Back Arrow is a weird name for an anime, especially one that mashes mecha action, political intrigue and a pseudo-fantasy setting with not-so-subtle echoes of historical real-world global conflict.
Set in the world of Lingaland, Back Arrow – Season 1 Part 1 kicks off with the unexpected appearance of the titular character Back Arrow who arrives in a mysterious spaceship/mechanical comet (known as a Rakuho) near the village of Edgar. Back Arrow is able to harness the power of a warp binder to transform himself into Muga, a briheight or mecha that magically manifests itself based on the conviction of its bearer. With no memory of how or why he ends up in Edgar and with a keen sense of justice, Back Arrow joins the village as they navigate their journey away from their exiled homeland aboard the gigantic ancient battleship buried underneath their village called Granedger. However, their pursuit of peaceful independence is continuously challenged by being caught between the two warring nations of Rekka and Lutoh who are after the power of Back Arrow and the Granedger to gain full control of Lingaland.
I rarely bounce off an anime – it took a couple of episodes before I hit the wall with Million Arthur, but in recent years that’s probably the only time this happened until Back Arrow – Season 1 Part 1 hit my Blu-Ray player. I watched that first episode and had an unusually visceral reaction to it. It just felt like a really dumb anime. Which sounds reductive and poorly articulated, and thus is a pretty poor excuse. At the time I stopped, watched Taisho Otome instead, then got distracted with my discovery of Gall Force and it’s stupendously gorgeous hand-drawn mecha/80s/sci-fi excellence, before popping the first disc back in my player.
So I reluctantly gave Back Arrow another crack – the CG mecha still drove me a little mad (especially after watching Gall Force – seriously, it’s a stunning masterclass in mecha animation), but after a few episodes I realised the mecha stuff was gradually forming a smaller part of the focus with the show giving way, surprisingly, to politics and conflict with plenty of conspiratorial lashings to keep you guessing.
Yes, there’s the usual wuxia-inspired chatty battles and silly costume choices for many of the protagonists, but those under-currents of political subterfuge and all the delightful back-stabbing, manipulative elements gave Back Arrow far more interesting content than I was anticipating. It effectively went from a show I was otherwise quite apathetic about to one that I’m rapidly burning through the second release (review to come in due course).
Back Arrow also benefits from being an original concept and not relying on an existing manga, which means the story flow isn’t chained to something in parallel production schedules which gives the story focus and, I hope, the ability to confidently drive some closure by the time it’s done. This is the first part of the series, which surprisingly for contemporary anime practices weighs in at 24 episodes. This release covers the first half of the season and the break point isn’t so much a narrative choice as a commercial one, meaning the final episode doesn’t exactly end on a tight cliffhanger. I had my doubts it was going to need an additional 12 episodes to flesh the story but I’ve been pleasantly surprised with what I’ve seen in the second half of this season thus far, so consider this release solid viewing with some good payoffs to come.
The local release of Back Arrow – Season 1 Part 1 is the usual reverse import business, though at this stage the Funimation branding has been dispensed with and it’s all Crunchyroll now. The show’s spread across 2 discs, the encoding is good and it’s bilingual. The subtitles and translation have been handled reasonably well too, with the glorious impact kanji against the briheights left entact. Features are super lean with ops/eds and preview videos, and we have my favourite cardboard outer sleeve on this one too!
Back Arrow – Season 1 Part 1 was a show I started out watching with a great deal of apathy, but my second attempt at it paid off. It’s still a rather silly anime at times, but its earnest enthusiasm and commitment to its narrative world is infectious.
A review copy was provided by Crunchyroll to the author for the purpose of this review.