Btooom!: Less Hunger Games, More Battle Royale

Note:  the following post contains spoilers for the Btooom! anime and the movies Battle Royale and The Hunger Games.  If you don’t want any of these ruined for you, I suggest you read this post after you watch them.  I’ll put a “read more” tag before I get into them, though.

Oh, Btoom!.  You could have been so great.  I don’t know what happened.  Well…actually I do, but let me preface this before I go there.

I first heard of this show while listening to a Podtaku episode.  Btooom! was supposedly just like The Hunger Games.  And, trust me, I am an avid Hunger Games fan.  I read all three books pretty much in a weekend.  After that, I tracked down the horrifically subtitled old release of Battle Royale off Netflix because I just had to see the movie that the books pretty much ripped off.  (I know there are two camps in this debate, but the material is so similar, it’s ridiculous.)  I even watched the terrible sequel.  I saw the first movie at the midnight show in freaking Imax, and then I saw it three more times in the theaters.  It’s safe to say…I really love The Hunger Games.  I liked Battle Royale to a certain extent, as well.  I’m not going to say I liked it, though, it was more along the lines of it really disturbed me.  I got it.  But even though I own the re-release on Blu-Ray, I still haven’t taken it out of the packaging because I don’t know if I can sit through all the exploitative violence again.  I have the book, too, and it’s just sitting on my shelf unread.

There’s a huge difference between Battle Royale and The Hunger Games, even though the premises are so much alike: The Hunger Games is less about violence and more about relationships between the characters and their environments, while Battle Royale focuses on action and gratuitous violence.

And this is the difference between Btooom! and The Hunger Games, as well.  While watching and reading The Hunger Games, I was focused less on the plot elements and more on my feelings towards the characters and their feelings towards each otherI felt no compassion towards any of the Btooom! characters.

The anime is completely driven by its plot, much like Battle Royale.  Even though the anime attempts to make Sakamoto and Himiko sympathetic characters (Oh no!  Why did this complete slacker get dropped into a video game?  All of Himiko’s friends hate her and she has nothing to live for on this island trapped with bombs strapped to her waist!  Wah, wah), I felt nothing for either one of them.  This is another case of where the side characters are more interesting than the main ones, but I couldn’t relate or bother to care about most of them, either.  The show clips along at such a ridiculous pace that its “character development” is only shown through rushed flashback scenes that you’re not even sure are real because, now, let’s be real, Ryouta has some kind of brain damage/amnesia to start off with, and Himiko is all sorts of screwed up in the head because she’s convinced every person with a penis wants to molest her.  We don’t get enough time to learn anything about the characters, and the anime suffers because of this.  Sure, if you’re like, “Who gives a fuck about the plot?  I just want to see The Hunger Games with bombs!” then this is for you.  Myself, I found Btooom! somewhat lacking.

I also found it completely ripping off Battle Royale, and here’s where the spoilers check in.

The Hunger Games, Battle Royale, and Btooom! are all, in essence, supposed to be about how true love can know no boundaries, even when there are groups of people on an island trying to kill each other, where only one can survive.  It’s not explicitly stated in Btooom! that there can only be one person left at the end, but Masaki (the older woman who survived even without her chip) states that once a group only needs one final chip to call the helicopter to get off the island, they will be “tested,” which ultimately means one will need to kill the other to win the game.  (I do have another theory behind this, in that the hallucinations both Taira and Ryouta saw were the “tests,” given CGI form by the game’s creators, but that might be too smart for this show, as they were having “mechanical problems” towards the end, but I digress.)  However, there are couples within all three of the media that pledge to each other to not only get out alive, but stay together in the end.  In both The Hunger Games and Battle Royale, they succeed, Katniss and Peeta trick the higher ups into thinking they will both commit suicide, leaving them without a winner, and the main couple in Battle Royale get off the island…I can’t remember their names or exactly how, but they do.  I told you the character development in that movie was really terrible.  While the love between Katniss and Peeta may or may not be for show, for the cameras, to tug at the heartstrings of the viewers, the love between the Battle Royale kids is real.  And, in Btooom!, the love between Himiko and Ryouta is real, as evidenced by the fact that he stops himself from sleeping with her in the final episode because she is freaking terrified.  However, all the couples have to come to terms with the fact that they are all murderers in one way or another, even though their intentions were pure: to protect the one they loved.

