I’m sure that I’m reading “Bokurano” right now for different reasons than the majority of its American audience. Having seen the anime adaptation that came out a few years back, I’m more interested in seeing how it deviated from its source material. After all, not many directors go public with their dislike of the manga their series is based on and state their desire to “save” its cast from the horrible fates that await them.
(Lots of discussion about the differences between the manga and the anime after the break. Those of you looking for a recommendation -- I say buy the manga and then come back and read this.)
Make no mistake, I’m guessing that the fates that await the cast in the manga are much worse than what we saw in the anime after it went all “warm-’n-fuzzy” after episode 9. Now the series’ premise isn’t happy by any means -- middle-school kids sign a contract to pilot a giant mech in battles to save the Earth only to find out that the chosen pilot will die after each battle -- but mangaka Mohiro Kitoh seems to have made a career out of exploring the dark underbelly of childhood fantasies. His previous work “Shadow Star” (“Narutaru” in Japan) showed us what would really happen if kids got their hands on an alien friend who’d obey their every demand. It wasn’t pretty.
While the manga wasn’t published to completion over here, the anime ranks as one of the most traumatizing series I’ve ever seen. Not so much for the actions of the aliens, but for its illustration of just how brutal kids can be to each other. That said, the series managed the difficult feat of shocking me enough to leave a distinct impression, but never getting so bad that it caused me to stop watching or having its approach get so over the top that it eventually became dull. It was licensed by Media Blasters and can be found for dirt cheap on Amazon -- if you don’t mind buying it used.
Anyway, back to “Bokurano.” Like I said at the beginning, my main interest in reading the manga comes from wanting to compare it to the anime. While we’re still in the realm of stories that were adapted into the anime there are still some interesting differences to be observed. First of all, the military has yet to get involved. They were present almost from the start of the series and were mainly notable for the fact that their main liason with the kids was secretly one of their parents. As that hasn’t happened yet, I’m looking forward to see if that “secret parent” plot point still holds true and if Kitoh can put a more interesting spin on it than the conventional path this subplot took in the anime.
As for the stories featured in this volume, we get to see what happens to Daiichi -- who looks as if he’ll be bald by the time he graduates from high school. That’s because he has tasked himself with looking after his two younger sisters and younger brother after his dad walked out on them years ago. We get some decent scenes setting up what a good guy he is and how he and his siblings still live at their old house, despite the offer of his uncle to take them all in, in the hopes that their father will come back to them one day. Then he gets chosen as a pilot, saves the amusement park that his family was set to go to before the battle, and then dies. It’s a decent enough take on a familiar story, but it offers up nothing that wasn’t already in the anime.
Then we get the story of Mako, a girl who is as upstanding and responsible as you could hope for someone of her age. She’s also socially burdened with a mother who works as a high-class call girl and gets no end of grief from her classmates about it. While the anime took a somewhat disturbing “look how many people your mother has brought happiness to” approach, the manga offers up a much more reasonable and interesting take on how Mako resolves her issues with her mother’s lifestyle. We also get some great scenes with Mako and her mom as they give the people who have slandered them verbal and situational comeuppance. Her mother’s scene is particularly gratifying in the way that she makes no excuses for herself and exposes her neighbor’s hypocrisy at the same time. That said, take these scenes out and it’s basically the same story we got in the anime.
With that in mind, the most interesting difference from the manga and the anime in this volume is where these stories appeared in the anime. These stories appeared toward the middle of the anime, after the director went public about his distaste for the manga, and after a storyline which offered up some of the same traumatizing excitement that I got from “Narutaru.” The fact that they’re in the second volume gives me the impression that Kitoh is slowly warming up to the really bad stuff. If you’re reading this series without the knowledge of what will happen in future storylines then you’ll probably find Daiichi and Mako’s tales to be reassuring in the way they make the most of the time they have left and become better people in the process.
Which is probably how Kitoh wants it because you’ll be that much more susceptible to the shock of seeing how some of these kids react to their situation in later volumes. One of the chosen kids in this is taking his current lot in life VERY badly and if his arc plays out the same as it did in the anime... then you won’t feel as bad for him as you do for Daiichi and Mako. So really, the appeal of this series for me is kind of like watching a train wreck in slow motion. You know people are going to die, and die very badly in some cases, but you can’t look away all the same. Maybe it’s because you’re glad you’re not on the train or that you hope to see survivors emerge from the wreckage -- battered but intact, with stories of people who gave their lives to avert the disaster. That’s the series in a nutshell, and why I’ll continue to read it.
Viz is also publishing the series online at its IKKI site with a new chapter being posted on a quasi-monthly basis. It’s free, but I like actually having a physical copy of the series and being able to read a chunk of it at a time. Plus I hope that buying it will get Viz to release the series at a quicker pace because at this rate I’ll be pushing 40 by the time they release all nine volumes.