The anime studio BONES is barely 13 years old yet has become a very prominent force in anime today. From Angelic Layer to Fullmetal Alchemist (both TV series) to Darker Than Black to Eureka Seven and many other titles, a new BONES work is usually anticipated fairly highly.... But this is the Land of Obscusion, so let's instead look at BONES' very first solo work! Though the studio debuted in 1998 and helped out with productions such as Escaflowne: The Movie, it wasn't until late 2000 that the studio came out with a production of its very own: Karakuri Kiden Hiwou Senki. And, honestly, I fully believe that the only reason Bandai Entertainment licensed this show back in 2006, calling it Clockwork Fighters: Hiwou's War (a more or less accurate translation), is because they hoped that the BONES name would help out with sales. Either that, or BONES threw it in with another title as part of a package deal (much more likely). But regardless of why this show was licensed it must be said that Hiwou's War is, in fact, an enjoyable and pretty original take on a mech anime.
On July 8, 1853 Commodore Matthew Perry of the U.S. Navy came to Japan with four battleships, demanding that Japan open trade relations and end their era of isolation. The Japanese would call these the "Black Ships", and a year later Japan would open itself to the influences of modern civilization. It's been eight years since the Black Ships came and now both steam power as well as karakuri/clockwork creations have become very popular with the Japanese. In a small village lives a boy named Hiwou, who with his family and friends run a clockwork festival every year, showing off their great skills with these new creations. Hiwou's father, though, left his family a few years back with the hopes that he could return one day with a better life for his family. One day, though, a group calling themselves the Wind Gang, who use clockworks and steam in order to force Japan into a new Industrial Era, invade Hiwou's village, causing great destruction and even resulting in the death of Hiwou's mother. During the attack Hiwou and the others come across a giant clockwork that his father made called Homura, which has the ability to transform from a carriage-like device into a large, human-esque figure. Using Homura, Hiwou and the others head off in search of Hiwou's father, who they hope can help them take on the Wind Gang and maybe even show the citizens of Japan that peace is still what's most important.
First & foremost, Hiwou's War is, by far, a children's show. From the young main characters (the oldest members of the group are teenagers and the youngest is an actual baby) to the lack of harsh violence (there are battles, but none of them are bloody) to the overall message of "Don't fight! Let's celebrate life instead!", you can easily see that BONES aimed this series at young audiences. But at the same time Hiwou's War doesn't really dumb down anything to make it "safe" for the kids. For example, every episode starts off with a history lesson regarding some part of Japan's shift towards the Meiji Era (like the creation of the Shinsengumi) and some of this history involves people dying as well as general violent situations. Though these situations might be censored in a sense due to the lack of blood, it's nice to see that BONES wasn't trying to downplay what exactly happened in these moments. Also, in the last episode there is a semi-major character death in real-time, and that moment isn't handled in a "kiddy" way. Just because there's a lack of blood doesn't mean that the kids in Japan, or even kids in general, shouldn't be taught that these moments happened and that they can be violent in actuality. It also allows the show to be enjoyable even for older audiences, since it's still taking itself seriously enough. Likewise, the story only occasionally goes into very desperate and extremely-dangerous moments, but it's a nice mix of adventure and action with a overall seasoning of hope for a better future.
I also really like how BONES took the idea of clockworks and really expanded on it, to the point where Homura itself, as well as the rival giant clockwork Hiwou's Wind Gang-rival Arashi gets half-way through, actually seems semi-plausible. That's not to say that it still isn't exaggerated (they never really explain properly how clockwork technology allows a human to operate Homura in a fashion similar to a Mobile Fighter from G Gundam, for example), but the anime does take this concept very realistically. In every situation where Homura is used, the kids have to repeatedly swap out clockwork springs to keep it operational, and there are moments where they just don't have any springs that are wound up to use. Also, when they are not using Homura they keep it in carriage mode and pull it with them everywhere, resulting in them having to consider using alternate paths so as to not strain themselves from pulling Homura. If I have to categorize this anime in terms of mecha then I would have to say that is definitely more "real-robot" than "super-robot", and I really do appreciate that the anime went in that direction.
This semi-realistic style, along with the overall feel of hope of happiness, shouldn't be surprising, though, considering that Tetsuro Amino is the director. While his name may not be well-known, his works speak for themselves: the Break Blade movies, Macross 7, Lupin the 3rd: the Last Job, and Blue Comet SPT Layzner (though Ryosuke Takahashi was the chief director here) should say enough. The music is a nice mix of guitars, drums, and traditional Japanese music stylings from the era, but don't believe ANN's encyclopedia entry for who made it.The man behind the music, Hiroshi Yamaguchi, may have a similar to that of a screenwriter as well as the creator of the Gate Keepers series, but in reality this Yamaguchi is the leader of rock band Heatwave, with Hiwou's War being his sole musical work for anime. Yamaguchi also did the opening, "Hiwou no Theme", alongside his band, which is an addictive & awesome instrumental song with a little bit of background singing and really shows off how the music in the show generally is; I really can't properly explain how awesome this song is, so just listen to it yourself. The ending theme is "CROSSROAD" by Kumiko Endou and it's a really nice slow song which really keeps in the overall style of the anime. The multitude of clockwork creations, both the two giant mechs as well as the many Wind Gang machines, are designed by Junya Ishigaki, who did the mech designs for titles like multiple Gundam anime (X, Wing, Victory, Unicorn, and the upcoming AGE), Xenogears, Escaflowne, and many others, and all of them are fairly different from each other; Homura itself has a really cool look to it when it's fully transformed, in fact.
Clockwork Fighters: Hiwou's War is a children's anime through and through, but it handles itself in a very serious and positive way that it can be enjoyed by people of all ages. I really can't understand why Chris Beveridge (creator of AnimeOnDVD.com and now the head of The Fandom Post) hated this show while it was being released, as I found it thoroughly enjoyable and very entertaining. Yeah, the Odex-produced English dub sucks, but the Japanese version is performed very nicely. It's crazy to think that this is one of the creations of Shou/Noboru Aikawa, creator of Angel Cop! It's also crazy how the release of this show from Bandai went on. It was released across three two-disc singles, with there being a year-long break between volumes two and three due to production issues; the first volume was also pretty infamous for being available at your local FYE for a total of $1.99! Yeah, this show never got a complete collection, but unlike a series like Zegapain you can now buy the entire show for cheap. Right Stuf, in fact, is selling a bargain bundle of all three volumes for $24.99 (NOTE: This bundle is now compelty sold out). That is an excellent price for a show that, while understandably was not a big-seller, is still a fun and enjoyable historical adventure mixed in with a slight real-robot influence. If nothing else, I can honestly say that there isn't much, if anything, quite like Hiwou's War. It's aimed at kids but is also perfectly fine for older anime fans, and I can always appreciate that.