Reviewby Nick Creamer,
Rokka: Braves of the Six Flowers [Collector's Edition]
Long ago, the Evil God rose to terrorize the people. Its reign was only ended by the Saint of the Single Flower, who fought back the nefarious god for a time. But the Evil God was not truly defeated, and so the Saint prophesied that whenever its evil reawoke, six heroes would arise bearing the Saint's mark, and carry on the Saint's task. Twice in history have these heroes risen and fought back the Evil God, and self-titled “Strongest Man in the World” Adlet Myer intends to carry on their tradition. Upon receiving his brand as a Brave of the Six Flowers, Adlet moves quickly to meet with his fellow heroes; but tensions arise immediately between the diverse and dangerous heroes, and soon it is obvious that there is a traitor in their midst.
Rokka's first episode is about as strong a statement of purpose as you could ask for. The first scenes introduce would-be hero Adlet Myer in a thrilling fight scene, as Adlet interrupts a holy tournament and gracefully careens between its two champions, tossing off caltrops and spitting fire and generally making a holy nuisance of himself. Adlet wins the battle, but is swiftly tackled, and finds himself condemned to indefinite imprisonment in a cliffside cell. But Adlet has bigger plans; he dreams of becoming one of the Braves of the Six Flowers, champions marked by a special brand that traditionally fight the Evil God. And Adlet gets his wish, and swiftly escapes with the equally heroic Princess Nachetanya, off to seek glory or death at the side of their fellow heroes.
That first episode is a trick, though. Rokka is fond of tricks - one of the most compelling things about its hero Adlet is that in spite of calling himself the strongest man in the world (a phrase you'll hear often enough to pass through tedium into anger and then eventually grim acceptance), he's clearly the most traditionally weak member of his hero squad. He fights with smoke bombs, flint and oil, and a smooth tongue, more often mediating than massacring. And outside of Adlet himself, these four episodes contain a couple structural tricks that will likely make or break your experience.
You might assume a show that frames itself as a fight between six heroes and an Evil God would fit to an action-adventure template, but Rokka turns out to be much more of a slow-burner. After that thrilling first episode, the show segues into long sequences of Adlet wandering the countryside while getting to know his fellow Braves, and some cracks start to show. Rokka's plot is fairly bare-bones, and its dialogue doesn't elevate things - early scenes intended to establish a bond between Adlet and his first companion Nachetanya end up just coming off as stilted, not endearing. The show seems to seek the kind of banter that makes shows like Spice and Wolf so engaging, but the writing quality just isn't up to par, and when Nachetanya ends up reciting lines like ““someone I can honestly tell what I'm thinking and feeling… you're the first one, Adlet” within twenty screen-minutes of meeting him, it feels more like the characters are telling the audience how you're supposed to parse this relationship than actually offering lines that might convince you.
The methodical but fundamentally awkward sequences of relationship-building continue in the third episode, when Adlet meets alleged “Brave-killer” Flamie Speeddraw (who does indeed use a gun, and yes you can take that name as a fairly accurate barometer of the general writing quality). Flamie's the cool morose type, complete with white hair, and her personality is established through lines like “eventually, you and I will try to kill one another. When we do, go easy on in me. You can cut into me, but don't finish me off.” I would not count graceful writing among Rokka's core strengths - its character types are obvious, the relationships that develop between them unbelievable, and the lines intended to convey personality often flat-out terrible.
Fortunately, there are plenty of other pleasures to be found in Rokka's first set of episodes. In spite of slowing down significantly after that excellent first episode, the show still moves fairly well, introducing Braves and conflicts at a steady rate up until the fourth episode's tremendous, show-defining cliffhanger. And the show's aesthetics are quite good as well. Rokka's first and most notable visual feature is its Meso-American world, where characters battle through jungles and across Aztec ziggurats, flanked by civilians in brightly festooned costumes. It's a welcome shift from the usual Japanese or European-themed fantasy worlds, and gives the show a consistently engaging visual personality. The main characters' costumes are more hit-or-miss - while Adlet's costume seems to at least makes gestures towards utility, most other characters seem overdesigned to the point of absurdity, with Flamie's giant flower headdress/belt over boobs combo taking the silliness cake.
Outside of the base designs, Rokka also features dynamic direction and some solid animation. Highlight sequences like Adlet's first battle or Flamie squaring off with her fellow Braves are obvious, but even beyond strong single sequences, the show has a way of consistently framing scenes in creative, evocative ways. Rapid jumps between closeups of Framie reloading and other characters performing full-body acrobatics create tension nicely, and slower scenes take full advantage of the show's lovely scenery. There are definitely visual weaknesses here (some occasionally awkward character drawings, and the ugly, abrasive CG monster designs), but overall Rokka's visuals count as a mark in its favor.
The show's music is also very strong. It's all orchestral stuff, and the actual instrumentation is very diverse - while a battle scene might lead with heavy horns, there are also some lovely string melodies for the more contemplative moments, and later scenes introduce urgent flutes to convey the rush towards the meeting grounds. Some songs are even lead wholly by diverse percussion, making for an overall musical personality that capably matches the show's visual strengths.
Rokka comes in a plastic slipcase harboring a second, sturdy plastic case. The package is somewhat awkwardly size - just short of an 8½ x 11 sheet of paper, it somewhat resembles a large-print textbook, and won't necessarily fit comfortably on standard shelves. Inside, bluray and DVD disks are accompanied by three character postcards, an invitation to a show producer's livestream event (if you happen to get this product within the next few days), volume one of the show's original soundtrack, and a sixteen page art booklet. The booklet is a nice mix of images; character design art for four of the leads, many scenery shots from the early episodes, an expanded look at Adlet's set of weapons, designs for the show's CG monsters, and small copies of some of the painted tapestries used in the series. The soundtrack comes on its own CD, and features fourteen of the show's orchestral songs - they're nice, but I wouldn't call it a soundtrack that works all that well as standalone music. On-disc extras include the usual clean opening and closing sequences, along with English and Spanish subtitles (but no dub).
Overall, the included extras do qualify this as a “collector's edition,” but not a particularly noteworthy one. The art book is somewhat flimsy and limited in its scope, there aren't any notable on-disc extras, and none of the other physical extras excite much interest. But either way, it'd be difficult to gauge a collection like this in terms of “value for your dollar” - Ponycan's prices are so tremendously out of step with all their competitors (barring the occasional Aniplex release) that you can only really assess these as literal collectors' items, and not traditional media collections. You're paying an extreme premium here for what amounts to an above-average collection, and whether that's worth it or not will come entirely down to whether you're deeply committed to this series for its own sake.
Overall, Rokka's early episodes have their ups and downs, but if you can forgive the show for its fairly bad writing, there's plenty else to enjoy here. That said, these are only the first four episodes, and events at the last episode's finale promise a serious shift in focus going forward. Rokka is not an adventure series - it's a mystery series, and those tend to rely a lot more heavily on the strength of the writing. Whether Rokka can keep its aesthetic hooks strong enough to counterbalance its weak character writing and dialogue will be the main question going forward.
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : C-
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : A-
+ Strong music, art design, and direction make for a compelling aesthetic package.
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