Huzzah, just what the anime world needs, another “real life video game” anime!…is what I was thinking when I read the synopsis of BTOOOM!. After watching several of those (most recently Sword Art Online) I was a little concerned that this was just an attempt to cash in on a popular trend. However, from what I found BTOOOM! may be among the best that that genre has offered.
“BTOOOM!” is an onomatopoeia for the sound of a bomb exploding. It is also the name of a popular video game. The game’s kind of like Halo mixed with Counterstrike or Call of Duty except, instead of guns, the players only use bombs. The protagonist of the story is Ryouta Sakamoto a programmer and one of the top 10 BTOOOM! players in the world (and the highest ranked Japanese player). The easiest way to describe Ryouta in a general sense, is to say that he’s what you would get if someone mixed Kirito from SAO with Light Yagami from Death Note. Even though he’s a skilled gamer, Ryouta pretty much sucks at real life. He also has a propensity for becoming a cold, heartless, bastard at certain times. However, his gaming skills make him a skilled tactician. One day, Ryouta wakes up to find himself on an island and forced to play in a real life game of BTOOOM! to survive. The players, most of whom are regular people, are abducted and taken to a deserted island. The rules of the game are explained to them along the way: they each have bombs and a radar chip, and they must kill 7 other people and collect their chips in order to win the game and be taken off the island.
The people running the game have set it up so that supplies are air dropped onto the island at regular intervals. Trying to claim the supplies for themselves causes a lot of the initial conflicts between players. Several of the players band together in order to increase their chances of survival. Ryouta eventually ends up with a small group, including the female lead, Himiko. Himiko is actually the girls gamer tag. Her real name is Emilia. Initially, she comes off as hating all contact with men. Despite the fact that she’s managed to fight off any man that’s actually tried to rape her, she’s had some bad experiences in the past that caused her to retreat into the world of VR games. Himiko and Ryouta are actually married in the game world, but have never met each other in real life. Eventually, Himiko figures out that Ryouta is the player she knows as Sakamoto. Still, she fills the role of playing tsundere to Ryouta. There are several other characters that are introduced on the island, each of which seems to be composed of one or two different tropes or archetypes. Some of them are killed off rather quickly and others just don’t have enough time to develop to make them worth mentioning here.
This anime handles a lot of varying themes and concepts and actually manages to pull them together into something that doesn’t feel borrowed or cliche. The game itself feels a lot more like a Battle Royal scenario than a video game anime scenario. As you’d expect, there’s a lot of issues that emerge from the concept of ordinary people being thrust into an extraordinary situation, especially one where they are expected to kill or be killed. This aspect of the story, while constantly present, isn’t really dwelt upon. Instead of listening to a constant, tearful, set of monologues about the value of life and death, etc. These characters quickly pick a path and then act on it. That’s not to say there isn’t some dialogue about this stuff, but it’s still much less than I would’ve expected.
Animation wise, pretty much everything in the show is dark and dank looking, with the character designs having a little bit more a feel of manga characters than traditional anime. This style of animation really helps to convey a sense of realism or authenticity to the graphic nature of the series. Everything from the personal/domestic violence to the killing and maiming that happens on the island really carries some weight behind it. The fight scenes are well done, but you do have to suspend disbelief in order to not be distracted by how unrealistic it is to have people surviving multiple bomb-fights without having….well…melted faces or other body parts. That being said, the animation does it’s job in keeping you engaged on that end. The staging of the fights is also pretty well done, considering that the bombs introduce an unorthodox situation for a fight. The only drawback to the fights is that they’re inconsistent. Sometimes there’s a lot of inner monologue (or, in some cases, an outer monologue) detailing the moves being made in the fight. While, in others the action is just a backdrop for some other inner turmoil that the character is having.
I should also mention the music. I did really like the initial opening theme (I believe it’s called “No Pain, No Game”) even if it did seem like it was meant a little more for something like Bleach. But, alas, it seems like that theme was replaced in episode 12, so I doubt it will come back even if the show does.
Overall, the biggest drawback to this series is its length. Currently, it’s only one season long at 12 episodes. All signs would suggest that a second season of this show would be on its way. If not, this is something I would definitely pick up the manga for just to see how things pan out. The show’s definitely a strong starting point. My only hope is that, as the story continues (if it does) that they don’t get bogged down with trying to go back and over develop some of the characters. I worry that trying to over-dramatize it could remove some of the edge from the show. Where this show really thrives is in the almost primal interactions of the characters with each other and with this scenario they’ve been placed in.
Despite it’s abbreviated length and the subsequent lack of sufficient story and character development, this turned out to be a really good show. Unfortunately, there’s no indication that there will be a 2nd season of this anime. Even if this turns out to be the only season, it could still be considered to be a great gateway to get people into the manga. If you’re thinking of watching this show, bear in mind that this show is definitely for a mature audience. Even though it’s been toned down a bit from the parts of the manga I’ve read, it’s still pretty violent. It also takes the characters to some pretty depraved places and includes depictions of rape and murder.
If you’ve watched other anime like Accel World or SAO recently and you’re ready for something a little darker (or if you like shows like GANTZ), give this one a try. Oh, also, this is one of the shows where things will occasionally happen after the credits. So, when you’re watching, pay attention to how much time is left when the end credits roll, because you may need to stick around for another minute or so after that.