What They Say:
Riding a bicycle may be better than walking, but when another girl zips past her on the way to class, Sakura Hane realizes that there’s an even better option: motorcycles! Fortunately, Sakura’s all-girl school just happens to have a motorcycle club! It only has one member though: the mysterious Raimu Kawasaki, who’s never been seen without her face-obscuring helmet. But that changes immediately once Sakura and the girl who passed her, Onsa Amano, sign up and start recruiting!
It won’t all be easy riding… Sakura still has to earn her license, and there are problems like the club’s official status having slipped, and the need to recruit a faculty sponsor. But when the rubber hits the road, those are just little potholes as six student bikers take a ride on the wild side!
The audio presentation for this release brings us the original Japanese language track only, which is done up in stereo using the DTS-HD MA lossless codec. The series works some fairly standard material when it comes to the dialogue with decent placement as needed and a good bit of range throughout but it’s not one that really goes big or wide here. There’s a bit more attention placed on the sound design from the motorcycles and it comes across well but it doesn’t quite feel like it’s as strong or “in the room” as you’d expect from a show like this. Some series that focus on the machinery go to great lengths for accurate representation and I’m sure we get that here but the sounds of the machines simply don’t take on a role of their own, which is unfortunate. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we didn’t have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2016, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The twelve episodes are spread across two discs with nine on the first and three on the second. Animated by TMS Entertainment, the series has a really great look with bright and bold colors that stand out, some strong detail in character designs when it comes to costumes, and the expected level of attention when it comes to the motorcycles. The encoding captures all of this well with clean lines and curves, vibrant colors as needed and more muted ones as well, and a very clean sense of color definition with some fluid animation and high bit rate that brings these areas to life really well. It’s a colorful and engaging show with its visual design and the high definition presentation here is all payoff.
The packaging for this release works a standard sized Blu-ray case with both discs against the interior walls. The front cover artwork is a familiar piece from the Japanese release with a single character/motorcycle pairing that works nicely with its color and cuteness, though I do wish there was more of an ensemble piece here to show off the variety of the characters. The white background with red striping gives it some action and I love the colors within the logo itself. The back cover continues the background element nicely and it has a fun section along the top, sadly angled, with lots of good shots from the show. The premise is well covered with the summary we get here and the extras have a small but solid listing. The rest if fleshed out with the usual production credits and the technical grid that breaks it all down cleanly and accurately. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menu design for this project essentially reworks the cover artwork into a wider form with the character artwork from it being used. With the large piece to work with, the white space works well and the red stripes stand out all the more. The character is set to the right while the navigation along the left has the very colorful logo along the top of it. The navigation breaks down the episodes by number and title with it working pink and blue selections with white text. It’s bright and cheery and fully functional both as a top level menu and during playback as the pop-up menu.
The extras for this release are fun with what we get included beyond the norm. The clean opening and closing sequences are always welcome but we also get the bumpers for the show, the safety warnings that are done in-theme, and the shorts that were produced with some additional silliness. Add in a look at the production of the show in brief with a behind the scenes piece and it’s certainly more than the norm but it’s also not a deep dive.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the manga by Mimana Orimoto, Bakuon is a twelve episode anime series that aired during the spring 2016 season. The original manga kicked off in 2011 in Young Champion Retsu and has nine volumes to its name so there was, ostensibly, plenty of material to work with here. The anime adaptation is one that made out well with a strong visual turn by TMS Entertainment under the guiding hand of longtime director Junji Nishimura. The series is one that I’ll easily say is enjoyable because it’s so well put together and knows what to do and how to do it but it’s also one that’s utterly predictable. You can map out almost every movement just by reading the episode titles and that’s not always a good thing.
The show focuses on an all-girls school (because, you know, ew, guys, we can’t watch shows with cute girls if they include guys in it) where it’s something of a rarity in that they’re allowed to ride motorcycles to school. That’s something that’s definitely not the norm in shows and it’s usually associated with the bad girl characters or the old yanki gangs of years gone by. Here, the girls are all very into the motorcycles for the most part and what makes them tick but without any of that kind of bad girl nature about it. Which is just another area where something once thought of as being an outsider, dangerous, and not the norm is commodified into the mainstream. I’m personally not a fan of motorcycles having have a significantly bad incident with them years ago but I hold a deep appreciation of what they are, their history, and the mechanics behind them and how they can be utilized.
Within this school we largely follow a group of first year students as they get the bike club up and going, though not realizing that it’s actually defunct for a few episodes before getting all things in proper order. It’s mostly an ensemble piece in many ways but its primary focus is on Hanae, a young woman that becomes intrigued by all of this and works to get her license so she can join the club in full. This serves nicely to introduce new viewers to things like safety and operation but through a cute girl that they’ll pay attention to. Hanae’s nice enough and makes for a good lead in this regard but like the rest of the characters there’s not much of a history to work with here. No drama, no tragedy, nothing interesting in a backstory, and nothing that any of them really do outside of this singular focus.
The cast expands as you’d expect as you get the outgoing blonde twin tail girl in Rin, who has a seemingly tragic backstory that’s actually some decently mined comedy as to why she’s a fanatic. It doesn’t hurt that she really loves the skintight outfits riders wear either. Onsa’s all in since she’s part of a family that runs a bike shop and it plays well against Hijiri, the wealthy girl who’s essentially playing at being a bad girl here but has everything given to her and is far too happy to really fall into that mold. Amusingly, she’s almost always assisted by her butler and he’s just thrilled to see modern girls doing so many things that he never could have imagined. Add in Raimu, who is older and never says anything through the helmet she always wears, and it’s a weird but all too familiar group.
We do get another character taking a larger role toward the end of the season with Chisame as she’s more interested in racing machines than what the rest of them are into and she takes on the true fanatic role in a lot of ways. She’s amusing and fun because of how she tries to overcompensate because of her shortness but it’s something that allows her to excel in her preferred area. The problem is that she’s been doing solo work for so long on her bike that she’s drawn to what the club is like and the other girls in it but they’re difficult for her to connect with because she has been a lone for so long. Giving her more focus in the last few episodes isn’t bad even if it does overly dominate things to some degree because she’s fun enough and brings in something new without it becoming the sum total of things.
A lot of the show works through the interests the various girls have in their particular machines and a good bit early on with Hanae and her trying to get her license with everyone encouraging her. Once things move forward from there we get familiar pieces, such as a trip to Hokkaido to the hot springs for a break and a winter break later on that has them doing familiar themed material. These, along with the culture festival, are familiar benchmarks for far too many series but the show handles it well and competently enough so that they’re enjoyable. The first eight episodes work all of this well before introducing Chisame and shifting gears for a bit and it’s nice to see the simple stories that we get while still wishing that it had a bit more. Of course, part of what keeps me from being wholly invested is that the heavy love of all things motorcycle that they bring out throughout doesn’t really engage me but I suspect it plays well for those that are invested in it.
Bakuon’s a fun series that’s really nicely animated with some top notch sequences to be had. It’s a familiar school story with a group of first year students in an all-girls school so you can see most of the markers that it’s going to work with by the first episode. The fun is in the attention to detail given to the motorcycles and the varying levels of interest by those girls who drive them. There’s not much beyond that as they work through standard episode material but it’s done so well and with a nice bit of charm that it becomes fun and engaging. Sentai’s release is one where you do wish it got a dub just to have more fun with it but they’ve otherwise done a great job in bringing it out as it’s a great encoding and includes some solid extras.
Japanese DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Live Action Behind the Scenes, Bumpers, Bakuon’s Closet Shorts, Safety Warning, Clean Opening and Closing Animations
Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: August 22nd, 2017
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.