Rainbow: Nisha Rokubo no Shichinin is a historical drama written by Abe George. The anime adaptation was handled by Madhouse with the adaptation writing handled by Takayashiki Hideo. It hasn’t been that long since I watched a Madhouse production, with April’s look at One Outs being the last. This is an anime I’ve never really heard anything about and, given that Madhouse’s quality varies significantly, I can’t begin to predict how this might rate. We’ll just have to take a look and see.
The narrative opens with six men, faces obscured by hoods, being taken on a bus ride with an armed guard. They arrive at a reform school where they’re going to be kept locked up for a couple years. They’re locked in a cell with another boy named Sakuragi, who they quickly grow to respect. The boys get along, but all is not well. The Reform school has some disturbing secrets that they’re going to have to either overcome or learn to survive in spite of.
I’ll start with the negative aspect. Yes, that is negative singular. The story has a narrator. That isn’t bad in and of itself, but the problem lies in the execution. Mainly, the narrator doesn’t really do anything. You’re probably expecting me to give the old “show don’t tell” line, but the series does both. The narrator will tell you how a character is feeling after the narrative itself has made that information clear. She’ll also summarise plot points that the narrative has either just covered or is about to. As such, the narrator just ends up being redundant and pointless.
One thing I really appreciate about Rainbow is the handling of dark subject matter. It’s all too common for this kind of content to be used for cheap shock value, angst or in an otherwise superficial way by a writer trying to be “mature and edgy” while possessing less maturity than your average twelve year old. In this series, the dark content is uncomfortable and can be very hard to watch because it’s handled so well. The series deals with a realistic portrayal of the very worst of humanity and with how to respond to it. I also like that the characters don’t find easy resolutions. Instead, they deal with these situations as best as they can and, sometimes, they fail in spite of it. When a new problem comes up you never know if the resolution is going to be tragic, bittersweet, or triumphant but you can count on it having verisimilitude. The uncertainty does help the story stay compelling. I also like the way the narrative flows. It progresses very naturally from one situation to the next while giving you ample time to adjust and wind down before entering into the next conflict.
The characters in this are superlative. The main characters are all good people, but far from perfect. They falter. They make mistakes and they do things that they shouldn’t. Their mistakes and problems all make sense for their characters, which makes the conflicts resulting from them feel very natural. They’re complex characters who develop and grow throughout the series. It never feels forced nor contrived. Even the antagonists feel like actual people. Terrible people mind you, but not exaggeratedly evil or cartoonish. The character interactions are spectacular. The seven main protagonists have a really strong camaraderie dynamic and they play off of each other very strongly.
I do like that the main characters never cross the moral line. They do some things that are illegal, but it’s always understandable. Sometimes, it’s even the right thing to do. At their very worst, their actions are well intentioned but misguided which does happen to good, moral people quite frequently.
The art is very good with some nice details and memorable character designs. The creepy scenes with dark content are animated in a way that highlights how horrible what’s happening is. The biggest problem with it is the strange coloured effect they like to use during freeze frames. It would work well if they used it rarely for emphasis, but it pops up far too much for it to work in that capacity. Consequently, it quickly starts to feel like a measure to save on the animation budget instead of like an aspect that’s doing something.
The vocal cast is stellar. Our seven protagonists are played by Paku Romi, Koyama Rikiya, Fujiwara Keiji, Kuroda Takaya, Hasome Tatsuya, Oguri Shun & Waki Tomohiro. The last three of whom I have not heard in much, if anything, aside from this. All of them do deliver very strong performances. As do the minor and secondary characters. This is also one of the few times I’ve seen an anime where they have American characters speak English with an American accent. Usually when you have characters who are supposedly foreign they still have pronounced Japanese accents.
The music is pretty good. Most of the time it’s barely noticeable, fading into the background. The big exceptions are moments that are quiet otherwise and the scenes where Jou sings. The music does work well for those moments.
Rainbow does touch on homosexuality, primarily with one of the antagonists who does not buy into the idea of consent. You could probably read it into some of the relationships among the main seven as well, but I really see their dynamics as more of a strong camaraderie. So, the ho-yay factor is a 3/10.
Rainbow: Nisha Rokubo no Shichinin is an excellent series. It’s a complex work that handles dark content maturely, which is sadly rare with dark works. The cast is excellent, both in terms of characters and vocally. The biggest problem with the series is the pointless narrator and it’s really not a huge issue. That being said, it does have some very chilling depictions of sexual abuse and violence. If that’s going to be triggering or hugely upsetting for you, you’re probably going to want to steer clear. My final rating is going to be a 9/10. Next week, get your popcorn ready. It’s time for films.