In both Battle Royale and Btooom!, the characters are dropped on the island because people purposefully sent them there: the Battle kids as a whole class full of delinquents and the Btooom! characters hand-picked by hatred.  It’s all about karma.  The Hunger Games was much more innocent because, other than Katniss, nobody had a choice in fighting in the games for their districts.  As such, I believe The Hunger Games is in a category separate from the other two.  Everyone in Btooom! and Battle Royale gets their own individualized weapons, although, in the movie, they are more varied; the weapons range from guns to knives to a frying pan.  Btooom! just hands out different types of bombs to everyone, but I believe that they were chosen with the specific people in mind.  Ryouta, the top-ranked Btooom! player, gets bombs that require skill to use because they are on timers, while Kira, the clearly insane fourteen year old murderer, gets bombs that implode, causing massive destruction with very little thinking involved.  Characters in both media have accessories that allow them to be tracked (the shock collars and the chips), and the whole point is just to run around killing everyone they can.  The relationships between some of the characters were also established in the real world before they were abandoned on the island, as well.  All the kids in Battle Royale came from the same class, while Ryouta and Himiko were “married” in Btooom!, Kira came with his lawyer and his father, Ryouta and Oda were best friends/rivals in high school, and the list goes on.  Everything was just so premeditated, it was hard to stomach.  Also, they both take place in the “real world,” while The Hunger Games has an entire dystopian society attached to it.  Btooom! just rips off Battle Royale at so many different angles, it’s ridiculous.

The one area where Btooom! stands on its own is the ending.  Unfortunately, it’s not in a good way.  I understand that the manga has yet to be completed, and that is why it ended the way that it did, but basically, Btooom! has no real ending; it is left unfinished.  In everything else, the main couple gets off the island.  In Btooom!, nobody wins.  Ryouta and Himiko are still stuck there.  They still have enemies on the island to deal with, including Kira and Oda, and they don’t have enough chips to call the helicopter.  However, the helicopter is magically coming anyway because of “mechanical problems” on the island, which were clearly caused by Ryouta’s friend at the game company who was trying to get him a job there but failed.  He has one friend who is trying to help him out, even though his own mother betrayed him.  So, we don’t know what happens.  Nothing is resolved.  And that is my absolute WORST anime pet peeve.  There may or may not be another season, but if there is, it won’t be for a few years to allow the manga to catch up.  For the love of god, can’t they just have the author tell her ideas to the animators so they can finish something instead of leaving the entire thing up in the air?  Yes, Ryouta and Himiko have finally admitted their feelings for each other, but that’s not enough in a show that’s so clearly plot-driven.  I want a goddamned ending.  I want more of Kira and Oda.  I don’t want to have to sit here in limbo until even after the new Sailor Moon airs (coming this summer, aggggh hurry up!) to see who wins this stupid video game.  Shit, Sword Art Online had a great ending, and that had a similar premise in a completely different way, but man.  Give me an ending, even if it’s one where everybody dies.

To sum up, I recommend Btooom! if you like the people-trapped-on-an-island-killing-each-other-for-other-people’s-enjoyment genre, but just be warned that it’s not as much like The Hunger Games as it is made to seem.  There’s a clear difference between The Hunger Games and Battle Royale, and Btooom! lies on the more plot-driven side of the chasm.  How do you want Btooom! to end?  Do you think there will be a second season?  Which of the three do you prefer?  Let me know by clicking the little cartoon balloon at the top of this post, and you can tell me if I analyzed this way too much for anyone’s own good.

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