Betterman, Volume 2: Metamorphosis

Matt Brown (Editor in Chief) — August 21st, 2003
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Since I had decided to watch Betterman in its entirety to give it a fair assessment, I was hoping for a miracle (i.e. that the show would eventually produce some positive quantity of entertainment value). After viewing volume 2, that hope is all but gone. The show has settled comfortably into a routine of laughable attempts at a horror plot. I get the feeling it had the last laugh, as I ended up losing a precious part of my life watching it.

Personal feelings aside (for fear that I could go on all day about this topic), let's talk about why Betterman is making me feel like an abused child. The plot of the second volume might have some relation to the first, but I'm not really sure. The gang consisting of Akamatsu Industries and the Mode Warp folks (Akamatsu, Sakura, Miyako, Shou, Kaede, Hinoki, and Keita - henceforth referred to as "The Big Robot Club") decide to head to a location in India called the Ajanta Caves, for no apparent reason. While in the caves, they get into trouble (the details of how they get in trouble are never all that interesting, so I won't regurgitate them), and Betterman shows up to save the day (shock)! Even Betterman has some trouble, until he gets the power-up so he can beat the boss. The one benefit of the caves episodes is that a reasonably interesting character is introduced: a girl named Chandy, who has what looks like a pet robot lizard, except that it's an actual living thing. The Big Robot Club members escape with their lives and resume their quest to unravel the mysteries of this Algernon thing.

Happy ending accomplished, the group goes home (still no explanation about why they went to the caves, or what they accomplished by going), and Sakura breaks (note: I say this in jest, but it really is difficult to think of her as a living thing and not a machine) so they send her to the hospital. By this point I had come to the conclusion that the show had adopted the Sunnydale High School* motto, "Something weird is going on." Alas, something weird happens, and Keita has to save Sakura from the evil of the week. During this episode, we find out she has an extreme case of - brace yourself - ADHD, and she sits in this weird chair all the time so that she can get regular doses of Ritalin. We still don't know how she can do her mystical mojo (i.e. spouting out cryptic messages that make no sense), and at this point I don't expect that it will be explained. The final episode on the second volume shows The Big Robot Club being attacked by pink worms. Surprisingly, Betterman doesn't have to save all of them (only Sakura).

Some of the animation is very pretty (as seen here), but overall, poor color blending hurts the show. Keita's dumb, but his priorities are at least in order.

In case I haven't made it clear yet, part of the problem with Betterman is that the show never freakin' explains anything. Of course it can be expected that not everything will be known immediately. But when something resembling an explanation concludes without providing even an illusion of closure, its intended effect is lost on the audience. I'm fully convinced that the writers were so wrapped up in trying to confuse people that they confused themselves as well, resulting in a show that has no apparent purpose or direction.

Unfortunately, the show also fails to provide a fitting atmosphere for how creepy and disturbing it's trying to be. The most obvious culprit is in the visuals. The show uses colors that contrast too much, creating a look and feel that is too cartoony to be taken seriously. Add in the deranged freak show background music, and you get what seems like a performance of circus clown rejects instead of a creepy and mysterious villain at work. Each episode feels like a bad monster movie - not that there's anything intrinsically wrong with monster movies. But, when a chimpanzee wielding a yellowfin tuna would serve as a more appropriate villain, it might be time to rethink things a bit. But I'm trailing off course. The bottom line: selling a prime rib and delivering a hamburger is a bad thing.

Unlike the show, Bandai's video transfer is a quality work. The cover shows Miyako in a sexalicious pose, with one of the forms of Betterman in the background. The cover is reversible, with the same pose of Miyako over a purple background on the reverse side. The disc extras are pretty standard fare, but still nice. Included are some production stills, a clean ending sequence, and a continuation of the "Mode Warp File," which is a set of supplementary notes. The notes are pretty useful, even though they did not cause me to gain an appreciation for the show.

In summary, Betterman (up to this point) is suffering from three major issues: a plot that has no comprehensible purpose, an atmosphere that doesn't gel with the plot, and the lack of a chimpanzee wielding a tuna, which would have been cool. With all of that out of my system, expect the rest of my reviews of the series to take a relativistic approach toward evaluation. At this point, I would actively advise against purchasing this show, but do read the rest of my reviews of the series to see if I change my mind.

*Sunnydale is the setting for the popular American TV show, Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

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