When we open No. 6, one of its residents is 12-year-old Sion, a prodigy and all around nice kid who can't help but take in a wounded, hunted boy his own age named Rat. This will have dire consequences for Sion and his single mom, and four years later, how Rat and Sion's lives intertwine will form the basis of this 11-episode series from anime studio Bones based on the manga from Atsuko Asano.
In part a dystopian sci-fi story, and in part yaoi romance, No. 6 struggles to manage both the plot threads and the emotional content of the overall storyline in its relatively brief running time. Besides the burgeoning, complicated romance between its two leads, the story is weighted down by a generic "evil scientists doing evil" subplot culminating in a prison break and shootouts before the series' abrupt end.
I wonder if the source material, over nine volumes with the likely benefit of something like 2,000 pages to tell its story had more room to breathe and explore the relationship between its heroes. Their dynamic is certainly interesting: Rat is the "you love, you lose" type, but he's deeply attracted to the simple decency and gentleness of Sion who wants to find another way besides violence to liberate the people of the dome. The series never makes a big deal of the fact that the central relationship is between two men, which is maybe the most admirable thing about No. 6 in spite of its flaws.
Rat's lived hard outside, splitting his time between performances as a beloved actor/actress for the other exiles and plotting acts of sabotage against No. 6. Sion is shocked at first to leave the relative comfort of the dome but his good heart allows him to make friends and some kind of life among the ruins. The interplay between these two characters deserved more time to grow into something interesting rather than get caught up in the tired, most shopworn science fiction story that their lives are trapped in (I'm still not sure what the villains' plan was, or that's to say, what they were hoping to accomplish).
Another curious thing: in the two decades or more that I've been watching anime across all genres, No. 6, this bombed-out love story between two 16-year-old boys, is one of the first time romantic leads expressed affection onscreen without going full-on explicit sex. Maybe it's just the nature of the genre (I confess, this is the first yaoi release I've watched), but it does give the relationship more weight when the two characters aren't seemingly trapped behind some barrier that keeps them from expressing their affection for one another.
The animation on balance is very polished with the typical split of super-fluid animation for the first episode giving way to slightly less dynamic action and fewer frames in subsequent episodes. The character designs are largely impressive, with a cast of distinctive characters (especially once the action gets outside of the dome), informed by their hardscrabble lifestyles.
Without the constraints of a generic sci-fi rebellion story (I've seen the same prison break from the evil facility play out maybe three times this year), I suspect No. 6 would have been something extraordinary. As it stands, the romance between Sion and Rat is a gentle, fascinating thing that's not really allowed to blossom.
Besides clean opening and closing animation, trailers, and the original Japanese promos, Sentai's disc also includes Japanese commentaries for every episode where the series director and animators discuss the production in a lively chat (helpfully subtitled). Mostly, they're in awe of their own work, but when a the occasional voice actor joins the cast, the discussion opens up into how they played the scene and provides some insight into their characters' motivations.
No. 6 is available now on DVD and Blu-ray from Section23 Films and Sentai Filmworks.