Appare-Ranman! – Mid Season 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)
Mid Season (6 Episodes) Review (Warning: Minor Spoilers to Follow):
Tom: Appare-Ranman sets audience expectations from the get go, teasing and promising an epic, circa 1900, trans-America race from minute one of Episode 1. But it’s not until Episode 6 that the race actually gets going, giving us five episodes of build up. Some of that time is spent diving into our characters, crafting Appare, Kosame, Hototo into likeable leads that we’re eager to see succeed. But sometimes it feels like Appare-Ranman is spinning its wheels, spending too much time on pre-race events when, because of how a race of this type works, we could save some of the character exploration for after things have gotten going. This isn’t to say Appare-Ranman’s first five episodes are bad. No. There’s plenty to like thanks to the show’s vibrant, wacky sense of flair, and fun character writing that keeps near anything these nutballs do interesting, but audiences should be aware you have to wait nearly half the show’s run for the race to actually kick off.
Linny: While Appare-Ranman! looks more fantastical than grounded with its visual designs, the show does actually maintain a touch of realism to the racing itself. For example, when Xia Lian, the only female racer in the show, is challenged to a race, the show goes so far as to explain some of the pragmatic tactics she uses in order to secure herself a win. There’s no magic contraption or fantastical vehicular prowess being employed, just basic racing principles that make use of the car’s specs and the physics involved. And again, while a lot of the cars have unusual designs that match those of our characters, with Appare even using a steam/coal powered car that looks more like a boat on wheels, none of the cars ever display any special abilities that would sit far and away outside of the early 1900s setting, except maybe that boat car. This helps Appare-Ranman! stand out as a historically intriguing, racing centric show. But if the realism is what’s promising to you, do be aware that almost every other avenue of Appare-Ranman is the opposite of how racing is portrayed. Whenever any character engages in combat, the action is of the typical, ridiculous anime kind. There is a scene where two men engage in extended close combat, quick shot gunfire duels in a crowded ballroom without hitting each other or anyone else even once. Also, anyone familiar with American history will notice that the show paints an idyllic and racially integrated social scene, in an era where it would have been nigh impossible for it to exist. And of course, topping it all off, is how a lot of the cast members themselves, leading and supporting, have some very colourful and exaggerated designs.
Tom: Let’s talk about those wild designs. Near every character’s design is oozing with cultural call backs, a clear attempt by Appare-Ranman’s character designer to highlight the diversity of the series. For some it’s not nearly so flamboyant. Kosame, as pictured above, is more subdued, dressed head to toe in traditional Japanese garments. Characters like Appare though, have a more whimsical element to their appearance, containing some of the more flagrant ideas of what makes the Japanese, well Japanese. To the series’ credit, diversity is a fantastic thing. The cast boasts a prominent Chinese-American supporting character, Jing Xialian, a Native-American Boy, Hototo, a Mexican racer, Gil T. Cigar, as well as an African-American racer, Crazy TJ. It’s great to see an anime that really tries to capture how racially diverse America is. Each of these characters shares that same whimsy in design as Appare though. For some that works without too much trouble. It’s when we start to look at Crazy TJ though that things get dicey. He’s designed as if he’s a bombastic, time-traveling hip-hop DJ who also happens to be wearing the remnants of a noose, you know, of the lynching variety, for good measure. I can see what they were going for. To highlight the inherent culture and history of their characters, to make each pop as a representative of these groups of people. But in TJ’s case the noose reeks of not understanding the significance of this aspect to America’s history, and comes dangerously close to feeling like an offensive appropriation, where we’ve stripped it of its symbolic weight, symbolic of one of the worst elements of American existence, and included it as some kind of fun fashion statement, particularly in a series meant to be fun and silly, otherwise disinterested in addressing the more problematic aspects of the time period.
Linny: Considering how cavalier the show is in general with its approach to all its characters and the state of society back then, it seems unlikely Appare-Ranman! will be making any serious statements on the actual problems that plagued and continue to plague American society. But that’s not too surprising considering that this show was made in a different country by someone probably viewing it all through a romanticized lens and wanting to just do a fun take on a foreign culture in a past era. Nevertheless, it could still understandably be a point of contention to some and thus worth mentioning as a heads up to anyone concerned about such issues. And while the characters of Appare-Ranman! are all quite likeable, anyone seeking characters equally as unique as their very designs might still be left disappointed. The series leads are, for the most part, the kinds of characters you’ve seen before. Nevertheless, Appare is a fun take on the quirky inventor, Kosame is still an enjoyable badgered straight man and XiaLian is a nice strong female character to have around. There’s nothing wrong with familiar as long as you manage to keep them engaging and for the most part, Appare-Ranman! manages to do so by never harping on a single joke or beat too long and keeping the story and action moving so we never get bored.
Tom: As wild, and sometimes problematic, as the designs can be, they are part of what keeps each character feeling so unique, even if at their heart they’re still decently standard stock character types. It’s hard not to fall in love with and root for the stand offish Hototo, the young Native-America boy eager to find his family’s killer. In fact, while the main thrust of the series is focused on the race, Hototo’s quest acts as a side plot, a diversion from the main story. It’s his efforts to track down his family’s murderer that seem to pull us away from the race ever so often, and act as a compelling, if slow moving, subplot that instills a bit more drama into an otherwise comedic series.
Linny: Appare-Ranman! is a nice re-entry from the spring season, having suffered as one of several shows that had to be postponed due to Covid. Its historical setting and grounded limitations on the vehicles help the show stand out, as do its wacky character designs…though the latter is more of a double edged sword. While it may not be a must watch for everyone, it does enough with its story and characters to entertain anyone interested in the idea of a somewhat uncommon take on a story based around a great race. It’s certainly a fun break from the more common topics and themes inundating the world of anime each season and a decent pick for anyone seeking something a bit different. As long as you’re aware/ok with the potential issues we’ve discussed above, such as with certain design choices, pacing, etc, you may just find yourself looking forward to watching Appare-Ranman! every week.
Tom: Despite missteps, both big and small, Appare-Ranman still comes together as a generally fun jaunt through a stylized depiction of the 1900s, with wild, larger than life characters that pave their way through a tense race. Despite the race taking so long to truly get going, the first five episodes are still fun, by and large due to the characters being so engaging by themselves.
Appare-Ranman! is available for streaming via Funimation.com