Review/discussion about: Rokka no Yuusha

by BanjoTheBear

Colonel Mustard, with the Candlestick, in the Conservatory

Colonel Mustard, with the Candlestick, in the Conservatory

In the house I grew up in, we were always scarce for snacks. Chips, cakes, and cookies were difficult to come by, not because my parents and siblings were allergic or did not like such temptations. No, it was the opposite. Since we all loved them, they barely lasted more than a couple of days after purchasing. One of the delectable treats we usually bought were what are named “Grasshoppers.” Keebler – the cookie company that uses tiny elf labor – are the makers, and contrary to their name, they are delicious. They are tiny, about the size of an Oreo, taking up roughly the same diameter as a circle formed when you put the tip of your forefinger onto the tip of your thumb. Their outsides are slightly ridged so that, should you put two together, you could make your own cogged contraption. Most important of all, they have the perfect balance of chocolate and mint, their insides filled not with grasshoppers but with a fudge-filled wafer. Girl Scout Thin Mints are dirt compared to the mighty Grasshopper.

I loved these cookies growing up (I still do), and being the slightly selfish teenager that I was, I would make it my mission to sneak them up to my room during the night to have them all to myself. Sometimes I would confiscate the entire package and hide the remainder that I did not eat in one sitting under my bed, to be consumed at a later date.

This would come back to bite me because, one day, the Grasshoppers had gone missing and, my family knowing of my theft-like tendencies, immediately accused me. I had not touched this round of cookies, but it was all I could do to persuade them. I tried pinning it on my father, a famous late-night snack-eater. My mother “smelt it and therefore dealt it,” my sister was prone to sneaking food throughout the day, and my brother actually avoided them but we all knew that was the perfect cover-up. By the end of our meal I was still the prime suspect, the cookie culprit never discovered. I remembered this small snapshot of my life after watching Rokka no Yuusha, an anime centering on a potentially false accusation. But instead of about cookies it was about people and instead of a dull dinner it was instead a thrilling ride from start to finish.

STORY

Rokka no Yuusha, at its core, is not a plot-driven anime. An overarching and overdone tale of “good guys go to defeat the big bad guy” exists and is the underlying motive for the whole group, but the immediacy of achieving it is not present. The anime is not even character-driven. Due to the large size of the cast, little time is available to delve into the past of the people at play. Rokka no Yuusha understands this, therefore placing emphasis on the inverse of plot and characters. That is, the show focuses on everything else, the unknown elements and the mystery of the situation.

To be clear, a narrative and a set of people are around, but that is not what the anime is technically trying to target. One of the first signs of this seemingly misplaced focus is the dialogue. Rokka no Yuusha is heavy on the speaking, with characters entering monologues, longwinded explanations, and personal epithets. Considering that the majority of the events happen over the course of a day or two, conversations sometimes last hours, the cast exchanging ideas, anecdotes, and theories instead of worrying about the looming threat before them. Despite the massive amount of talking that goes on, nothing is ever “said,” no important information is ever gained. Little is learned about the world, characters’ lives are rarely expounded on, and often times the words themselves are incorrect. The dialogue, coincidentally, is fog, cloaking the truth and veiling the answer to the mystery with lies and deceit.

But it is not all exposition. Truth be told, anime (indeed most narratives) are not keen on having solely dialogue. It can be done but it requires careful planning and the correct context. Thus, shows opt for a rising and falling of action, with Rokka no Yuusha being no different. It breaks up the potential monotony of continuous talking with action-heavy scenes. A brawl against puked up amoebas here, a chase through the foliage there. Action of this magnitude deviates from the norm, drama and tension replacing comfortability and familiarity. However the fights, like the dialogue, do not contain a singular purpose. Their main goal is to once again cloak what should be made clear, heightening the mystery in an indirect manner. When a battle starts, the characters, and by extension the audience, are forced to keep the conundrum on the wayside, subsequently stopping the secrets from surfacing. This red light continues for the duration of the skirmish, at which point the green light is turned back on and everyone – the characters and the audience – are permitted to think about the solution. It is an artificial device in the sense that a fight can, and most often does, breakout at convenient moments, but it ultimately feels natural due to the gravity of the problem, the weight of the decisions made, and the force of the actions taken.

The combination of leveled dialogue and tense action is a roller coaster, the audience riding a sinusoidal wave, the crest a flurry of swords and the trough a detailing of magical wooden stakes. The cycle varies; battles, like their discussion counterpart, ranging in length from a quick knife throw to a prolonged feud. Sometimes the wave stands, with sentences becoming spears to insult or insinuate another and vice versa. But what happens during the middle section from high to low or low to high? Those transitional sections are as important as the exposition and battles, with “transition” the operative word: a transition in character focus. In other words, the anime mixes up the cast, providing appropriate screen-time for the people involved.

