Nanbaka Episode 3 Review: A Serious Bout of No Character Development

Warning: Review contains spoilers!

Nanbaka episode 3 introduces yet another inmate: 99, a real shinobi from the Land of Shinobi who goes head-to-head against Jyugo in a jailbreaking challenge. The other three tag along for the ride since they want to judge whose skills are better. Other events include the pretty boy guard being seriously trolled by, and then serving as willing errand boy for, our four bozo inmates, more fangirling over Hajime, and the start of a new year.

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A guard who’s overly nice.

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Some serious posing for the security cameras. He could be a movie star.

Nanbaka hits its stride when it’s being outlandish. The personalities and likes of our four protagonist inmates are greatly overexaggerated to the point that they’re pretty much defined by them. There’s the anime guy, the guy who likes girls way too much, lock-breaking guy, and the food guy. With the exception of lock-breaking guy, who acts like the leader of the bunch and whose sinister past has been hinted at previously, the other three are difficult to distinguish. If I closed my eyes and tried to figure out who was saying what, I wouldn’t know. Heck, I don’t really even know most of the names at this point, and I’ve stopped looking up what they might be. Yet I’ve overall enjoyed each episode so far.

The thing is, the anime embraces these aspects completely, even moreso than a lot of other comedies where I can at least remember who the characters are. Every inmate is basically nameless, called by their number unless they’re talking among themselves or the guard names them explicitly after stating their numbers. This fits well with the full title of the anime, Nanbaka: The Numbers.  We end up remembering the inmates not by their names, but by their numbers; distinct character designs; and singular, defining characteristics.

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The number is a lot more noticeable than the name.

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“I am a shinobi! Do not forget!”

Last episode, the anime deviated a little from the personality quirks to give you more information about the characters’ pasts, but this episode exploited them as its main crutch, throwing the tiny promise of slightly better character depth from the last two episodes completely out the window. Hajime, the only person whose name I ever remember because he’s the only mature one in the bunch, gives pretty boy guard solid tips on how to pacify the inmates, who keep scaring him for amusement. Like giving them surveys of beautiful women (not even photos!), menus of food, and anime to watch—one tip per inmate. We already knew all of this from before.

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The other guards also have colorful character designs.

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He may look like a doofus, but he is actually evil.

If the anime is not busily reminding us which inmate likes what, they all sort of blend in together. Cue the next scene. New guy is introduced, but new guy is a shinobi—with shinobi style, and shinobi poses and weapons. Japanese lock-breaking guy becomes suspicious, but the other three, who are all from foreign countries, freak out that they’re able to see a real live Japanese ninja. They all start gleeking about how cool he is in unison, and quickly forget about all the anime and food and stuff, erasing the very things that made them them.

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How wonderful it is to be in Japan!

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Shinobi: the stuff of legends.

These examples exemplify two types of no character depth: either the characters are completely forgettable and we know each individually as “that guy who did this,” or they glom into the same personality. That applies to many of the guards, too—woman who appears strong yet madly crushes, pretty boy, sparkly guard with a sense of chivalry who works out too much. They are caricatures who embody the comedic aspect of the anime, but I wish there was just a little more realism.

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At least she’s professional about it. No one’s watching.

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The eternal workout man rides atop a horse this episode.

The only two people we really get to know—and even these folks aren’t much better—are Jyugo and Hajime. They distinguish themselves by actually acting competent in their work, and both are hiding something that the anime has been dangling in front of viewers but not gotten into yet.

Even those mysteries have been disappointments, since I don’t know what the anime’s trying to get at in terms of plot. For some odd reason, the episode ended with a New Year’s celebration, with all the characters celebrating just what a good year it had been, and our four inmates stating how nice it was that they ended up in the same prison cell. I unfortunately didn’t know nearly enough about the inmates to care that they’d been through so much together this past year.

It gets more confusing, with more serious/nostalgic scenes that deviated way too much from the tone of the rest of the episode yet again. The scenes just added another unneeded mystery, completely pushing aside the past history of Jyugo we were promised at the end of the last two episodes. So many questions arose. The inmates from Cell 13 were friends before Nanba Prison? What’s this prison-wide competition all about? Why is everyone cast in shadows for dramatic effect? How much of the manga did this anime skip?

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Reminiscing on all the uh, memories that the viewer didn’t see yet.

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What could be in store next time?

In summary, Nanbaka did the same exact thing it’s been doing the last few times. This was the funniest episode by far, but overall the series fails to be memorable. Nanbaka should probably stick to its comedy shtick instead of giving us laughs until the final, serious moments of the episode—which are completely brushed away every week with each episode start anyway.

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2 thoughts on “Nanbaka Episode 3 Review: A Serious Bout of No Character Development

  1. Karandi says:

    This is probably my issue with comedy in general is that character development is sacrificed for laughs and generally speaking the plot is also hindered by the need to push the absurd. And while that makes for amusing in the moment (sometimes when it hits the right note) it usually doesn’t make for something that is particularly memorable or interesting to watch again once the initial reveal is already made.
    Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Alane says:

      Well said. I was trying to think of counter examples for good characterization in comedy anime for this review but drew up a blank. (That may have been my poor memory and I’ll mull it over.) I do enjoy comedy/lighthearted series, but this seems over the top even for the genre. Which does work for the most part this episode. It was on point with a lot of jokes. It bothers me that there are four main poster people for this anime, but the main guard, who is not a poster person, is the only one I can reliably remember.

      It’s a shame, because comedy writing, not necessarily in anime, has great potential to be so sharp and focused and give you an insight you didn’t see before, all with laughs. That’s usually in satire, though.

      Liked by 1 person

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