At a Glance: Bokurano
Bokurano is based on a manga by the same manga artist, Mohiro Kitoh, who did Shadow Star Narutaru, and this is a similar work. A group of kids is messing around on the beach when they find a cave to explore. Inside the cave is some kind of weird underground lab-like setup with many computers. The man there introduces himself as Kokopelli (that's the name of a Southwestern Native American god often featured on hippie clothing), and tells the children about a "game", that's not really a game.
They're all tasked with piloting a giant robot to save the world. One of them is chosen at random to be the pilot, who will control the robot with their mind. Oh, and whoever is pilot dies right after the fighting is over. And that's just the first of multiple shocking twists this grim anime will throw at you. It's a game of duck, duck, die.
Manga by Mohiro Kitoh
Mature/Seinen, Psychological, Drama, Giant Robot/Mecha, Sci-Fi
Light Novel (5 Volumes)
Visually, this anime is neat, but the best aspect is the writing. It's a well-written story. Many "Battle Royale" anime exist, but most of them feel a lot less serious and less real than this. It usually feels like you have your Designated Protagonist, who is probably going to win, and whoever is lucky enough to be their closest friend(s) or love interest will likely survive. But this anime really doesn't do that. No one character stands out as the protagonist or seems more or less important than everyone else. It really could be anyone who survives, or no one. In other anime that kill off a bunch of characters, you also have certain characters ripe for the picking. It's either that they're annoying, too dumb to live, or just plain assholes, but there's usually only a handful of sympathetic characters that die.
This is a suspenseful anime that keeps you guessing, so I am eager to finish it for a Full Series Review soon.
Contrast that with Bokurano, and you really feel like every child dying was really just an ordinary kid. That makes it more impactful when they die, because they feel like a real person, whereas other anime make their red shirt characters into cartoonish clichés. It may be dark, but it has a deep character to it.