Back Arrow is bursting at the seams with exuberance and I enjoyed that a lot.
Back Arrow (Bakku Arō) 2021
For me, it’s wildly over the top and dead sincere at the same time, leaping between those two contrasting extremes. In that way I guess you could say that there’s a mix of aspects from shows like TTGL and Gun x Sword, among others.
A while back, Lita and I did a ‘first reactions‘ kinda collab and I’m happy to say my response to the show remained quite favourable indeed.
Now, in other reviews I’ve definitely criticised stuff that hops between extremes (or wildly contrasting tones) but obviously I don’t always have a problem with it. I thought Back Arrow shifted in such a way that I was expecting things to be a bit off-the-wall from the beginning, and so it didn’t bother me.
All the shounen tropes and clichés (and bizarre humour) are out in full force in Back Arrow (the choir! the wine bottles!), declarations shouted with clenched fists, escalating battles and a huge finish.
It was hard to believe in a way, but as the last few episodes unveiled new and more gigantic surprises in terms of that escalation, I was swept up in the sense of fun – all the amps go up to 11 here.
In terms of fav characters, Shu stands out for me, since he forges his own path, though I will say that his key betrayal actually seems poorly handled in respect to another character, considering the supposed importance of a certain flashback. That’s probably pretty vague if you haven’t seen Back Arrow but I was hoping to avoid spoilers.
So I’ve written a few paragraphs now without mentioning the plot but it includes some of the big stakes I’m looking for: save the world and know thyself, along with a big enough cast that a few folks get to live out different aspects of each.
I can see how this show might fail to meet the needs of some audiences – some of the key anime that Back Arrow is channelling across its 24 episodes were now released generations ago.
And to be honest, there is a strangely childish part of me that really enjoys the fact that Back Arrow seems to be almost a cult show already.
That’s actually a bad thing, though – I want Back Arrow to be more popular so that more shows like it get made.
I’m excited to share another collaboration – this time on Back Arrow, where Lita Kino and I ask each other about the first three episodes. (Spoilers – we think you should check it out :D)
Thanks to Lita for diving in to Back Arrow with me too! If you haven’t already (or even if you have) you should visit Lita here at Anime Corner 🙂
Lita: Thank you Ash for the opportunity to collab with you. Even though our first idea went to pot. I really hope people give Back Arrow a try because I think it’s a great first time show for people who don’t watch mecha or wish to try to because it’s so less serious and more emphasis on fun with itself.
1. What were you expecting before going in to ‘Back Arrow’?
The only expectation I had was a strong western setting terms of the background terrain, costumes etc. There was nothing I would ask for. I wanted to watch this not just because it’s mecha and I love it. Reminded me so much of Gun x Sword while the western settings are similar for me, Back Arrow is a curveball thrower. This series portrays itself as primarily fun majority of the time, this is something distinct within the first three episodes, it establishes. Introduction of the main protagonist Back Arrow arising from Rakuho, suffering amnesia with only memory of coming from beyond the wall.
Instead of this moment drawing on Back Arrow’s unfortunate circumstances with strong emotional emphasis. Back Arrow decides to go beyond the wall, without worrying about anything else. All the people from Edgar village staring at this strange man, butt naked. You feel like you are following an idiot of a protagonist and it works brilliantly for this series. It’s hysterical the first three episodes have been. I love series that serve up from what you expect like this, Back Arrow doesn’t pretend to be anything else.
2. I was curious about how you’re responding to Shu after these first 3 episodes? Definitely feels like he’s holding the most back.
Shu is just full of mystery but he is an amusing man. Making a copy of the royal records had me laughing, but he is a man of science. That instinct and drive to do what it takes to grasp his goals. There is an underlying motive here but damn he is amusing.
3. How are you finding the designs of the suits? (I’m getting a slight Power Rangers feel, which is fun.)
I LOVE this series concept regarding it’s mecha suits known as Briheight’s. The design of them reminds me of Gridman’s from SSS.Gridman but with a funky take. Concept of wielding these mechas based on your conviction is cool, each Briheight I’ve seen so far, really reflects the pilot as a person and personality. Mixture of conviction and becoming a pilot’s reflection, these mecha’s are definitely unique. This is another realm into the connection between man and machine.
