Reviews of yesteryear: Btooom

And we’re back to Madhouse. That anime company that I seem to have so many ups and downs with. Which makes it really difficult to predict what I’m going to think of their works without watching them. Although I suppose that’s only natural given how prolific they are. This is Btooom! an anime based on a manga by Inoue Jun’ya. One thing worth noting is that the anime has a dozen episodes while the manga is ongoing. Which indicates that there may be another season, or that the anime stops at a certain point in the manga and isn’t going to go further or possibly that the anime tells a much shorter story. Let’s examine Btooom! and find out which it is.

The story follows a young man named Sakamoto Ryouta, a neet who finds himself strapped to a parachute on an island with no memory of how he arrived. He finds a pouch filled with bombs in with his belongings and quickly learns that he’s on an island where he’s expected to fight a bunch of other people to the death using bombs. Luckily for him, the scenario is based off of the game, Btooom which he’s an expert at. Wait, a group of people is taken to an island against their will and told to kill each other? That scenario seems to be popping up quite a bit in recent media. To be fair, Btooom does have fairly unique execution. Unlike most works with the same basic premise, the characters aren’t forced by their captors to play the game. They’re encouraged to with the promise of being sent home if they can kill enough people, but they generally rely on their prisoners own worst instincts to make the game work. It actually makes for a pretty interesting conflict. Another factor I like is the way that the “players” were chosen. Let’s just say that none of them are there by chance and it leads to some interesting backstory elements. That being said, there are some issues with the story. One is that it over-uses flashbacks, many of which end up being pointless since the information conveyed in them is revealed more naturally in the main narrative. There are also some continuity issues, most prominently in the last episode in which one character receives a rather nasty injury resulting in an inability to walk well only to have that same character standing up without any support and with no difficulty in one of the last few scenes. Another thing that bothers me is the sheer level of coincidence involved in the plot. There are two people on the island closely connected to Ryouta solely for the sake of plot convenience and, while their back-stories do give them a reason to be there, it seems suspect that a neet would coincidentally have that many connections in that scenario. Now, the series does end on a cliffhanger which indicates that there could very well be another season. Some people might be annoyed by that but, frankly, I think that the pacing is really strong overall and that they pick a really good spot to end in which you get quite a bit of resolution which results in Btooom having a sense of completion even though there’s clearly still more to go. I will warn you that there are some disturbing scenes involving both gruesome imagery and sexual assault and, while these scenes aren’t poorly done or handled disrespectfully, they may be triggering to some people.

Now we move on to the characters. Btooom is one of those anime that has a clear distinction between the primary characters and the secondary. Since the primary characters get quite a bit of development and backstory while the secondary characters are largely two dimensional. However, a lot of that is clearly the result of time constraints. After all, this is only a twelve episode series and they clearly setup the possibility for future development for a lot of them, so I’m not going to complain about it too much. One thing that does hurt the characters, however is the character of Kousuke Kira. He’s one of those antagonistic characters who you’re supposed to feel sorry for because he has a tragic backstory. Which I hate. It’s a lazy way of trying to make the audience sympathise with a sociopath without giving them any qualities that are actually sympathetic. It’s a cheap, over-used and emotionally manipulative tactic that really needs to go away. Fortunately, he’s a relatively minor character and the main cast is really strong. Ryouta, Himiko and Taira are all well developed characters who develop very realistically over the course of the narrative. They all have faults, but are also basically good people. Which makes them both sympathetic and realistic. The romantic elements between Himiko and Ryouta are really well handled, leading to some genuinely heart warming moments and giving both of them some of their best character moments.

The art in this is excellent. The island is vibrant and teeming with life. The various buildings and backdrops have well done textures and look fairly realistic. I also like the fact that they don’t make the explosions or gore over the top and ridiculous. My only complaint about the art is that there’s some unnecessary fan-service, although there’s not a whole lot and it tends to be kept pretty tame.

The voice acting is good, although not great. The actors all do fairly well, with the possible exception of Nakamura Yuuichi who, likely as a result of the direction, doesn’t bother emoting. Fukami Rica does a superb job, in spite of having a small role. Both Mimori Suzuko and Hongo Kanata also do really well. The music is okay. It’s not bad, but it’s not good either.

The yuri factor is a 1/10. The female characters barely even interact with each other in this. Except for one episode that’s largely composed of flashbacks.

Btooom certainly has more good qualities than bad. The story is solid with a lot of strong elements and the major characters are really well handled. Now, you probably won’t like it if you’re sick of the premise or if you’re going to be triggered by the more disturbing content. However, if you think that the premise has merit when done well and you can handle some disturbing content, I think you’ll find it an enjoyable experience. Personally, I’m going to give it an 8/10. While it has some flaws, there’s nothing that drags it down too much. Next week I’ll be doing something a bit different. An entire week of film reviews, starting with Kara no Kyoukai 2.

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