What’s it about? In late-1800s Los Angeles, an enormous race filled with fantastical vehicles is about to kick off. But before that, we rewind one year to witness upright young swordsman Kosame’s meeting with the flighty genius inventor Appare, and how the two of them ended up swept out to sea in a homemade steamship.
Ah, this takes me back in the best way. Appare-Ranman’s gleeful steampunk weirdness, with its Wacky Races car designs and the “well, that escalated quickly” action scenes, feels similar to the lighter episodes of Trigun. More than just about any premiere this season, this show is goofy, bouncy fun.
It helps that while the two leads are loosely cut from the “blunt genius and the everyman who cleans up after him” cloth, Ranman is quick to begin breaking down the walls between them by implying that much of Appare’s haughty demeanor is due to everyone around him dismissing his love for invention.
The minute others show an interest in his passion, we see him begin to open up and happily lend his expertise. The writing also isn’t shy about making both Kosame and Appare the butt of the joke now and then. All of this allayed my fears that I’d be forced to sit through more Moffat-style fawning over a character who spends his every moment on screen being a cruel, dismissive jackass.
The female characters we spend the bulk of this episode with are Kosame and Appare’s sidelined sisters, who we may or may not ever see again, but there do seem to be at least three prominent women in the opening scene, two of whom are drivers. Which… leads somewhat into the primary thing viewers will want to be wary of. We only briefly meet the other racers before flashing back to that origin story, and the cast includes a fair bit of racial diversity.
Unfortunately, the character designs also include a fair bit of broad stereotyping that’s obvious even from the brief introduction: an Indigenous character throwing tomahawks in the opening, a Chinese character doing martial arts, and so on.
It’s possible that these characters will become more rounded as they get more screen time—if so, it’ll be up to folks affected by those representation issues to decide whether the additional characterization balances out the stereotypes. But it is something to be aware of, especially in a show that’s setting itself up for fairly broad comedy with an emphasis on action.
Still, a cross-country road trip with an unusual historical setting? An action series that isn’t steadfastly insisting that I take it Very Seriously, Or Else? The image of Appare driving a steampunk Segway in the opening theme? That’s enough for me to give this one a three-episode test drive.