I’ve written about motorcycle related Japanese anime before, it’s a whole sub genre of media from a country that is a motorcycle producing superpower with its own unique moto-culture. You name the anime and there is probably a rider on the team who works in motorcycles somehow. But there is one motorcycle anime where bikes aren’t worked in, they’re the main subject. Bakuon!! tells the story of a group of high school girls who meet over a shared love of the sport.
Bakuon is Japanese onomatopoeia for the roar of a motorcycle’s exhaust (the Japanese have some pretty funny word sounds). In the opening of the show each of the main characters bond over their shared love of riding. The experienced riders mentor the younger ones as they get their licenses and begin riding together, but don’t assume this is a why so serious coming of age story. Bakuon!! is edgy and laugh out loud funny. Even non-riders would find this an accessible and funny thing to watch, but it’ll challenge you. Bakuon!! is shamelessly Japanese. If you’re unfamiliar with Japanese humour, which can feel very foreign to gaijin, this show might seem offensive. All I can suggest is to maybe stow your Western superiority complex away and see if you can wrap your head around it.
Hane Chan is the character you follow into the story. She’s not really the main character, it’s an ensemble, but as a new rider trying to get her license you get to discover the joy of riding with her. She also tends to explain to outsiders what craziness is going on in the group. Her initial interest is sparked by her first day trying to ride her bicycle up the hill to her new school, and her actual interest in motorcycles is minimal, until she experiences riding for the first time:
How edgy is the humour? At the riding school where Hane is getting her license she begins a conversation with the bike they lend her (as you do) who speaks to her with an older woman’s voice. At one point Hane asks why the bike has such a masculine name when it has a woman’s voice. The bike tells her that because it’s a practice bike at the academy it has had all the go-faster technology removed from it, so it was castrated. When Hane discovers she’s been riding a trans-gendered bike she just nods and goes about her day, as you do. You might find this foreign in a Western mindset, but the lack of judgement around gender is refreshing.
An even edgier moment happens when the girls take a long trip up to Hokkaido. When they reach the end of Japan they come across one of the teachers from their school who is attempting to commit suicide by jumping into the ocean because she’s just broken up with another boyfriend. She failed comedically (the point isn’t a cliff and she falls onto rocks five feet below). The girls take her back to their hotel where the teacher proceeds to get drunk and attempt to molest them. At this point your appropriateness meter is probably pegged, but, as they do in all circumstances, the girls back each other up and get out of the situation themselves. After that moment of girl-power the show signs off with them cleaning their bikes with their swim suits on. Trying to keep up with the twists and turns in Bakuon!! is part of the challenge.
The humour in the show is unrelenting. Each of the girls is smitten by a specific Japanese manufacturer (though Ducati sneaks in there too, but not without a lot of ribbing), and they’re constantly giving each other a hard time over it. At another point Suzunoki Rin, who tells a dramatic backstory about her accident prone father, has to explain how she has a Suzuki brand on her butt. Physical humour operates on a different plane in Japanese culture.
In another episode Onsa, the Yamaha or nothing rider accidentally licks Rin’s drool (they both fall asleep on a train – it happens) and catches a Suzuki germ that makes her only like Suzukis. This kind of brand fixation is a constant source of material in the show. The only time it gets turned up even higher is when they make any reference to non-Japanese brands, who are all evidently incapable of making something that won’t blow up on you regularly. Considering the hard time they give each other, the shots at other manufacturers (like my beloved Triumph) comes across as funny rather than nasty. If you’re ever feeling hard done by when watching the show, at least you’re not a bicyclist. They’re relentless with the Tour de France types.
If you like motorcycles you’ll love Bakuon!! If you like anime you’ll enjoy this show for its humour and a style that takes some interesting risks, like showing most men in the show without a face. Yes, it can get edgy, but that tends to be a Western cultural dissonance thing more than any negative intent by the show. The girls all play off each other for maximum comedic effect and the writing is willing to take unexpected turns to chase down a laugh, as it should.
As an anime with motorcycles but also about motorcycles, Bakuon!! offers you a deep dive into Japanese assumptions around riding that anyone on two wheels would find enlightening. As a Japanese school girl anime it also breaks a lot of stereotypes. A group of girls who ride makes this a feminist statement. The girls are very self sufficient and never look to men or even adults for solutions. The most skilled rider in the show is the untouchable club sempai (mentor) Raimu Kawasaki who always wears her helmet and never speaks, Top Gear Stig style. At one point she lifts up her big Ninja effortlessly and frequently performs riding stunts that defy belief. She was sitting in the school clubhouse alone when the girls show up and was evidently in the club when the school’s current principal was at the school, she might not even be human! I can’t help but feel that she’s presenting some autistic tendencies, further stretching the show’s reach.
That Bakuon!! is also a comedy busts another malecentric stereotype. If you can get your Japanese school girl mindset on (and everyone should), this’ll amuse and entertain. You should give it a watch.
You can watch Bakuon!! on Crunchyroll online.