In BBK/BRNK (pronounced “Bubuki/Buranki”), a 2016 action anime TV series directed by Daizen Komatsuda and animated by Sanzigen, Azuma Kazuki is a young man on a mission. Banished a decade ago from his childhood home on the mysterious Treasure Island, in the present day Azuma travels to Japan to team up with a group of like-minded (and super-powered) teenagers: the bubbly Kogane Asabuki, the ill-tempered Hiiragi Nono, the hot-blooded Kinoa Ougi, and the dreamy Shirizu Taneomi. All five of these gifted children are Bubuki wielders, the inheritors of legendary weapons passed down from generation to generation among their families. With the aid of their Bubuki, Azuma and his friends can draw upon their inherent reserves of psychic power (called “Rinzu”) to perform astounding feats of physical prowess. Together, the kids plan to return to Treasure Island to reunite Azuma with his mother. They’re going to need all the help they can get, though, because standing in their way is Reoko Banryu and her four lieutenants.
Reoko and her crew are the most ruthless and powerful Bubuki wielders on the planet. Positioned as the guardians of law and order, Reoko and company are supposed to protect Japan from the threat of the rogue Buranki (strange lifeforms resembling giant robots) that occasionally escape from Treasure Island. In truth, Reoko and her allies flaunt their strength, cow civilian governments into submission through naked displays of power, and seek to crush anyone who could challenge their push for complete world-domination. To complicate matters further, Reoko controls Entei the Fire Titan, a Buranki of nearly matchless strength. Because Reoko and Entei were badly injured by Azuma’s mother decades ago, Reoko still bears a burning hatred for the woman who nearly destroyed them and, by extension, Azuma as well.
Luckily for the plucky protagonists of BBK/BRNK, Azuma and his friends soon acquire a Buranki of their own. Intoxicated by the justice of their cause, the kids seek to knock down Reoko, end her persecution of Bubuki users, and return to Treasure Island, the birthplace of Bubuki and Buranki alike. However, it’s swiftly revealed that the quintet of super-powered adolescents at the heart of BBK/BRNK are in way over their respective heads. Each hard-knock lesson goes something like this: When confronted by a crisis or a foe, Azuma and his friends band together and explore the boundaries of their friendship, trust, and teamwork. Like Voltron or Power Rangers, they combine their powers to form the limbs, heart, and body of the Buranki colossus Obu. Then the team springs into battle in their cool giant robot.
Invariably, Azuma and his team of special teenagers immediately get pounded into the ground by other Bubuki users that are older, wiser, more cohesive, and/or better equipped than our heroes could ever hope to be. It’s a swift, cold dash of reality in a series that could all too easily descend into the cliches of “chuunibyou,” reminding the characters that just because they’ve got supernatural weapons, psychic powers, and a burning sense of righteousness doesn’t mean that they’re going to win automatically. And just because they think that the other side is villainous doesn’t mean they’re correct in that assumption. It might be the case that the “villains” are actually the heroes of their own cause.
The youthful ineptitude of Azuma and his friends serves as a narrative springboard, allowing BBK/BRNK to unveil crucial plot details and to explore world-building elements through a progression that feels entirely natural. Since the protagonists don’t have an accurate picture of the world or their own place in it, the audience learns along with them. Even after 12 episodes of twists and revelations, there’s still plenty of mystery remaining for the second half of the series, which was announced shortly after the first half of BBK/BRNK concluded its Japanese broadcast.
As the series progresses, we piece together how the world of BBK/BRNK operates. For example, the first episode of the TV series concludes with a reveal about the nature of Treasure Island, the birthplace of Azuma and the Buranki, that is too important to spoil here. We also learn that the Bubuki—unique and powerful weapons each sporting a singular bulbous eyeball—are actually intelligent, living creatures. We learn that while each Bubuki chooses its wielder, the weapon’s form is in some sense determined by its master’s will. There are Bubuki that take the shape of swords, spears, firearms, and exaggerated melee weapons such as scythes and mallets. There are also Bubuki that take less obvious shapes: a ring, a stopwatch, and (my personal favorite) a fountain pen. And although the exact nature of the Buranki has not been completely revealed, by the conclusion of the first part of the series we learn that not just Japan but other developed nations as well (such as England, Russia, and the United States) not only have to contend with the threat of rogue Buranki, but they also seek to weaponize these lumbering giants in a power play reminiscent of the proliferation of nuclear weapons during the height of the Cold War.
Available in North America via simulcast streaming on Crunchyroll, I immensely enjoyed BBK/BRNK. While not as thematically deep as some other high-concept, original action anime such as Kill la Kill, the series is nonetheless well written, beautifully realized, and bursting with production value. I found primary antagonist Reoko Banryu’s gradual transition from a sneering, comic book villain to a tragic hero particularly compelling, and I’m thrilled by the possibility that the next half of the show will focus on the adventures of Azuma’s more capable twin sister, Kaoruko. I cannot wait for BBK/BRNK to continue. It’s a giant-sized helping of outrageous action, stylish super powers, and mecha-romping entertainment.