Mixing genres is trickier than it seems. Some go together perfectly, while others demand a skilled writer to succeed. Based on the light novels by Yamagata Ishio, Rokka: Braves of the Six Flowers (Passione, dir. Takahashi Takeo) begins as a fantasy, but quickly shifts to what is essentially a locked-room mystery. These are not two genres I imagined working well together, especially considering the series’ origins, and I soon discovered that my apprehension was not unfounded.
Adlet Myer, the self-proclaimed ‘strongest man in the world’, is selected to become one of the Six Braves, warriors destined to take on the Demon God and his army of Fiends. Joined by Princess Nachetanya, he travels to meet the other Braves and fulfil their destiny. However, when they meet at a temple and discover an extra Brave in their midst, the suspicion falls on Adlet. Will he be able to convince his companions of his innocence? Or will the true imposter deceive them all?
As Rokka is a fantasy story, I expected a strong setting, and for a couple of episodes I was somewhat impressed. At the beginning, our protagonist arrives in an Aztec city, complete with high priests and an emperor. From there, he travels through a vibrant lemon orchard, and rests in a serene meadow. We are often shown a map of the setting that tracks the Braves’ progress via a red line, and that goes a little way to showing the connection between the separate areas. However, the series grinds to a halt when the characters reach the ancient temple that sees the mystery unfold. We are no longer treated to attractive landscapes and changing scenery. This is a real shame, even if the aforementioned orchard and meadow added little to the story.
Adlet (Saitō Sōma) is a painfully generic protagonist. His repeated claims of greatness make for a frustrating presence, and he never truly endears himself to the audience. He is effortlessly brilliant in battle, equipped with all manner of weapons, traps, and poisons, but his skill is never fully explained. We do learn that he was trained by an enigmatic master, though this dynamic is poorly explored, despite the fact that his admittedly clichéd tragic backstory is perhaps the most interesting aspect of his character. For the most part, he was an uninspired protagonist, and I was glad that I only had to spend 12 episodes with him.
Beyond our protagonist, we have the aforementioned Princess Nachetanya (Hikasa Yōko). She feels a familiar archetype: enthusiastically dedicated to the male protagonist, but also rather weak and mostly useless. This is a shame, as her skill as a Brave (which allows her to conjure blades from thin air) is one of the most impressive. On top of this, she is for some reason dressed as a rabbit, replete with ears, paws and a tail. Her costume choice does not extend to her armour, which predictably draws focus to her pelvis and cleavage. Not only is this fanservice tiresome, it is also completely impractical, and in a real battle, she would be killed almost instantly.
The remaining cast of Braves is mostly functional and, of course, the fanservice continues. We have the impossibly named Flamie Speeddraw (Yūki Aoi), a young white-haired sniper who speaks in a breathy monotone and covers her chest with a single strap, leaving her front mostly exposed; Goldov (Uchiyama Kōki), one of Nachetanya’s loyal servants, who is supposed to be sixteen years old despite his huge musculature, and who also wears a strap across his chest; Maura (Satō Rina), who is the least developed of them all; Chamot (Kakuma Ai), a supposedly 14-year-old girl who acts far younger and fits the loli archetype to a T; and Hans, voiced with great panache by Suzumura Ken’ichi, a feline assassin and the most interesting by far.
What Rokka lacks in the narrative, it tries to make up in aesthetics. A lot of the character designs, originally by Terui, are desperate to be different and exciting. I did like Adlet’s design, save the long ponytail that seemed a little out of place. In addition, the animation was flashy and fun in certain fight scenes, and added interesting details to dialogue scenes. I did notice some rather clunky running cycles, but the 2D animation was one of Rokka’s stronger elements. However, the enemy Fiends are far less impressive. Rendered in CG, they are hulking masses of animal parts (heads, arms, tails) stitched together to create abominations that should look terrifying, but end up wholly ridiculous. Couple that with how easily they are dispatched and they make for poor opposition, which removes any sense of impending doom.
Beyond this, we have the music. I was familiar with Ōshima Michiru’s compositions from Yuasa Masaaki’s sublime The Tatami Galaxy and Night is Short, Walk on Girl, so I was excited to hear her work in Rokka. After listening to the score separately, I can safely say that it is the strongest element of the anime. Adlet’s theme is suitably heroic, and perfect for the fantasy setting, while the use of brass and drums in ‘Prelude to a Battle’ is stirring. There is also a wonderful use of strings to create atmospheres both sinister and moving. While it may not be Ōshima’s best work, it certainly heightened the experience. For some reason, however, the decision was made that this 12-episode series needed two opening songs and three ending songs, all of which I have forgotten, save the one that was strikingly similar to another series’ OP.
Music and visuals aside, the poor cast of characters renders the mystery wholly useless. While I did not predict the identity of the imposter, the revelation was not remotely surprising. In fact, I feel that any of the Braves could have been the traitor, and my reaction would have been the same. Perhaps if the series had focused more on the adventure, and had removed the mystery entirely, the experience would have been far more rewarding. Of course, this is an adaptation, and as far as I know it sticks faithfully to the source material. As with the composer, the scriptwriter (Urahata Tatushiko) has worked on highly acclaimed series, in his case Monster and Nana. It seems a shame that talented individuals should have their skills squandered on poor material.
A mystery relies on strong characters. Rokka: Braves of the Six Flowers’ poor writing results in uninteresting suspects, and leads to a lacklustre conclusion, clearly conceived on the misguided belief that there would be a sequel. The music is good, and Hans was an enjoyable presence, but in the end, too much felt familiar, and too little felt necessary. Unless you love light novel adaptations, Rokka is not worth your time.