BTOOOM! ultimately falls short of expectations, but the ride was unlike any I’ve been through before and it was extremely fun to go.
What They Say:
In the blink of the mind’s eye, Ryuta Sakamoto suddenly finds himself transported from playing the hit BTOOOM! video game to being stranded on a mysterious island. He’s equipped with a day’s worth of provisions, a bag of bombs, a strange crystal embedded in his left hand and a huge gaping hole in his memory. But it doesn’t take long to figure out what’s going on, especially after the first person Ryuta meets tries to kill him. Someone is attempting to recreate the ultra-violent BTOOOM! game in real life, and the island has been filled with an army of other unwilling players, each armed with one of the multiple variants of explosive weapons called BIM. Fortunately, Ryuta’s an ace BTOOOM! player, but this insane version of the game has no reset switch or second lives, and there’s only one way off the island: kill seven other people before they can kill you! Can Ryuta repurpose his game-based skills fast enough to survive this ultimate world of warcraft? The action is ultra-violent, ultra-graphic and ultra-lethal as the ultimate blood sport is unleashed in BTOOOM!
Contains episodes 1-12
I watched the Japanese version for this review, and let me tell you, those explosions in Japanese sounded awesome. Not so much in the English version. I’m just kidding. But the audio does sound really good. The explosions sound immersive enough with the computer speakers I have; it, in fact, sounds much better than the slice of life-ish Sentai shows I’ve been reviewing.
This, however, is typical Sentai DVD quality. It’s really too bad that I couldn’t see this on blu-ray, as I’m sure those explosions and action scenes would look so much cooler in high definition. But it’s otherwise serviceable.
Sentai’s typical cheap-but-works packaging is what’s fitted in BTOOOM! and, as always, the disc holder in the middle feels like it’ll fall out/break if I breathe on it too hard. So I tend not to touch these cases all too much if I can help it. The disc art is really pretty, though, and features alternate artwork to the show.
This is actually a really cool menu with Ryuta front and slightly to the left on the first disc. His avatar in the game BTOOOM! is featured behind him, mirroring his IRL pose. The episodes are listed in a Matrix-y green on the right that’s made to look kind of like a video game, but not enough to convince me that this could be a game menu, as game menus are often not this nicely laid out. It’s simple, for sure, but serves usability well.
There are some extras on this set! They’re the BTOOOM! digests and a few Japanese promos and TV spots. The latter are exactly what you’d expect out of those, with the most exciting shots showcased for all to see with a narration from main character Ryouta or someone else talking over the animation. The former are forgettable character profiles of everyone of note on the island and are completely skippable.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
I recall reading Anime News Network’s The Stream after I dropped the show during the simulcast, where it was raving about how fun and relatively inventive the show was. But by that point, I was several episodes behind and just too lazy to pick the show back up. But I’ve got the opportunity to marathon it now, and what a Christmas show it is, with the explosions and death and such. It was very out of place in the setting.
Anyway, BTOOOM! is definitely tons of fun. The first episode sets up the character and the situation perfectly to be an enticing first episode and bring you back for a second. I think it was after the second episode that I dropped the show, citing whatever excuse I had at the time. But BTOOOM! incredibly realistically shows Sakamoto in an unbelievable situation that no one would know what to do in. He’s a little too accepting of his situation, given that he has to and does kill people. But he thinks everything through logically and, in the context of the show, it ain’t too bad an explanation. If he didn’t react to murdering someone, I would call bullshit immediately, but Sakamoto throws up and is crying after seeing the hand and head of the man he just killed. Anyone would.
Which brings us to Himiko, the female lead and moe fantasy character. It brings up another question: Why is rape just a thing in anime? BTOOOM! actually handles it…uh…somewhat tactfully? It speaks a lot to her character rather than it being a distracting plot point, at least? See, her friends were all raped by her shitty senpai who is in a band and I guess just thinks that kind of thing is OK in the real world. Her friends all moved away, but she escaped and saved her friends from further savagery, I guess. When the exact same situation happens on the island, as in she is raped by another person who thinks it’s a-OK to just do that, she takes out a bomb, wanting to die rather than be raped. The fat representation of otaku runs away real quick, but ends up dying(?!) by falling off a cliff from the timer bomb she threw at him.
That rape element is what I got really hung up on during the simulcast and what ultimately made me quit watching the show. But, keeping with it through SHEER WILLPOWER, it’s actually a really good survival story. Its flaws lie in its characters and the actions they take, as they often feel like the actions are simply for plot convenience. Though there are a few cool character moments, like Sakamoto saving Himiko after grasping at the hope that she’s the Himiko from the game BTOOOM!
What BTOOOM! does well is set up a very compelling survival story where you legitimately fear for the characters’ lives. When the giant lizards went after Taira, I wondered whether he would make it out. When Sakamoto went to save Himiko, I knew he was going to get out, but I didn’t know HOW. And when Himiko was captured the second time, I legitimately started to wonder whether he would make it out.
