Betterman Vol. #1 (of 6) (Mania.com)
Review Date: Tuesday, April 30, 2002
Release Date: Tuesday, June 04, 2002
What They Say
A deadly virus has attacked humanity with vicious intent! At the forefront of the battle is the enigmatic Akamatsu Industries – Disguised as a heavy machine factory in Tokyo, this clandestine organization uses neural enhanced weapons known as Awakeners to battle the virus. But will the combined efforts of this secret organization and the mysterious warrior Betterman be enough to save Tokyo?
Betterman, a twenty six episode series from the folks at Sunrise, was originally aired in April of 1999 and throughout the summer. From what I can tell, it took the slot that Gasaraki had until that series came to its conclusion. And like that series, there’s definitely a feel of Evangelion to it, but this show is much darker, moodier and, well, it’s giving me the creeps.
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this disc in its original language of Japanese. The series appears to be sporting a pretty decent pro-logic track, so the rear speakers at least come alive on occasion. The majority of the rear activity tends to focus in the music, both the opening and the ending, as well as some incidental music and sound effects throughout. It’s not major by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s definitely there. Dialogue is well placed along the forward soundstage and we noticed no dropouts or distortions on either track during regular playback.
Betterman is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and is non-anamorphic, as no anamorphic prints exist. Some sites are unfortunately listing it as anamorphic though. This quite possibly one of the darkest looking TV series I’ve seen. While a number of shows are heavy in taking place at night, the feel of darkness is very oppressive here, something which is going to come through in different ways with this transfer. To have action taking place in the dark, a lot of scenes seem to have been animated in a slight gray tone, giving the show a less than solid feel when you’re expecting a black screen. The color palette used for it, from those dark underground caverns to simple places like Keita’s bedroom, lack vibrancy but have some good looking colors. Combined with the animation style, the show at times feels like a theatrical piece, with several sections reminiscent of Metropolis. This isn’t a show that’s going to look stunning since it’s intended to be murky.
Utilizing a foil method, the front cover looks gorgeous up close. While Hinoki makes out the best, you also get the image of the Betterman in the background against the lightning strikes. It’s an attractive cover with the foil. The back cover uses it as well, mixing the animation shots into one swipe. There’s a good summary of the show as well as the episode numbers and titles here. The discs features and production information is also listed. Bandai makes more friends with this cover by making it reversible and having that front cover be very similar to the Japanese one as well as providing the Japanese title logos for it on the front and on the spine. The back cover provides a variety of new artwork as well. The insert provided has the front cover art used again while it folds out to talk about the Betterman a bit. The back of the insert provides the full credits listing.
Be sure to crank up the volume before checking out this disc, because everyone needs to fall off their seats when the surprise of loud crackling lightning comes through your speakers. I certainly don’t want to be the only one who scrambled for the remote. There’s a brief lightning flare-up before the menu settles in to a version of the front cover with the Betterman image and lightning striking down on the logo and selections. The layout is very well done and the images used for everything sets the mood perfectly. Submenus are quick to load and easy to get around, and the language menu was done up just as I like them.
There’s a good selection of extras for the first volume here. The old standby of the textless opening makes its appearance here as well as a couple of pages of production gallery images, all in color no less. There’s also several pages called the Mode Warp Files, an in-show reference, about Betterman that help explain some things a bit. The credits section also provides the full translated listing of credits.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Just by looking at the cover of this show, without having to read the summary on the back, I knew I was in for something of a darker and potentially rather violent show. With that, I opted to start watching it later at night, so as to avoid the little eyes in the house from partaking of the show without my having checked it out first. When I got to the fifth episode, my wife sat down and started watching it. Halfway through, she asked what the show was about.
That’s when I knew I was in trouble. All I could do was stammer out a few lines about the characters and setting and what I think the plot may be. But even that was just mostly guesses. Betterman starts off just as in your face as Gasaraki did. Instead of a military operation with new robot designs, we end up dealing with a private corporation whose designed some unique new robots, or neuronoids as they prefer to call them. The company owner, Akamatsu, has arrived at the Bottom World amusement park with some of his group to investigate the tragedy that occurred there.
