Anime Review: Bucchigire!

The English translation of the title is, “Shine On! Bakumatsu Bad Boys.” Somehow, I have difficulty taking that title seriously, so I still think of it as Bucchigire.

It’s an alternate history that puts a rather fantastic twist on the famed Shinsengumi. It starts out very strong, with a group of criminals being forcibly recruited as substitutes for seven of the Shinsengumi leaders, all but one of whom were assassinated. They are to fight for the nation and people of Japan, and their enemies are the Masked Demons, who have their own view of what the future should be and do not hesitate to kill anyone in order to further their goals. Indeed, much of what the Masked Demons do is simply to kill people, to collect their souls and use them to power some very futuristic weaponry. Against this, the substitute Shinsengumi leaders have only their own swords, but which are empowered more willingly by the souls of their deceased predecessors.

I’m going to be blunt here: this was not a very surprising show. It was fun, in its way, but it was also cliche, predictable, and filled with by-the-numbers tropes, with a plot that mostly happens just because it needs to happen that way.

The leader is a reckless, loudmouthed fool with big dreams of changing the world, as per usual. The enemy commander is the leader’s long lost brother, complete with a tragic redemption arc, as per usual. The girl of the group is one of the best fighters and has a romantic subplot, as per usual. A cold, ruthless assassin with a tortured past is both foible and strongest support to the leader, as per usual. The others include a priestly pacifist, a mad scientist, a gun-toting ruffian, a huge idiot with a huge appetite, and the lone survivor of the previous generation of leaders, now trying to bear the weight of all of them, all as per usual. The witty mentor figure is assassinated and leaves a clue to the enemy’s plans, as per usual. The true enemy is a highly-placed official, a traitor, with occult knowledge and a desire to keep the world from changing, so he does not lose his place in it, all as usual. And after a dozen episodes of growing accustomed to these colorful characters, we have a showdown that is suddenly reminiscent of The Magnificent Seven, or, rather, Seven Samurai. Except, of course, that none of the main heroes actually die or suffer much in any way.

So, it’s not any sort of revolutionary anime. No great twists and turns and shocking reveals here. And yet there is a certain… resonance. Something which draws on truth and speaks to the soul, rather than to the mind.

Japan had a long history of self-isolation, so much so that they had to have their doors kicked down and their teeth kicked in, dragging them kicking and screaming into the modern era. Once that was done, they quickly became a dominant power in their sphere again, enough to take on much of the world. Still, to this day, Japanese culture is not much accepting of outsiders, irregulars, and foreigners. One can hardly blame them, given how radical were the changes forced upon them, no matter how much they have made those changes their own and thrived for it. Anyone would be angry for a very long time in the wake of losing so much of their ancient traditions, and all that accompanies such.

Thus, when I look at this anime, I see Japan’s struggle with itself, seeking to increase their strength without cutting the roots of their cultural identity. It is a painful ordeal, to grow and change, not least for what ends up left behind. Within this, there will always be those who greedily strive to hold on to their waning status, even to renew and increase it, no matter whose blood they will spill, whose lives they will trample on, and on whose souls they will feed. The ancient and the occult are merged with frightening futuristic weaponry, playing on the human fears of both science and the supernatural, co-opting humanity’s march into the future and turning it into a backwards slide into stagnation. Against this, the protagonist fights for the dream of a new world, one in which no one gets stepped on. A simple but very high ideal, the hope that shines in the darkness of the enemy’s ultimate despair.

There is something of value in that.

But it’s still a very campy, predictable, and very generic action flick that generally does not excite one’s brain overmuch. It’s fun, but not really thrilling. It’s not quite a children’s anime, but it is close.

Rating: I give it 7 stars out of 10.

Grade: …hmmm, C-Plus seems slightly low, so I’ll be a little generous and say B-Minus.

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