Really? out of all the titles one could go with, what major studio would allow something named, BTOOOM! to be released? I know it’s minor and there’s the language barrier, but this just sounds off. Well, it has meaning in the show, but that’s besides the point. Titles mean very little, so I might as well dive into something I only looked into, because I wanted to see if it would manage to be a deconstructive examination on several tropes, or just be a victim of them. Well, neither, but hence the season one bit that I was unaware of when I began watching this show and I’m guessing you can tell why if you look at the title of this review.
BTOOOM! Season One Review
Studio: Madhouse and Sentai Filmworks
Length: 12 subtitled episodes
Availability: Free on Crunchyroll
BTOOOM! is the name of the semi popular MMO, except not really, from a universe where the rousing success of Bomberman Act Zero helped increase Japanese interest enough to form a user base for an online shooter. Okay, it’s not quite a shooter, more of a tactical bombing third person squad based action title and social game. Because why wouldn’t you want to do an in-game marriage in a game about blowing up the enemy. While this show is about a bunch of people being thrown onto some Jungle in Indonesia to play this game in real life, except they now need to worry about sleep, wind, food, and Komodo Dragons.
The idea of, “Hey, what if we tell a story about people taking aspects from a video game and applying them onto real life.” Is nothing new, although right from the get go, it earns points by establishing mechanics that make sense in the form of a game. Even though balance can be a bit open to interpretation. It’s pretty simple, there are eight types of bombs, or BIMs as the show calls them, and each person in the show starts with eight of one type. Each person also has a radar imbedded into their left hands that works by… science? Which can be used to track other radars, as well as doubling as a token that one may use to get off the island if they obtain eight of them.
However, each person may only use bombs that they start with, or have picked up from a deceased person. Which creates a pretty neat system that would only benefit if we got regular inventory checks, because I am all but certain there was one mess up in counting these bombs, which I was not aware of, because I was not anal enough to take notes this time. Same thing with food and water, especially when there appears to be a nice spring, so why would water be an issue?
However, the show still needs a character focus, and this is where it kind of loses me. Seeing as this keeps coming up, I am a person of naturally low empathy and it does take a bit for me to care about characters. And this show really does stumble with that, because I only cared about one because he was interesting, but minor. Instead, the male lead in this story is Sakamoto, a NEET(Not Educated, Employed or Training) individual, who spent all his time over the past however, playing to the top ten in BTOOOM! Who adamantly refused work from his fish faced mother, regularly stating that he would only work the job he desired, which I’m pretty sure was a bug tester. A job that’s not very glamourous if you really think about it. Sure, you’re playing games, but you’re playing crappy unfinished games ad nauseum.
Oh, and he’s got amnesia to top it all off. Lovely, and the first of the many loose ends that made viewing this feel more like a waiting game than anything else. While the female lead is built solely around misplace guilt and rape… Ugh! To spoil the second episode, the female lead, Himiko, was a highschool girl who was declared to be nothing but the embodiment of evil. Why? She and her friends got tricked into going to a house of several shady young men who invited them, and the girl accepted because they were handsome. And, well, they got raped because of it, and Himiko was to blame for all of it, because she managed to escape, and did not save them from men who could clearly overpower her. To the point where her desk was treated like a wastebasket, and she was so intimidated by peer pressure until she locks herself into her room.
I’ll give the show the benefit of the doubt and say that I might have missed something, or it could be more complicated than that. But at the same time, if you choose to go to the point where characters get raped, you should probably focus a bit more on making everything that happened clear. Not that there’s any real reason to care about her beyond basic sympathy, which also fails because she never provides a clear reason to her discomfort to anyone, when you just need to say that, “Stereotypical fat Japanese man nearly raped me.”
Now, this is the point where I think the show might be attempting to address how they made this character not only Aryan, but also gave her naturally large breast that are most likely that large and drawn in a manner where they’re unreal looking, to simulate how the culture surrounding the show would view the breasts of white women. And through a process, would end up leading to a few major sucker punches about the medium, the culture surrounding it and games, the depiction of women, violence, and glorification of empowerment. Which never happened.
Sorry, but I would generally assume things like this to be addressed, because otherwise, the show would not be much beyond a bit too full of itself drama that should be about what it mean to take a life. Which it hardly addresses as well. To compare it to one of my favorite series, both Zero Escape Volume 1: 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors and its sequel Zero Escape Volume 2: Virtue’s Last Reward do feature some pretty graphic bits, but they never really show much in terms of gore. Instead, we have the main characters describe what it is like to see a dead body, while only showing some blood splattered on a wall. Here? They attempt to showcase more than a bit of blood, but all of it looks remarkably unreal within its own universe.