Something simple like disproportionate screen-time ups the mystery

Something simple like disproportionate screen-time ups the mystery

It is important to understand the allocation of screen-time varies and is not uniform, with the frequency of appearance different for each person. Visualizing a spectrum, Adlet, the star, occupies the top and Goldof, with nothing to his name but a crush, occupies the bottom, with everyone else in-between. Seemingly tangential, the screen-time of the characters finds relevancy precisely because it differs from person to person. Had everyone acquired similar time onscreen, such an aspect could be discounted, however since everyone had dissimilar time onscreen, it becomes yet another factor that needs to be taken into consideration when investigating the mystery. Is it Hans, who was absent in the beginning but had a large presence in the middle of the season? Is it Flamie, who would switch in and out with the other Braves? Or is it really Adlet, whose massive amount compared to everyone else was meant to impose a false sense of security? Arguably it had to end up this way – the size of the cast demands that some characters will inevitably gain more screen-time than others. But Rokka no Yuusha uses this inevitable detriment to its advantage, propagating the mystery that much further.

The mystery is evidently and thoroughly supported – it is a motif that finds strength in nearly all aspects of the anime. But the thematic presence is equally as important, with the themes emerging from the mysteriousness of it all. A simple view would be that an action should not be undertaken until all possible angles are taken into consideration. The viewer sees firsthand how assumptions lead to infighting and incorrect conclusions when Adlet is blamed for everything unfairly before all outlets are explored, meaning that the mystery showcases a perfect example of what not to do in a similar situation. A better view builds off the previous: people are sometimes wrong. People make mistakes, people are not infallible. Doubly so if the issue at hand is inherently mysterious. It is common for people to think critically about a problem, and even after considering every angle, he or she might still be wrong. Flamie, Hans, and Maura succumb to this reality when they admit their erroneous attacks. Interestingly, Adlet, the self-proclaimed “strongest man in the world,” encounters this notion as well, where his conjectures often led to dead ends. Granted this situation is direr than normal, with individual mistakes potentially ending in the loss of life, meaning it does not directly correlate to the real world. However it is still a nice guide for this type of thinking since it demonstrates why these mistakes happen and what these mistakes create.

The best view, though, is Rokka no Yuusha’s forte: the inverse. That is, people are sometimes right. It is surprisingly difficult to place trust in another person, believing what he or she has to say without reservation. Such difficulty arises from the inability to get inside the head of another person – an angle from another’s perspective is impossible – and from the inability to accept being wrong – people hate making mistakes. Together it means having less faith in others. But sometimes that leap of faith has to be taken, gambling on the fact that the mysterious cloud that surrounds people is not always malicious. Adlet’s actions demonstrate this kind of willingness to find the good in others, with him aiding his comrades, falling in love, and protecting those close to him. The others do the same: Flamie starts to trust, Hans makes a friend, and Maura acts motherly. They all place themselves in danger by doing so, but the reward of tighter relationships and stronger answers proves taking that chance is no mystery whatsoever.

While Rokka no Yuusha purposefully avoids the meat of its narrative and its characters in favor of everything else around it, the mystery it manifests and the themes it touts contain more than enough sustenance all their own.

ANIMATION

The art for Rokka no Yuusha is does not change much. To be fair, it has a nice amount of variety in the beginning of the season, where Adlet visits the Aztec-esque town and where he travels the countryside with Nashetania, visiting plains, sunsets, and mountains. It is when the real journey starts that the locations and subsequently the backgrounds start to stagnate. In essence, there are two areas: the ritual tower and the rest of the jungle. Again, to be fair, there is no way around this considering the dilemma. But this is not just passable plot-wise but also thematically relevant. The tower is a hub, a metaphorical “safe haven” amidst the chaos around them. Its stark blue interior also contrasts heavily with the green of the jungle, giving it a larger feeling of safety. The fog is a concealer, hiding actions, persons, and areas, increasing the overall mysteriousness. And the jungle achieves this effect as well. A jungle blends together, with one spot pretty much the same as any other. It can start to get confusing, disorienting those trapped within it; the perfect place for a mystery. That is to say, the art, like the story, uses inversion – one or two locations are not boring but purposeful – to increase the total amount of mystery. In short, the anime continues to use its own predefined limitations to its advantage.

Sadly not every limit can be overcome. One of the show’s biggest grievances is the CG it employs. Simply put, it is awful. The Fiends – the natural enemy of the humans – are ugly, in both design and depiction. The former done purposefully to make them the ravenous beasts that they are and the latter done accidentally because otherwise it would make little sense. They stand out horribly in the world, their movements are choppy, and they look blocky rather than menacing. Flamie’s bullet magic and Nashetania’s swords use CG as well, however those instances are tolerable. For the Fiends, they are a blight, in the positive and the negative sense.

