by Grant Jones,
How would you rate episode 1 of
Back Arrow ?
Lingalind is a land surrounded by a divine wall. Within the wall are two nations: Rekka which values strength, and Lutoh which values intelligence. Occasionally the wall will send gifts to the nation known as Rakuho, and we open with one such gift descending from the sky in the form of a pod. It crashes to the ground and both nations send forces to retrieve the gifts within. The Rakuho contains additional arm bracelets known as Bind Warpers which allow people to turn into mechanized warriors called Briheights which are powered by convictions. The Rekka general Kai defeats the Lutoh forces all while the advisor Shu Bi watches nearby.
On the outskirts of Lingalind, a Rakuho lands in the little village known as Edgar. They are poor folk who have suffered greatly, and therefore hope to find food or other divine gifts within. What emerges intead is a naked man with no name or memory. All this newcomer can remember is that he comes from beyond the wall, which they find laughably absurd. Before they can interrogate him more, a bandit attacks and uses a Briheight to try and take the Rakuho. The town sheriff Atlee tries to use her Briheight to stop him but he's too much for her. That's when our naked hero grabs a Bind Warper and jumps into a Briheight of his own to fight off the bandit. Not only does he succeed, but his final blow does not kill the bandit – it merely shatters the Bind Warper and knocks him away. He takes the name Back Arrow derived from the crude things another townsperson Bit has been calling him, and we roll credits.
A really solid start for Back Arrow
I have to say, while I wouldn't consider Back Arrow to be the apex of the art form or anything, it's certainly an enjoyable show in the mecha traditios: solid if not exceptional character designs, an interesting world that is thematically a bit "been there done that" but visually has unique elements going for it, good-to-great cg mecha designs with good-to-great action sequences, and serviceable animation that is seldom impressive but never feels dodgy. It's hard not to find it at the very least enjoyable.
I think one of Back Arrow's biggest strengths is its unique mecha angle. Obviously, all mecha series are fundamentally about the interaction between pilots and the giant machines are often as much expression of their personality as they are tools of war (to varying degrees across decades of series of course). Back Arrow takes an interesting route in making them not really actual physical objects at all, but the personification of their conviction – often a key statement that they must say and believe in to be successful. The difference in performance, look, and abilities ultimately boil down to how well the fighters articulate their own beliefs about themselves. In a way, these Briheights mash together traditional super robots and the thematic elements of summons or Stands from other well-known properties. It's kind of a peanut butter and chocolate mashup that works really well together, and while the plot moves too fast for the show to dwell on it for the time being, I think there is a huge well of opportunity that they could tap further down the line.
There's also something charmingly sweet about the series. Back Arrow takes a mean putdown and puns it into his name, then runs around naked, sleeps in wells, and otherwise act like a goofball. Atlee, Elsha, Bit, and the other "good" cast members are likeable and have a rapport that feels very natural. The villains are all of the mustache-twirling (but not yet blade licking, sadness...) variety and have fun catchphrases or outlandish attacks. It's all a very charming package that comes together in a way that is very familiar while having room for growth.
Back Arrow is very much comfort food in a time when, well, I think we're all dying for comfort food.
How would you rate episode 2 of
Back Arrow ?
Back Arrow leaves the village of Edgar to forge his own path and get back over the wall. Along the way he encounters Shu Bi and his attendant Ren Sin, who talk with him about what he knows. After their conversation they go their separate ways, with Back Arrow deciding to return to Edgar and Shu Bi going back to the capital of Rekka to try and research forbidden texts about the wall. Back Arrow spends more time with the villagers and learns of their struggle to survive on the outskirts of the land and the constant warring between Rekka and Lutoh. He also learns more about how Atlee, Bit, and Elsha, their skills (or lack thereof), and the struggles they've had.