In fact, much like the previously mentioned titles and Telltale’s The Walking Dead, BTOOOM! deals with the trust between individuals, but the entire reasoning for that feels faulty as well. You are trapped on an island, where you have very limited resources, and the only way off is to kill several people. I can understand holding bonds in the beginning, but who wouldn’t blow everyone up when you all go to sleep? It’s not like the show really ever addresses the morality involved, or at least not in much detail. Sure, it ends with a death, but it relied on us growing attached to a character, which I was never able to do, because he seemed boring, and the show sometimes feels like it wants to be about judgement, or some brand of karma. Which means that everyone here must be a bad person, by extension. Besides, Sakamoto seems to be able to pretend this is just a game pretty easily. Which, because it seems like a ripe opportunity for the show to say something about games, amounts to nothing in the first season. Not even much of a hint.
Backing up a bit, if you did detonate a bomb, you might alert people to your location, but they could find you just by using their radar. Which has range anywhere between fifty to two hundred meters. And on the subject of ranges, the blast radius for the bombs, which are all about the size of golf balls. Seems to vary pretty often, along with the repercussions of getting hit. I mean, explosions are very, very loud. And while things like the fingerprint scanning tech might be a reason for the little explosions, people get hit to the point where they’re thrown onto the ground, with just a few scratches. There’s not even any shrapnel left afterwards. This might seem minor, because people have been getting this wrong for decades, but when you are trying to make a mature show, although it could’ve fooled me half the time, I would expect some more research.
Before I get to some of the praises, I want to talk about how the show was clearly made for something longer. With the seasonal break not being like Yuru Yuri, The World God Only Knows, or Squid Girl. All of which seem to wrap things up for a somewhat decent conclusion. Here? They barely even try. It ends by shipping the two lead characters together, what a shock, and reminding us that there’s a lot more to go. With the only reasoning in the show to stop being how something having to do with why the people are on the island needing to be dealt with, and it being a technical difficulty. One that, based on the reasoning for why they’re on the island, has to do with robotic lizards needing more E. Coli to shoot at the island dwellers.
However, I feel like I should give the show some points after taking away most of them for just attempting to do something interesting beyond the normal layout of something that sounds kinda like the Hunger Games crossed with Death Note and Bomberman: Act Zero on a tropical island. In theory the plan is nothing short of great, with all the cards laid out, except they are either missing, or being too subtle about, points that could basically make BTOOOM! the Spec Ops: The Line of whatever brand of anime this is. And if the film Suckerpunch is any indication, doing so is admirable, but easy to screw up.
And in terms of the actual animation, I am a fan of the style of Berserk, where a lot of humans are drawn to be as ugly as sin, and this is sorta like Berserk Lite in terms of that style. While lacking the proper detail, or consistent tone of ugliness applying at least somewhat to everything. Many of the characters are fat businessmen who sweat like pigs, or would look perfect in a prisoner’s get-up. While even some of the women look deprived and ugly, as if they’ve given up on life. Meanwhile, the younger individuals capture Japan’s ideal of youth by looking idealized, even if they are child rapists. Meaning a child who rapes, not the otherway around, ya geese! And while I would have prefered more shading to be done on some faces, what is there is certainly worth looking at, even though some of the colors and backgrounds can be a bit bland.
On the flipside, the music feels more out of place than it does in place, just like some of the reactions of characters. Exerting a tone that undermines the seriousness a bit, but never over the edge. Although, if they had butrock in the background, it would probably convince me that the hidden symbolism or introspection is not there.
Bottled up, I don’t have a huge opinion about BTOOOM! There is potential either way, but if I had to judge the story as a single entity, it is fairly interesting, but just alright. There are points where I groan, and points where I was admittedly enjoying myself quite a bit, since it did manage to keep up the series equivalent to a page turner. But other than some disgusting character designs, which I mean as a complement, I have very little to say about it beyond a few gripes and possibilities. Nothing is really solidified about the show, which manages for me to just barely keep saying that, “it’s okay, I guess”.
Fans of the genre or premise might enjoy the product, and there is a kernel of goodness, but is still surrounded by some non-goodness, making the final product a bit “bleh”.
Note: I just looked at a few pages of the manga, and I actually like it a lot more, because it looks to be completely but-nuts stupid, and filled with rape! Here, I did not get that impression, and it looked like it wanted to be serious.