For first year high school student Hane Sakura, walking to class on a daily basis is an arduous task, but when a girl zips past her during her usual mundane trip, she soon realises there is a better alternative: motorcycles! Fortunately for Hane, her all-girl school just so happens to have a motorcycle club, with one lone member, the ever-silent Raimu Kawasaki. This quickly changes however, as both Hane and the girl who passed her, Onsa Amano, sign up and start recruiting members. It isn’t an easy ride however, as Hane still needs to get her licence, and there are more bumps in the road ahead too, but together with her friends, she strives towards experiencing the joys and hardships of being a biker.
Every since the Slice of Life boom in the early 2000s, school-based club shows have been a genre staple, covering a wide gamut of activities, from music to sports to the arts. Still, as the years have gone by, and more and more of these kinds of anime have continued to be produced, and over-saturation has begun to occur, we’ve seen the types of clubs featured get increasingly obscure and sometimes just plain weird. Babysitting, airsoft guns, camping and tanks (yes, actual tanks) have all been the subject of the club show treatment in recent years, and Bakuon is the latest addition, throwing a motorcycle club on to the pile. Despite the distinctive subject matter, that alone can’t save Bakuon!! from unfortunately falling into mediocrity.
Getting down to brass tacks, the biggest issue with Bakuon!! is that it is fairly generic as far as these kinds of shows go. Sure, I’ve never seen an anime about a motorcycle club before, but once you strip away its premise, it’s just another dime-a-dozen Slice of Life show with very little that actually stands out. As you’d expect, Bakuon!! heavily relies on its cast as the main appeal, and that is really where it falls down. None of the characters are in the least bit memorable, either relying on well worn troupes and doing nothing remotely interesting with them or being plain dull. Even my favourite, the airhead protagonist Hane, as charming and mildly amusing as she may be, is nothing I haven’t seen in anime of this ilk before. The single exception to this is Raimu, far and away the most intriguing character of the bunch, and this is somehow managed without a single line of dialogue or even a face. She starts off as odd and mysterious, but as show progresses, we slowly learn increasingly absurd facts about her, which is probably the best gag of the entire series.
Speaking of the gags, Bakuon!! yet again remains average at best. There are a few laughs here and there, but I felt they were few and far between in terms of making me laugh out loud. Granted, others may get more out of it than I, but I wasn’t particularly tickled by many of the jokes. Where it works best is when it starts leaning into absurdist humour based on an exaggerated sense of reality. Bakuon!! is generally set in a grounded world much like ours, but when a talking motorcycle, a Suzuki-based disease, and, quite literally, Christ on a bike show up, it takes you totally off-guard, and it’s genuinely funny, mostly due to the sheer juxtaposition. One of the more disappointing aspects, considering the topic is newly trodden ground, is the fact that there aren’t that many jokes that couldn’t have worked with any other club instead, not taking full advantage of the subject matter on hand.
Although there might not be many jokes, if there is one element where Bakuon!! does make good use of the motorcycles it’s in the setting. The cross country road trip and the school festival race both stand out as the most memorable moments, and it’s because they wouldn’t be possible in any other Slice of Life anime, and hasn’t been seen before, or at least not as far as I know.
Animation for Bakuon!! is provided by TMS Entertainment, one of the oldest studios still running today, with 60 years of experience under their belt, working on titles such as Lupin III, Detective Conan, D.Gray-man and most famous of all, the legendary classic Akira. Even with so much experience however, doesn’t stop Bakuon!! being as average in the animation department as in every other facet. Credit where it’s due, I did like the character designs a fair bit, which come courtesy of Isao Sugimoto (Girls Und Panzer) but everything else is pretty much run-of-the-mill.
MVM’s release of Bakuon!! is Japanese audio only, with no English dub to speak of, but given the high quality of the Japanese voice acting, this isn’t a downside. The material doesn’t give any of the actresses enough to really stretch their abilities, but they all do as good a job as could be expected, with a cast featuring Nao Touyama (Kiniro Mosaic), Yumi Uchiyama (Brynhildr in the Darkness), Rikako Yamaguchi (Black Clover) and Reina Ueda (HaNaYaMaTa), who also contribute their voices to the ED. Whilst I did quite like the OP, ‘FEELxALIVE’ by Sayaka Sasaki, it was the ED ‘Voon! Voon! Ride On!’ that lodged itself in my head, and even made for a brilliant joke that might take you a few minutes to understand at the end of the tenth episode.
Whilst the unique premise makes it stand out more than some, when you get down to it, Bakuon!! is just another paint-by-numbers comedy, likely forgotten about almost as soon as it’s watched.