Betterman, Volume 1: The Awakening

Matt Brown (Editor in Chief) — August 19th, 2002
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It's a pretty well-known fact that artists have a tendency to be overcritical of their own work, even to the point of broadcasting to those around them that the work isn't worth viewing. The work itself rarely echoes that sentiment though, but Betterman is an exception to the rule. Right from the start, it seems to scream, "Stop watching!", and the voice only gets stronger in subsequent episodes. At its beginning, the show does little to appeal to the viewer. It works off a concept that could be interesting, but execution is poor.

The story opens with a large number of deaths at the new amusement park, Bottom World, delaying the park's grand opening. Keita Aono, an idiot (making him quite obviously the promised child who will deliver the world from danger), arrives at school just in time to find out that his childhood friend Hinoki is a new student in his class. The school adjourns for the day, and Keita makes a mad run for the subway to get out of the rain. Much to his surprise, the barriers in front of Bottom World have been removed! Due to the afore-mentioned idiocy, he decides to enter the park.

It's there that he meets Sakura, a cute mystic girl with pink hair, who tells him to leave because people are dying in there. In attempting to leave, he makes a discovery that's about as surprising as people needing oxygen to survive: his friend Hinoki is the pilot (they call them Dual-Types) of a large robot! Not only that, there just so happens to be an extra seat for Keita to take, in case they get attacked (which of course they do). Another shocking (not) revelation is that Keita has the natural ability to pilot these robots.

Hey lady! Get me some peanuts! The support characters (such as Miyako Asami here) had better designs than the main characters.

The robots are called Awakeners, and are somewhat vertically symmetric. They're made for two pilots, and have the capability to flip themselves over so the other pilot can take control. While not exactly the most intuitive design for a robot, it does pique the interest. The newly formed dynamic duo of course meet their match eventually, and their robot decides to stop working right at that moment. This sounds like a job for Betterman! The not-so-mysterious (since everone seems to know who he is) Betterman arrives just in time to beat up the bad guy and save the day. Oh, and he has the same wierd hair colors as Hinoki, thereby identifying a relation between the two (though I'm sure it will be revealed later in another "shocking revelation"). The rest of the episodes consist of Sakura spouting out cryptic messages and the dynamic duo narrowly escaping death.

The problem with the story thus far isn't in concept, but execution. Everything that happens is just too convenient, and you can almost guess what the characters are going to say before they say it, most of the time. Betterman might turn out to be an interesting character later on, but the show gives us no reason to believe it thus far. All we know at this point is that he has a habit of showing up just in time to save our promised children from the clutches of the evil Algernon and his army of hacked machines.

Betterman's character designs were slightly more impressive than the storyline, but not by much. Having a main character with multi-colored hair would seem like an interesting thing to do, but it doesn't work very well with Hinoki. Instead of sticking out as a gem, she sticks out like a sore thumb. Her presence in the show as a result is awkward. Betterman has similar coloring, but it works better for him because he's more obviously a supernatural being. Oddly enough, the better character designs were for the support characters, like Sakura and Kaede (another Dual-Type). Why they decided to go plain-Jane with Keita's design makes little sense.

While not a saving grace, the music for this first volume of Betterman is actually pleasant. It doesn't get in the way of the show, and the opening and closing themes are nicely done. Audio quality in general wasn't exceptional, but didn't have any noticeable problems either. The video quality was rather outstanding, which seems to be the norm for Bandai recently.

The packaging for Volume 1 is excellent. It sports one of the more charming pictures of Hinoki on the front and the insert, and the cover also has some interesting reflective properties. On the flip side of the cover is another nice set of pictures, with Hinoki on the front and Keita on the back. Extras on the disc include a textless opening sequence, production art gallery with 5 images, a feature called "Mode Warp File #1" which goes into detail on one of Betterman's transformations, and some trailers for other Bandai shows. These extras are put together pretty well, and do add value to the volume.

I can't say that I would recommend Betterman to anyone, based solely on the first volume. It has the basis of what could be an interesting show, but falls victim to poor storytelling and uninspiring character design. Perhaps the show will redeem itself later on, but it gives a poor plea for our attention at its beginning.

Distributor: Bandai Entertainment
Creator: Sunrise
Released: 1999

Video Quality: A
Audio Quality: A
Presentation: A-
Content: D+
Overall: C