Betterman Anime Review
US Release By
26 25-minute episodes
1999-04-01 - 1999-09-30
Keita Aono is a supposedly-17-year-old high school student. He's also a complete nerd, and is obsessed with military machines, robots, and nerding out with his nerd friend Oushi. One day, a new girl shows up at school, and it turns out to be Keita's childhood friend Hinoki Sai. Leaving school, Keita sees Hinoki getting on a weird truck with a cherry branch on it. He follows it to a new amusement park called Bottom World, where a monster is attacking people, along with an unknown mysterious force called Algernon (means 'bearded' in Old French). Well, monsters they can deal with--they've got giant mechas, the one hundred percent effective prescription medicine for monsters. And Hinoki just happens to be the pilot. Unfortunately, these robots require TWO pilots, two of some sort of special people called "dual kinds," and the other one just jumped ship. Of course, Keita stumbles into the robot and discovers HE is a dual kind. When the monster still can't be defeated, a mysterious creature called Betterman shows up and saves them all.
Maybe the synopsis didn't make it clear, but this is a one hundred percent hardcore ripoff of Eva. As such, I'll be making a lot of comparisons. I assume the only reason you won't have seen Eva is because you don't like it, so for all those people, leave now--the only difference between Eva and Betterman is that Betterman isn't as good.
Also, this review is based off the new TechTV anime block, Anime Unleashed. Though that won't make a difference to the review since Anime Unleashed is unedited, I wanted to say a few things about TechTV (I won't be too long). I realize many anime fans are impressed with Anime Unleashed because it is unedited, but I have to disagree with them. I am totally disgusted with Anime Unleashed. From the stupid name to the fact that commercials are shown at intervals of every five minutes to every thirty seconds, not to mention accidentally rewinding the show halfway through and then showing either a scene twice, or, in the worst case, half an episode twice instead of a whole episode, it reeks of amateurish production. TechTV had the opportunity to blow Cartoon Network out of the water as the top anime-showing network in America, but they would rather line their pockets by scheduling a glut of commercials. I also despise their scheduling; TechTV shows an episode Monday-Thursday, then the same four episodes you just saw on Friday along with all the episodes that will be on next week. (Okay, I was a little long. Into the real review).
Usually, I like to get into the story and characters right away, but with this show every technical aspect was directly related to the storyline. Therefore, they're going first. The animation is extremely good; dark, toned, but also bright and cheery when the need calls for it. Of all parts of the animation, I enjoyed the character design best. When I saw this, I'd just been coming off a long drought from happy romantic comedies with pretty character designs (my personal favorite genre), so they were a breath of fresh air. Keita wears glasses and has an extremely stupid haircut, along with a weird sweater thing. This shows his true character as a nerd. Hinoki attires herself in a white shirt and an extremely short plaid skirt. She also has hair that's brown, but the front three bangs are red and green. Some people could complain about this, saying it looks like a clown, but I thought it was original. The other characters are also definitely a nice-looking bunch; my favorite was the convalescent Sakura (who can see the future). Like Eva, silence was utilized more often than music; however, unlike Eva, it fell flat when there should have been music. There were basically only two BGMs in the show, which went in spots where silence would have functioned. The opening and ending are mediocre, but okay. Another note: TechTV cut off the ending songs of Crest of Stars and Serial Experiments Lain, but with Betterman they cut off the opening and put the ending where it should have been. Yet another reason I was so disgusted with TechTV, since when I hear "unedited" I take it to mean that they'll leave one of my favorite parts, the opening and ending songs, unedited.
The dub is pretty mediocre; the acting is mostly only okay, and some voices weren't cast well. Sakura's voice sounded too whiny and lispy (except in that episode with everyone's evil double; her evil double had a good voice). Hinoki should go take a few acting lessons so that lines don't come out like, "Noo! I can't beliiiieeeeve--theydidthat!" A lot of the voices were also recycled from G Gundam, Zoids, Inuyasha, Hamtaro, etc. In fact, those were probably the best ones. Old man Akamatsu's voice, which was the same as Master Asia in G Gundam, was a well-acted and cast role, and Keita's voice of Van Flyheight from Zoids was okay.
