Betterman Vol. #4 (of 6) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Thursday, January 02, 2003
Release Date: Tuesday, December 03, 2002



What They Say
The future of the Mode Warp team is unclear as the startling revelation to the Betterman transformation is unveiled! Grief-stricken, Hinoki and Keita take a trip back to her old house, but will they be allowed one quiet afternoon or will unseen enemies make their presence felt?

With the team under attack in both dreams and reality, and the Betterman under close watch, a new power has been introduced which could spell doom for all of humanity!

The Review!
After being completely lost in volume three, things manage to get back into a more recognizable mode here with the help of a very illuminating recap episode.

Audio:
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this disc in its original language of Japanese. The series appears has a 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 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.

Video:
Betterman continues to be one of the darker shows I’ve seen in its use of the black and gray palette, though it does branch out a bit better here. Colors throughout look good without being over saturated, and have a slightly soft feel to them, which seems to be very intentional by the style. 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, even in the bright daylight sequences.

Packaging:
Again using the foil method, the front cover looks gorgeous! A slightly smiling Kaede takes the primary focus here with her hair swinging about through the lightning, with the faded image of Betterman in one of his transformations in the background. The back cover uses the foil 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 look 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. The included card with this release is of Kaede against a shimmery pink/purple background.

Menu:
There’s a brief and rather loud 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.

Extras:
The extras in this round are about the same as the previous volume, where we get a few pages of sketches and information in the Mode Warp Files section as well as some good looking sketches in the production sketches section. There in general doesn’t seem to be a lot of extra material associated with this series.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
After a very confusing third volume, where even after multiple viewings we just weren’t really sure where any of it was going, things turn out a fair bit better here by providing an episode where we get a recap of certain key events in the form of the main cast trying to figure out what’s going on around them. Normally I hate these things, but this series has been so purposefully oblique in many areas since its start, that this recap actually provides new information as it plays through.

Getting the story of things, from Hinoki’s parents disappearing in the caves up until where things left off in the last volume helped clean up things that we were unsure of it. Their discussion about what’s been going on is mirrored by an excursion that Keita and Hinoki themselves go on, as he takes her out for what he thinks is a date. They actually end up in the town she last lived in prior to returning to where she and Keita were born, and uses this as a chance to check out her house and to try and reconnect with her past some. Keita tries to manage through this, but some teen hormones show through here, although they do provide a great tickle moment.

The secondary members of the team also manage to get some decent time in these episodes, most notably Shou and Kaede. Both are involved early on when the Tyran models that were brought in start to act on their own, bringing in the possibility of the Neuronoids actually being able to develop their own level of consciousness or intelligence, which just adds one more confusing layer. But what Shou ends up discovering through his special powers is the infusion of someone’s soul being inside these machines, and that it has a personal connection to him that begins to really affect him. He manages to pull off a fairly emotional episode very well.

The creepiest episode was also one of the better ones here, as we have initially Keita and Hinoki off in the mountains on a school trip. Though they’re supposed to be out of range of the Akamatsu group’s gear, Keita gets a request for help from Kaede and the two head off and discover an eerily quiet medical building. There’s definitely something evil afoot in there, especially when they get to a corpse retention room and all the caskets are empty. Things get creepier when all Hinoki can hear is the subtle low sound of eating going on, compounded by the fact that Sakura arrives and all she wants to do is chow down on the two of them. This episode just plays out in an eerie way that was more reminiscent of earlier episodes than the past volume was.

Now that I’ve gained my footing again in the series, though still plenty confused about a fair amount of things, I’m looking forward to the next volume to see if any of the large number of questions are answered, particularly about the entire new race we’re learning about.

Features
Japanese Language,English Language,English Subtitles,Production Sketches,Mode Warp Files

Review Equipment
Toshiba TW40X81 40" HDTV, Panasonic RP-82 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Sony speakers.



Mania Grade: C+
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: B+
Packaging Rating: A
Menus Rating: A-
Extras Rating: C+
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Bandai Entertainment
MSRP: 29.98
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Betterman