Meanwhile, the bandit from before returns to Lutoh and tells the princess and her attendants of what transpired. When he mentions that the newcomer's attacks did not kill him but merely broke his Bind Warper, the princess sees an opportunity for lasting world peace. If they can fight without killing, maybe there can be an end to the long conflict between Rekka and Lutoh. However, she can't just send the Lutoh military into Edgar as it would cause an incident, so they enlist the help of the nation of Iki to send forces instead. These newcomers attack the village and this time Elsha attempts to use a Bind Warper to join the fight, but she falls into an enormous sinkhole. Back Arrow wakes up from sleeping in the well and leaps into the fray, defeating the Iki soldiers. Just before the episode ends we cut back to the capital of Rekka and Shu Bi reading forbidden texts. There he discovers that this newcomer heralds the destruction of the world.
Another solid episode here.
I think the introduction of Princess Fine Forte and her desire to create world peace is a really interesting hook. In plenty of super robot shows (or action anime in general) the main character blows up the villain every week and we just kind of shrug it off as "Well, they were literal or figurative monsters, what else could the hero do?" But here Back Arrow's ability to defeat without killing is a unique trait and presents Princess Fine Forte with a new avenue for ending the constant conflict between these nations. That's a neat wrinkle on the hero's "special move" and how it can play into the geopolitical status quo.
The introduction of Iki is another simple but smart choice. Obviously, with only two major nations in an uneasy stalemate, there isn't a whole lot of room for political machinations. But with Iki you get a Cold War-esque use of proxies to do the dirty work of one of the major powers. It's not exactly a political thriller but it adds texture to the simple setup from last episode.
I also have to say that the Iki soldier having the "I have always wanted to say that!" catchphrase worked for me. It's a fun twist on having bad guys say predictable dialogue and then having that be his shtick. I approve.
How would you rate episode 3 of
Back Arrow ?
It turns out that when Elsha's Briheight fell she landed on the prow of an enormous buried flying battleship. This huge vessel nearly destroys the entire town as it emerges, sending earth and river cascading down the sharp cliffs nearby. The people get aboard the ship and leave their old home behind. The villagers work with the Iki soldiers from before and make an agreement with them – they will hand over Back Arrow in exchange for a land to call their own. Even though Atlee tries to free him at night, Elsha and Bit stop her and tell her what's at stake for their people and she begrudgingly accepts (at gunpoint). Back Arrow for his part has no problem being a prisoner if it helps people and agrees to go along with it.
When the flying battleship arrives at Iki, Back Arrow is handed over and Bit stays with the Iki nation in the hopes of signing on as a soldier. The people of Edgar fly off, eager to make it to their promised land – when suddenly the iki soldiers spring an ambush! Detonating explosives in the canyon all around the flying battleship, they threaten to collapse countless tons of rock on the ship and bury them once and for all. Bit is shocked by the betrayal and manages to throw a Bind Warper to Back Arrow who transforms and breaks free from his prison. Back Arrow successfully protects the ship and saves the day. The people dub the ship the Granedger and fly away with Back Arrow and Bit safely back aboard.
Back at Rekka, the Emperor has begun arming his soldiers with the recovered Bind Warpers and assembling a new army...
I think this was the best episode yet!
Honestly, this episode moves really fast and we don't have much of a chance to let these moments breathe, but that being said it's really exciting from start to finish. The Granedger is clearly a White Base analogue, and doesn't have a lot of unique abilities yet as far as we know, but the fact that Elsha has to act as a sort of interlocked prow ornament to drive the ship is a neat dynamic. I think the mecha action has been pretty smooth if a bit slow in the past two episodes, but wow the fights in this were exceedingly well done. I tend to balk at CG mecha because I find them unnatural-looking, but Back Arrow does not have that problem at all. The final combat sequences were bombastic and ultimately benefitted from the use of CG I think.
This episode also had one of the best cuts thus far with the slight camera rotation during Back Arrow's henshin in the prison cart. It isn't long, but it's a great looking scene that sells the moment exceptionally well. The show has heart, an interesting setup, and great fight sequences – I think I'm sold on this one.
P.S. Is it just me or do the character designs on the whole feel like something out of a Trails game? Maybe I've just got video games on the mind lately...
Back Arrow is currently streaming on FUNimation Entertainment.
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