A dark and entertaining take on Humongous Mecha
Bokurano is an interesting and refreshing addition to the Humongous Mecha genre that asks the question of how do a bunch of children handle being tasked with saving the world and in answering that question, provides a dark and realistic look at the genre. The battles between the robots are exciting to watch, with each robot having a different arsenal of weapons, as well as various strengths and weaknesses. At the same time, though, you never forget that there are innocent people in the midst of the battles, who die by the thousands. The characters are well-developed and interesting, with varied backstories and personalities that nicely play off and contrast with each other; for example, the contrast between a boy who abuses his younger sister and another boy who raises his younger siblings in his father's absence. They have fairly realistic reactions to getting a giant robot and being told to use it to save the Earth; they're not immediately heroic, and some have less than noble ulterior motives for using it. And when the awful truth of the situation they're in dawns on them, they do not take it well, although some manage to do what they must in spite of that. Unfortunately, while the plot has some interesting twists and is quite dark, it becoms relatively predictable after a certain amount of time. Before long, you know that it won't end well for most of the characters, after a certain point toward the end, you will likely know more or less how it's going to end. In spite of that, the fact that the worst possible outcomes are by no means inevitable does help avert Darkness Induced Audience Apathy. In short, Bokurano is highly recommended. Both the anime and the manga are worth a view, especially for the subtle and interesting differences between each telling of the story.
Facing the End
How to start a review of Bokurano, when as mentioned above, the manga is about the end? I'll start off with the comparison to Evangelion; it isn't like it. It makes sense, has characters with depth, and all of them deserve our sympathy. The art is somewhat 'soft' and light, but it fits most situations fairly well. The action scenes are fairly clever, making full use of Zearth and the enemy's capabilities, and the music (in the anime) has a haunting, lyrical beauty. So what about the story? Without warning, fifteen middle-school children are thrust into a competition that will determine the fate of all life in their universe, and worst of all, their victory will be bittersweet; regardless of the result, they will die. It follows the children's lives, giving us their thoughts and feelings. Some of them face the end with courage, some with resignation, and some with cowardice. Regardless of what they feel, though, it feels human; it's both constructed and portrayed well. And unlike the pseudo-philosophical meandering of Evangelion, the main focus of the story, how they face the end, isn't cluttered and tangled with a non-sensical plot and characters that dull, predictable characters: It's central question, 'how we face the end', remains simple and beautiful. So, what are the flaws? As I mentioned above, the art style is somewhat 'soft' and light; although it works well much of the time, it can also create near-transparent scenes, like mediocre watercoloring. And although the characters are well made, only the ones that live to latter parts of the manga get substantive characterization; the ones who die early only receive a small, if descriptive portrait. Final analysis? The manga is definitely worth reading; with good characters, story, and action, it has a multi-layered approach and appeal. However, the subject matter and tone may not appeal to others; those unable to hold back tears (as I was on occasion), read the story with caution. PS If anyone actually reads this review and feels offended at my jabs at Evangelion, I have two things to say. First off, the comparisons were made on the first page, so I think the comparisons are justified. Second, Evangelion isn't deep or intelligent; it's a mish-mash of bad characters, nonsensical plot, and a overabundance of useless symbolism. Debate me on my Tropes page if you want.