Back Arrow first differentiated itself against the rest of the perpetual stew known as ‘upcoming anime’ with two striking posters that promised less-than-ordinary character aesthetic couples with a handful of outfit and hairstyle combos that harkened back to more imaginative times in the media landscape, courtesy of Magi’s Shinobu Ohtaka providing the designs. A number of other people with track-records anyone would be envious of, including Code Geass creator Goro Taniguchi and Gurren Lagann / Kill la Kill screenwriting extraordinaire Kazuki Nakashima on compositional duty, pointed towards a show that could have been good. It is a complete original series (not based on a manga or light novel), handled by those responsible for some of the most original works in the last couple of decades. If these previous sentences didn’t already tip their hat to you, a particularly awkward Back Arrow Episode 1 didn’t deliver the goods, so we waited until Episodes 2 and 3 to see if it would start to congeal.
Kazuki Nakashima and Goro Taniguchi envision a continent surrounded by a giant wall with, supposedly, nothing on the other side as the basic setting for Back Arrow. Putting aside the ‘where did they get that idea from’ shaped elephant in the room, further world-thickening details include a society of people living at best in 19th Century towns and at worst bland canyon villages, who seemingly doesn’t have much modern technology, except for devices that can turn you into a giant robot. You read that right: Mechs aren’t piloted in this show, they are temporarily traded in for your flesh and blood body. Also, every once in a while, giant container vessels drop out of the sky, often bearing food or other goods, which the average citizen considers a ‘gift’ from the Wall, admittedly an interesting world detail. Now you might be surprised to read this huge Back Arrow Episode 1 spoiler, but instead of a delicious Turkey Sandwich, a charismatic man with amnesia pops out of one of these meteorite-shaped shipping containers and claims to be from beyond the walls. Stop us if you’ve heard any of this before.
When Kazuki Nakashima first delivered Gurren Lagann’s shirtless dynamo Kamina to the masses back in 2007, for a brief 15 minutes the earth cracked open and a much-needed shot of fiery love punctured into the heart of every anime enjoyer out there. In 2019, after a 12-year recess, Nakashima once again harnessed that same energy for Promare’s Galo. Perhaps, dipping back in the Kamina sauce for thirds just two years post-Trigger‘s big movie works against the old ‘third time’s the charm’ adage. The naked Shadow the Hedgehog take on Kamina is the titular Back Arrow of Back Arrow who burst onto the Back Arrow Episode 1 scene with nothing but the red streak in his hair, that same thoughtless ‘it’ll work out’ mindset, and buttocks flapping in the wind. Cleverly, the explanation for his name comes from someone calling him ‘Bakayaro’, meaning ‘that idiot, and him willfully twisting it into Back Arrow. To cut Nakashima and the show some slack, Back Arrow’s (the man) naked antics might be the biggest highlight of the first three episodes. That and the bangin’ LiSA theme.
When the oh so whacky naked-times end about midway through episode 2, so does the most daring part of the show. The rest of it feels, unfortunately, bland across its many facets. That appetite-whetting stark visual on that first poster does not reflect the reality of the show. Characters sure are running around with outfits no one would ever wear (which we say in praise), and haircuts that redefine what bangs can actually be, (another plus), but Shinobu Ohtaka’s charming old-school design choices are rendered too flatly in motion to make any impact. Similarly, Nakashima’s not bringing the A-Game that brought us Gurren Flippn’ Lagann with his scripts in this present moment, seemingly exhausting whatever passion he may have had for this project on Back Arrow Episode 1’s naked power hour. Seemingly working on a B budget, Goro Taniguchi isn’t bringing that Geass level heat either. The direction is solidly competent, but this anime with its lifeless world and wall paint animation can’t be bothered to convince the viewer that it cares about itself. So why should we be expected to? Even in this ho-drum cartoon’s best moments, the most you’ll muster is ‘at least this minute is better than the last minute.’
Despite all the complaints I’ve lodged at the series thus far (complaints that had me putting off writing this Back Arrow Episode 1 review until I had more material to work with hoping for some improvement), there are some things here that in a vacuum are interesting. Sparse as it may be, Taniguchi and Nakashima invented a proper world that has some rhyme and logic behind its existence, despite wholesale taking that wall thing from elsewhere. ‘Back Arrow’ the inspirational fighter does come across with at least a facsimile of the charisma his elders exuded with pride. That this old-timey world features a technology where people are turned into robots does tantalize a mystery; while I’m fully expecting the explanation to be some kind of Shamalyanian twist, I can only hope Back Arrow eventually embraces twist-for-the-sake-of-the-twist that made Goro Taniguchi’s Code Geass such an enjoyable read. Ohtaka’s art could use a bigger budget to fully realize itself, but at least there’s some imagination in their concepts. Maybe, just maybe, we’ll see some of these buds blossom through the course of the show. With all the creators involved certainly being capable of doing so, we’ll leave you with the one Robot who charmed us enough to allow us to believe perhaps the show just might pull something off.
You can watch Back Arrow Episode 1 and more on Funimation!