Reviewby Carlo Santos,
Fifteen children have been pulled into a deadly game of saving the world. Each one of them must pilot a giant robot named Zearth to fend off a succession of alien invaders, but when the enemy dies, so does the pilot. Five have already lost their lives, and now Chizuru Honda, the current pilot of Zearth, must make a tough decision. Will she use the robot to get her revenge on a teacher who used her emotionally and physically, or will she focus on the mission at hand? Next after Chizuru comes an entirely different sort of pilot, the calculating Kunihiko Moji, who has made plans so that his death will benefit a couple of childhood friends. But Moji's noble sacrifice might be doomed to fail when Zearth gets trapped in an unwinnable situation.
Trials and tribulations continue to add up in Bokurano, which is becoming less and less about piloting a giant robot to save humanity, and more about the doomed young pilots trying to work through their personal problems. Mohiro Kitoh's dour, introspective approach to a typically action-packed genre is certainly unusual; however, that doesn't always mean it's good. Volume 4 has its moments of brilliance, but also a few stretches where it stumbles in the dark.
Take the first part of this volume, for example. Chizuru's arc is already halfway over at the opening chapter, and as a result, never quite achieves the impact that it probably should have. All the big bombshells were already dropped in previous installments: the teacher-student relationship gone wrong, the disturbing cabal of older male predators, the unplanned teen pregnancy. (Goodness, could this list of woes be any more emotionally manipulative?) All that's left, then, is for Chizuru to choose personal revenge or to serve the public good—an all-too-familiar scenario, and one that gets resolved not with a dramatic philosophical insight, but with a lot of depressed, rambling interior monologue. Kitoh tries to make up for the bland, inconclusive finish by tacking on a flashback about Chizuru and her family, but that chapter should have come in the middle of the arc, not afterward. In the end, what should have been an emotionally moving tragedy fizzles out due to a poorly planned conclusion.
So how about scrubbing things clean and moving on to another kid who's destined to die? Moji's intelligent, level-headed attitude is a refreshing change from the impulsive pilots of the last several chapters, and it makes his back-story an interesting one to follow. An entire chapter is devoted to a gently paced slice-of-life flashback about Moji, detailing a bittersweet love triangle where his devious scheme to win the girl ends up being thwarted by the unpredictabilities of life. So what does he do with his last few hours on earth? ... He drums up another plan, a sort of last will and testament dedicated to his would-be sweetheart and her other suitor. It's a genuinely touching gesture, and when it looks like Moji's plan might fail—this volume ends on a cliffhanger with Zearth in a serious pinch—one definitely feels a pang of worry if things should end badly. So where the previous character's story stumbled on its the way to the finish line, this one appears to be handling itself better.
Amidst these personal crises, there still remains the much more public dilemma of protecting Japan from giant alien things, which provides the ideal forum for Mohiro Kitoh to show off his strange, sinuous art. Both Zearth and its enemies are rendered in a curvilinear, Evangelion-influenced style where they seem just as likely to be creatures as they are machines. What is also striking is how Zearth, despite being the "heroic" robot, looks just as sinister and alien as the foes that it must fight—a reminder, perhaps, that whoever sits in the pilot's seat will still meet an unhappy ending. Kitoh's penchant for slim, spiky design isn't quite so effective when it comes to human characters, however: all the kids have kind of the same sad, bony-cheeked faces, and despite there being only ten of them left, it's still hard to recall who's who (especially with the very minor characters). The sparseness of Kitoh's overall style leaves the pages looking rather empty, with just a minimum of screentone and backgrounds (if any) often drawn in as bland afterthoughts. The flashback scenes, in particular, get so wrapped up in characters and story that there's nothing there visually.
So if the characters and their personal problems are the true driving force of Bokurano, that must mean the script is where the series really shines, right? The answer is yes and no: some stretches of dialogue are truly heartfelt and touching, but it also comes with the familiar bad habit of dwelling too long upon people's thoughts. Imagine how exasperating it must be to translate line after line of vague interior monologue ... connected loosely by ellipses ... with very few concrete words. It's just hard to get a grip on what a character is saying if they're always muttering to themselves in wistful sentence fragments. Far easier to translate are the sound effects, since Kitoh hardly uses any, and the ones that do pop up (mostly during Zearth's battles) are plain enough that they can easily be edited into English and still blend in with the art.
There are no heroes in Bokurano, only victims who get to play hero for a few moments before their death—and it is that deeply depressing idea that makes the whole series stand out. An effective idea doesn't always covert to an effective storyline, though, and the wishy-washy ending of Chizuru's arc shows how a promising concept sometimes goes to waste. However, the series gets another chance when Moji becomes the protagonist halfway through this volume, and his story—with its bittersweet overtones of first love—seems better-executed so far. Either way, Volume 4 continues like the rest of Bokurano, looking deep into the characters' personal issues rather than obsessing over giant robots and alien invaders. It may not get one's heart pumping with excitement, but it certainly gets to one's heart.
Overall : C+
Story : B-
Art : C
+ Character-driven storylines and flashbacks help to deliver emotional impact, especially in the case of an ill-fated love triangle.
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