And those survival aspects push the characters forward so well, that I almost don’t care that the character writing is lacking. I’m often at the edge of my seat waiting to see what happens next that I forget about everything I like about the best, or my favorite, television shows and get enthralled by the situation they’ve been put in.
However, I struggle to think what more it offers me. It’s a roller coaster ride of an anime, for sure, and it was fun to watch…but what else was it? Really, nothing. It kept building and building and building to the climax of “I promise to get off this island with you.” Which is ridiculous. I know it was based off a manga, but this is one of those typical anime endings that I can deal with if they’re done well, but this is not. This is an advertisement to read the manga or wait for a second season, and that just isn’t going to cut it.
The most frustrating part of it all was the characters, for sure. I kept wondering and wondering how Ryouta was growing as a character throughout the show and I ultimately came to the decision that he didn’t. He LEARNED things, yes. He definitely learned things. But he didn’t GROW, which is a really stupid and roundabout way of saying what sounds like two very similar things, but let me explain. The one way he did grow was that he let go of the inhibitions of his past. He no longer is the trepidatious high schooler who couldn’t ask the girl he liked out on a date, but he’s barely above that, and that’s what’s so frustrating. He’s put through the gamut of death game stuff and he’s the same old dude, trying to survive.
Himiko, however, grew leaps and bounds from her flashback, almost being raped by some douchebags. But her growth was ultimately frustrating because a girl who is STILL scared of men would not give in to the man she loves just because HE wanted to bang HER. I look to Showtime series Dexter for a really good example. Rita was physically and sexually abused by her former husband and felt sexually frustrated because she was literally repulsed by the idea of being sexually active with another man. She felt she was being inadequate to Dexter because SHE was abused. And that’s an alright thing to feel, because they had been dating for a while by that point and I’m sure she thought that he was frustrated as well (in reality, he got his kicks killing people and didn’t need that icky transfer of liquids). Anyway, Himiko had no reason to give herself up like that, even in that situation and thank GOD that Ryouta realized that before it went into a fanservice-y sex scene.
From beginning to end, I wanted to convince myself that this was at least a semi-intelligent commentary on the otaku life, in Ryouta’s case, a gaming otaku. It had all the fixings of it: Ryouta the NEET otaku, the cute girl who’ll change everything, and some obstacles for Ryouta to get over. Plus, this was the ultimate fantasy of living inside a game, because it’s real life. There are stakes directly to your body, unlike in Sword Art Online.
But I was thinking this, and it tries a little too hard to make this guy who sits around playing video games all day look like an athletic hero when he’s clearly not. I know this from experience; I sit around watching anime all day and when I’m not doing that I’m sitting in my office working, so it doesn’t allow a lot of time for exercise and I’m not exactly in shape as a result. The kid shouldn’t be able to run around like he does, and that’s where this fails in the representation of the otaku as opposed to, say, Welcome to the NHK or Watamote where both Sato and Tomoko are relatively out of shape.
What disappointed me the most in terms of this otaku element was that he was SO CLOSE to just realizing that he’s been this shitty human being to his mother and step-father, but never really changes. I mean, I got the impression that he ALMOST changed. He even admitted to himself that he’s been awful. BUT, and this is a huge but, at the end of the show, he embraced that this was based on the video game BTOOOM! and nearly consummated his love with his IN-GAME wife. And with that one, albeit cute, moment between them, I was convinced he hadn’t really changed. That was a little frustrating because his realization could have, and should have, been so much more.
And that was a very frustrating way to end the series. It is such a typical anime ending to just say, “And they totally promise to do more stuff” and also they’re totally together in a heartfelt moment. It’s straight out of the pages of Inuyasha and other long-running shonen series that ended. But JUST give us closure. Don’t promise more and never deliver. That’s the most frustrating.
There’s a line in the opening that goes “The game has only just begun.” And that pretty much sums up my entire experience with BTOOOM! It created this edge-of-your-seat narrative with the video game-made-real BTOOM!, but never paid off in any significant way. The characters were always adequate, but never extraordinary and the plot could only carry so much of the show. I’m actually glad it ended in 12 episodes, otherwise I’d be sitting here frustrated as to why these people haven’t grown after 12 more.
Himiko was in a way the saving grace of the series and what ultimately made me dislike it as much as I did. BTOOOM! is unlike a lot of shows that I’ve seen thus far in that I did enjoy my experience watching it, but there were so many elements that I was like, “Well, this is cool, so why care about it that much?” But being forced to analyze it a little further for the review, those flaws shine so much brighter and I wonder how I got through 12 episodes. But it’s like a long night of drinking where you throw up at the end. It was a really fun night of drinking, but you’d probably take the whole night back to not remember throwing up at the end.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening Animation, Clean Closing Animation, BTOOOM! Digests, Japanese Promos, Japanese TV Sports, Sentai Trailers
Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: A-
Video Grade: B-
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: A-
Extras Grade: C
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: December 10th, 2013
Running Time: 300 minutes
Radeon 7850, 24 in. Vizio 1080p HDTV, Creative GigaWorks T20 Series II