Home > Episode Reviews, First Impressions > RAINBOW Ep 1 – It’s Only Going to Get Worse

RAINBOW Ep 1 – It’s Only Going to Get Worse

This must be the season for historical dramas, because right after Senkou no Night Raid comes RAINBOW, a prison drama about seven teenagers in a boys’ detention facility in 1955.

Now, 1955 was not a good time to be a troubled teenager in Japan. It had only been ten years since the entire country was devastated by fighting a losing war, and while reconstruction had begun, the country was nowhere near the industrial boom of the 1970s that would make Japan a global economic powerhouse. Things were grim and bleak all around.

But not as grim and bleak as they are in RAINBOW. The first scene with our heroes has them, hooded, on a public bus en route to the prison. A little girl accidentally drops her beloved doll into the aisle, so one of the hooded boys bends down to pick it up. When he tries to give it back to her, the girl starts bawling. After the prisoners get off the bus, she throws the doll out the window into the mud. Then, the boy is beaten by the guards. In the rain.

And that’s the second happiest moment in the show.

RAINBOW makes its aim very clear from the beginning: to be as emotionally wrenching as humanly possible. And it does it with tons of style. The art captures the grim setting with a ton of flair and style; the character design has a refreshingly old school feel to it, with lots of muscle-bound good guys with exaggerated facial features and spiky hair. Some of the characters do look a little goofy, but they all look like teenagers who have been chewed out and spit up by the worst the world has to offer.

Our Heroes

And the music is top-notch. You might not like the screamy hardcore opener, but it fits the mood and overall teen angst of the show perfectly. The rest of the score is unequivocally great, with plenty of moody distorted guitars that come in whenever bad stuff is happening.

That’s not to say bad stuff is ever not happening. Like I said, RAINBOW lays the misery on thick. I mean, as soon as they get off the bus, the kindly old doctor points out some hand and foot prints on the ground, and tells them to bend over. He then proceeds to violate them with a glass rod in the guise of an “inspection”. And he’s the most likable of the prison staff!

I think 'Good Cop, Bad Cop' only works when the Good Cop doesn't rape the prisoners with a glass rod

The head guard, as expected, is a sadistic, twisted man who seems to get off on beating the prisoners constantly. Or, when he’s tired of that, getting them to beat up each other.

The boys are led into their cell, where they find a young man, looking out the window. After he gives them some lip, they attack him, and he of course beats the snot out of all of them. Mind you, they would have had a fighting chance if they hadn’t rushed him one by one, Bruce Lee-style.

Guess whether or not he's a good guy?

See, for all the grim grimness, RAINBOW has the soul of boy’s action show, like Bleach or Dragonball Z. It’s the kind of show where anybody can do anything, as long has they have the willpower, and scream at the top of their lungs to summoning up the courage to do it. And the tall, dark stranger always wins against the prideful youngsters, or else they wouldn’t learn to respect him.

As the stranger stands victorious above them, the head guard marches in and proceeds to cane him for fighting. He’s bruised, broken and bloody, lying on the floor of the cell. Then the guard turns on the newcomers and tries to get them to beat the stranger while he’s down. They can’t, either frozen by terror or unwilling to turn on their own. So he raises his stick against them. With his last ounce of strength, the stranger raises up and holds out his hand. “Don’t,” he says, “they didn’t do anything.”

He doesn't even need to make contact; the sheer force of his punch can knock him across the room

If RAINBOW was going to be truly grim, the guard would do it anyway. Instead, the doctor comes and takes him away, because this is a heroic show, damn it, and having the boys beaten anyway after the stranger’s noble attempt to save them would just be too dark. Like any such show, RAINBOW is a show about its protagonists becoming heroes by overcoming adversity, it’s just that this in this case the adversity is the most extreme and brutal scenarios the author could imagine. You see, the stranger is going to become their mentor, and he’s going to teach them how to be men in this bleak hellhole. Their own strength and love for their comrades are going to help them survive, although I think the stranger will end up making a heroic sacrifice at the very end to make sure they get out on their own strength. Important Life Lessons will be learned, and all sorts of noble and manly passions will rise up in both viewers and protagonists. It will all be very touching.

After he wakes up, the stranger remembers that one of the boys gave him a cigarette to try to get him to stop beating the snot out of him. So he uses the kid with glasses’s one defining characteristic to light the thing up, smokes for a while, then shares it with the other boys. How touching! How noble! Then they notice the sun has come up, and it fills them with brotherly love and gives them hope for the future. The narration tells us the boys are impressed by the stranger’s maturity, cementing his status as mentor. Roll credits.

The art style is great

I’m sorry to be so cynical about this, but I’m a bit turned off by the whole thing. The opposition is so cartoonishly evil, the situation so ridiculously dire and the hero so noble and instantly self-sacrificing that it just feels fake.

That’s not to say that situations like this have never occurred, but there’s usually at least a hint of a gray area. The dark background is supposed to make the passions it stirs up all the more intense, but it just makes the contrast between good and evil more stark.

There’s nothing subtle about RAINBOW, and there doesn’t have to be. If you like to see people horrifically beaten and be heroically noble about the whole affair, you are going to love the crap out of this show. It sets the tone it wants early, and keeps riding it perfectly through to the end. It knows exactly what it wants to be, and where it’s going. It’s just a little too over the top for me. I’m going to stick with the show with cat girls, conniving wealthy otaku and maids, instead.

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