Warning: Contains spoilers!
EDIT (12/27/16): I hadn’t realized that this was NOT the last episode of season 1 of Nanbaka, since episode 13 (with ending credits) came out today. I’ve written another blog post on that, so check it out! That said, the next episode plows right onward from where I left this review at the end of the second paragraph.
Welp, here we are at the last episode of Nanbaka. I should specify season 1 since the series will be heading straight into season 2 in a couple of weeks.
That being said, this last episode didn’t feel like a final episode. We weren’t greeted by anything that might hint that this was a separate season, but rather were flashed with a next episode preview at the end. There was probably no need for it since the second season is starting so soon, but the episode stopped right as one of the main antagonists, a guard at Nanba prison, finally confronted Jyugo when he was alone. Said guard had been hinted as an evildoer via very non-discreet evil looks and crazy grinning in both flashbacks and present time, but didn’t really talk before.
In the first part of this episode, Musashi/fire-throwing guy details his past to his guard-buddy. Evildoer blond guard is a prominent figure in these memories, and is an accomplish to the man with the scar on his back. We find out that prison inmates are being used in experiments because they’re the scum of society. It sets the scene for the last part of the episode, which I’ve already revealed in the paragraph above.
The interim between these two parts is taken up by Uno’s little side story. With his earnings, he’s built a game room—different from Nico’s arcade in the last episode. It has darts, mahjong, and other things. Aside from the fact that you probably shouldn’t be giving darts to prison inmates, it looks like Uno’s invited most of the inmates we met during the New Year’s tournament to come celebrate with him. Jyugo is finally happy.
An okay episode by Nanbaka standards, but not really special by any means.
The best word I can think of for Nanbaka is topsy-turvy. I’ve never seen an anime that swung so violently in one direction and then another and another in such a short span of time. Looking back, my misgivings about this series started really early on: my episode 4 review has the subtitle: Comedy-Action, or Action-Comedy? I don’t think it ever really found that balance that would have made it an above-average anime at the least. There were glimmers of promise in both directions, but the two felt disjointed.
Now let’s move onto the characters, whom I have similar musings about.
There’s something to be said for developing comedic stereotypes—i.e., someone defined by one or two personality quirks so as to make fun of those quirks—into living characters, but most of the characters didn’t really get that much development till the final two episodes. The development that we did see with Jyugo was somewhat stilted. Too much time was spent hinting at what he could be rather than what he actually was.
If we did focus on Jyugo, this series might have been far stronger if they had focused much more on Jyugo while allowing the other characters to remain stereotypes, showcasing his different sides and facets. But the inmates bounce back and forth. The inmates just sorta loved each other and Jyugo in particular. Rock ate food; Uno did, uh, something; and Nico was that sick guy who loved anime and manga. We got some backstory starting last episode: they apparently are all grateful to him for saving their lives or something—and each case does involve him breaking them out of jail—but then they devolved back into stereotypes afterwards.
To explain a bit more, their personality quirks were quite singular and didn’t really make an impact. The series does batter away at them, though, which makes them somewhat memorable (though maybe not in a good way). Since they all have some sort of special power, though nothing nearly as special as Jyugo’s or fire-throwing guy, could it be that they’ll be the next targets this coming season?
On the same token, there were far too many characters to cram into a single series, which left the dynamic wanting. The guards got a lot of screen time at the beginning, with the inmates receiving little. Then this was switched during the final episodes, when the guards stood mostly on the side while we got to know the inmates, simply ushering them from one place to another. I found my former attachment to the guards waning.
I could go on about how this applies to other things like the uber sparkly animation, but it’s going to be more of the same.
All in all, I really did want to enjoy Nanbaka, but it just hasn’t delivered. It’s likely that the character development they started this season will continue to blossom in the next, but Nanbaka is unpredictable in genre, character development, and quality. For an example on that last one, episode 10 was probably one of the best comedy episodes I’d ever seen. The rest wasn’t up to the task.
I’m going to be writing a post about my plans for next anime season after the new year, but I will likely not be continuing episode-by-episode reviews for this series.
Thank you for reading!