By Deanna Nguyen
When it comes to starting things off with a bang, APPARE-RANMAN! does just that and more.
P.A.Works’ latest project puts the pedal to the metal with auto racing in the American West through a band of diverse characters with colorful personalities and expert designs to match.
And if you’re a pop culture or history buff, you’re likely to find what might be influences from the likes of classic entertainment like Wacky Races or Cannonball Run. Director Masakazu Hishimoto (Haruchika, Soul Eater Not!) shared in an interview that he wanted the story to take place in America, but that the anime is by no means rooted in realism.
While we see hints of Western entertainment, the steampunk subgenre and a familiar historical setting, these influences are neither explicit nor confirmed. So, buckle up and get ready as we take a closer look at APPARE-RANMAN! and what we think might have inspired this unique anime!
Wacky Races (1968)
One of the most prominent pop culture influences that may have a through-line in APPARE-RANMAN! is the classic Hanna-Barbera cartoon franchise, Wacky Races.
The original 1968 television series introduced its auto racing concept through unconventional car designs (not always a four-wheel vehicle) and plenty of wild plot twists. APPARE-RANMAN! thrives off of its bombastic cars, as seen in the opening sequence of the first episode. It’s clear from the jump that there’s an incredible amount of detail in each vehicle, matching its driver’s personality, just like in the aforementioned cartoon series.
In Episode 2, we see Appare and Kosame participate in their first race and Appare builds a vessel that looks more like a tractor than a racecar. As the exhibition nears its climax, Appare dispatches Kosame from the vessel by projecting him (via rocket) toward the finish line.
The two win, and it becomes clear that Appare will have no issues adding some wacky transformations to his creations. Later in the series, Appare reengineers his vehicle into a boat, proving how resourceful he can be. It’s the charm of Wacky Races taken to the next level, just with less snickering from a cartoon dog!
The Cannonball Run (1981)
The Cannonball Run Challenge, which runs from New York to Los Angeles, was popularized by the 1981 film The Cannonball Run. The movie propelled the dangerous, real-life 1979 cross-country event into a pop culture touchstone that embodies the snazziness of the early ‘80s.
Most notable about the film is its all-star ensemble cast, including Burt Reynolds, Farrah Fawcett, Sammy Davis Jr., Jackie Chan and Michael Hui—to name just a few.
The inclusion of non-Caucasian actors is similar to APPARE-RANMAN!’s diverse cast of characters. Appare and Kosame are Japanese, but we also meet Hototo, who is Native American, Jing Xialian, who is Chinese-American, Al Lyon, who is European and TJ, who is African-American.
Not to mention, both properties feature an American cross-country race with high stakes, high speed and plenty of comedic relief!
On the literary side of things, there’s steampunk.
APPARE-RANMAN! takes place during the late 19th century, better known as the Second Industrial Revolution. Appare’s love for engineering and steam-powered machinery is quick to remind us of many a retro-futuristic novel and the steampunk inventions that run throughout them.
Early in the series, Appare builds a steam pseudo-Segway, which can be considered a type of vehicle, but certainly not one suitable for racing. Even the android-like doll that greets Kosame in Episode 1 feels direct from a steampunk novel.
It’s notable that Appare’s inventions are rooted in mobility, though, and each one progresses until he builds his first real racing vehicle. In addition, Japanese steampunk is its own genre with anime like Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress and Steamboy all playing off of the same theme.
The American Frontier
Historically speaking, APPARE-RANMAN!’s setting is similar to the American Frontier (1607-1920), which overlapped with the Second Industrial Revolution (1870-1914). In a later episode, a character who seems to be Thomas Edison, known as America’s greatest inventor, even makes a cameo appearance.
The term “Wild West” stems from the Frontier, and what comes to mind upon hearing or reading it? Cowboys, outlaws, ghost towns and train robberies.
Characters Dylan G. Oldin and TJ were once part of the legendary “Thousand Three” outlaws, robbing and running from the law. Hototo’s quest for revenge leads to many encounters with gangs of Gil the Butcher’s Snakes before finally meeting the leader of the Thousand Three himself.
But even with all of the adrenaline and excitement that comes from the race and these character backstories, APPARE-RANMAN! strikes us as a story of the United States’ formative years as well.
On the note of Hototo’s backstory, he’s searching for a man with a snake tattoo resembling ouroboros. The ancient symbol of a serpent eating its tail not only appears in ancient Egyptian iconography and Greek magical tradition, but also in pop culture around the world.
Ouroboros appears in Fullmetal Alchemist and is depicted as an evil symbol, which is also the case in APPARE-RANMAN! Instead of dealing with a cult, Appare and the crew confront a murderous outlaw and gang leader, Gil the Butcher. Rather than tattooing ouroboros on his body like his Snakes, Gil reveals the symbol from his right eye. Whether or not Gil’s eye holds any magical properties or is just a villainous feature remains a mystery.
With so many influences from the Wild West infused into APPARE-RANMAN!, it’s hard not to grow fond of a show that is almost like an alternate telling of Wild Western culture.
Whether this list piqued your interest or you’re just looking for an expertly-designed, high stakes adventure anime, it’s time to give APPARE-RANMAN! a spot on your watch list!