Original Run: Oct 4, 2012 to Dec 20, 2012
Genres: Action, Psychological, Science Fiction
[Spoilers below, tread carefully]
Sakamoto Ryouta is a NEET who lives with his mother while trying in vain to get a job in a video game company. His time is spent playing the hot new video game BTOOOM! in which he’s a top-tier player. His idle but peaceful life is rudely interrupted when he one day finds himself alone in a forest with no memories of how he got there. All he has with him are the clothes on his back, some food and a bag full of suspiciously familiar bombs.
His attempts to find someone else in the island he’s stranded in results in chaos when the person he finds attempts to kill him. It’s not long before Ryouta finds out that he’s trapped in a live version of the game he’s so fond where players must kill each other and gather the chips thus obtained to escape. Survival isn’t easy when you can barely trust your own shadow but Ryouta must find some allies if he wishes to make it out of there with his life and sanity intact.
I covered this show episodically. You can find the posts here.
Btooom is my first anime of the virtual game variety though I’m not sure if it really counts since rather than get trapped in a game, the protagonist is forced to participate in a live enactment of it. Btooom is a solid show from the beginning itself but it falters a little towards the end and there’s no resolution. A second season is desperately needed.
The premise and its execution are Btooom’s strong suits. A fairly sizable group of people are kidnapped and brought to an isolated island where they’re given BIMs – bombs that are used in the game of the same name as the anime. Green chips are embedded in their hands and a player must collect eight of these if they wish to leave. The problem is that the chips can only be removed via surgery but they fall off if their original owner dies. Basically, it’s a death game. It’s probably possible to take a knife to another player’s hand and manually dig out the chip but let’s face it, not only would that require an appropriately sharp weapon but would also be more trouble. It’d be harder, objectively, to restrain and mutilate a person than to blow them up with handy bombs. Murder is inevitable.
The first season doesn’t explore a lot of characters but the ones that do get some focus are each fascinatingly different in the way they approach their situation. The main character, Ryouta, is forced to kill the first person he encounters and is traumatized by it. The female lead, Himiko, is nearly raped and develops a phobia of men and their touch. Ryouta’s middle-aged sidekick is not a good combatant and his frequent injuries starts taking a toll on his psyche. There are others such as a psychotic middle-schooler who revels in the violence, a mysterious man with a calm and collected approach to killing, an ex-mercenary with a kink for torture, a lawyer who loses his sanity and slides into depravity etc.
The variety of these responses, from the bad to the worst, contribute to the appeal of this anime as it’s genuinely engaging to see these people cope – nor not – with their undeserved predicament and their interactions with each other, all tinged with an imminent sense of danger. Betrayal is always a possibility and no one can afford to get complacent. This tension isn’t always felt in the anime but it does have its moments. The way Ryouta and others learn and eventually utilize the game’s features to survive and to fight each other make for some of the best moments in Btooom.
The romance between Ryouta and Himiko also shapes up to be quite a nice one. Their initial interactions are hostile and both of their behaviors at certain points deserve criticism but as they get to know each other and work together, a genuine bond is established, eventually culminating in a healthy, understanding relationship.
However, the show does have its faults. Most of the important characters benefit from a generous application of plot armor which allows them to survive close-range detonations with nary a scratch. It feels like the creators wanted the thrill of danger the explosions brought but were unwilling to sacrifice a character limb or two for it. Shiki is an exception; I did say important characters. Btooom also becomes notably weaker during the final episode. It’s not just the lack of definite conclusion that harms the ending but the lackluster climax of an arc that was built up rather well. In the end, we’re left with a great number of questions, very few answers and a distinctly unimpressive finale. A lot of this can be excused if there’s ever a second season though.
A fair share of Btooom’s appeal lies in exploring the psychological states of its characters and the show does a good job of presenting said characters as well-rounded figures with their own, intensely personal struggles. Naturally, some are more sympathetic than the rest while others are enigmas that need some unraveling.
Sakamoto Ryouta is the protagonist, a guy in his early twenties who lives with his mother and spends his time playing games. It’s not that he’s uninspired but he only wants a job in a video game company but that’s not too easy to come by. After his first desperate kill on the island, Ryouta develops an aversion to killing. He’s more or less a nice guy who trusts a little too easily so his goal is geared towards finding allies and devising a way to escape the island without bloodshed. But when push comes to shove, he shapes up and takes action. His struggle to adapt to the brutal reality crafted from his favorite game is realistic and his later tendency to confuse the game with reality when the pressure is on serves to paint a vivid picture of his mental state. He’s by no means a perfect character but he works as the main focus on the show.
Himiko is the blonde, buxom heroine who’s sympathetic and admirable most of the time. Even before the game begins, she’s been through a lot of shit so that whole death game situation is practically sour icing on a bitter cake for her. Her status as an attractive female in a male-dominated environment ends up in a situation where she’s nearly raped and that along with her prior bad experiences of a similar nature causes her to develop an abhorrence of men and touch. But despite everything, she stands strong and fights for herself, using what she has to the best of her ability. She trusts more and lets down her guard as the story progresses. Taira, despite being part of the main trio, is not a fighter in the physical sense and spends most of the story injured. However, his presence is an important part of Ryouta’s characterization and their tentative, fragile trust plays a significant role in the narrative.
Owing to the nature of this story, there’s no shortage of antagonists but the most notable of them is Oda Nobutaka, a mysterious person from Ryouta’s past who’s clearly important but largely left alone so far. A close second is Kira Kyosuke, a 14-year old with some severe issues who is more at home in the bloody chaos of the island than in normal society. There are others like a woman who’s remnant of an old game, a cunning doctor with a warm front, an unhinged lawyer, a ruthless seductress, a violent ex-mercenary etc, all of whom serve to make Btooom a lively, twisted piece of entertainment.
Art and Music:
The art and animation are both quite good. The backgrounds are detailed and vibrant while action sequences are smooth and fluid. The character designs are fairly standard but distinguishable all the same. The eyes in particular are handled really well, using skillful shading to echo the mental stress the characters endure.
Btooom’s music gets full marks. Both of the opening themes – No pain, No game and Exist by Nano – and the ending theme – Aozora by May’n – are striking and memorable. The OST suits the action perfectly.
An entertaining show with some thrilling moments but it suffers from an inconclusive conclusion. Despite that, the earlier episodes are very much worth a watch. The main romance is also handled well for the most part.