So I can’t help but make comparisons between Btooom and SAO, for the specific reason that SAO could possibly be one of the most overrated anime shows that I have ever come across.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed SAO, it was a fairy decent anime, no more. And I find it rather irritating that some otaku our their would go so far as to term this series as a classic among anime.
Not only do I deny that fact, but I would go so far as to say that SAO is far from the perfect anime that so many fans out there are attempting to make it out to be.
I mean, sure it was awesome, but i couldn’t score it higher than a 7/10, primarily because the second part of the show tanked. And unlike so many otaku, I don’t think that had anything to do with a change in the game. That was fine, and I might go so far as to say that I actually enjoyed and even preferred the fairy thing to SAO.
But what the hell does this have to do with Btooom. Simple. I think Btooom is the perfect example in showcasing just how good a game based anime can be when done right. I also think that this show could benefit a lot from the meretricious praise being dished out towards SAO.
Now if I haven’t mentioned this before, I shall say it now; I am no fan of RPGs of any type, form or nature. I have never understood the allure, primarily because every RPG concept game I have ever come across comes off as slow. The idea of freezing mid battle to access some menu just to utilize some magical attack just infuriate me.
And that assumption isn’t jut a matter of me simply lacking finer education in this concept and that if I just gave it a chance, I would receive enlightenmet. I have given this concept a fair shot, going so far as to purchase Dragon Age a year or so ago, with the idea of forcefully attempting to see just what made RPGs so awesome. It didn’t help. I still hate the idea.
I mention that because some people have assumed that my dislike for the concept would have a negative effect on my enjoyment of SAO. Of course he was wrong, as I saw SAO as an education in the idea of this complicated concept of gaming.
My point is, my assertion that Btooom is a superior series to SAO is in no way biased by any prior irritations I might posses; I don’t hate SAO, but I will genuinely say that if any anime fan gave Btooom a fair shake, they would quickly admit it to be a much more impressive series than SAO.
So, Btooom. The PLOT>
Ryouta is what you call a NEET, which refers to ‘not in education, employment or training’. So basically he is a dead beat 16 year old, with a crap life that spends his days and nights, locked in his room, in a misguided attempt to escape all the pain and misery that has become his life.
The only place that Ryouta can find any meaning is Btooom, an online game that pits teams against players from all around the world in a struggle of survival, where the weapons of choice aren’t swords or guns, but bombs, explosives of all types and forms with which players must annihilate their opponents.
In Btooom, Ryouta is the tenth ranked player in the world. Within this virtual world, Ryouta is a hero, an unstoppable force leading his team to countless victories against the world. In Btooom, Ryouta has adoring friends and even a wife that loves him. IN this world, Ryouta has a life, a bright and optimistic future, with limitless possibilities; a stark contrast from his true world.
Then one day after a nasty fight with his lugubrious mother, Ryouta wakes up on an island in the middle of an empty sea. He soon learns that he has been chosen to partake in a real world adaption of Btooom, in which contestants are infused with a green crystal on the back of their hands that acts like a sonar, and a back pack of explosives, tuned to the the user’s specific signature.
The rules are simple. All a contestant needs to do is acquire eight green crystals from the other contestants, seven exogenous crystals along with the individuals own, to summon a chopper that will fly the lucky contestant off the island back to civilization.
However the crystals are fused to the contestants and only come loose when a contestant dies. What’s more, the only explosives available on the island are in the hands of the other contestants, and it is only possible to use another combatants bombs once they are dead.
So anyway you look at it, survival is only possible through murder, and when all the chips are on the table, and death can come in an instant, it all comes down to how strong your will is to survive VS the deep seated urge of humanity to ‘do the right thing’. What will it take for you to break, and more importantly, just how much do the lives and futures of other people matter, when you own existence is on the line?
All these questions Ryouta must answer before he can begin his quest to win the game, and more than that, he must ask himself if the notion of survival is really worth it? What does he have really to go back to, that he would take the lives of other more equally deserving combatants to achieve his objectives?
Btooom! tries to answer all this questions while also putting the viewer into the shoes of an average Joe forced into an extraordinary situation of survival and death.
I am not going to lie, I was intrigued with the idea of Btooom even before I watched it. Firstly was the name. A title is supposed to convey a sense of the anime that it represents. And when I first read that word, I never could picture the anime it was referring to. Then I read the synopsis and it not only finally clicked, but only further intrigue me, the idea of a game with no guns, lasers or swords; only bombs, explosives with varying ranges and abilities. Now that was the kind of idea that had the potential to work if executed creatively.
