Appare-Ranman! – Anime Review
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Synopsis: The socially awkward yet genius engineer, Appare Sorano, and the wise but cowardly samurai, Kosame Isshiki, find themselves aimlessly drifting in the sea between Japan and America. In order to earn enough money to get back home, the duo enters a trans-American race in their own steam-powered car. Rivals, bandits, and other trials await them on this race from Los Angeles to New York. (Official Funimation Synopsis)
Review (Warning: Minor Spoilers to Follow):
Tom: Appare-Ranman! opens as a wild, whimsical tale following the struggle of the genius engineer Appare and his reluctant companion Kosame, who must take part in a Trans America race in order to secure winnings that’ll help them return to Japan. Despite the initial focus on said race, the series eventually switches gears, near abandoning the Trans-America race entirely, opting instead to become a more typical, action oriented anime in the back half. While disappointing for anyone absolutely enthralled by the series’ original premise, particularly as the show displayed strong writing chops for racing terminology and obstacles, Appare-Ranman! actually sets up its shift into straight action quite well, by dripping in hints of a secondary narrative almost right from the beginning. Kosame and Appare’s efforts to construct a car capable of the race leads them to meet a number of other, quirky individuals, including one Hototo; a young Native American boy on a quest for revenge against the man who murdered his father. It’s the sprinkling in of Hototo’s story now and again that prepares audiences for when the series jettisons racing entirely, in favor of a run in with your more typical, over the top, maniacal anime villain.
Linny: Despite Japanese protagonists Appare and Kosame being heavily featured as the central leads in Appare-Ranman!’s promotion and synopsis, the series quickly becomes more of an ensemble cast. While Appare and Kosame continue to feature heavily, we end up devoting quite a bit of time to the other racers, delving into each’s reason for participating in the Trans-America race, as well as their relevance once the show shifts from racing to pure action. Appare-Ranman! makes great use of its western setting, although paints a more rosy picture for the time period than would be historically accurate. Much of the cast is Western in origin, featuring characters of a wide variety of ethnicities, making great use of America’s diverse populace, something anime frequently overlooks. Storywise, even after Appare-Ranman shifts focus from racing to action, we’re offered a more typical Western stylized form of mayhem, with train hijacking, abandoned town gunfights, and more. If you were expecting typical fish out of water content though, like Appare and Kosame struggling as two Japanese leads to fit in, you’ll come away disappointed as the series has both adjusting to their new surroundings quite early on, and rarely highlights their foreign origin outside of the character’s designs and Kosame’s swordsmanship.
Tom: Appare-Ranman! diverting so far off its original course might be a problem if it wasn’t brimming with said colorful cast. The series lives and dies by these quirky heroes, and depending upon how much you enjoy watching Appare’s absent-minded inventor shtick, Kosame fluster at Appare’s crazy ideas, Hototo’s defiant attitude, or TJ’s wild persona, will decide whether you’re on board with wherever the series decides to go. Unlike The Millionaire Detective, another delayed Spring offering, Appare-Ranman! knows that it can’t successfully turn from a racing show into a wild action series without making us fall in love with its characters. It helps that all our heroes play together so well, creating fun character moments every step of the way. Even when the series takes a more serious turn, you don’t have to wait long before the cast’s banter and interactions return in full force. It’s a tough balancing act; taking a generally comedic series and turning things serious. It’s a testament to Appare-Ranman!’s quality that it manages to pull it off, never once making us feel like what we loved about the series, our quirky heroes, is taking a backseat to a narrative we didn’t sign up for. It’s because of this that Appare-Ranman! manages to get away with almost jettisoning the racing entirely. The show becomes more so a vehicle for its crazy cast and whatever they end up getting into, and less so one about adhering to a strict narrative.