1. We have a tradition of the main protagonist who has amnesia at the start. Normally there has been a strong emphasis and heartfelt plea at the start, also determination to discover who they are again. But we have a very lax protagonist who is just taking everything in hindsight as it comes. It’s this a refreshing approach to this protagonist tradition?
I think so, yeah. There’s sort of a refusal of the Call to Adventure – Arrow just wants to get on with own quest for the Wall and I’ve found that interesting. It feels like he’ll soften over time, but kicking off with an amnesiac who doesn’t seem to be very worried about that memory loss is interesting. Instead, he just dives into any situation with blind faith. Or conviction 😀
2. I have yet to complete Back Arrowyet but the western centre reminds me so much of Gun x Sword. Been a long time since a western themed mecha has appeared. I think the outskirts of rocky and dune sand, the bright western costume designs look great. Do you think the western feel is there for Back Arrow?
It reminds me of Gun x Sword too, which makes me pretty happy. (In fact, the moment I saw Elsha and Atlee, I felt like two halves of Wendy had appeared onscreen :D).
Agree! It feels like it’s been quite a while since a mecha show featured the western setting and isn’t it perfect for allowing the colours of the Briheights to pop too? I love the tropes I’ve seen so far, the village in distress, the stranger arriving to help etc. Really hoping they continue and that there’s a focus on stand-offs and duels.
3. I looked on MyAnimeList and this series has been rated 5 out of 10. I wonder if this is because people were expecting a series western here but the plot is pretty loose and so are the characters. This series is about fun 80% of the time, not what anyone was expecting. Do you like the loose fun factor here and the plot is throwing curveballs of absurdity as to where it may go?
I wondered about that too. If I think about something similar in tone from Kazuki Nakashima, like TTGL perhaps, then that show’s already 14 years old – that’s pretty much an entire generation ago, I guess.
And so maybe significant portions of current audiences just aren’t used to a show like Back Arrow?
Loose and fun is a pretty perfect description, yeah and maybe people did want something different? For me, I’m loving every second of how over the top it can be and I’m really looking forward to more curveballs, yes! For one, (I’m very curious about the Granedger and wonder what surprises it’ll hold in store.)
So, folks – tell us, are you watching Back Arrow? Planning to perhaps?
If you’re already watching it, how are you finding it so far? (Beyond the first three episodes the show continues to do more absurdist stuff and raise the stakes on the action too, I’m still enjoying it a lot for sure :D)
I think Karakuri Circus oscillates between kind of a wild mess on one hand and more compelling flashbacks on the other.
And maybe a third thing: action with fun puppet designs.
Okay – a fourth thing too, which is fan-service, but the main point I’m trying to make is that this series was all over the place for me.
And yet, I finished it and I know that’s because early in the anime, the narrative flings the main cast apart and so I spent the following episodes basically waiting for them to reunite. Before I get to why, here’s a quick synopsis of the manga via Wikipedia:
[Karakuri Circus follows] Masaru Saiga, who inherits a massive fortune and aspires to become a puppeteer; Narumi Katō, a kung-fu expert who suffers from Zonapha syndrome (a strange illness that stops his breathing unless he makes people laugh*); and Shirogane, a silver-haired woman and Masaru’s caretaker who controls the puppet Harlequin. They must fight against the battling automatons (auto-mannequins) and save the world from the Zonapha syndrome.
As you can probably tell, it hits a lot of notes you’d expect from a shonen series but for me, the puppet aspect made it stand out. And the first four episodes felt like they were building to a big, cohesive revenge story with high stakes… but it didn’t quite work out that way.
When I realised that Kazuhiro Fujita was behind Karakuri Circus** I was pretty excited, since I’d enjoyed Ushio and Tora a lot. Studio VOLN produced both anime (and is currently looking after Back Arrow) and so I was expecting a bright, clear-looking adaptation and visually it’s exactly that. Fujita’s character designs are bold and plenty of the bad guy-designs are inventive but most of my criticisms landed on the story and structure.
Obviously, the art of adaptation is not a simple one. At all. Condensing a 9-year manga down to 30-odd episodes? Suffice to say that I’d find that extremely difficult.
Still, the amount of times a character slid into the story and then had their backstory dropped in right after seemed jarring. Each time it broke rhythm and the building of tension, and with such a large cast, this didn’t really allow many folks to get fleshed out as much as I’d have liked.
