Picture an alternate history early 20th century world. In this world, people are turned into a stone tablet — a book — when they die, and just by touching the tablet you can access their memories of their life. The library of Bantorra, set up by the god of the past himself, is the place where all the books are kept, and the Armed Librarians are in charge of guarding and policing the use of these books. Hamyuts Meseta, the Acting Director of the library, leads the Armed Librarians against the cult-like organization called the Shindeki Church, which dabbles in all kinds of dirty work, and is fixated on killing Hamyuts Meseta, as she is the biggest thorn in their side. The Church has three classes of “members”. First are the True Men, the highest rank in the Church whose one goal is to attain true happiness, in order to become books worthy of reaching Heaven. Under them serve the Mock Men: henchmen to the True Men whose sole purpose is to serve them. And lastly the Meats, brainwashed masses used as weapons with bombs implanted in their chest or literal meat shields, kept in deplorable conditions and treated like cattle.
Why did I just drop this paragraph-long exposition dump? Well, that’s because the series certainly doesn’t. Thank me later.
Now that the basic backstory is out of the way we can jump into the review bits. The series just throws you into the deep end, in the middle of an operation being conducted by the Librarians in the first episode. You have no idea what is going on, or even who’s the MC. In the first arc you have no idea what’s going on. New people appear, some get killed, there are two separate timelines to keep track of: basically you’d better pay full attention and be patient with the story, or only the gods can help you.
The Book of Bantorra, uses a storytelling technique called Alzheimer's™ (Pretentious Movie Reviews et al). The stories jump around from place to place and different times, and book readings add another layer of complexity on the ‘wtf is going on’ lasagna, at least in the beginning. The one thing I like about Bantorra is that my attention to detail (strictly with respect to the writing and not visuals; I'll come to that later) is rewarded. Major plot points are followed upon, although in a chaotic manner, and everything is made clear...eventually...you know, by the end of the hecking anime! Still for whatever it’s worth, the storyline is the highlight of the anime. The story is a high fantasy of epic scale and in all is pretty interesting, but does not translate well from the novels. The story also uses its unique mechanics to add plotlines which would not be possible in any other anime.
The ensemble cast has all the traditional character roles filled. Hamyuts the powerful, shoot first ask questions later type; Mattalast the sly playboy with skillz; Mirepoch the dutiful subordinate; Volken the righteous individual; Ireia the battle maid (gotta love those!) and many more! The cast is surprisingly wide and many of the characters get copious amounts of development. Although all arcs except the first are basically character arcs for different characters, it doesn’t feel enough, as the main character herself (Hamyuts) lacks any real development for most of the series.
The visuals of the anime are bad. Not because it’s old, well, not just because it’s old (it’s not that old). The animation and framerate is good enough. The colour palette is decent for the time, and setting appropriate. But the details are inconsistent. Bruises appear and disappear, facial features go missing sometimes and some of the fights look meh. Stuff like this really irritated me, because the story has great details in contrast.
Also, the native 480p hasn’t been upscaled well, even in the BluRay version. I watched it at 720p and it was bad, with white haze in some dark scenes and prominent colour banding at some places. Especially since I watched Cowboy Bebop in 1080p and it was BEAUTIFUL. I know it’s not fair to compare them, but just had to point it out.
The audio was okay. Decent voice acting. The background score was well suited to the theme and voice actors did a good job.
In all, I feel the anime had a great storyline, and now I really wanna read the light novels. The series could succeed with a reboot. The director Toshiya Shinohara also directed Nagi no Asukara, so clearly he can make good stuff when he wants to. In the wake of JoJo and Fire Force, David Production has a larger following (and budget) now, and with new animation techniques and a longer run covering more from the books, a reboot could be really good.
Decent but not outstanding
A good storyline and unique mechanics, but needs patience.
Bigger casts need more time.
A really well used mechanic of the ‘books’.
A hard sell but a good one once you get interested in it.