Review for The Book of Bantorra Complete Collection
The Book of Bantorra was a first for me in anime, albeit an ignominious one. Back when Crunchyroll first went legit, and started legally streaming anime to the world, I made a point of watching everything they streamed to the UK. That was easy when it was just The Tower of Druaga, Blassreiter, Linebarrels of Iron, and Fairy Musketeers. Then the service started filling up, and I had to get picky with what I watched. But I still made a point of watching everything that I started to completion, as and when it was simulcast. The Book of Bantorra was the first time that I lost touch with a simulcast anime; I just didn’t have time to watch it each week, and despite my swearing to catch up once it had ended, it was the first time that a show disappeared from Crunchyroll before I could complete it, as the license expired. Of course what was the first time is now pretty much all the time, as I just don’t have the time to watch everything that I’m interested in. But at least I can make the time to watch The Book of Bantorra to the end, as I’ve finally imported the US DVD release.
When someone dies, their soul becomes a book, a book that reveals the life of that person, their innermost secrets. Naturally such books are prized commodities, so it falls to the Library of Bantorra, and the Armed Librarians under acting chief Hamyuts Meseta to find these books and protect them. Their guardianship maintains the fragile balance of the world, but there are those who would see the world tipped into chaos, particularly those of the Church of Drowning in God’s Grace.
27 episodes of The Book of Bantorra are presented across five DVD discs from Sentai Filmworks. They have also released the show on Region A locked Blu-ray.
1. Bombs, Books, and a Sinking Ship
2. Bombs, a Princess, and a Gray Town
3. Bombs, Humans, and the God of Death’s Disease
4. The Setting Sun, Shiron, and Colio
5. A Betrayal, a Cup, and a Meandering Path
6. Thunder, a Monster, and a Girl’s Punch
7. A Smile, a Mask, and a Man with a Death Wish
8. A Pond, Comrades and a Seashell
9. A True Man, a Battlefield and My World
10. An Eccentric, a Mother, and the Black Ants’ Nest
11. A Weakling, the Labyrinth, and Moving the Queen
12. The Past, Irrationality, and a Pipe’s Smoke
13. A Day Off, a Picture Book, and Rusty Hair
14. The Setting Sun, a Storyteller, and a Collection of Fables
15. A Girl, a Girl, and the Bed of God
16. A Banned Book, a Coward, and the Sacred Eyes
17. A Return Home, an Encounter, and Burning Bridges
18. A Propeller, Remembrance, and a Man of Lead
19. A Fool, a Void, and a Dancing Spinning Fairy
20. Funeral Bells, a Book, and a Boy with a Death Wish
21. Enmity, the Color Blue, and the Rope Princess
22. The Sky, and Ending, and a Girl’s World
23. A Jailbreak, a Tool, and a Desert Violet
24. Truth, Love, and the Second Sealed Library
25. Tranquility, Indolence, and a Tale of Despair
26. Atonement, Delusion, and Books within Books
27. The Power of the World
The Book of Bantorra gets a 1.78:1 anamorphic NTSC transfer on these discs. The image is clear and sharp, if a little soft, indicative of an SD master. Colours are strong, and the animation comes across without significant issues with compression or aliasing, although digital banding is there as always. The world design incorporates a mish-mash of historical periods, although mostly from the early twentieth century. The character designs are memorable, but the show has something of a Gonzo feel to it, both in the characters and the quality of the animation. It saves its big guns for the action sequences, while the quieter moments are often mundane, verging on the static.
You have the choice between DD 2.0 English and Japanese with optional subtitles and a signs only track. The Japanese is definitely the way to go here, as what little I sampled of the dub sounded stilted, while the key character of Hamyuts Meseta sounded miscast. The audio is adequate, the Japanese voice actors finding the character cliché shortcuts with ease; the action comes across well, and the music drives the action and emotion of the piece. You do have to put up with an Ali Project caterwaul for the first half of the series as the opening theme, but that’s what the skip button was invented for. The subtitles are timed accurately and are free of typos.
You get five discs in an Amaray style case, with two on either side of two centrally hinged panels, one on the back face of the case. The discs boot to static menus with jacket pictures, and each episode is followed by a translated English credit reel.
