Beyblade Vol. #07 (Mania.com)
Review Date: Friday, April 16, 2004
Release Date: Tuesday, February 24, 2004
I think this is best summed up in the words of my roommate, after I tried to explain the show to him: "Wow, so even with the infinite possibilities of animation, they still couldn't make this interesting?" Pretty much right on the money.
The audio itself is fine. It's a plain stereo mix without any flair, but the show's for kids and Saturday morning cartoons, so they didn't really need anything. All the dialogue and sound effects are pretty much front-only because the camera is almost always centered on the action anyway. What little directionality is there works fine, but most of it is simply given over to the music.
Ah, and what music it is. The opening at least has some level of infectious idiotic energy and I found myself singing along with it. Aside from the adolescent lyrics, it wouldn't have seemed out of place among a lot of crappy alterna-rock broadcast on the radio, sadly. The rest of the music, however, is just too much. The infantile lyrics and simplistic sounds will have most people gagging, and everyone else will just block it out.
As for the voice acting, it was obvious that the actors couldn't care less about the show, as they all seem to be phoning in their performances to pay the rent. When I first got the disc and popped it in, I checked out the first five minutes and it seemed fine. Things flowed pretty well, words were clear and the corny jokes were the kind of things I'd actually heard my little brother say.
But it turns out that was just because it was a voice-over. Once the lips start flapping and the ridiculous script comes out, the dialogue became chopping and strained, with incredibly artificial delivery (I had flashbacks to Speed Racer more than once). It's when the actors are supposed to show some emotion that it all falls apart, however. Unable to muster even a half-hearted yell, scream or grunt, their apathy is apparent and pretty much seals the deal on the audience not caring either.
The video is fine, and is matches the audio in pretty much all respects: it's serviceable but nothing remarkable. Again, this is perfectly understandable given the purpose of the show.
I don't really have any direct complaints about the packaging, per se, but I've given it a low grade simply because the guy posing on the cover never shows up in this volume outside of a handful of flashbacks. He's just one more string of "unbeatable" Beybladers that our heroes will undoubtedly face, almost get beaten by and then managed to defeat. They faced him before, and it was apparently important then, but they couldn't have picked a more appropriate picture to cover 5 episodes of Beyblading with side-show freaks and international stereotypes?
Other than that, the packaging is pretty standard. It was amusing to notice that the show stayed true to its merchandising roots by including a rebate for Beyblade video games and a mini catalogue for the tops.
The menus are pretty simple, but effective. The spin up and down, just like the Beyblades themselves. Their best trait by far, though, is that they're fast. No frills, so you can get straight to whatever you're looking for and get it over with.
The extras include, in addition to an assortment of Geneon trailers for kid shows, a Beyblade toy promo that pretty much explains why I've never heard of anyone playing with these things (i.e. they're not fun) and a TV spot advertising Beyblade VForce every morning on ABC Family, a third-string cable channel. At least they restored my faith in humanity, since it's not on broadcast television.
Haphazardly traveling through Europe without parents, money or even luggage, our group of plucky heroes tumbles into one listless adventure after the next. Thank goodness everyone speaks the same language around the world, or the script writers might have had to include more characters.
First, they are kidnapped by a group of incompetent (but pure evil!) villains while traveling by train through the Chunnel (the tunnel beneath the English Channel). Why? So that they could fight in the dark of, miles from sunlight! These evil villains feed of the power of the dark, with bitbeasts (sacred spirits residing in the Beyblade tops ? it's unclear if they're real, digital, spiritual or what ? not that it ever really matters) are patterned after horror movie classics like Dracula and the Wolfman.
Our heroes are in quite a bind until they realize that it means the bitbeasts also have the same weaknesses as monsters from the stories. Thank goodness the villains were nice enough to play those very same old horror movies when they hijacked the train. Oh, and someone was nice enough to leave a silver dollar lying around to, to defeat the Wolfman.
Having of course defeated the bad guys just before the arrival of any adults, the group travels on to France where the show stops for a brief lesson in culture. The director obviously took out his Encyclopedia and gave us simple drawings and one-line history lessons on half a dozen Paris landmarks, just to remind us that we are indeed in Paris and to give Beyblade some pretense of having redeeming value as "edutainment." But oh no! The villains attack again (in broad daylight) at Tokyo Tow ? er, I mean, the Eiffel Tower. They are defeated again, but not before the value of teamwork once again is spoon-fed to us.
We also get the history of these villains. Apparently they were all losers from the beginning and got soundly beaten by Europe's champion Beybladers. They blamed the sport itself for their failure (after all, if it didn't exist, they wouldn't have lost, right?) and got some kind of demonic/evil bitbeasts to embark on a quest to destroy the "great sport" of Beyblading.
So anyway, their defeat it witnessed by Oliver, a rather girlish-looking French brat who turns out to be the worlds best cook (insert shock here) as well as being a world-champion (and undefeated) Beyblader. He's incredibly rich and, being French, loves food, art and beautiful things. You know this because he mentions one or the other in every single line.
