WARNING: Includes spoilers!
I’ve been into anime a lot in the last couple of months and I have had some time to read a lot of comments and recommendations what I should watch next. The anime fans communities really do have a lot of ideas, my list of yet to watch anime has grown to over 50! However, there was one that was often repeated, many claimed it was fun and what I liked the most, was that it only had a season, or two. So no huge commitment, like watching 7 season and such and I was game! If I had only known how much fun I would have watching this I would have started sooner!
Nanbaka, also known as Nanbaka – The Numbers was first released as a Japanese manga. The anime adaptation is pretty new, first episode aired last year, October 5th. I have not read manga and had no idea it existed until some research for this blog post. I only watched the anime and I had no idea there were two season already. I watch anime online, usually on Crunchyroll and I thought they just uploaded the same season twice, ups, silly me, there is season two airing right now, I think there will be three more episodes (13 episodes per season)!
The main story centers on four inmates assigned to Nanba, the worlds best prison that no one can escape from. Well, khm, we actually do get to see these four individuals escaping in the very first episode, or at least almost escaping! The four main characters are Jyugo, best known for being able to unlock anything and trying to escape got him more prison time, Uno with amazing long pink and blond braid, most interested in gambling and women, Rock – quite calm if he gets his food, but is an excellent fighter as well and last one Nico who has a special reaction to drugs and is very into anime and games!
First episode went something like this – I watched first ten minutes, didn’t quite get what I was watching, thought this was way too childish for me and stopped. A day or two later I really wanted to watch anime, not just my usual tv shows and I got back to the first episode. By the end of the first part I was like, ok I’ll give this a go, it looks stupid but fun. The first two/three episodes I was still sure this was just too childishly for me, but me being me, once I start watching I can’t stop, so I just pressed play on another episode and another. And now I’m here, loving this anime!
The best to describe Nanbaka would be with action comedy, but it isn’t all that lighthearted and silly as it may present itself at first. The whole anime takes place at the world’s most heavily guarded and top secret prison – Nanba. The point of the prison was to hold the worse kinds of criminals from around the world. The four inmates from Building 13, Cell 13 are the stars of the show and really the best at prisonbreaking – they have escaped numerous prisons before ending up at Nanba. Of course the four are always caught by the prison guards, mostly by one really tough one, Hajime, a hand-to-hand combat expert. Well, the quartet wasn’t really trying to escape, they were just doing it for fun! Honestly, they have it way better in the prison than in actual life – great food, company, access to internet and TV, can move freely inside prison. And with nothing good waiting for them back home, why escape anywhere where you actually have to work (be a crook) to survive? The plot is quite simple, but it allows for our convicts to get into some more entertaining shenanigans. As the show continues you get to know other prison guards, inmates and the warden. The second half of the first season mostly focuses on the New Year’s tournament, thus the focus becomes more about action, fight scenes and such than comedy and it in a way looses the goofy, lighthearted attitude. That does not mean it completely changes and includes no more comedy elements, just that it no longer seems appropriate only for kids and the themes really do get more deep and personal, suitable for any audience. Up to this point all was just about the characters and their merry/weird/crazy personalities. Some may say this was sort of a let down, because the show gets a more serious tone. The lighthearted humor seems to slowly fade into the background and the action and drama take first place. However, still the best part of the anime are the characters! Every inmate has a soft spot and Hajime knows really well how to keep the boys well behaved and out of trouble. Also the relationships between the wardens and the communication is no less funny than between the inmates. I love the way the head of the prison, female warden, acts tough and serious, but she actually has a major crush on Hajime! The way her body language is misinterpreted is just hilarious! Makes me crack up every time!