As far as characterization, this is almost a complete copy of Eva. Keita is like a combination of Aida Kensuke and Shinji. Hinoki is a less arrogant, less irate version of Asuka. Sakura (whom I mentioned earlier) is a combination of Rei Ayanami and that girl in X/1999 who sees the future (forget her name; not the biggest X fan in the world). Dr. Miako Asami, the resident genius scientist, is like Ritsuko Akagi as a main character, and the old man Akamatsu, though he fills the role of Gendou Ikari, acts more like Happosai from Ranma 1/2. Sho Unagi and Kaede, the other two mech pilots, are almost devoid of personality. In fact, my favorite character (apart from Sakura), who I really believed deserved more screen time, was the mechanic Li-chan, one of the mechanics who did maintenance on the mechas. Her lazy, laid back personality and matching perfect dub voice were really the only originality in the show (okay, she's a lot like Haruka Urashima from Love Hina, but this show was made first).
I've purposely left the discussion of the story until last. Explaining what made it good or bad is something that will take a lot of spoilers and in-depth probing, so anyone who hasn't seen the show, scroll down to the rating. The story begins in the most stereotyped way possible. After the first two or three episodes, you start getting into all the bizarre bad guys based off scientific concepts (like the crash dummies) and think it might be an okay show. It is an okay show, until the part when the characters destroy the evil Dr. Umezaki, the doctor who's been sending all these things after them. From now till the end, the show begins to take on bizarre stances on morality that aren't explained or are explained way too simply; for example, Dr. Umezaki is secretly growing evil flowers that only grow from the faces of dead bodies. These flowers have seeds on them that allow Betterman to take on different forms from his base human form. The reason for this is because he intends for these flowers to feed the superior members of the human population after food runs out, and the inferior members will be the growing beds. This is automatically dismissed as evil. Well, that is pretty sick, but isn't there a kind of harsh truth behind that? The show automatically dismisses it as evil because people will die, without ever finding reasons deeper than that, which seems pretty naive to me for a show to be doing after bringing up something like that. If you don't want to discuss these things at length, don't bring them into the show; if you want non-sticky morality that is easy to determine and see, don't bring any sticky questions into the show. Stick to shounen-type "don't ever do it without question."
Okay, maybe I'm a sick maligned psychopath. Anyway, after dealing with that for a few episodes, the show switches over to complete fantasy by essentially making Betterman the main character, and showing him with his Betterfriends in lots of psycho-babble situations. Not one of the terms they throw around during these discussions is ever explained, and since the conversations are composed ninety percent of these, you don't know what they mean and fall into a deep stupor. The ending (I won't discuss it) was totally incoherent, made no sense, and was also deeply dissatisfying.
Well, despite all that, I did enjoy Betterman somewhat because of the character designs, few amusing characters (Li-chan), and slight comedy in some of the episodes (like the Kaori's Sweet 17 Perfume Machine that they use to fight off flesh-eating worms). If you really liked Eva, you might like it, but that's a fairly flexible claim. No one else will probably like it, since, as I said, it's the same as Eva except not as good.
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Notes and Trivia
Aired in the US on TechTV.
US DVD Review
Bandai's DVDs include Japanese and English audio, English subtitles, and widescreen (but letterboxed) video. They claim clean opening and endings, art galleries, and "mode warp files" for special features. There is also an "Anime Legends" box set of the entire series at a budget price.
Bandai suggests 13-up, which is about right.
Violence: 2 - Some fairly sick implications.
Nudity: 2 - Very skimpy clothes.
Sex/Mature Themes: 2 - Just some nasty-talk.
Language: 1 - Very mild.