After complimenting the Bladebreakers and then criticizing their lack of control over their bitbeasts, he runs off and shows up next episode when two of the boys plan to spend the entire day in the Louvre. Unlike in our world, that's apparently pronounced "loo-VRAH" in the Beyblade universe, by the way. They make sure to repeated mispronounce the name again and again as we get our second geographical history lesson about Paris. Oliver vacillates between being a stuck-up, pompous jerk and a stuck-up, pompous jerk with a heart of gold.
Eventually, of course, he ends up facing our hero (it's obvious by this point that only the kid Tyson matters and the other 4 are window dressing) in the Beyblade arena. I almost lost it when Oliver revealed his bitbeast: Unicolean. If the name itself didn't tip you off, imagine the love-child between Napolean and a unicorn. So they fight, and the whole time Oliver mocks Tyson for not having enough control over his bitbeast. Apparently Beyblading is an art, and requires great control. Tyson can't lose, of course, but at least he manages to get a tie with this ?amazing' Beyblader. Oliver, surprisingly, snaps at some of his supporters who whine like sore losers, again showing that the creators couldn't decide whether he was supposed to be a spoiled brat or a wise champion.
Having tied, Oliver recommends that they go visit another undefeated champion in Italy, setting up a formula which repeats itself later on the disc and I'm sure drags out for another volume or two: they Bladebreakers meet up with a boastful fool, beat him and are then told that there is someone even better the next country over.
Enrique, the Italian champion, was a much clearer character. Considering how Oliver was built out of French clichés, I was rather hoping that Enrique would turn out to be a mob boss's son, but instead he's just another boring, rich brat. His Italian character traits including being a control freak, a playboy, mistreating his bitbeast and wearing his family's ancestral armor from Rome, passed down through his family for 2000 years. I'm sure they were happy when he modified the shield to turn it into a Beyblade launcher and cut grooves into the sword so it could pull the gears in the top. There goes a multi-million dollar family heirloom and historical artifact.
The first fight with Enrique is technically a loss, but as is standard with tournament and fighting anime, we can technically pretend that it doesn't count (thus preserving the hero's track record) since his Enrique's bitbeast attacked Tyson directly. The Italian actually offers a rematch in the final episode on the disc, giving Tyson the chance to learn from his mistakes and become even better. This time around, when Enrique's constant whipping of his bitbeast cause it to turn and attack him, Tyson is good enough to not only beat the creature, but save Enrique. And that's how everyone learns the value of friendship, hard work and treating your pets (or bitbeasts) with respect.
Of course, Enrique talks about another player who's even better then him, which finally brings us to the cover of the volume. The Bladebreakers then shoot off in that direction before anything vaguely interesting could happen.
Somehow the Bladebreakers manage to have 5 fights and tour half of Europe on this volume without a single interesting thing happening. The best it got was when I was guessing what kind of international stereotype we'd get next, but my real pleasure was watching my roommate get stupider just by watching or even listening to it. Sadly, he couldn't take it for long and made me turn it off for the day.
There really is nothing here. The characters are paper-thin to the point where I forget that some of them are even there ? and it doesn't matter. The plots are insultingly predictable, and they didn't even bother to use formulaic stories that are actually interesting. This is one of those shows that should remind you that not everything from Japan is gold and not all anime is great, and proves why all those jokes about corporations coming up with silly and ridiculous product ideas are so persistent. Had this show been as wacky and will to go completely around the bend as, say G-Gundam, it might have had some redeeming features, but that's asking too much from it.
The following is my re-enactment of the creation of Beyblade. "The names are made up, but the problems are real", and all that. Don't take it as history so much as what history might as well have been:
Okay, so somewhere in Japan, some corporate executive came up with the idea to try to sell vaguely customizable tops with magnets in them as some sort of gladiatorial game. Realizing that it wasn't actually a particularly fun toy, he talks to some Madhouse and TV Tokyo and gets them to put an intern in charge of coming up with an anime to ram it down kid's throats. So this intern-turned-director takes a shovel full of shonen anime clichés and dumps them into the Merchandizing Machine, mixes it with some simplistic character designs, and out pops Beyblade.
Now mind you, no one along the way actually thought to make this anime actually good or interesting, or at least it certainly doesn't show in the final product. What we have instead is a jumbled show with a cliché-ridden plot and premise that even a child can see through. Sure, there are worse shows out there for kids to sit in front of the tube for, but I would hope that parents would have at least some hand in their kid's viewing habits and steer them towards something better.
If nothing else, when it's so obvious that none of the staff cared about Beyblade at all, why should we?
Mania Grade: F
Audio Rating: C
Video Rating: B
Packaging Rating: C+
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: C
Age Rating: 3 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Geneon Entertainment (USA), Inc.
Running time: 125
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2