Note: Review copy supplied by MVM Entertainment
Anime Studio: TMS Entertainment
Publisher: MVM Entertainment
Genre: Seinen / Comedy / Slice of Life
Released: August 27th 2018
Running Time: 300 mins
Extras: Clean OP and ED, promos, live action behind the scenes, bumpers, safety warning, trailers
Get ready to rev it up as these high school angels hit the streets!
Riding a bicycle may be better than walking, but when another girl zips past her on the way to class, Sakura Hane realizes that there’s an even better option: motorcycles! Fortunately, Sakura’s all-girl school just happens to have a motorcycle club. It only has one member though, the mysterious Raimu Kawasaki, who’s never been seen without her face-obscuring helmet. But that changes immediately once Sakura and the girl who passed her, Onsa Amano, sign up and start recruiting! It won’t all be easy riding… Sakura still has to earn her license, and there are problems like the club’s official status having slipped, and the need to recruit a faculty sponsor. But when the rubber hits the road, those are just little potholes as six student bikers take a ride on the wild side!
Bakuon was a show that I expected to be something that it wasn’t. When looking at the premise, my expectation was that this would quickly take a turn down a very fan service heavy route, likely based around biker leathers. What it did instead genuinely surprised me. Now, I’m not saying we’re devoid of fan service here. Rin Suzunoki, the Suzuki obsessed member of the group, is drawn to be heavy up top, and often sports a skin tight pink bodysuit. There’s also the events of episode five, which include a female teacher getting drunk and trying to strip the girls, as well as both Rin and Hane Sakura deciding to clean their bikes by soaping up and rubbing themselves all over the things (which is apparently called an American Carwash). Basically, that episode goes a bit off the rails.
However, the rest of the series is actually surprisingly tame in that respect. The hot springs episode features very little use of the hot springs, and even the maid outfits in the school festival episode don’t lead to much. Instead, what we get is a show that bounces between two extremes: barmy and serious-about-bikes.
Let’s start with the silliness. For one, the anime features a handful of appearances by a character is clearly meant to be Jesus. But Jesus rides a Suzuki, has a halo above his helmet, likes bike magazines with pin-ups, and believes that Raphaels painting of God actually has a motorcycle in it if you search for hidden meaning within the picture. Then there’s Hane discovering that he training bike can talk. Not only does said bike claim that it used to be male, but in its now female form it makes several references to how it sells itself to men so they can learn how to ride. It all borders on being highly offensive, but is so ludicrous that it’s hard not to view it as an odd little quirk or Japanese humour. Perhaps easier to swallow are the moments where the humour is slightly less off-the-wall. For example, there’s a scene in episode three where Rin is unaware that she ahs a helmet microphone and the other girls are listening in to her pretending to fire missiles at Onsa Amano.
When the show gets into the actual bike action, it takes a very different turn. Yes, there are still some random comedy moments thrown in, but the focus is definitely on ensuring the quality of the races and bike tours on show. This is in part, as is shown in the DVD extras, because the animation team studied real people riding real versions of the bikes around the areas that they’re animating. This has led to the biking scenes actually feely very dynamic, especially once they pick up speed, and are way above what you may expect from reading the synopsis. On top of that, the girls themselves know their stuff when talking about the different machines, and we even get to hear some stories about the creation of some of the bikes. The one thing that threw me was that the motorcycles were continuously referred to as Auto Bikes. While an acceptable term for motorcycles in Japan, I actually knew the term as relating to a couple of different bicycle types.
From an auditory standpoint, the opening and closing themes are suitably bouncy. The voice cast are fine too, but it’s once again the bikes that shine. Each bike has a distinctive sound, which is in keeping with the reality of said machines. Meanwhile, the design work is as split as the tone of the show. The bikes match the seriousness of when they’re the focus, with plenty of detail put into them. Meanwhile, the characters take on a more old school appearance. At times, some of the characters really felt like they’d fit in in specific older series, such as how Onsa’s facial expressions came across as very Ranma, and Hane Sakura looked like … well … Sakura from Cardcaptors. The most modern part of the visual aesthetics for the characters are probably how shiny they are, with their cheeks in particular almost emanating light.
Despite the pleasant familiarity of the old style feel of the design work though, the characters are not without problems. You see, they’re fairly unbalanced. As leads go, Hane Sakura is fairly bland when she’s not engaged in something mad. Onsa and Rin – who I kinda feel like I want to ship – are fine, but very focused on particular character traits. Hijiri was a late addition to the group but doesn’t really add much. And Raimu, aka helmet-senpai, kinda left me wondering how the girls haven’t figured out that she’s much older than them. I think that the problem lays in the show’s reluctance to allow the seriousness to land anywhere other than the two-wheeled vehicles; there were a couple of moments where back stories began to look fleshed out for characters, only for the rug to swept away in a burst of random comedy that flipped them straight back to where they were. The only one who doesn’t really suffer form this is Onsa who, by the end of the show, feels like a more suitable main character than Hane by a clear mile.
In all, this was a pleasant surprise for me. It essentially falls into the cute-girls-doing-cute-things genre, but with the USP of motorcycles being thrown in. Sure, some of it follows the expected tropes, and the characters could do with some development, but that’s not to say that the show is worthless. There’s a lot to enjoy here, and the creators have clearly spent a lot of time in making sure that the motorcycles are treated well in the show. Generally very pleasant, with a healthy dose of fun thrown in. 3.75 out of 5.
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