot series. The movement of its story seemed somewhat procedural too - not bad by any stretch but nothing immediately stand out either. Then as we reach the climax Bravern descends and the entire show shifts gears into full super robot mode. In hindsight the involvement of Masami Ōbari and a name like Brave Bang Bravern! shouldn't have left too much to the imagination, but this early twist sets the precedent for how the show would develop. Many of Bravern's best moments are made stronger by being unexpected, so much so that it just wouldn't feel right to discuss them in a review for fear of spoiling someone yet to see them. While the impact may not be lost on repeated viewings, that first one is particularly special.

The shift to the super robot genre quickly shows Bravern's true colours, a loving tribute that takes all the tropes that made its predecessors so popular and dials them up to 11. Action, dialogue and story beats alike are all in firing line to be completely over the top, however Ōbari's familiarity and mastery of the genre ensures that its parody stays on the right track. There are enough jokes in Bravern for the show to partially be considered a comedy, particularly given how innuendo-laden every description of Isami and Bravern's relationship is (right from their very first meeting), but it's still a show with both a purpose and story to tell. While it may not be an especially deep one, playing on all the feelings of love, heroism and bravery that all Super Robot shows do, there's still an earnestness to it within all the shouting and explosions. It's also worth noting that while Bravern may pay tribute to the Super Robot shows of old, it's done through an understanding of the genre as a whole rather than direct references as such. Even if Bravern is your first foray into Super Robots none of its energy will be lost on you.

Bravern dramatically posesSmith and Isami box their feelings out

While so much of that energy comes from the themes and setting of the show, it's Bravern himself that the majority of love for the genre is conveyed. Boisterous giant robots that wax lyrical about heroism and loudly exclaim their attack names may be commonplace, but Bravern takes to another level when it comes to self-awareness. Confidently explaining what should be expected of Isami whilst piloting him as well as going to far to play his own theme music (which is an absolute banger of a song) whilst fighting and projecting his own backing card during dramatic poses, Bravern seems fully aware of what kind of show he's in. Initially it might just seem like the show playing up the satire to extreme effect, but the incredible thing is that as the story progresses Bravern is able to present it in a way that makes sense. Sense in as much as the show's overall logic does anyway, because the plot really does get wild in that latter half. All of this is burying the lead though, because half the reason Bravern turned heads is because it stars a gay robot. The homoeroticism runs strong in Brave Bang Bravern! (again, the name suddenly seems rather self-explanatory) and it is glorious. The aforementioned innuendos leave nothing to the imagination, and the relationship between Isami and Bravern is played with every bit of silliness you'd expect a show about a gay super robot to have. But behind all the laughs there's still an earnestness to it, an extension of that hot-blooded manly spirit that is the very lifeblood of the genre.

It isn't just Bravern that Isami has to contend with either, as the show is similarly about the bond that he and Smith share. In both situations it's about the stoic Isami learning to come out of his shell around a more boisterous partner, and all the more interesting that Bravern chose Isami as his pilot. If anything Smith would seem like a better fit - a similarly larger than life character raised on a diet of Japanese superhero shows. However Smith's initial rejection takes him on a far more interesting journey as Isami's greatest supporter, and again it's something that plays out in particularly satisfying fashion. Between the random moments of nudity and an episode centred around a boxing match between the pair so that they can truly get out their manly feelings, the relationship between the two that the show is trying to convey couldn't be more blatant. In both its overall tone and lead characters, Bravern feels to Super Robots what Samurai Flamenco is to tokusatsu/Henshin Heroes. Even amongst all the action, the relationships are the centrepiece of the story.

LuluBravern's supporting cast

Though the focus is on the relationships Isami forges with both Smith and Bravern, they are supported by a number of other characters that help make up the show's infectious energy. The most important of these is Lulu, whose sometimes inappropriate boisterousness and trademark verbal tic of "ga ga pi" ensure she covers all the hallmarks of the "mysterious humanoid" regularly seen in the genre. Despite so much going on in such a short space of time Lulu is developed really well over the course of the series, the development of her story nicely mirroring her physical and mental development after being freed. Much like Bravern himself, her antics add a particular brand of light-heartedness that makes her instantly likeable. Bravern's support cast, largely made up of Allied Task Force members, is similarly derived from character archetypes synonymous with the genre - but with less opportunity to break away from them. That's okay in the sense that it isn't directly about them, but with the show's message emphasising the importance of everything a few more episodes to establish the characters beyond their basic tropes might have been nice.

Sadly the show doesn't have a lot of time to develop its villains either, but what time it does have to devote to the Deathdrives is enough to make them interesting characters you'd want to see expanded on further. Though the show doesn't really delve into why they decide to invade Earth, the idea of these all-powerful near-immortal super robots who just want to experience death is a great concept to work off. Each of them has ties to the "eight evil thoughts" (which later evolved into the seven deadly sins), wanting a different variation of death derived from greed, sadness, vainglory, lust, gluttony, acedia, pride and anger. These also provide good basis for their personalities - giving them a somewhat cartoonish demeanour fitting for Super Robot villains whilst also having an appropriate level of threat. Naturally the one who stands out the most is Superbia, who becomes the archetype "rival" character in his quest to die battling an opponent worthy of his skill. Superbia becomes far more intertwined with the overall story and is thus far better developed, establishing a great dynamic with both Bravern and Lulu.

SuperbiaKnuth

Visually the show remains a delight too, which is all the more impressive for what seems like it could be called a fledgling studio. Other than the rare exception CGI is pretty much the standard for mecha anime these days, and as a subsidiary of a video game company CygamesPictures are able to blend the 3D robots with the 2D characters and backgrounds very well. Bravern, Superbia and the rest of the Deathdrives are extremely expressive without any weight being lost, while the fight sequences are nicely choreographed and never lose that adrenaline-fuelled Super Robot energy. Hallmarks of the genre like stock transformation and combination sequences are of course here in full force, toyed with in that playful Bravern way, while the eye-catches and dramatic pose shots bring the beauty.

Bravern vs SuperbiaGattai! Burn Bravern!

There's a specific subsect of anime fans out there that claim the mecha genre is dead, and with few new properties struggling to reach the popularity of the likes of Gundam these days there is perhaps some logic to their argument. But shows like Brave Bang Bravern! not only prove that the genre is still alive and well, but also that its reverence to the past is second to none. Bravern is a love letter to all things Super Robot, boldly poking fun at some of absurder aspects of the genre whilst fully commanding its trademark bombacity to full effect. It's an action-packed battle against alien robots full of great visuals, but also a love story between hot-blooded men featuring a memorable cast. While a longer episode count might have been nice to flesh things out a little more, its more condensed format ensures that every episode counts. It's still pretty early days for anime in 2024, but it doesn't feel too early to consider Bravern one of the year's best offerings.

1 comment:

Manpig said...

This show brought an absolute joy to me on a weekly basis. I love giant robots beating up bad guys as much as the next mecha fan and this really brought me back in a way that felt refreshing yet new. Such a fun show, I'll miss it so much.