The character designs are amazing on all fronts

The character designs are amazing on all fronts

All positive are the character designs. In fact, the character designs are arguably the anime’s strongest facet. On the surface level, they are imaginative – a flurry of colors, a myriad of outfits, and a stampede of accessories donning each person accordingly. Going deeper reveals how the characters’ designs follow the mystery motif. It might be something simple like Hans’ hair covering his eyes. It might be something more complex like Chamot’s androgynous and childlike persona. Or it might be something esoteric like Nashetania’s mirroring set of colors, the white signifying purity and goodness and the red signifying evil and hate. At the deepest level, their designs correspond with their personalities and development throughout the season. Flamie wears a flower on her cap, symbolizing the growth and flowering she undergoes whereas Goldof’s helmet represents his hardheadedness, his loyalty, and his delusions. They are an amazing example of what thoughtful character designs are capable of.

Actual animation is unfortunately not amazing, instead a wishy-washy offering. At times, the action can pick up, with characters running, jumping, and falling throughout their battles. Choreography of the fights is standard, relying more on flashy maneuvers than direct impacts. Interestingly, Adlet’s fighting style allows the anime to avoidanimating, with his use of smokes and screens to evade and bamboozle his enemies. It is a clever trick, both literally and figuratively. Mostly, though, the show tends to lean on minimum animation due to the huge amount of dialogue that is exchanged and thus is subpar in this specific category.

CHARACTERS

To reiterate, Rokka no Yuusha is technically not character-driven but that does not stop the anime from continuing its upward spiral.

A correlation between the screen-time per cast member and the extent to which they are expounded can be established, with Adlet once again receiving the most attention and Goldof receiving the least. Even so, Adlet’s history is not wholly elaborated; the audience is shown his home village and small snippets of his training, but it is not enough to say that the viewer knows Adlet as a person. In other words, since little is known about Adlet – the star of the show and the one at the top of the spectrum – logic dictates that even less is known about everyone else. This is true: Flamie is a half-human, half-fiend with mommy-issues, Nashetania is a princess, Hans is a catlike thief, Maura is the Saint of Mountains, Chamot is practically Maura’s child, and Goldof listens to nobody but Nashetania. Hyperboles, but almost nothing else is given about the characters.

It is hard to say whether or not Rokka no Yuusha deters from showing much about its characters because it has to or because it wants to. The former is enticing since it is a natural byproduct of the structure of the cast. Its size, its diversity, and its need to center on Adlet would make it seem obvious that the majority of the characters would earn little focus. The latter, however, is not that farfetched due to the anime’s distinct pattern of refraining from detailing key information about the characters. Flamie’s origins and her mother are never shown despite her talking about them and being a large influence on her. The anime chose not to depict Hans, Maura, and Chamot’s trek to the tower, instead focusing on Adlet and his route, and in the process reducing explanations on the previous three. Goldof is no different, whose outing before meeting up with Nashetania is only described in words. Nashetania as well, her only non-Brave dealings occurring as a personal aside with Adlet very early on and minute conversations at a campsite. The pattern is an inversion – instead of the cast not having much about them because it was impossible to include it was done purposefully.

"Do not judge a book by its cover" is tried and true

“Do not judge a book by its cover” is tried and true

The legitimacy of this pattern is concerning, but not when it aligns with each of the other topics. The story uses inversion and the art uses inversion, so it is feasible to assume that the characters would use inversion as well. More profound is, like the story and the art, the inversion is another means to increase its mystery motif. A character is mysterious when his or her past is unknown, and since almost everyone’s past is, the mysteriousness ramps up further.

Mystery persists in the characters, so thematically something is going on with them. The cast is saying something without really saying it. That message: “do not judge a book by its cover.” Just because someone looks a certain way, acts a certain way, or comes from a certain background does not immediately make that person a stranger or a weirdo. Of course, this may be the case – Flamie fits this description to a degree, as does Hans. But it is like the story’s theme on people sometimes being right; sometimes, that person is not who they are perceived as being. The half-fiend is more human than anyone in the group. The sarcastic assassin is incredibly friendly. The small child is undeniably powerful. The leader-like lady is arrogant and stubborn. The guard dog is devoted yet extremely narrow-minded. The sexy, harmless royalty is the mastermind controlling the strings. The scrawny, slow, and smiling scientist is “the strongest man in the world.” The whole cast exemplifies the idea that a precursory glance of a person is not enough. It is unfair to judge someone based on their outer, public qualities when their inner, private ones reveal infinitely more about who that person happens to be.

That is to say, the biggest mystery in Rokka no Yuusha are the characters themselves.