Disc 1 autoplays a trailer for the Anime Network, and harbours trailers for Persona 4: The Animation, Samurai Bride, Hakkenden: Eight Dogs of the East, Love, Chunibyo, and Other Delusions, From the New World, and Maoyu Mao Yusha: Archenemy & Hero.
Disc 5 has the textless credits, three openings and two endings.
I had completely forgotten why I had stopped watching the Book of Bantorra as it was streamed, and really only remembered the fantastic premise for the show, the story that drew me in initially. For it turns out that The Book of Bantorra is a fantastic, utterly engrossing idea, let down totally by the characters and the execution. It’s a show that could have been one of the finest anime of the last few years, if only they’d not made it so infuriatingly average.
The premise itself is fascinating. It’s a world where the dead become books, stone tablets that contain their entire life experience, and which can be ‘read’ by touching them. The Book of Bantorra develops a world and a set of mythologies around this concept that is really well thought out, beginning with the institution of the Library of Bantorra itself, created to find, collect and safeguard these books. In a world where information is power, you can imagine that someone’s life experience can confer a whole lot of power. And so it is that the Armed Librarians, people with super powers such as telepathy, illusion, prognostication, strength and speed, and with the weaponry and resources to back their powers up, use whatever means necessary to recover the books. At the same time there are people and organisations, who desire the books for themselves. And given that the books are a direct sign of some sort of afterlife, there is a religious element to both organisations.
The Book of Bantorra unfolds as a series of story arcs, and the opening story arc is perhaps the most impressive and memorable way that I can recall to start an anime series. It introduces the Armed Librarians, and their opponents, the Church of Drowning in God’s Grace, who believe that salvation and the afterlife can only be achieved by True Humans who devote their lives to fulfilling their desires. ‘True Humans’ implies lesser humans, and so we’re introduced to The Meat, cattle, brainwashed minions that are used as cannon fodder, or in this case suicide bombs against the Librarians. But one of these bombs, a man named Colio Tonies doesn’t explode as ordered. Instead he comes into possession of a fragment of a book, the life of one Shiron Byacornise. As he continues to search out further fragments of her life, he begins to break his brainwashing and regain his individuality. Now here’s the twist. When Shiron was alive, she had the ability to see into the future, and she had visions of Colio Tonies’ life. It becomes a two way interaction, a tragic love story across the centuries. I have to admit that the concept behind the opening story arc really appeals to me, and if The Book of Bantorra had continued in this vein, I would definitely rate it higher, despite its limited animation and weak characterisations.
The subsequent story arcs vary however, from the mundane to the action packed, although none of them match up to the ingenuity of the opening story. The thing about the Book of Bantorra is that it is telling one, large overreaching story, made up of these continuing story arcs. Another thing is that it’s canny about revealing its secrets. It’s created its tale like a set of Matryoshka dolls, those Russian nesting dolls. Each story arc that you watch reveals a secret that is the key to the next story arc, and so on and so forth. As you watch them all, you build up the overall picture. On top of that, it’s not exactly a linear, chronological narrative either, not from one arc to the next, or necessarily within an arc either. One such arc begins with the announcement that a significant character has died, and it’s by reading that character’s book that another learns what happened.
But such non linear narrative is reliant on the quality of the storytelling (which in this case is hampered by the simplicity of the animation), and also on the depth and richness of the characterisations, which in this anime simply doesn’t exist. The Book of Bantorra’s first problem is character overload. There are just so many Armed Librarians that it’s hard to keep track of them all, let alone develop any of them in a satisfactory manner. And with the nature of the story such that protagonists can flip to antagonists at the drop of a narrative beat, it makes it even harder to care about characters that are just presented as surface and cliché. Hamyuts Meseta, the prominent character in the show is presented as a sexy psychopath, and by the time the show does actually get around to scratching beneath the surface, it’s too little too late. The other characters get even less than that token lip service.
It’s a shame, as the ending of The Book of Bantorra is almost as good as the way that it starts. It manages to pull all the story threads, all the little revelations over its runtime into a worthy and satisfying conclusion. You just need the patience and thoughtfulness to put it all together. It’s just a pity that the journey to that conclusion is so ham-fisted and dispiriting. The Book of Bantorra goes down as yet one more anime that could have been. If only...