In today’s media landscape, it can feel like everything is about having an obsessive audience. Mobile games incentivize you to try to get every ultra rare and keep following a neverending story. Superhero movies, like their comic counterparts, want you to watch every single sequel and spin-off leading to the next mega film. Manga and anime want you to look into every character’s backstory and all the convoluted history that connects them together. These aren’t necessarily bad things, but they can be exhausting.
Under these circumstances, the anime Back Arrow is like a breath of fresh air because it doesn’t expect your total time and attention. Every episode, I would be entertained and intrigued; I might even have speculated what would happen next. But in a time when my mental space is being bombarded by world-changing events on the regular on top of all the aforementioned fan-forward storytelling, I like having an anime that’s just trying to be a sandwich instead of a 10-course meal.
The premise: Lingalind is a world of constant strife, with countries big and small vying for supremacy. Surrounded by a divine Wall that cannot be crossed, mysterious drop pods called rakuho fall from the sky and provide mysterious armbands known as Bind Warpers. These devices allow people to manifest their convictions and form giant robots called Briheights, and are the primary weapon of war. One day, a group from the tiny village of Edger finds a rather unusual rakuho containing a man with no memory—other than the seemingly insane notion that he comes from beyond the Wall. This man, who comes to take the name Back Arrow, is not only able to manifest a Briheight without having any conviction of his own, but is also able to defeat other Briheights without killing them, which was thought to be impossible.
Back Arrow is like a cross between Gun x Sword, Star Driver, and Code Geass (even sharing the same director in this last case), only a whole lot less subtle. And given what those three series are like, this means watching Back Arrow is like getting hit over the head by two ham fists. The two major world powers are the Republic of Rekka, a hyper-exaggerated Dynastic China with Three Kingdoms elements, and the Supremacy of Lutoh, essentially pre-Revolution France with a seedy underbelly. Back Arrow and the residents of Edger Village all look like poorly dressed cowboys. But somehow, the anime ends up being really entertaining with endearing characters, lots of twists and turns, and some pretty solid action scenes—all without being bogged down or burdened with an excess of unrealistic ambition.
That’s not to say Back Arrow phones it in. The series’ narrative developments aren’t that surprising, but it’s never boring. In many ways, Back Arrow reminds me of really good pro wrestling. It’s ridiculous if you step back, but it’s easy to suspend disbelief thanks to the charisma of its presentation. Moreover, predictability isn’t a four-letter word, and in fact can be the foundation of some of the best stories because they have satisfying payoffs.