SOUND

The main opening theme continues the mystery, with the start of the track an ominous set of tones. It morphs into hard guitar and hard note shifts to increase the foreboding sense. All the while the vocalist is working overtime alongside the drummer. The piece ends how it started, with a trailing tone that is simultaneously chilling and creepy. As for the main ending theme, it oozes regret at the start with the singer’s slow singing. However the piece gradually picks up in tempo and spirits, finishing happy where it began sad. Its visuals reveal the meaning: it is a piece symbolizing Adlet’s life. The track itself is strong but seemingly has no place among the mystery it touts.

That is, until the other OPs and EDs that Rokka no Yuusha incorporates into the mix are investigated. “Cry for the Truth” is adventurous, “Dance in the Fake” is, like Adlet, Nashetania’s piece and almost horror-sounding (relevant as more is discovered), and “Nameless Heart” is, like Adlet and Nashetania, Flamie’s piece and filled with longing and melancholy. These tracks as well fail to follow the mystery motif, instead aiming for separate emotions altogether. Remarkably, like the story, the art, and the characters, this is a type of inversion once more – not focusing on mystery actually gains more of it. To put it differently, switching between different OPs and EDs, each with various feelings and vibes, causes disarray, leading to convolution and therefore more mystery. Inversion is a technique the anime used throughout its other elements, so it being here as well is simply intelligent.

Chamot's and Maura's voice actresses also give very nice performances

Chamot’s and Maura’s voice actresses also give very nice performances

The remainder of the soundtrack is heavy on the violin, multiple different arrangements unified with other instruments to achieve the right effect of drama or tenseness. The byproduct per usual is an increase in mystery. Pianos and harps fill the rest of the gaps to accentuate the more depressing and more uplifting moments, offsetting the mysteriousness and thus accentuating it, too. So while many of the pieces lack strength or memorability, some at least find themselves fitting within the themes of the show.

Finally, voice acting sees above average performances across the board. Soma Saito as Adlet does well, giving Adlet a young yet mature voice that fits his mantras and passions well. Aoi Yuuki as Flamie hits the bullseye with her quiet voice, one filled with misunderstanding and pain, a perfect match for the broken woman. And Kenichi Suzumura as Hans nails the “Nyaa!” each time Hans opened his mouth, crafting Hans into the playful guy that he is. Together, the voice actors and actresses fit their respective roles nicely, thereby improving the overall execution of the anime.

ENJOYMENT

Remember those Grasshopper cookies? It turned out that there was no culprit, there was nobody to blame. The cookies were mistakenly misplaced in a cupboard, hidden away to prevent me from finding them in the first place. The cookie culprit did not exist to begin with. But those twenty or so minutes, where me, my parents, and my siblings were flinging accusations and fighting arguments felt real. It was an interrogation of familial proportions, with each of us throwing one another under the bus to escape scrutiny.

That is what this anime does so well, capturing the whodunit atmosphere nearly perfectly. It got me involved, shouting at my screen “Yea, screw him!” or “Do not believe her lies!” because I cared about certain characters, believing in them and their words just as I believed in myself and my convictions with those cookies. I was double-guessing, crafting theories, and collecting evidence, all in an attempt to out the seventh Brave, as a sort of redemption for how I failed those many years ago.

And it was fun. I tensed up when Maura was ganging up on Adlet with everyone else, I was pumping my fist when Flamie opened herself up gradually, and I was smiling right along with Adlet each and every time he called himself the “strongest man in the world.” I audibly laughed when Adlet kicked Nashetania square in the face, because I knew that that bunny bimbo had it coming to her. Watching Flamie blush because she was having trouble processing her own feelings was wonderful to see as well. But my favorite part was Adlet’s tiny speech near the end, because it is true: no other man but he could have done the impossible. Each episode had these small moments of triumph and turmoil that made the mystery not just something the cast was experiencing but I and the rest of the anime community were experiencing, too.

With Braves, Fiends, and Saints, Rokka no Yuusha leaves its mark. An interesting story, an intriguing bunch of characters, and an immersing set of sounds lay the groundwork for the show, but it is its ability to reach out and grab the audience, making them a part of the tale, that makes the anime as powerful as it is. And like a Grasshopper cookie, it is definitely worth a bite or two.

Flamie and Adlet's romance brought smiles to my face

Flamie and Adlet’s romance brought smiles to my face

SUMMARY

Story: Great, exposition, intermittent action, and uneven character screen-time add up to a high amount of mystery, with its theme on trusting others growing from said mystery

Animation: Good, purposeful art makes more mystery, subpar CG, fantastic character designs, and below average to average actual animation

Characters: Good, while the cast is expounded on minimally, this increases the mystery levels once more while also providing a nice theme of “do not judge a book by its cover”

Sound: Good, a helping of good OPs and EDs that continue to increase the mystery motif, with an okay OST, and above average VA performances

Enjoyment: Good, the whodunit atmosphere, the smaller scenes, and the ability to rope the audience in make it not just an anime but an entire experience

Final Score: 8/10

Thanks for taking the time to read my review. If you want, take part in the discussion below! :3