Reviewby Nick Creamer,
Rokka: Braves of the Six Flowers [Collector's Edition]
The chosen braves have arrived at the temple, but there's a slight problem - there's one too many of them. With the barrier activated, none of them can leave until the traitor is found, and so suspicions quickly fly across the group of seven would-be heroes. Flamie the killer of saints is the first to be suspected, but when Adlet throws his support behind her, it's soon his own head that's on the line. Given the restrictions on the temple, it seems clear that only Adlet could have activated the barrier - but he knows he didn't do it, and now he must somehow prove that to everyone. Fighting the Demon King is one thing, but first Adlet will have to avoid being killed by his own chosen allies.
Things have changed in Rokka: Braves of the Six Flowers. The show's first collection set up a compelling fantasy world, but didn't do much more than that; ultimately, those four episodes ended up feeling like a prologue to the actual story, with the show's slow pacing and poor character writing making for a poor self-contained experienced. As Rokka's cast all made their meandering way towards the temple, it felt like the show was waiting for something, not quite ready to begin.
In this second collection, the reason for that opening act's weakness becomes immediately clear. Those first four episodes were actually a feint, and as it turns out, Rokka is not the story of six heroes fighting the Demon King. Instead, with a spy clearly in the team and the entire group sealed inside a barrier until they can figure out who it is, Rokka makes a sharp turn from fantasy adventure to a locked room mystery. Who activated the temple's barrier, and why? What are the motivations of any of these heroes in waiting? Who can Adlet trust, and who can trust Adlet? It's theories and accusations and desperate escapes all throughout this second set of episodes.
Rokka seems far more comfortable in this style than the earlier material, and the show is much more enjoyable for it. The character writing still isn't the best (Flamie's backstory in particular is somewhat groan-worthy), but when the dialogue is more focused on practical questions of traitors and deductions than the characters getting to know each other, it feels energetic and compelling all the same. With seven heroes to split the focus, Rokka is able to create small mysteries and cliffhangers not just in regards to the central question of the traitor, but also relative to each one of these mysterious heroes. As suspicions are traded across the team, we're slowly fed new information about the powers of each of the braves, and how their motivations play into their current theories.
The first two episodes here are largely devoted to introducing the new heroes and establishing the initial set of suspicions. Flamie is the obvious first target, but when Adlet tries to defend her, the assassin Hans points out that Adlet himself is actually the most suspicious. No-one could have entered the temple before Adlet, and so it ultimately falls to him to explain how the barrier could have been raised without him doing it. The theories here are well-constructed and easily parsed, a great dramatic point-counterpoint that makes a bunch of characters standing in a room far more engaging than it rightly ought to be.
In the collection's second half, the rest of the team ends up hunting Adlet, and Adlet has showdowns with first Flamie, and then Hans. The Flamie material is largely focused on both of their backstories, and though this material isn't going to win any literary awards (“I had a dog. I wonder what it's doing now” intones Flamie at the end of her sad-sack backstory), it's fine characterization given the actual priorities of this story. And the confrontation with Hans is possibly the best sequence of the show so far - a wild mix of well-choreographed fight scenes and frantic debates, culminating in a very satisfying scene of Adlet wagering everything on his innocence.
Rokka's aesthetics are a fine match for its dramatic material. The character designs continue to be a mix of inventive and totally ridiculous, but the backgrounds of this arc's jungle setting are often beautiful, if a little more monotonous than the first set's varied locales. The first two episodes largely take place in a single room, but the show works overtime to make that segment visually interesting. There are more effectively executed echoes of the spinning shot that ended the first collection, and lots of pans that make great use of the temple's carefully sculpted CG environment. It's normally difficult to do much more than still or sliding shots in animation, but a combination of relatively tasteful CG backgrounds and carefully animated character models let Rokka pull off an occasional shot that draws backwards and around the entire team, or spins at a strange angle from one corner of the temple to the other.
The animation is reasonable in general, though the show clearly prioritizes its action setpieces over the other scenes. There's very little character animation for the quieter scenes, and some of the conversations can feel a little visually flat, but sequences like the fight between Hans and Adlet are nicely animated. Those scenes don't necessarily have a huge surplus of fluid animation, but because of the staging, that isn't actually necessary. The exchanges here are choreographed such that the fights actually have a coherent, engaging sense of back-and-forth, of characters switching tactics and gaining the upper hand and just barely escaping each other. You can really feel the differences in combat styles between these two characters, which makes the fights much more entertaining than they would be if it were simply “powerful people attacking each other.”
The show's CG models are still the biggest, ugliest sore spot in terms of visuals, but fortunately, there aren't many fights with fiends in these episodes. The only real glaring use of CG comes near the end, when the show finally debuts Chamot's saint powers. But that's a fairly small issue in a show that's overall quite visually compelling.
Rokka's music remains strong in this second collection, though the more even mystery tone results in a less eclectic collection of tracks. But the soundtrack is still quite instrumentally diverse and melodically strong, still possibly on the verge of being a soundtrack you might actually listen to outside of the context of the show.
It's quite convenient, then, that this collector's edition also includes the second soundtrack CD, along with the show in both bluray and DVD versions. There's also the requisite collector's edition booklet, which contains character models for the second half of the braves and Adlet's childhood acquaintances, background design shots of the temple and assorted other locations, and a page of models for each of the braves' weapons. The final physical extras are a collection of postcards and an invitation to a livestreaming event with the OP/ED singer, whose registration date has unfortunately already passed. On-disc extras are limited to the clean OP/ED, and there's unsurprisingly still no dub. On the whole, Rokka's extras put it somewhere in the lower end of special edition releases, and still bewilderingly priced relative to the competition.
Overall, Rokka's second collection is a marked and welcome improvement over the first. The show feels far more comfortable and entertaining as a mystery than an adventure, and the shift from dialogue focused on banter to dialogue focused on proving you're not the one who should die seems to much better suit the story's strengths. Rokka isn't the most rich or emotionally compelling show, but its middle episodes are very fun, and that should never be underestimated. I'm eager to see what the final segment brings.
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : B+
+ Tells a fast-paced and consistently engaging mystery, elevated by occasional fight scenes and ambitious visual tricks.
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