Title: Rainbow: Nisha Rokubo no Shichinin
Company: Madhouse Studios
Format: 26 episodes
Dates: 06 April 2010 – 28 Sept 2010
Synopsis: It’s 1955. The war ended 10 years ago but Japan is still recovering and many young men are finding it hard to find their place in this new society. Seven teenagers accused of crimes find themselves sharing a cell at a disciplinary school that seems more like a prison. Worse, they are tyrannized by some of the school’s staff, suffering much violence at their hands. To get through it and rebuild their lives they only have each other for support, and they quickly form a bond that they will carry with them into adulthood.
The seven cell-mates: Diverse, likeable and sympathetic.
Historical context: Shows abuse, poverty and violence, but doesn’t achieve the realism it claims.
Drama: Overdone such that it stunts the emotional impact.
Second half: Much better than the first.
Each episode of Rainbow begins with a warning that some scenes are explicit and, certainly, the series does not shy away from showing both physical and sexual violence. This is necessary, the creators say, to demonstrate the brutality of post-war Japan. From the perspective of the characters, this is a time of great poverty where corruption and a lack of opportunities made it difficult to build a life for oneself. The source manga was written by a man who was himself just eighteen in 1955. The story in Rainbow, however, struggles to straddle the line between realism and artificiality.
It’s hard not to sympathize with Rainbow’s cast. These boys come from broken families and suffered through poverty and abuse. One is an atomic bomb survivor, another was abandoned at an orphanage by his own mother. By the time they arrive at the disciplinary school, they have already been through a lot. Once there, things only get worse and each character deals with his struggles in his own way, whether withdrawing, fighting, plotting or enduring. Despite the mistreatment they suffer, they stick together thanks to the leadership of the oldest boy, nicknamed An-chan, who inspires them to be better than their situations. This hope and friendship forms the emotional core of the series, though there are perhaps a few more speeches than necessary to make the point clear.
Ironically, where Rainbow suffers is that it’s too black and white. In a story of how society has forced so many into the fringes, the series relies on two villains to provide the conflict in the first arc. These characters are so cartoonishly evil that one can tell just from the character designs. Instead of an exploration of how these youth were oppressed by society as a whole, it becomes a tale of survival at the hands of specific wrongdoers. The violence, then, while brutal, feels as exaggerated as the villains perpetuating it. This establishing arc introduces the main cast and their circumstances but feels like it is trying too hard to be shocking or moving and often drifts into the melodramatic.
Adding to this is the show’s tendency to freeze-frame shots with narration explaining what the character is feeling or thinking. These moments try to convey a depth and emotion that often feels unearned and intrusive. It seems the story is being presented as more penetrating and insightful than it really is.
The series improves dramatically in the second half, however. After a major event occurs and the boys leave the school, the stage is set and the real story begins. The boys carry the lessons they learned in the disciplinary school into their young adult lives, finding jobs, building independence and falling in love. Here, each character gets a focus and we see how they learn from and adapt to the changing society. Some pseudo-villains still appear, but overall the challenges the cast face are more relatable. The dynamics between the boys established in the first arc really develop as their friendship is tested and strengthened by their new experiences. The expanded story also provides more room to explore the experiences of women. The story begun here is further explored in the manga, though the anime’s ending is satisfying and the series feels complete on its own.
Rainbow is a story of friendship in hard times where violence is the norm and nothing comes easy. The series claims to aim for realism but ultimately feels like the fiction it is. The engaging cast of characters and positive spirit of the show are hampered by the overly intense drama, lack of subtlety and attempts at depth that just aren’t there, depriving the show of much emotional weight.
The Rating: 6
Reviewed by: Kaikyaku