But why it worked for me, even after only 13 episodes, I can explain in three forms.
Because I began by comparing this series to SAO, I shall continue down that path. Simply put, there is something about a real place in a real world that makes the whole Btooom experience so much more thrilling to me. I get the idea of SAO, that death in the game is linked to death in the real world, but something about watching someone disappear into tiny little sparks of light that never really hit home for me, that someone had just perished from the world.
With Btooom, we have flying heads, exploding bodies, pools of blood; basically real people in a real world putting their lives on the line to survive. More than that though are the stakes. People will say that death is death, be it virtual as in SAO, or real like in Btooom; either way you are gone and the means doesn’t matter.
But I think it does. Sure, having your body chewed off in SAO might hurt, but there is something about seeing your own blood and guts that makes the situation so much more visceral. There are no magic healing potion or extra lives or even power ups. You have men and women with frail bodies pitying their skills against each other.
A wrong step will result in one less limb, and once that happens, chances are the game will be over for you; or at the very least the scales tip against your favor. The fact is Kirito in SAO stood a much better chance of survival than Ryouta does in Btooom (I say ‘does’, because the story isn’t finished yet and I still don’t know if he survives. So for me, the game continues).
The difference between having a virtual body that can be healed VS having a few bandages and drugs will make all the difference in a battle. If Kirito knew that charging in against that monster would lose him an arm permanently, you have to wonder if he would really have the guts to take on the challenge.
That is what Btooom does to its characters. It puts them in a real world environment, where death is merely the easier way out, with the worst scenario being that you finally make it to the mainland, victorious, as a limbless torso.
That added sense of danger adds a level of excitement to the battles in Btooom, more exciting than anything I ever felt while watching SAO. You just can’t help but get the feeling that this is real, or it could be real. Somewhere is some unknown part of the world, a few dozen civilians could be fighting for their lives in a brutal survival game. SAO on the other hand simply manages to be cool, but nothing more than a shallow fantasy.
I will leave it at that before I start sounding like a sadistic maniac that loves watching people explode and bleed.
Rather I will also point out the difference in mechanisms: >
By mechanisms I am referring to the mode of battle, which in this case refers to the game. Here you are free to assume bias on my part, though it wouldn’t be entirely true. AS far as plots go, SAO was simple enough, and that was fine. What irked me (specifically after watching Btooom) was the convoluted nature of the game SAO.
Sure any serious gamer out their will have a concrete understanding of all the weaponry that was utilized in SAO, be it metal or magic. But their were times certain concepts would go over my head, what with all those potions, crystals and principles of magic.
Now that doesn’t mean I didn’t understand the idea behind the result. I could easily tell that the reason Kirito had somehow survived fatal injury was because of some potion he happen to have at that time, that either healed or teleported him to safety. It wasn’t that I simply couldn’t make heads or tails of what was happening. it was the why factor
I am one otaku that doesn’t just watch anime, I like to think about it as I watch it; and when I am watching a battle, I like to work it out in my head as to what exactly is happening or could happen. So when one robot in water can suddenly shoot fire, I start to get concerned, because it suddenly sounds like some silly tool forced into the story to get things moving to where the writer wants them to get; this especially when said robot hasn’t displayed fire abilities in the past 20 episodes (this is a hypothetical postulation, there is no anime that I have seen with swimming robots that shoot fire)
Anyway, this same idea applies to SAO in that, I would find myself wondering what had happened when and why. Sure ,I get it that Kirito’s life points are so high that he is able to allow himself to get cut repeatedly without serious worry, but I would like to know when this happened and how. Is his sudden hike in points a result of Kirito completing so may quests or it due to some object or magical artifact. Now I don’t doubt that that particular fact was explained at some point, but I was probably so busy remembering (or rather assuming) so many other rules to notice.
Point is, for me as a novice in that type of gaming,there were so many things that I wanted answered but which made little sense to me, and even though most of them didn’t matter beyond seeing Kirito kick some ass, I would have still liked to know some of them, such as how many of those teleportation crystals can he carry at a time and what is the range and so on…I could go on with this for a while, so I will stop and get to the point.
Btooom is simple. Here are some grenades, find out what they do and how they work, as well as who can use them. Now find out how to take out that guy a mile away that can lock onto your signal and send his bombs flying towards you.
It is so simple, yet it allows for so much creativity. Rather than spend an episode of a fight learning what secret magic which opponent has been hiding, and if the hero can counter it (never mind where he got it if it is a main character), how about we spend a good 24 minutes figuring out how two people with basic grenades are going to stretch a normally two second battle into a 20 minute brawl.
