I guess this shows my age, but I’m one of those kids that was part of the original Power Rangers generation. When I was little, I would wake up early to watch Power Rangers, chomping at a bowl of Cheerios and waiting to see what kind of cool, gigantic monster the Power Rangers would have to fight. I’m sure that this formative education is why I enjoy the mediocre Rosario + Vampire; I can’t get enough of the baddies Tsukune and his harem fight every week.
The giant robots genre is a staple in both Japanese and American pop culture. Voltron, the Autobots, and Power Rangers litter the kid’s television landscape. Most of these shows, with a few notable exceptions, are sugar sweet, sappy tales that don’t really challenge the viewer in an emotional fashion – and why should they? These shows are media intended to be consumed by kids around the age of 5.
Some writers have challenged the status quo of the genre, but none have done it quite as effectively as Mohiro Kito, a writer with a knack for subverting seemingly incorruptible subject matter. His manga Bokurano: Ours, published as a part of the Viz Media Signature Line, takes the age-old formula and asks this simple question – “What would real children do if they had the ability to power a gigantic robot?” The picture painted by Kito is one that is part Gundam and part Lord of the Flies.
In Bokurano: Ours, 15 children stumble upon a cave full of computers and a man who calls himself Kokopelli who claims to be developing a video game. The kids all want to play, and so they place their hands on a stand and say their names as a part of an elaborate sign-up process. What they don’t realize is that the “game” they’ve signed up for is a battle against aliens trying to destroy the Earth. To twist the plot even more, the children realize that the battles aren’t all fun and games when the first chosen pilot falls dead after a successful battle.
Now chained into an existence certain to cause their deaths with no possible means of escape, the pilots of the giant robot Zearth must decide how to use their power in the last moments of life. Some will surely use their power for good, but others, as shown in the third arc of the first volume, will be reckless, or even vindictive in their final moments. The result is a candid and somewhat depressing view of the world we live in. Bokurano: Ours treads dangerous water in this regard. If the book’s content becomes too depressing, with no bright light to pull the reader out of it, the work is merely a dark, nihilistic torture porn, and cannot adequately convey the candid message it is trying to deliver. At the same time, the series cannot stray from its path; we know that there are 15 pilots, and that 15 will die. To deviate is a cop-out. Either path is disastrous.
Still, Bokurano: Ours, at least for the time being, manages to walk the line very carefully, and delivers its message with surprising punch. Whether or not the series can stay afloat, or be drowned by the emotional weight of its own plot, is something that will be enumerated in further volumes.