Connected to this, for each flashback arc there were a few episodes of cohesive narrative that sometimes took over from the ‘main’ storyline. Karakuri Circus is a complex story connected across hundreds of years and using reincarnation links everyone nicely, but what I found was that I became more invested in those flashback episodes.
That became a problem for me because it made it hard to return to whatever Masaru, Narumi and Shirogane were up to in the present.
And worse (again, in my opinion) was the fact that each of the three leads spent so little time together, a problem especially after those opening few episodes suggested a vital connection between them. Instead, over time, it seemed that their importance to each other almost became hypothetical.
Well, that might be an exaggeration but let me try to explain.
In the beginning, Masaru, Narumi and Shirogane operated almost as a cautious, small familial unit and the interpersonal stuff, their struggles and triumphs, were just beginning. I was interested.
However, due to the characters’ inability to benefit from much screentime together, they were each robbed of much chance to develop and resolve their relationships and issues. Instead, it felt like the narrative drove them apart and then worked fairly hard to keep them separated (at least in part) to delay an eventual reunion. [spoilers below]
But when they finally did come together melodrama kinda interceded on behalf of Narumi and Shirogane and forced them into this odd stand off. (On the other hand, Masaru makes some memorable sacrifices for those two toward the end of the series there).
Sadly, having spent a fair few episodes telling myself ‘things will pick up again once the leads are back together’ was perhaps naive in hindsight, since there are no guarantees in life nor in fiction 🙂
Still, I certainly did like some things:
the puppets and their designs
the flashbacks featuring Masaru’s grandfather
the Francine storyline
and Masaru’s growth as a character.
So, after all the grumbling about Karakuri Circus I’ve just done, I will say that the hints of a pretty compelling saga are clear in the anime.
Maybe it’s just not possible to compress something so large down to two seasons?
* In the anime, the Zonapha syndrome is explained a little more but it still always strikes me as unintentionally comical.
**Interesting to compare this to the Puppet Princess OVA which is almost like a warm up in some ways.
Ushio and Tora (Ushio to Tora) – Part Three: Visual Comparison
I don’t have a particular plan or structure for this post – it’ll mostly just be me pointing out what I think are interesting differences in art styles and approaches between the two series.
Not every scene is an exact one-to-one comparison either, though more than a few are. There are a couple of instances where I’ve found a panel or two from the manga as well, just to illustrate a point. At times, I might broaden the rambling a little but I’ll mostly try and keep it focused on the comparison.
(And a final note – I’m obviously not an artist so I won’t always know or use the proper vocab).
Actually, here’s the real final note – this has turned into a crazy-long post!
Here’s a quick comparison of one moment in the scene where Ushio meets Tora: the first thing I noticed was the shot choice – the OVA goes with a side profile but the 2015 series introduced a slight angle, probably to give the Spear more prominence in the frame. As fans will know, ‘Tora’ is named so by Ushio due to his tiger-like appearance but I think in the OVA he’s a little more dog-like in the face? I like the blue of his eyes matching the cellar’s light. Both scenes go with darkness but the extra detail of blue blood appearing purple in the dim light is a nice touch in the new series.
As I mentioned in the reviews, Ushio and Tora plays to its demographic. That means, as with most YA/shonen fiction, the parents kinda need to be absent to let the adventure begin. In a lot of shonen featuring martial arts, there’s a pretty stern approach to discipline – and both OVA and 2015 play that aspect pretty similarly though 2015 is usually more dynamic with is composition.
The storyline difference in the way the scenes play out is how Ushio’s ability to transform and use the Beast Spear is hidden from his friends – the OVA builds up differently, whereas the 2015 has the girls barricade themselves quickly but I think what’s similar is interesting. Obviously, the designs are really close but basically ‘cleaner’. Mayuko’s eyes have become almost grey rather than kinda golden brown from the OVA. The poses are different enough but also evoke the same character shorthand – Asako looks like the hot-head and Mayuko is obviously more happy-go-lucky.
… I think this is going to be a longer post than I first thought 😀
So, I’m going to jump around between episodes now (as the above all came from episode 1) and perhaps close with some things that aren’t directly comparable but are still something I wanted to highlight anyway.
