Btooom!’s premise is one we’ve been getting quite accustomed to, as a survival game setting has been quite the trend for the last few seasons. To be honest, it’s always a premise that attracts me: seeing the characters struggle with the notion that they have to “kill or be killed”, which often conflicts with their morals, is quite the thought-provoking thing in itself, as it never fails to make me wonder what I’d do and how I would react in a similar situation. One other point in this setting’s favor is obvious by the name itself: a survival game implies there will be people dying, which often brings along some cool action scenes and some gore. I don’t know if that’s a plus in everyone’s books, but it certainly is an entertaining feature for me. However, most stories with this kind of setting are unsurprisingly similar. While some few authors can come up with more branching, a survival game usually has quite the strict rulebook to follow. This is definitely Btooom!’s case, as it did little to set itself apart in terms of originality. Of course that’s nothing to hold against it. The big question is: if it didn’t manage to tell a different story than all its predecessors of the same genre, what are its selling points and how good were they?
Due to the aforementioned lack of real distinguishable traits in the plot, most of the value from this type of series lies in the characters. In first place, as I said before, their moral struggles are the reason I’m attracted to this setting. As such, the character development will be the key aspect to determine how much I enjoy such a show, or, generalizing this notion, how much a show with a known setting is worth watching. In a survival game setting, the characters make the series, and unfortunately to the show, I don’t think Btooom! managed to succeed in this field.
Sakamoto Ryouta, the protagonist of the series, is a 22-year-old NEET, addicted to a video game which the series is title after. One day, he wakes up in an island, not knowing what he’s doing there. Moreover, a guy trying to kill him with bombs soon appears. Along with an unknown number of other people, Sakamoto and Himiko – a 15-year-old girl who’s scared of man due to a traumatic experience – are trapped in an island, playing a game with their lives on the line, in a scenario that presents killing 7 other people as the requirement to get out alive.
Despite there being many more people in the island, only these two main characters seem to get any sort of real development. Such fact is both a weakness and a strength. It’s quite disappointing when considering the best possible approach to a survival game relies on exploring the different characters, and their personal issues. However, Btooom! doesn’t have the kind of writing quality nor does it have the time to satisfactorily explore its full cast. By instead focusing on the main pair and showing no more than the different takes at the game and short and concise flashbacks for the others, the series gains more than it would lose by trying something it definitely can’t do.
That said, Btooom! is quite an entertaining show. The actions scenes are interesting, specially considering that fighting using bombs isn’t a common sight in anime and the plans the characters conceived to outwit one another had their own merit, since the mechanics of the game are at least somewhat new. Besides that, the color pallet is pretty and the OP song is fabulous, so this is something I never once considered dropping, if solely due to the sheer entertainment value.
All in all, this is a series about how an anti-social guy who loathed (and was aggressive towards) his family, ended up understanding his behavior steamed from simple miscommunication. Well, it’s not really about that, but that’s probably the most interesting point to me. There was a stark contrast between the naive and kind-hearted Sakamoto we saw most of the time and the one shown in the flashbacks. His gradual realization of the fact that his parents weren’t the only ones acting wrong and his apparent change were the best character development Btooom! had to offer, and I wouldn’t trade it for any kind of attempt at developing side characters.
There were also things that annoyed me to death in Btooom!, that’s for sure. Most of those can be included in a single category – character reactions – the worst being when two certain characters run from other after having struck his back with an sickle. While he was on the floor, wouldn’t it be quite simple to solve the situation by killing him or incapacitating him? Like knocking him unconscious with the handle, for example. Stupid reactions for the sake of more drama are something I simply can’t stand. It is also not a complete adaptation, thus carrying the shortcomings that usually come along with that. I think the plot had the potential to become a bit more interesting with more being revealed about the company who mounted the game scenario and Sakamoto’s plan to hijack an helicopter. Ending this with a cliffhanger and being ambiguous about a sequel is a smart move financially, but quite an annoying one for the viewers.
However, and despite the bad points it did have, I liked watching Btooom!. As a survival game, it did is job at making me wonder to myself how I would act in the situations presented each time, and as an action show it was entertaining enough. It isn’t terribly original, nor does it have any strong enough points to make it above average, but it’s still quite the decent watch when you don’t want to tire your brain too much.