Story Pile: Appare-Ranman!

When you’re an anime fan you have the beautiful luxury of being able to talk about ridiculous ideas that most people in your normal media sphere turned into something pretty pedestrian or never really expanded on, given a level of seriousness and gravitas that allows for a truly adult-level presentation that then usually also has some banging music and maybe a great combat scene or two. Such is the case of Appare-Ranman, which is an anime that can best be summarised as ‘Wacky Racers if it was a serious crime action drama,’ and you may think they did that, it was called The Great Race and it came out in 1965, to you I must say, why are you killing my buzz here. There’s only so much room to get excited about this speedrun of an anime and by providing that example of how my opening joke isn’t actually that good you’re forcing me to present a blunt metaphor for the way that Appare-Ranman! is an anime that’s about exactly as good as this opening paragraph.

Like it starts fun. There’s definitely something fun happening here.

But wew.

Okay, let’s just not get bogged down to start with. Appare-Ranman! is a story about the most neurodivergent inventor boy in all of Japan, sometime around the start of the Meiji era (so like, the 1870s), who kidnaps a samurai to go to America to participate in an Amazing Car Race with his Amazing Car that he has invented and made to work based entirely on his amazing scientific principle of what if cars were steamboats. This idea that had never occurred to anyone involved in the already-present discipline, apparently, of luxury sports cars, seemingly passed them by because if you know your history this was when they were trying to make steam powered planes.

They go to America! They enter the race! Something goes wrong! The racers have to team up against a new problem, because maybe the real checkered flag was the friends we made along the way. The finale of the series shows us a new race, starting again as our hero prepares to once more commit to the very stupid idea of piloting a car twice as large and heavy as everything, because that’s how physics work! Freeze frame, laugh, theme.

Appare-Ranman! is an anime that promises a lot and delivers some. The idea of it is sound: You have a whacky inventor type making steampunk machinery, and a variety of weirdoes working together to do a long-distance overland race in the grand tradition of real world races that are just happening all the time, don’t you know. The period of time means there’s trains and samurai and cowboys all happening at once but then also the anime layers atop it a thick layer of multicoloured swank, and then gives our weirdo cast of racers quirks like ‘secretly unvoiced giant man-child’ or ‘cowboy’ or ‘rich’ or ‘black’ or ‘woman’ and


Yeah phew that’s not comfortable.

Yeah the black character in this story is wearing a noose around his neck. Yeah, in 1868. Like, just as a point of fashion.


Anyway, setting aside the ways that Appare-Ranman! gets  uncomfortable about race and also gender and also a lot of its history and now that I mention it it’s pretty weird about just the laws of physics but those aren’t so important because people aren’t affected but it is still weird to tell a car-racing story that doesn’t seem to care about cars at all, but anyway the thing is, this is an anime that promises you a ride. It’s framed as an explosive race, machinery endurance meeting with inventive genius and clashes of the new and the old, and part of what it’s trying to derive from is Jules Verne’s work.

It could be so good, because Appare himself, the main character is both a very good looking boy and a completely uncommunicative weirdo interested in solving problems in weird ways, which is a great representation for, statistically, about half of you, and the other half are just good looking and not boys. There’s a treatment of how his offhander, Kosame, has PTSD, and it renders him unable to fight (until he can), and a story about how Jing, the A Girl, refuses to be defined by being a woman and will show she can be a racer too, even if she, uh, is still Very Much A Girl and defined by doing all the nurturing stuff for


Hototo the Native American Boy.

Oooo boy.

It isn’t like ‘oh this is an anime that’s kinda cringe about race and gender and history, therefore it is bad, get a load of this wokelord,’ I am well aware that anime is a place full of these landmines and there’s nothing wrong with going into the media completely aware of these things and making your own choices. I love Summer Time Render, an anime that opens with the protagonist faceplanting into some boobs and then fast forwards to show you his little sister’s underwear multiple times. I am in a glass house here as far as liking anime that has Anime Bullshit in it.

The thing with Appare-Ranman! is that it’s the thing that it’s offering to talk about, the thing it promises, it just doesn’t deliver, so when you’re not getting a cool race to watch and a badass heist or fight or something to follow it up with you’re instead kind of just puttering around wondering what this show is doing or why. And that means you spend a lot of time watching the stuff on the side of the road as it whizzes past.  This is one of those anime where the last three episodes suddenly introduce a meaningful antagonist and threat and timeframe and now it all needs to get resolved real quick, and the worst part of it is if they introduced it and did it earlier, there’d be less of a race, which would be pretty good, because the race part of the story is boring.

I want to like this anime more than I do. I want to be able to show off how cool TJ is and see the way this character swaggers fit to justify the wearing a noose. But… like, you can’t.

There’s not that much here.

The game they’re playing doesn’t matter, who’s going to win it doesn’t matter, and they don’t do a good job showing it.

So of course this anime fails on race issues.