You'd be forgiven if you were to merely glance at a picture of Bakuon!!, and then shrug it off as K-On! with motorcycles. The first two episodes do give off that vibe, with cute girls acting cute while on name-brand bikes. However viewers who are patient with the series will be rewarded with a show that's as funny as it is heartfelt.
Based on the manga series by Mimana Orimoto Bakuon!! focuses on Hane Sakura (Reina Ueda), who becomes awestruck by fellow student Onsa Amano (Yumi Uchiyama) riding to class on her motorcycle. Inspired by her moves Hane decides to get her motorcycle license, and along with fellow students Rin Suzunoki (Nao Tōyama), Hijiri Minowa (Rikako Yamaguchi), and the mysterious Stig-like Raimu Kawasaki form a motorcycle club at their school.
Initially the pacing of this anime was rather slow, with a lot of focus on both Hane and Rin earning their motorcycle license. It takes its time with the two newcomers as they learn the basics and fundamentals of getting behind the handlebars and staying focused on the road. It's a tad bit of dryness, but then again getting your license isn't supposed to be filled with heart-pounding excitement (unless you wish to fail an exam, that is). The real meat of the show begins to cook once the group is formed and they take on their first road trip.
After Hane picks out a Honda CB400SF as her motorcycle of choice the girls plan a trip to Hokkaido to take on the open road. This is where the Bakuon!! takes a two-episode adventure that's basically a moé-fied Easy Rider. Hane finds herself, literally rides with God, and builds a sturdy friendship with Onsa and the rest of the crew. It's also the moment where the show unveils its comedic chops, with a hilarious flashback to why Rin has a Suzuki emblem branded on her butt.
And yes, there can be a little fan-service that may raise an eyebrow or two in the show. Episode Five has the ladies washing their bikes, with Hane taking on a very promiscuous approach to caring for her Honda. It's rather perverted, but it's nothing people haven't seen in PG-13 comedies. There's also quite a lot of product placement for Honda, Suzuki, Yamaha, and Kawasaki, which -- to be fair -- it's nice that the series doesn't favor one brand over another and instead showcases what each kind of bike is capable of. (At least they didn't go the usual route and have off-name-branded motorcycles in lieu of the real deals.)
Animation-wise Bakuon!! can be rather hit-or-miss. Whenever the girls are out riding you cannot help but awe at the scenery that whirls past them. However once Hane and the rest of the club find themselves in a calming moment you can see where TMS Entertainment cut some corners with some strange character designs and color schemes. It doesn't reach distracting levels, but it does leave you wondering how close to crunch time these episodes were completed before they aired.
As for the voice acting I do rather enjoy Ueda's performance of Hane, who always looks eager to jump into another adventure and lets almost nothing get in the way of her optimism. As the twin-tailed Suzuki-loving Rin, Tōyama balances out a prideful attitude with that of a tsundere, bringing forth a humorous portrayal that's almost always entertaining. It takes awhile for Yamaguchi to shine as Hijiri, but she certainly takes the cake as the rich socialite when it comes time for her to learn how to ride a motorcycle without her butler around. The only person who's role hasn't really hit its mark quite yet is Uchiyama, whose Onsa doesn't sound as fleshed out as the rest of the cast.
Composer Ryosuke Nakanishi (The Devil is a Part-Timer, Kuroko's Basketball) knows how to create an exciting score when the bike club rides out on either a road trip or a school demonstration. There are no bike-riding anthems in the vein of Steppenwolf or Roger McGuinn, but it does capture the fun and fancy-free mentality the girls show when it comes time to ride. Opening theme "FEELｘALIVE" by Sayaka Sasaki does have its share of rider's high moments, but it doesn't quite get the full emotion of putting that pedal to the metal. The same can be said about the closing song "Bon! Bon! Ride On!" by the main cast, and while it has the spirit of the ride in tow it lacks the attitude.
Bakuon!! may not be a badass series about girls riding out towards the freedom of the highway, but entertainment-wise it's a pretty fun anime to watch. While it does take a couple episodes before the wheels really start turning, what it delivers later on is certainly worth soldiering through the drier parts of the series. Whether you're a Honda person, a Suzuki lover, a Kawasaki aficionado, or a Yamaha expert there is a fair amount of humor and enjoyment you'll discover on the road paved by Bakuon!!
Final Grade (not an average):