Here there’s a flashback from the creepy Nukekubi episode, which in the OVA is a fair bit more violent than the 2015 series, actually. But let’s get focused back on the visuals – I liked the costume match between the two but the low angle shot from the OVA is a little more dramatic, I think. The blood-tinted flashback in the new anime is really effective too, that and what seems to be a film grain effect.
Above, the Nukekubi have an interesting shot that is essentially mirrored, and both versions of the series have them appear in similar ways but I prefer the OVA simply because it has the nice bonus of appearing to ‘melt’ into view.
Below, a quick comparison of a scene near the end of the episode where Tora discovers the joy of hamburgers – I was a little disappointed that in 2015 we don’t get to see him take a bite but the OVA uses a heavily stylised look, almost a ‘pencil strokes’ visible moment. In both, there’s still those ‘comedy-eyes’ visible thought 🙂
Again the OVA presents the scene in a more stylised look that’s almost Impressionistic but here I really enjoyed the inverse symmetry between the characters. In one, Ushio has his back to the audience and in the other, Hyou is facing away. I also thought it was interesting that both artists framed the shot in similar ways – OVA with shadowy plants and in 2015 with the shadows of plants.
It does make me wonder whether the MAPPA team at least watched the original before storyboarding, so as to put such little references within, or whether one studio simply went closer to the manga’s blocking? I should check, actually – because I suspect this is at least somewhat true, since other scenes are often replicas of panels from the source.
In this case I know the 2015 plays this moment (and the entire scene) far closer to the manga but I have a soft spot for the depth of field in the OVA, the blue on blue, the classic ‘half-shadow’ face so you know the character could be a bit morally ‘grey’. Also, his jacket looks better here 😀 The light in the new U&T is great too but it doesn’t have the same menacing, low-angle shot from the POV of the ‘street trash’ that Hyou is hunting.
Now, I’ve been a bit selective here in what I choose to lift from each sequence and both are great, though I tend to prefer the OVA’s work for the most part. The 2015 sequence is subtler (which can be a real plus for sure) and darker in terms of the lighting, no doubt to fit in to the overall and previously established flashback-aesthetic but the OVA really spotlights his anguish with the stark red, white and black palette.
Let’s lighten things up a touch – here the two scenes are pretty similar but in terms of character, I noticed the 2015 version had Ushio come to the realisation that he was being a fool while looking ‘off-screen’ to nothing but in the OVA he’s looking after Asako. Obviously, both scenes used romanticised colour and lighting but while the OVA features a bold gradient, the detail and lighting effects in the 2015 show are softer and offer more depth. You can also see again that while the new series keeps the hatching, it’s reduced.
So, apparently Tora gets bored and hungry enough to just bite the face off a shark in one of the ‘beach’ episodes? 😀 However, the 2015 series doesn’t have him get snacky before he encounters the monster of the week but again, the modern lighting techniques really sells the idea of a nice sunny day at the beach.
(Maybe this monster of a post should have been two? Oh well, I feel like I can’t stop now!)
The first four shots I use here are a little misleading because they suggest disunity via colour – the OVA will appear more unified at first glance but it’s not so pronounced in 2015. But the OVA does show that clash in detail common to older works, where the extra detail of something (the sea creature Ayakashi here) gives it the look of a static background piece, especially when compared to Tora and Umizatō. Later in the episode, there’s another ‘flipped’ moment and I like the way we’re told via the visuals, by the ‘muting’ of other holiday makers, that only Ushio can hear/see Umizatō.
The same episode also had some other interesting changes, this time in fight choreography. When Asako gets stuck in to some bullies it’s far more dynamic in terms of camera, cutting between close-ups, tilts and wider shots. Obviously I’m focusing a little ‘micro-level’ when I say the colour balance is great with the lifesaver. In the OVA it’s a bolder orange to contast with the paler background, whereas it becomes paler orange to contrast with the blue sky but also to pop against her swimsuit and his shirt in the recent adaptation.
Near the end of the OVA’s run is where Ushio and Tora meet the Kamaitachi Siblings. Their character design is tweaked among the most I think, especially Kagari – who in the 1990s has the ‘big hair/tiny mouth’ thing going on. A key scene near the end of the Kamaitachi arc is very similar but the hatching has actually increased in the 2015 version:
That’s about it for the actual comparison part, hope there was some interesting bits in there, despite the long post (which hasn’t ended either!).
