Every time I hear the title Rokka: Braves of the Six Flowers, I can’t help but think the characters are actually the “Braves of the Locker” and not the “Braves of the Six Flowers.”
One genre of literature I don’t particularly enjoy is fantasy, not necessarily modern fantasy, as in fantasy that takes place in a modern setting, but high fantasy. While it’s less of an issue with a visual medium such as film or television, there are times I have trouble recognizing the different terms used in the genre. Again, not terms like fantasy names or made up words, but words like portcullis or foyer—although after the Acquisitions Incorporated acid pit incident I’m all to familiar with the latter. Yet in a visual medium, fantasy is a genre I can appreciate, not just for the visuals, but also for the time periods and settings they tend to occupy. However, I’ve noticed many fantasy anime series tend to revolve around a Eurocentric world, with a smaller subset taking place in East Asia. While not a major issue within the genre, there are many other cultures in which an author or director could place a fantastical work. Thus, I was rather surprised when the 2015 anime series Rokka: Braves of the Six Flowers (六花の勇者 Rokka no Yūsha) had a Mesoamerican setting. This was a radical departure from the conventions seen in the anime industry and one that was pleasing. However, if this were the extent of what the series had to offer, it wouldn’t have been able to capture the imagination of viewers. As a result, an interesting mystery was layered on top of a rather pedestrian narrative, which kept the series from becoming dull.
Anime and manga allow for series to be set in very wild and imaginative places as well as everyday locations we are familiar with. While I don’t want to call this an advantage over other mediums, it’s amazing what kinds of worlds authors and directors are able to create. Yet, when we explore the fantasy genre in either anime or manga, the major trend seems to involve placing them in a Eurocentric or East Asian setting. It’s not that I find this exceptionally irritating. I mean, I can see why writers and producers stick with locations people are familiar with, but our world has such a large swath of environments to draw inspiration from. Just to name a few, the plains of Africa, the jungles of Southeast Asia, the Australian Outback, or even the frozen tundra of Canada. Sure, some of these locations are alien, but there are many different stories that have utilized exotic locations in wonderful ways. For example, the highly acclaimed American TV series Avatar: The Last Air Bender had a number of fascinating and memorable locations which brought the narrative to life. However, as I prefer to focus on anime and manga, it can be surprising how few creators opt to look outside of Europe and East Asia for settings for their works.
Granted, many of those worlds are fictional in themselves, thus it can be difficult to place an exact marker on the locations that inspired a given world. However, when looking at Rokka: Braves of the Six Flowers, it was patently clear either the author of the source material or the director of the anime series drew upon the architecture of ancient Mesoamerican cultures—though it’s hard to argue the Aztec civilization was ancient seeing as how the Spanish Conquistadors overthrew the empire nearly 500 years ago in 1521. So we have an understanding of where Mesoamerica is, it’s generally thought of as the area from central Mexico to northern Costa Rica. I’m certainly no expert on Mesoamerican architecture, but looking at the designs of the capital of the Kingdom of Piena in this series or the forest where the bulk of the series took place, the former was reminiscent of the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan, while the latter had the air of the Mayan Temple of Lamanai.
What exactly do I mean by this? Consider the city Tenochtitlan, if only for how well it’s known. Not only was it built on an island in Lake Texcoco, it sprawled out into the surrounding water with manmade island structures. On top of this, when examining its urban design, the city center featured the Tempo Mayor, one of the main temples of the city. Looking at maps of the city, it’s not only fantastic, but also a true testament to the architecture of the Aztec civilization. The capital city of the Kingdom of Piena had a very similar design to it. We can instantly see the similarities to Tenochtitlan as it was built in the middle of a lake with clearly sectioned off districts and a large temple structure in the middle of the city. It’s remarkable how the production team was able to capture the majesty of such a city, and the grand scale of it gave Rokka: Braves of the Six Flowers a wonderful atmosphere from the opening moments. Yet, the aura of the series ran much deeper than the design of the city.
There were two aspects we have to reflect on, the first of which was the design of the buildings, particularly the temples. While it’s very easy to write them off as the Mesoamerican pyramids—remember, very few civilizations created such grand structures at their height. In fact, when we think of the term “pyramid,” the pyramids of Giza generally enter our minds. But, many of the Mesoamerican pyramids are fascinating in their own right. If you will quickly recall your world history, the Temple of Kukulcan at Chichen Itza, one of the more famous Mayan pyramids, has some interesting architectural design aspects to it. For example, there are the ninety-one step staircases on each face of the pyramid which, when totaled, equal the number of days in a year. But, even more remarkable is the event that occurs during each equinox. The shadows cast on the northwestern balustrade makes it appear as though a serpent is crawling down from the temple. Though no structure in this series is as grand as their real-world counterparts, again, there was a sense of scale to them, which made the series majestic. Thus, when the production team for Rokka: Braves of the Six Flowers chose Mesoamerican architectural designs for the series, it was incredibly refreshing.
