P.A. Works’ original anime Appare-Ranman is colorful, bursting with creativity, and absolutely deserves more attention than it got. In the late 1800s, passionate but socially awkward teen genius Appare accidentally strands himself and his strait-laced samurai chaperone Kosame across the sea in California, where the very first Trans-America Wild Race is about to begin. Hoping to use the prize money to return home, they build an experimental car and join the race along with several more eclectic characters who will become either their best friends or their worst enemies as they speed across the Wild West.
Many people who were excited about this anime in the spring forgot about it after a pandemic-induced hiatus pushed most of its episodes into Summer 2020, but if you’re one of them, we urge you to give it another shot. This love letter to classic Westerns is just so much fun to watch that it would be a shame to let it slip through the sands of time.
Great Worldbuilding and Characters
At first glance, Appare-Ranman feels like a hasty amalgamation of previously successful works: Dr. Stone, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Steel Ball Run, the Hanna Barbera cartoon Wacky Races, random Western and steampunk references... but it actually uses those influences to create a rich and believable world all its own. Kosame and Appare represent the clashing “old vs new” lifestyles of the early Meiji era, while the American characters echo that theme with their differing interpretations of who deserves power and influence in the lawless Wild West. Even the costumes reflect dueling ideals, with period-accurate pieces like Kosame’s kimono and Xia Lian’s Victorian-style boots existing alongside modern clothing like Appare’s skinny overalls and the rest of Xia Lian’s outfit. Even small cultural details add a lot to the worldbuilding – the cars look more 1940s in design than late 1800s because fierce competition between three major motor companies caused auto technology to skyrocket, and the hot spring scene shows the American and Japanese characters’ very different opinions of what should be worn (or not worn) in a public bath.
The characters are also very well developed, especially for such a short series. Appare, in particular, shows a much greater emotional range than his closest inspiration – Senku from Dr. Stone – ever has, and the genuine friendships that form between the racers help them work off of each other’s strengths in the Magnificent Seven style finale. Even unusual pairings like Dylan and TJ or Kosame and Hototo make perfect sense because of how their life experiences and values interconnect.
It Really Should’ve Been Longer
That said, Appare-Ranman would’ve hugely benefitted from a second cour or season. The racing scenes are fantastic, but there just aren’t enough of them for an anime that focuses on something called the Trans-America Wild Race. It seems like P.A. Works focused heavily on worldbuilding and characterization, which they’re obviously very good at, but the 13-episode runtime meant that they only had a few chances to pay that off with emotionally charged car chases and fights. If they’d had more episodes to work with, we could’ve gotten more backstory for the Thousand Three, more action scenes, and a less rushed ending.
Appare-Ranman is a joyful and refreshingly unique anime that carved out a niche for itself, despite the pandemic-related setbacks that stood in its way. If you haven’t given it a chance yet, it’s great for binge-watching! Let us know what you think in the comments, and thanks so much for reading!