The next two sections are mostly just an appreciation of the character design and visual style of the villain, after a quick detour to check in with Hyou from the manga. I nearly screen-capped this fight as the final panel appears in 2015 but not 1992.
Here’s a few images, all but one from the 2015 Ushio and Tora, of the many disturbing faces of villain Hakumen – the effect of utter, utter unhinged weariness is achieved so well by the cross hatching and disproportionate eye and teeth, or the mass concentration of lines elsewhere. Enjoy – if you can!
(If you got through this post, congratulations – I am impressed you were able to put up with me for so long, but also thanks, since these last few posts took me three days :D)
Let’s jump forward 23 years (to what is now nearly 5 years ago actually) and land in 2015 for the proper adaptation of Ushio and Tora.
And I say ‘proper’ not due to any perceived importance placed on the notion of fidelity to source material, but because this adaptation is a complete story. There’s a beginning with increasingly mysterious set ups offered to the audience, a middle with a few dire moments where the hero seems defeated and also an ending, where plot threads are brought to a conclusion.
Ushio and Tora in 2015 is also far prettier and the action sequences more satisfying, benefiting greatly from modern animation techniques and palettes (though I do have a soft spot for the more muted colours often found in the 1990s). The 2015 version also dials up the ante when it comes to pacing, humour and vastly expands the scope of the saga that’s being told.
What it does maintain from the past is what I guess you’d call an ‘old school’ feel to not only the story beats and characters but also the visual style – you’ll doubtless notice that the hatching is often retained, which I thought was really interesting.
While at first the story focuses on getting to know characters within the framework of the ‘monster of the week’ it quickly expands the scope and the episodes begin to reveal arcs. As with the 1992 OVA, the strengths are the classic things that won’t convince folks who aren’t fans of shonen – action and humour.
But again, the interplay between Tora and Ushio as they gradually become friends is why you keep watching, I reckon. A lot of the humour is also derived from their relationship, which is very ‘buddy-cop’ in many ways, with Tora being the grumpy one.
Ushio one the other hand is a quintessential shonen hero, determined and kind, and like with most YA fiction, there’s a lot of ‘absent parent’ stuff going on at the start to give him a chance to land in hot water, though his father and mother both have significant roles to play. (Speaking of fathers, the screen time and tone of Asako’s father is pared back this one).
Due to the 39 episode count (compared to only 10 in the OVA) there’s a lot more time to get to know the secondary characters and sub-plots too, and while I really enjoyed 90% of them I think the best thing was probably being given time with the main villain – without which, an action text/heroic journey can too often fall flat.
And Hakumen no Mono is a memorable and menacing villain indeed – not in the least due to the voice acting of Megumi Hayashibara (no doubt recognisable as the voice of, among many others, Rei Ayanami, Faye Valentine and Atsuko/Paprika). Here, she delivers a rasping, unhinged performance that is miles away from the smooth tone of characters like Faye. It was a real highlight – though in terms of voice acting I occasionally heard Ushio as ‘older’ than his character, which pulled me out of the universe momentarily.
To wade a little further into the aspects that didn’t work for me I have to mention Nagare Akiba – I suspect compared to the manga, his storyline was compressed too much. This meant that his motivation for some actions seemed a little underdeveloped and then, his defining moment maybe didn’t play out so well.
Similarly, I found myself growing impatient with a ‘no-one’ remembers sub-plot because it broke momentum and bugged me a little, not in the least since it erased a whole lot of important character development but also because it felt like an unneeded way to extend the series.
However, when the show took time to step away and reveal back stories of other characters I was usually on board 100% – especially with Hyou, his was one of my favourite aspects about the series. It’s probably only topped by Tora’s history too, his flashback episodes really land at a great time and provide extra emotional impact.
So, what’s left to say?
Well, I guess I’ll try a recommendation – Ushio and Tora should be a hit with fans of shonen and/or seemingly ‘oddly paired’ heroes, along with people who dig shows that go for (and achieve) a retro-feel.
The supernatural themes are a really big part too, but at least for the first two-thirds the comedic parts are also important. I guess if you like light harem aspects then you’ll enjoy Ushio and Tora for that focus also. (And to sneak back the OVA – maybe, give it a shot if really want to compare the two).
Oh, I couldn’t leave the review without sharing this – Tora has to operate as Mayuko’s doppelganger at one point and it’s a highlight 😀