There’s a famous saying that there are only seven stories in the world, everything we see and hear are just variations on these stories. I believe that anime has its own set of stories that are used as the foundations for many shows, one of these stories being the “Island survival” story. While there are many shows that have this story, Btooom manages to stand out as one of the more entertaining ones.
The story in Btooom is like many other island survival stories. The hero Ryōta wakes up on an island with little memory of what happened and why he is there. It’s not long before he encounters someone trying to kill him and he has to make the difficult decision to kill them in order to survive. The rest of the story follows Ryōta as he makes friends and tries to find a way off the island. The story oozes unoriginality, you know there’s going to be mad men and psychopaths, you know people are going to betray each other, and you know the hero is going to overcome impossible odds, its typical stuff to the genre. But Btooom knows that, but more importantly, it caters to it. Btooom knows that it’s being generic and rolls with it, because it’s having a good time and knows that you are too. Of course the show does have some originality that makes it stand out, and the biggest one here is that they aren’t in a survival fight; it’s called a survival game.
The big concept behind Btooom is that it’s like a video game; the main characters are all players of the video game “Btooom” and are all well known on the internet as incredibly skilful players. The game involves throwing a wide range of bomb types to kill people in order to score points. These are, coincidently, the same rules on the island. The “players” are given bombs that are matched to their fingerprint, and a sonar beacon embedded in their hand to find moving players. If a player can gather seven beacons from dead players, then a helicopter will arrive to take them home. This all sounds like a sadistic game of Call of Duty, and it is! The people who manage to develop the mentality of “this is a game” are more likely to live than those who are worried about their surroundings, and watching people evolve between those two states is brilliantly interesting.
A lot of the shows charm comes from the fact their playing a deadly video game in real life, but a great deal also comes from the main character.
The main character Ryōta is a 22 year old NEET (Not in Education, Employment, or Training) who despises his real life and prefers to live through his online persona. It gets to the point where he sees no point in real women, decided to get married in-game to a virtual girl who he’s never met. The majority of the show follows Ryōta as he struggles to adjust to the situation and what horrible things he will have to in order to survive. He’s afraid of confrontation and killing others, and it’s not until he is attacked that he switches to his “online persona”, a merciless killer with spectacular aim and thirst for domination. He’s a flawed hero, and the show makes no attempts to pretend he isn’t, he’s often seen attacking his family and being disrespectful to others.
Ryōta can be so unlikable at times to the point you, as an audience member, question if he deserves to be a character you care about. Sure, he was the first character you saw when starting the show, and you get to hear his internal monologues, but does that make him the hero? If not, then who is? For Btooom plays with morality and who we define as good and bad. To one person, Ryōta could be their friend and savoir, but to another person he could be an evil monster out to rape all the women on the island. The story jumps between characters and gives their internal monologues about Ryōta, allowing us as the audience to gain insight into who sees him in either of these ways. Not giving us a straight forward “This guy is the good guy, and this guy is evil” allows so much creativity to the show, meaning that your respect and admiration for a character can change within seconds of finding out their true motives. I love it!
There are some bad things about Btooom that do need mentioning. For one, the show is aimed at young male adults, meaning that fan service pops up every few episodes. This would be ok if it was comedic fan service to lighten the mood, but sadly not. In episode two you are treated to a rather disturbing amount of rape scenes, and while you don’t see anything too extreme, I can’t help but feel that scenes of this graphic of nature will turn away a lot of people, because while it does match the theme of “everyone is horrible, trust no one”, it may be perhaps a little too extreme for the majority of viewers.
To completely change tone, other disappointment comes from the lacklustre English dub. The dub is in a weird state of having some characters be really good, while others have been so poorly casted and have little effort put into them. So overall, if you don’t like reading then you can force yourself through the dub, but I think that the original Japanese actors do a much better job at capturing the fear and desperation that the characters are feeling.
Btooom is not for everyone. If you like video games, fighting to the death, dealing with psychological trauma and girls with big boobs, then check out Btooom. But be advised, the show lacks a proper ending. It starts to build up to something big and then just….stops….
I do recommend Btooom to people, but I want to slap a massive PREPARE FOR NO ENDING sticker over everything I’ve said. The show is incredibly fun (if not a little dark) and a great ride, but the cliff-hanger at the end only leaves you with anger and disappointment. Btooom is about the journey, not the destination.
Oh and one more thing. The opening…oh my that opening… It’s just fantastic. If you are still on the fence about the show, just watch the opening and be blown away by it’s beauty.
Other anime recommendations
Survival game: Battle Royal
Trapped in a game by the creators: Sword Art Online
Thanks to MVM for supplying a review copy