animefringe june 2003 / reviews

Betterman Vol.6: Finality
Format: bilingual DVD, 4 eps., 100 min.
Production: Bandai / Hajime Yatate
Comments: All of the mysteries are solved in this, the final volume of the spooky sci-fi series, Betterman.
Animefringe Reviews:
Betterman Vol.6: Finality

Well, now I know what's going on. I suppose that should make me happy enough, but as usual, Betterman is confusing me. I'm not sure whether I liked this series or not.

I think I did.

After all, it boasts some very unique stylistic designs. After watching the entire series, I can say that it is very much a science fiction story. Watching it twice will not yield the same experience. Watching it for the first time, alone in the dark, can be one heck of a creepy trip.

Much of this series' scariness comes from the writers' skill at keeping the details hidden from viewers. We aren't told much going into each scene, and that truly helps build up the scare factor. The human imagination surpasses any writer's ability to come up with something really frightening, and this show presents ample opportunities for the imagination to run wild.

On the flip side of that coin, it all feels a bit too contrived sometimes. It's easy to withhold information, especially when the truth is impossible to predict, because it involves way-out science fiction. While I understand and even accept the explanations given for the paranormal events throughout the show, it's hard to see them as anything but plot devices, though they work well enough.

So long as one doesn't try to analyze the show too much and simply enjoys it for the ride that it is, Betterman can be a rather enjoyable series.

I don't want to spoil the story, so here's a broad introductory summary for those of you who may be curious about the series. A strange force - perhaps a terrorist organization, biological weapon, or even something supernatural - named Algernon is assaulting mankind. The general populace does not know of Algernon, but Akamatsu Heavy Industries does. Contracted by a low-key, yet extremely powerful group called Mode Warp, AHI has designed and constructed mechs that require two pilots (each with specific cerebral qualities) to operate.

The lead protagonists for the series, the geeky Keita and sexy yet self-hating Hinoki, are childhood friends, suddenly reunited thanks to one of Algernon's attacks. As it turns out, although she's only a teenager, Hinoki is already a pilot of the Kakuseijin, one of AHI's mechs. When her fellow operator becomes unable to control the machine, Keita discovers that he shares Hinoki's ability to drive it.

From Keita's perspective of an outsider getting into this mess, the viewers are given a character to empathize with, as the writers take us down the insane road that is Betterman. Keita provides a cheesy yet surprisingly welcome element of comic relief, which was sorely needed on those long solo nighttime viewing sessions.

Betterman is a conglomeration of a dozen types of anime. It has horror, comedy, science fiction, fantasy, religion, philosophy, and mecha action. There's a strong female lead, some really cool male characters, and an interesting (if very twisted) plot.

With such a mix, this show can be very entertaining for some, but for others, it may be too much. The story comes together at the end, but whether or not viewers will have the patience (and the cash flow for six DVDs) to get there is a potential problem.

I have some subjective feelings on the ending, but to discuss them, you'll have to check out our newly established Animefringe forum, hosted by Xforums. I can't really talk much about the plot without ruining the end of the series, and the show isn't worth it if you know what's happening before you see it.

Technically, Betterman is impressive. The producers adopted a very muted, dark look for the series that goes well with its plot. The overall darkness of the show provides a great contrast to the moments the animators decide to make things colorful and cheery, though those times are few and far between. While it's not awe-inspiring, the animation works well for the show, picking up for battles and whatnot. This isn't really an action-based series, so I didn't expect to find the most fluid animation out there.

The show is presented in widescreen, which lends it a theatrical flavor, and somehow makes it even creepier. I think it's the added blackness that does it. Either way, the aspect ratio works well here.

The Japanese voice performers match their respective character designs well, and the voices fit in well. Even Keita's wimpy whiney voice (performed by Yamaguchi Kappei, who is perhaps better known as the voice of Inu Yasha and Saotome Ranma) manages to fit into this dark series.

There are some high points to the English dub, too. Certain honorifics are preserved (such as Keita's affectionate name, Kei-chan) to help cement character relationships. I can't help but feel that Keita's English voice actor (Matthew Erikson) sounds significantly older than he should, but that's a problem I frequently have with dubs. Other problems I frequently encounter show up here as well, such as offbeat pacing. The actors simply speak...too...slow sometimes for me to suspend disbelief, especially when some crazy monster is attacking the characters. Another oddity is the pronunciation of the first word in "Mode Warp" as "mo-dee," with two syllables in English. In Japanese, it's just pronounced as it looks. I'm sure there's a reason for that somewhere...

As usual, if you like English, listen to the dub. If you like Japanese, then that's here too. I love DVDs.

The music is good, as it has been throughout, but it actually becomes more noticeable in the last few episodes of the series. For the final dramatic moments, it ramps up appropriately, matching the mood of the show well.

Extras include a reversible cover, which is a neat reflective foil on one side, and a traditional cover on the other. There's a limited number of character cards in some boxes, and the disc extras are pretty much the same as the previous volumes. There's a small production art gallery and a handy "Mode Warp file" feature that explains the entire story for people who are still confused, even after the show's end. There's a rather comprehensive timeline, as well, which is nice for such a complex series. I wish the text on these extras were larger, however. Watching them on a 27" television is fine, but on anything smaller (without high-resolution video capabilities, at least), it becomes a chore to make out exactly what these extras are saying.

In the end, Betterman was a fun show to watch, and if I'm not quite happy with the way it ended, at least I know how it ended. If you like psychological horror stories or mysteries, and you don't mind waiting for a long story to come to an end, then Betterman might be the show for you. For most people, however, I think the plot may move too slowly to maintain interest. While things happen in each episode, viewers won't really know the whole story until all six volumes have been watched. So, if you've seen this show on TechTV and want to see more, then you'll enjoy this. If you need quick-paced short-attention-span-happy entertainment, watch some Excel Saga instead.