Better yet, when we are talking about explosive devices that can kill in an instant, how about we spend that time figuring how two combatants that can kill each other in mere seconds will manage to last entire minutes in battle, when they are no more than a few feet apart.
These are the kind of battles that keep me entertained. Chances are as Kirito is fighting, you will expect him to pull out some new sword or magic that neither you nor his opponent knew he had to gain an advantage. And while that is fine, seeing new unexpected things and all, I would still prefer knowing what is on the table, that way, I can enjoy having my expectations blown right out of the water.
I am all for complex fighting systems and mechanisms, heck I am not bashing SAO with that argument either; it actually didn’t bother me and it kept things fresh (kind of), but sometimes simplicity does it best.
And speaking of simplicity, that is another thing that I look for in anime, or rather that attracts me, not in story but in concept of execution:>
Think about it this way, a series about magical assassins that can summon monsters. In that sentence you have all the tools and elements that you could ever require as a writer to make a kick ass anime/manga. I won’t say it is almost too easy, but it is…almost anyway.
Now consider another series, a gambling addicted Japanese man must win a game of cards to earn his freedom (I am thinking about kaiji there). That isn’t the kind of plot that screams awesome. Rather you are thinking of dull dimly lit rooms with old men throwing cards down in mundane and sleep inducing ways.
Yet you know that a show like that is categorized as shonen and clearly by the time the writer authored this work, he expected it to strike at some one out their in the world. That is the kind of plot that piques my interest, because you have a simple as they come concept in a card gambling game. So I can’t help but wonder how this Japanese managka will go about making this idea interesting, and that will keep me going at least to episode five; because I am curious to know why and how such a mundane concept can be adapted into an action packed 24 episodes. And of course a series like kaiji that is pretty much about gambling manages to keep me at the very edge of my seat, heart pounding, and wondering frantically what is going to happen next; where as an explosive action filled series like Kamisama dolls doesn’t even get me out of my sit (actually I couldn’t even finish it).
Anyway, that is what gets me with Btooom. yeah, I know that seeing Kirito get cool wings or whatever other magical weapons he acquired in SAO, will blow my mind, especially against an equally powerful enemy, but there is something about watching a bunch of guys with bombs, good old explosives, that just gets me, because I am interested in seeing how they can get it and keep it interesting. Of course I do not assume that a mundane concept will always evolve into something much more interesting, but when it does, like in Btooom, it is usually impressive.
So let’s get to the one factor that truly sets Btooom and SAO apart. Of course I am referring to the characters: There is no denying that SAO had a rich set of characters; well actually I should say that SAO tried to have a rich set of characters, as it fails to fulfill its potential in this case.
It sort of reminds of bleach, which early on introduced us to an amazing set of characters, most of whom where a more impressive gem than even the primary protagonist, but many of which saw their star fade because of a lack of…something to do in the presence of Ichigo.
Now SAO isn’t exactly like that, but it clearly suffers from a similar ailment, in that it will introduce interesting characters, even attempt to include them in the main plot, and then completely discard them, or rather forget them. Many of these characters will make a very brief appearance in the story, during which time they will play some important part, but are eventually forgotten, and will almost never appear again, besides a flash back or some random mention of their name, by which you will have forgotten them.
I get the idea, that SAO was primarily about Kirito and Asuna, but…Why? I don’t get it. SAO is based on an MMO, so we are talking about a myriad of complex and interesting stories following several equally interesting characters in separate plots that will occasionally intertwine.
How they decided to focus the entire series around one character baffles me. At the very least they could have expounded on the story of that guy that Kirito left behind and still feels so guilty about. Several other writers out their could have done a much better job with that wasted potential.
Anyway, I think you can all tell where I am heading with this. I don’t really have problem with the wasted potential in all those characters they introduced and forgot. My problem is with Asuna. I think she single handedly ruined the second half of SAO. Most people likely to point to that pseudo sister of Kirito’s when criticizing SAO, but I disagree.
Despite the fact that her character was so forgettable that I have even forgotten her name, I think she added a new and interesting twist to SAO. ASuna ruined it all, when it all became about her, and after a while, her characterization began to irritate me.
This came back to me as I watched ryouta and Himiko, his love interest. The relationship was interesting without overwhelming the entire plot mostly because Himiko was unique, and that was the same thing with all the characters on the island.
The idea of Btooom is that someone out their voted that you disappear from existence and are never found. Of course these people think it is a joke and only hope it is true, but none the less, that changes the entire dynamic of the story.