Linny: While Appare-Ranman! does indeed boast a crazy mix of characters, there’s a limit to how much praise I’m willing to sing. Particularly as almost all of them, in truth, are but thin archetypes. Appare’s absent minded inventor nature, or Hototo’s dead set defiance are great and all, but never go farther than the most typical portrayal of such a character, leaving the most unique thing about any of them being their visual designs. That said, one must praise the show for featuring a couple of strong, smart female characters who, while still designed to be attractive, aren’t relentlessly exploited for sexual appeal. While Appare-Ranman! manages to sneak in a few twist reveals about its characters, most long time anime viewers should be able to see most of these surprises coming a mile away. Also the exposition used to flesh out these characters is often rushed or paper thin, making it difficult to feel any of the emotional weight these moments are meant to instill. And last but certainly not least, it’s hard not to bring up that the design for a certain character comes off feeling tasteless if not potentially upsetting for viewers.
Tom: Appare-Ranman! isn’t exactly afraid of addressing difficult subjects, as evidenced by Jing Xialian and her introduction. She’s the show’s lone female racer, and struggles against sexism right from the get go. So that makes it all the more frustrating as Appare-Ranman! fails to be honest about America’s troubles with racism, especially with this story set in the early 1900s. There’s no honesty to the depiction of the period here, and the troubles so many of the cast might face based on the color of their skin. I sort of understand the reluctance; a Japanese team of storytellers addressing one of America’s most turbulent topics? The controversy writes itself. And besides, Appare-Ranman! is clearly meant to be more of a fun, easy-going series, even after our heroes face compounding challenges with deadly adversaries. But that doesn’t really explain away the design for TJ, the series’ lone black character. TJ’s design is wild, an obvious attempt to encapsulate a number of aspects of black American culture into a single visual design. Somehow that effort includes a severed noose hanging from the character’s neck, perhaps the series’ sole acknowledgement that America hasn’t always been kind to those who aren’t white, putting it mildly. The problem though is that the noose feels tasteless, and is a poor stand in for a more accurate depiction, or acknowledgement of America’s greater troubles. In that way it feels careless, if not callous to include when the series otherwise has no intention of ever acknowledging the plight of Black people in America. It’s not to say the series is racist, or its creators are, or anything so extreme, but rather that Appare-Ranman!’s disinterest in acknowledging America’s struggle with race, but also including a design like this, feels like a disappointing blotch on an otherwise frivolous, fun series. If you’re not going to face this issue head on, why bother including such a controversial element at all?
Linny: Overall, Appare-Ranman! is predictable, hitting all the classic, feel good story beats – enemies turning into friends, people learning self worth and confidence, discovering how much someone truly means to you, tragic backstories for 90% of the cast, rivals banding and working together to overcome an insurmountable problem, so on and so forth. But that isn’t to deride the show completely. It just means that these tropes need to be ones you still enjoy. While Appare-Ranman! doesn’t reinvent them, it does put in enough effort to make them still feel enjoyable overall, some more than others. It also requires you to take to the characters themselves, as their emotions and experiences form the backbone of the entertainment value of the show. The story itself isn’t the star nor does it hold anything all that marvelous to be worth looking into but the crazy cast themselves are the ones pushing this show along. And if it wasn’t obvious already from its wacky designs and settings, do not go into this series expecting any level of realism or accuracy in regards to history, machinery and culture. If you enjoy familiar tropes retold in a new setting, you might want to check out Appare-Ranman! after all but if you find yourself unimpressed by its cast, it’s probably best to jump ship sooner rather than later as the plot itself doesn’t hold much appeal on its own.
Tom: Despite how hard I might’ve sounded just above when discussing TJ’s design, I still think Appare-Ranman is a pretty good, fun, easy-going, silly adventure. It manages to do what The Millionaire Detective couldn’t; start one way, delve into a slightly darker narrative, abandoning its original appeal, and still feel fun and worthwhile otherwise. Thanks to early hints with Hototo’s quest for revenge it’s no surprise when the whole race gets derailed for some good, old-fashioned shoots out against larger than life bandits. And because Appare-Ranman! understands just how important its crazy cast is to your enjoyment, it never lets them stop being their excitable, quirky-selves for long. Appare-Ranman! may not be all that deep an anime, or have much insight or criticism for its American setting, yet still offers plenty to enjoy as a frivolous, fun filled distraction from harsh reality. And sometimes, that’s all you need, especially these days.
Appare-Ranman! is available for streaming via Funimation.com