The title for this series is a pun on the Japanese word for “dumbass.”
“Back Arrow,” “baka-yaro.” I feel that this one joke gives a great idea of what this show is shaping up to be: extremely clever idiocy. The highest form of dumb fun. Something you know is stupid, and yet has so much thought and effort put into it that it doesn’t annoy you, instead leaving you amazed (or at the very least puts a massive smile on your face).
But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, what is this show? Well, we can’t say for sure right off the bat, because this is a brand new, wholly original production from Studio VOLN, a smaller studio that has made something of a name for itself over the past couple of years with well-produced (if albeit a bit hit-and-miss at times) adaptations of Ushio and Tora, Karakuri Circus, and I Want to Eat Your Pancreas. Aside from the studio, Back Arrow also has some legit heavy hitters on its staff, featuring writer Kazuki Nakashima (known for Kill la Kill, Gurren Lagann, and Promare), and director Gorō Taniguchi, a modern legend known for Planetes, Maria the Virgin Witch, and Code Geass. Back Arrow has a creative team chock full of talent, despite looking on a surface level like it’s in danger of becoming a disorganized mess, given just how diverse the aforementioned talent is.
That said, the premise itself is straightforward enough. A strange man falls from the sky into a continent entirely surrounded by a massive wall, finding himself in the middle of a village out in the boonies. Buck-naked and with no name or memories, he declares what the villagers believe to be impossible: that he came from beyond the wall, and that he has to return from whence he came. Simple, right? Well, there’s also a war being fought by two technologically advanced countries, giant robots fueled by the conviction of their pilots, and hidden factions that seek to learn for themselves what lies outside the wall. There’s a lot going on, which honestly is par for the course given the writer and director.
But what makes this show endearing right out of the gate isn’t its scale, but its tone, which… honestly, feels like a familiar breath of fresh air. There’s the grandiosity of Code Geass with the infectious energy of Studio Trigger shows, but it’s infused this time with a sense of self-awareness. Not tongue-in-cheek, but more like something that intentionally plays the fool while being smarter than it wants to let on at first. From its own title, to its troll of an OP in the first episode, to how it’s regularly planting little moments here and there that are setting up revelations down the road, Back Arrow is (at least at the moment) aiming itself for something quite high. With just two episodes in, I’m of course still holding off on declaring this as something great, but dammit if this isn’t the most intriguing premiere of the season.
If it sounds like I’ve been skirting away from talking about this show’s characters or a more concrete description of its story, that’s mostly because two episodes in the main cast is just starting on their journey. But it is also because there isn’t a whole lot to them, at least for the moment. The titular Back Arrow is petty much a himbo; dumb and strong as a rock, but also has a keen sense of honor (that first person he protects is someone who gave him a pair of undies to wear… yes, that is where we start). The villagers are simple folk of the land who start out trying to cook BA in the pod he landed in, thinking it was full of food (and their simple-minded nature being played fully for laughs with no remote sense of maliciousness). And half of the antagonists are the usual baddies who rejoice in being able to pilot giant robots with few repercussions. I can’t blame you right now for thinking this show is as basic as a Saturday morning cartoon, especially given its visual aesthetic, which takes cues from East Asian and American Cowboy culture(s).
And yet… there’s still this sense of something lying below the surface. How Back Arrow’s own giant mech behaves like nothing else any other character has ever seen, in that when it defeats other robots it doesn’t kill their pilots. How when a supporting character gets her own robot, it actually interrogates her when she activates it for the first time. How the other half of the antagonists are all doing their own thing, pressuring politicians to do their own dirty work for them, or even going off and researching for themselves of what lies beyond the massive wall. All this leads into the second biggest draw of Back Arrow, after its infectious sense of fun: the intrigue of it all. It can even be seen in the show’s opening titles, where parts of the OP, like in the grand tradition of old shonen series, are blacked out to build up characters (and giant robots) that haven’t been introduced yet. What yet-to-be-revealed mechs will look like, the workings of the enclosed continent’s warring countries, the prophecy of great doom following someone falling from the sky, and of course, what is on the other side of the impossibly big wall? So many questions, all in a series with a vulgar pun for a name.
It’s easy to imagine that Back Arrow won’t be for everyone. If you can’t get onboard with its sense of humor, or its characters get on your nerves, if the formulas it’s drawing from give you PSTD of some sort, I can’t blame you for bowing out. But if you can get into its humor and overall tone, if you also want to find out what’s underneath it all, then you’re in for a treat. Some of the best animation of the year (including some of the best giant robot designs I’ve seen in a long time, with solid CG animation to boot), a quick pace and solid storytelling, and performances all across the board that make it sound like everyone involved is having a blast with the material; Back Arrow could very well be one of the first great shows of the year in what’s already a packed season. And even if it crashes and burns, I imagine it’ll still be damn fun time if it does.
Title: Back Arrow
Based on: nothing; this is a wholly original production
Produced by: Studio VOLN (Ushio and Tora, Karakuri Circus)
Streaming on: Funimation
Episodes Watched: 1 & 2
This article is a part of a series where my fellow AniTAY authors and I offer our initial thoughts on the shows that caught our eye from the 2021 season. Check out our previous entries below, and stay tuned for more!
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