Some time earlier, about two hundred people went insane and started attacking each other. Only forty two other people survived and claimed that it was some form of insanity. Some of the bodies were completely cut to shreds while others died without a scratch. This is something that Akamatsu and his group have been searching for, something that they only whisper about, something called Algernon.
The other side to all of this is the introduction of high school boy Keita, someone who looks like he stepped out of a Tezuka manga. Something of a military/technology geek, Keita’s the usual kind of happy go lucky outcast at his high school (a high school which was originally designed to be a waste management facility no less). Keita and his friend are all excited about a new transfer student to the school, until he realizes that it’s his childhood friend Hinoki.
Hinoki’s one of the more interesting looking anime females I’ve seen recently. Her general look is a serious one, though somewhat somber. While the majority of her hair is brown, she’s got the three stripes of pinkish red, green and more pinkish red. When she and Keita meet eyes, we get a variety of flashbacks to when they were five or six and played together constantly. Getting to know her in present day though, she’s someone completely different. She’s even down on herself, calling herself an idiot fairly often. It’s a stark change from the usual rivalry we see in these kinds of characters.
Hinoki doesn’t spend long at school though on her first day, as she finds herself called to Bottom World to help out the investigation as she’s a member of Akamatsu’s group. In fact, she’s one of two pilots for the neuronoid that they have. This particular mecha is interesting in that it requires a special kind of human to pilot it, a Dual Kind. It also lets each pilot take control of it in a method where it reorients and rebuilds itself. It’s an interesting take on the pilot combination as well as the mecha itself. Of course, it’s also got itself a time limitation, something I find many writers putting in because they can’t think of any other way of making their mechas less than godlike. It’s definitely a crutch in a lot of series.
The usual happens at this point, with Keita ending up at Bottom World and checking it out, only to get himself caught up in what’s going on. Hinoki finds herself in serious trouble when her fellow Head Diver, what they call those who pilot the neuronoids (when they’re consistent at least; there were some instance of the subtitles saying Head Driver), Cactus gets himself killed. Keita of course proves to be a natural, and works with Hinoki to get out of a tough situation.
During these first five episodes, the title character, Betterman, actually does make a few appearances. But he’s shrouded in mystery for the most part, arriving on the scene twice to fight against the things that are attacking. Betterman has a resemblance to Hinoki with the hair, but otherwise we learn little about him. We see he has the ability to transform himself into a large gray beast and has a wide variety of powers from a psychovoice to manipulating air particles. We do get some potential clues about his past, but it almost feels too outlandish to believe.
The shows moodiness and overall creepy feel works exceptionally well in its favor. One of the things that’s subtle is that unless the adult character has an active part in the lives of the cast, you won’t see their face. It’ll be obscured with black shadows, preventing any detail. When you have people skulking around an area and then you see them up close, only to get the shadowy look, it really adds some shivers to it.
One of the nice things I like that was done was that the original openings and endings were kept without replacing the text with English text. Normally I’m not one to complain about it since it’s been such a normal practice for so long to replace it, but the style just worked so perfectly with the visuals. The opening sequence is a brief piece of underwater footage shot live with the character animations floating in and out. The ending sequence also works well with the animation used there, but the music really grabs me. The weird layering of the voices during segments of it is just… well, addictive.
This series looks like it had a large budget to it and it shows on the screen with the animation. There’s little stand-out CG going on here to distract away from the show itself which is a big plus. The storyline is completely up in the air at this point, but just not having any magical girls or animal sidekicks has me really psyched to see more. This is one of those shows that falls under the bio-horror genre that’s come up in recent years. It’s definitely something that’s fun to watch in the dark alone to see if you can get wigged out by it. If you’re looking for something dark and quite possibly original, this is one to check out.
Japanese Language,English Language,English Subtitles,Textless Opening, Warp Mode File #1,Production Art Gallery,Limited Edition Betterman Foil Card
Toshiba TW40X81 40" HDTV, Skyworth 1050P Progressive Scan codefree DVD player, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Sony speakers.
Mania Grade: B+
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: B+
Packaging Rating: A
Menus Rating: A-
Extras Rating: B+
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Bandai Entertainment
Running time: 125
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2