The second aspect was the artistic design of the buildings, the writing systems, and the background images. Again, I am not at all familiar with Mesoamerican art traditions or writing systems, but I have seen samples here and there. While I don’t believe the styles used on the buildings and what not in the series were exact replicas of the writing systems of any of the major Mesoamerican civilizations, such as the Aztec, Mayan, or Toltec, the art team certainly captured the bravura of them. To be more precise, the art team was able to capture how the art and writing were etched into the stone and, depending on their respective locations, had a worn down or well-maintained appearance. This added to the ambiance of the series as the opening episodes gave audiences an impression of what those old Mesoamerican cities were like when populated, but then changed after the fourth episode as the atmosphere began to speak instead to our modern notions of those ruins. Both these aspects of the series were a vast departure from the conventional wisdom of the anime industry in regards to the fantasy genre and were a welcome change of pace.
However, none of brilliance surrounding the setting would have mattered had the narrative of Rokka: Braves of the Six Flowers been lackluster. To be honest, the overarching narrative of the series was uninspired as it was no more than a save the world from evil narrative. Yet, this series found a creative way to use this narrative. The basic premise is suggested in the title as six heroes were chosen by the Saint of the Single Flower to defeat The Fiend—a very uninspired name for a villain if you ask me—but with a wrinkle: there were seven who had the Saint’s symbol. This created a brilliant mystery for the audience as it forced the seven characters, Adlet Myer, Nachetanya Loei Piena Augustra, Flamie Spidlow, Goldov Auroa, Chamot Rosso, Maura Chester, and Hans Humpty, to be at odds with each other in order to discern who the traitor was, and ultimately terminate him or her. More importantly, though, it required the audience to focus on every last detail of the series. While dialog cues were the most obvious source of information, one had to pay close attention to other aspects of the story as well, such as the body language, the characters’ backgrounds and personalities, and even the environment itself. Even then, trying to determine the traitor was no easy task, as much of the information we were given was difficult to parse out because of how vague it was.
This is how a mystery should be handled because if it’s patently clear who the culprit is, there is no point in readers progressing through the story. As an example, though he has become much better at writing a mystery, Jim Butcher, author of the Dresden Files series, made the mysteries in the early volumes of that particular series rather easy to solve. However, in his later works, Butcher crafted solid narratives and characters to occupy the world he created. Yet, in Rokka: Braves of the Six Flowers, it was never quite clear who the traitor was. Even the explanation in the final episode seemed odd to me, but the production team did a superb job in subverting viewers’ expectations in each episode. That is, by using clever writing, even the very first time the seven characters appeared on screen together the production team was able to convince me each character was the traitor at one point or another, except for Adlet, as he was the protagonist. This is not an easy task for a writer because it requires undermining the audience’s expectations for each character.
While I don’t want to go into too much detail, as it could ruin the mystery of Rokka: Braves of the Six Flowers, one of the first characters I pinned as the traitor was Hans. I thought this might be the case as he was an assassin—I mean, why would an assassin be chosen to defeat an all-powerful fiend. Yet, as the series progressed, we learned a great deal about him and in turn how the other characters reacted to the situation at hand. Thus, it became far more difficult judging whether or not Hans, in this example, was actually the traitor. Not many writers can achieve this and it’s a true testament to the author of the source material as well as the scriptwriters for the anime adaptation.
Rokka: Braves of the Six Flowers was an exhilarating anime series for a number of reasons. The most apparent of these was the narrative the production team crafted for a rather prosaic but clear premise. By having a clear goal with an exact number of heroes, which I remind you was six, injecting one more into the mix produced a great deal of tension within the character dynamics and their respective relationships. On top of this, the totality of the situation created a wonderful mystery for the audience to solve, with the writing team doing an excellent job of making sure it was never clear who the traitor was until the final moments of the series. The use of a Mesoamerican setting was also a nice departure from the industry standard of a European or East Asian one as it added a different flavor to the environment as well as to the designs of the buildings, cities, art, and writing systems. I also appreciated this aspect of the series because Mesoamerica is a beautiful geographic location that is rich with history and amazing architectural designs. As a minor aside, I actually don’t like the translated title of the series. While it brought out the idea the series was trying to convey, “braves” doesn’t have the same quality in terms of definition compared to the terms, “heroes” or “champions.” However, apart from that very minor qualm, Rokka: Braves of the Six Flowers is a series anyone can enjoy.
Title: Rokka: Braves of the Six Flowers (六花の勇者 Rokka no Yūsha)
Official Site: http://rokka-anime.jp/
More Info: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rokka:_Braves_of_the_Six_Flowers