I wanted to write a bit about the art and animation as well, as this was also something that stands out and you will notice it from season one! It was also one of the reasons why I initially took this anime as a childish thing. The style of character designs is pretty unique. The specialty are long, crazy colored hair (except poor Jyugo and Hajime :P), the wardrobe is a bit unusual as well – everything is super fluffy, big and colorful! Also they love to include feminine touch to everything – clothing, hair accessories, hair style, … I like the play on gender identities and the clothes associated with them. It is a refreshing way to present the main characters and I would dare say also very open minded! The background work could use some more, let’s say, detail, as many times the background is just plain colour. Though they used a vibrant colour, more detail might not be bad. When the anime gets more serious and most of it happens inside, in the corridors (especially season 2) are all grey and I think they might have wanted to create a more serious feeling just by changing the background colours from fun moments to more dramatic ones. Or maybe they just felt the characters were colorful and standing out enough already as it is, no need for any more artwork. A little something I have never seen before (used in every frame!!!) was the sparkle effect. There are quite literally sparkles everywhere! Usually they float around the characters, but they used them to emphasize stuff in the bakcground or where they will go and move, like in a game when it helps to guide you in the right direction. There is no real need for all the glitter but oh well, it’s that kind of anime, everything is hightened! If you don’t like bright colours or get easily irritated by them this anime will give you a headache! The animation is good, if you think of this just as a comedy anime, but when it comes to action scenes there could be more detail. This may be a little something that I have noticed but no one else is bothered with, and the animation overall isn’t bad at all. It may also be on purpose to leave the fight scenes a bit less defined in order to take the serious edge off.
Obviously, comedy is very subjective and some may find the jokes too easy, some boring and some of you might enjoy them and have a blast. I chose not to overthink the whole deal and I was enjoying the anime very much! However it got quite serious in season two and we get a lot of background stories for specific characters and the impact of those really give the anime a deeper feel. The development of Jyugo for example is very specific, from a quiet boy to someone with a dark secret to someone who doesn’t even know how to react to other people and their feelings to finally, someone who tries and understands that others care for him and he starts to care for them as well and shows them as much. From season one there is apparent that there’s some plot going on with the main male character, Jyugo, as he is somehow connected to his father and him being some sort of a bad stain on this prison. I admit I missed this moment, I didn’t get it at first at all and I am still waiting to get answers about this. Jyugo has to wear the mysterious shackles on and no one can remove them, not even him, and so it stays for the whole season one and maybe even season two? He has been to prisons all around the world and he is seeking the prison guard with a scar on his neck as he is responsible for placing them on him in the first place. No one can help him remove these shackles and I still don’t quite get what’s so special about them. What we do get to know is that there is another character that really wants them and somehow knows what they are and what they do, or at least that is what we are left to believe. Later it’s revealed that no one actually knows much about them. Still waiting for more story reveals and I believe some of them may be coming soon as there are only a few episodes left till the end of season.
Do I recommend this anime? If you are looking for something to watch that is simple, funny, super colorful and easy going, this is it. If you are a super demanding anime fan than you may wanna skip this. I have read and heard so many complaints about this anime – from hasting the character designs, the plot isn’t good enough, what the fuck is with the sparkles everywhere, generic prison escapes at the beginning of the season one, bad music, bad animation, … I must say I didn’t expect anything from this anime. It was recommended to me by a friend, I watched it and had to struggle a bit with the first two episodes and than I was in! I love Jyogo and Nico’s characters, they really show how they have grown as persons, how they have developed, they are also funny each in their own way. Love the Hajime – warden – Kenshiro triangle and the hilarious moments between them. The rest of the characters are also interesting, but I have to say these are my top choices. As for moments I have enjoyed in this anime, there were so many! I have had such a blast and ended up laughing so hard!
Season one best moments – Nico’s weird addiction to drugs/weird side effect to them – video here! The infirmary robot nurse – video here, a couple of the funny moments from season one. From season two I really love these – Honey-kun kissing the floor & Jyugo having problems with lack of physical condition – video here, Honey and Trois getting help fro Jyugo – video here, another queer in the prison guard ranks- video here, Jyugo drowning and getting help – video here, Hajime getting caught – video here.
If you give this prison comedy action anime a go, I hope you will enjoy it!
Thanks for reading!
** The photos used for this blog post are screenshots of anime and I do not own them or have rights to them.