This week, a unique erotic historical fiction film that has completely slipped through the cracks.
Reviewby Christopher Macdonald, May 20th 2002
DVD 1 - The Awakening
High Scool student Keito Aono leads a rather bland life as the typical High School geek. His days are spent dreaming about and studying military hardware as well as trying to get a perfect score on his portable "Digi-Robo" game.
All of this is suddenly changed when his childhood friend Hinoki returns to town and enters Keito's school. Keito discovers that Hinoki pilots a real robot and quickly manages to bumble his way into being her co-pilot.
Keita and Hinoki are employed by Akamatsu Industries and Mode Warp to fight a mysterious entity called "Algernon" which is responsible for the massacres of their civilian employees and may be a threat to all of man kind. But more often than not, rather than saving the day themselves, Keito and Hinoki are saved by the mysterious mutant being known as Better Man.
If there was a list of 10 deadly Anime sins, Betterman would probably have violated all of them. Lazy animation, animation recycling, bad dubbing (in both languages), tired and overused clichés, plot holes big enough to drive a giant robot through, excessive techno babble…
All this said, Betterman still has something alluring about it, something that will even make some of the most discerning viewers want to see the series though. Why? Because once the viewer is able to get by the clichés and plot holes, the basic plot outline is very attractive. Unfortunately the viewer has to make his or her way through at least 3 or 4 episodes before getting hooked by the plot… good thing Bandai included an impressive five episodes on the first DVD.
Many viewers who will be disappointed with the first half of the volume will actually become interested in the series and want to see more by the end of the 5th episode. The basic reason for this is one of the most elemental plot devices in existence, mystery. Very little of what is actually going on is made clear to the viewer during in the first volume, and every answer produces even more questions. Nothing is known about the mysterious Algernon, nor about the series' namesake Betterman or several other characters and entities; but everything seems somehow linked together.
Unfortunately the basic plot outline is about all there is of value in Betterman. As stated above, the script is rife with clichés such as a teenager who discovers that he can pilot a giant robot with next to no training (the creator, Hajime Yatate has used this scenario in his other shows such as Gundam and Brain Powerd). The animation is far from great, regularly featuring re-cycled animation as well excessive panning and looping along with other tired techniques such as speed lines. On the upside the art is somewhat interesting, while nothing in terms of character designs is particularly original, the design influences seems to be very varied. For example, the two main characters, Keita and Hinoki, have character designs that are very different in style. What's impressive about this is that the drastically different character design styles are integrated into the same animation without clashing.
Sadly, although the character designs are interesting, the character development is rather bland. With the exception of Hinoki, the characters are all very one-dimensional, unoriginal and under-developed. Hinoki isn't particularly well developed either when compared to what one might expect from well scripted series, but in this series she is the only character to receive any development whatsoever in the first five episodes.
At the beginning of this review the dubbing was called poor. Fact is, the dubbing isn't horrible; for the most part both languages are acceptable. Most of the actors do a commendable job, in English Keita's voice actor can be credited with doing a great job of delivering his lines most of the time but at times he seems to fail to come across with the proper emotion, the same can be said of most of the English voice actors; for the most part they deliver their lines acceptably but occasionally completely fail to deliver the lines properly. In Japanese none of the seiyuu come across as particularly great (it should be noted that the show has no big name seiyuu), but for the most part deliver their lines in an acceptable fashion. It seems that both dubs lacked the proper production values (financing) for high caliber casting and sufficient re-takes (in English, some lines should have been re-recorded).
In short, Betterman is an average TV series, full of the usual pit falls that plague other “throw away” series. Nothing about Betterman is horrible, for the most part it is slightly below average quality but one redeeming value in its plot may be enough to hook many viewers. Definitely something you want to rent or borrow before buying.
+ Intriging Basic Story.
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