by Paul Jensen,

BBK/BRNK: The Gentle Giants of the Galaxy

BBK/BRNK: The Gentle Giants of the Galaxy
The battle on Treasure Island is finally over, but life hasn't gotten any easier for Azuma and company. Headless Buranki are still causing trouble around the world, and rival Bubuki users are jumping into action to pursue their own goals. Azuma's long-lost sister Kaoruko is the most unpredictable of the new arrivals, and there's something strange about her abilities as a heart user. The mysterious Guy is pulling strings from behind the scenes, and his plans are dangerous enough that Azuma's team might have to do the unthinkable and form an alliance with Reoko.

The second season of BBK/BRNK starts off with a pretty bad case of “what now” syndrome. With Reoko and her group out of the picture and the other Bubuki teams scattered to the four winds, there's no obvious conflict for Azuma's team to hop right into. This leaves the first couple of episodes feeling a little messy; we're introduced to new characters in new locations without much indication of how they're all related. The good news is that the series eventually manages to assemble a decent story, or at least some plausible excuses for big mecha battles.

Part of the process of assembling a new plot arc involves some questionable narrative hand-waving. Sharp-eyed viewers may notice several characters in the new opening sequence who were implicitly killed off in the first season. Well, it turns out that the old wisdom of never counting an anime character as dead without seeing their body is as relevant as it's ever been. These folks are alive and kicking, and the show essentially shrugs off their supposed demises. It's a bit obnoxious in the moment, but the larger problem is that this decision lessens the impact of actual character deaths in the second season. The audience is left to wonder if characters are really dead or just waiting to jump back onto the stage in a later episode, and that distraction adds an element of doubt to what should be emotional high points.

The good news on the character front is that the chemistry within Azuma's team has settled into a comfortable and entertaining groove. Last season's drama and internal strife are largely gone, replaced with a style of action hero banter that suits the show's larger-than-life tone quite nicely. The good-natured rivalry between Azuma and American team leader Epizo is also alive and well, and their ability to remain best buddies while trading giant robot punches is helpful in situations that would otherwise suffer from an excessive amount of teenage angst. Kaoruko makes for an interesting addition to the mix, and her bombastic personality can take some getting used to. She has her moments, though, especially when she acts as a loud, reckless foil for Azuma.

The writing works hard to build Guy up as the new villain of the series, but he lacks the charisma and complexity that made Reoko such a compelling antagonist in the first season. He's your average scheming baddie, the kind of irredeemable villain who never manages to offer a truly tempting justification for his evil plot. The one interesting consequence of his rise to “final boss” status is that it forces Azuma and Reoko to work together. The dynamic between the two of them is a little odd, and the series seems uncertain of exactly what they are to one another. They do at least find a good balance in the big climactic battle, where Reoko is able to temper Azuma's peacemaking optimism with a dose of her more pragmatic “might makes right” worldview.

BBK/BRNK has never been big on subtlety, and that habit of wearing its heart on its sleeve is something of a double-edged sword in this season. Whenever the show tries to tackle one of its big themes or work some intrigue into the mix, it quickly becomes obvious that the writing simply isn't nuanced enough to get the job done. On the other hand, that stubbornly straightforward approach proves to be an asset whenever it's time to have a big battle full of fighting spirit. Much like Epizo, BBK/BRNK is at its best when can empty its head of complicated thoughts and focus on punching things as hard as possible.

The one exception to this “simple is best” rule comes at the end of the season. The main storyline is wrapped up with plenty of time to spare, allowing the series to ask a question that most action titles never bother to address: what's everyone supposed to do once the big adventure is over? Watching Azuma and friends try to be normal kids is an interesting and sometimes emotionally poignant experience. The answer that the show comes up with may not be particularly deep, but that brief period of uncertainty is worthwhile in and of itself.

The visual direction in BBK/BRNK has gotten quite good at working around the pitfalls of using CG character models. It still struggles to replicate the small, subtle movements that allow more traditional animation to show a character's emotional state instead of saying it out loud. The upside is that the action scenes have a dynamic quality that would require a surplus of time and effort to achieve without the use of CG. Sweeping wide shots and impressive backgrounds continue to be a point in the show's favor as well. The soundtrack works well enough when it's relegated to the background, but both the opening and closing songs are on the weak side.

BBK/BRNK picks up a fresh set of positives and negatives in its second season, and the result is still a flawed but entertaining show. Even as its most compelling antagonists are relegated to supporting roles, it improves on its ability to deliver big, dumb fun in between major plot points. If approached with reasonable expectations, it's capable of getting the job done.

Overall (sub) : B-
Story : B-
Animation : B-
Art : B
Music : C+

+ Some interesting ideas, still good dumb fun when it isn't trying too hard to be clever
Underwhelming new villain, narrative ambition tends to reach beyond what the writing can accomplish

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Production Info:
Director: Daizen Komatsuda
Series Composition:
Jirō Ishii
Yukinori Kitajima
Daizen Komatsuda
Jirō Ishii
Yukinori Kitajima
Daizen Komatsuda
Music: Masaru Yokoyama
Character Design: Yuusuke Kozaki
Mechanical design: Takeshi Takakura

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BBK/BRNK Hoshi no Kyojin (TV)

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