Ryouta wants to leave the hell he has been forced into, but to return to what? First he gets irritating. He knows his mom has to be the one that voted him to the island. And his imprecatory attitude towards her, his scathing words about the evil and selfishness of adults and how all they do is think about infuriates the hell out you about him. Because you saw the first episodes and the flash backs,and even as the primary protagonist, you know that this asinine irritation of a teenager deserved it, what with the way he treated his mother and his disgusting mannerisms towards his stepfather.
But then there are other times, when it dawns onto him, who he is and what he did during his life as a free man and the regrets he had in life. And he gets down right pitiful as his will to survive is challenged by dark thoughts of what awaits him beyond the island. After all, if he accepts that he deserved what happened to him, then what else is Btooom but a punishment.
This doubts extend to the rest of the cast, many of whom have enjoyed happy and fulfilling lives, and can’t help but wonder who among their loved ones could have betrayed them; which Judas had been hiding among those smiling faces, and what if it was someone so much closer to them than they realize? Like a father, a wife, a daughter. What then? Against whom do they fight for, to unleash their feelings of vengeance for the sufferings that they will face.
The relationship between Himiko and Ryouta dances around their respective failings in their home lives and their guilt over their actions that they believe make them deserving of their punishments. These events color the relationship, especially in the case of Himiko and the physical and psychological damage that she had and does suffer on the island at the hands of over powering men, before she meets Ryouta.
The manner in which these male figures treat her darkly colors her view of this young man, especially in the light of both of their ignorance, over what there avatars meant to each other in the virtual world.
Even beyond this fact of who or why any of these combatants is on the island, is the fact of their humanity. What is bad? Who is evil in this setting? It is a matter of survival, so what right does Ryouta have to survive anymore than the rest of these individuals do?
Each and everyone of these combatants is a precious life, probably with people waiting for them back home. So if Ryouta must kill any of them to survive, doesn’t that make him the villain in this case?
Even the idea of villain here is cloudy. After all this is a game of survival for the fittest, the the sometimes cowardly, underhanded and down right evil acts that are committed by some of these characters are merely the weapon they use to get by. Where Ryouta reaches out to his gaming experience for advantage, they utilize the basic instinct of man to survive at any cost. As such it is hard to term their actions as evil or bad.
At the end of the day, Btooom brings the choice down to sticking to ones morals and dying, or casting those morals aside momentarily and taking the initiative to kill, even those that don’t deserve it; because on the the island those are the only two questions.
Kindness will kill you, and ruthlessness will save, and I like the idea that btooom is willing to put our heroes into that situation, where they might have to go down a path that will make them deserving of death.
There is no clean way to do survive,no justice to control the rules of the game, only those that will kill and those that won’t.
if I haven’t convinced you in the above paragraphs that Btooom is a much better show than SAO, then…I don’t know.
I will say that there is no doubt about how less fulfilling SAO’s conclusions are. I am obviously referring to how Kirito and the rest of them finally escaped SAO. I was looking forward to that final boss battle more than anything in SAO, and for them to wrap it up in the form of some very basic sword fight against a less than impressive villain was…IRRITATING.
If that was what was awaiting Kirito after defeating a hundred floors, I am happy they got it out of the way. But really, what the heck kind of final villain was that.
Anyway, I think I will stick to bad guys with bombs, because you can’t even begin to guess who the final boss will be and which player are yet to be revealed on the island, that will turn Ryouta’s world around.
As most 2012 anime were, Btooom has pretty impressive animation, especially since it was done by madhouse but nothing that will blow your mind,so basically nothing like SAO. The music…well I didn’t even really notice it, so again nothing like SAO’s powerful scores.
What I will give Btooom are the characters, action and the plot. From another point of view, this anime can be quite sad, especially when characters that you are routing for face tragic circumstances.
The events that befall Himiko are quite…disturbing, and even when she comes off as the most irritating character in the show ( her irrationality in the beginning annoyed me), you can sort of understand where she is coming. Which is probably why prefer her as a character to Asuna; minus all the home drama, you know that Himiko needs ryouta to save her, not physically but emotionally.
Actually by the end of the show, you know that they are both damaged souls that have and need to save each other once again. Whereas Kirito in SAO simply chose to reject everything important in his life due to some bumps along the way (realizing that he is adopted and all), you know that Ryouta has nothing (the NEET term kind of says it all).
Both he and Himiko have suffered, and truth be told, while I couldn’t care less about Kirito and Asuna’s so called problems, I couldn’t help but be touched by these two suffering souls (though I think we all agree that if Ryouta’s mom voted for him, he really did deserve it.)