Anime Spotlight: Bakugan

Bakugan is an anime franchise based on a strategic card game that is played with magnetic, spring-loaded marbles. When the series first aired first aired in Japan, it was basically a failure. However, when the series was acquired by Nelvana Enterprises and dubbed into English for the North American market in 2008, Bakugan became a hit.

Due to Bakugan‘s success in North America, several follow-up seasons were produced. As of this writing, only the first four seasons have been acquired by Nelvana and dubbed into English. At this time, the seasons that have been produced for Bakugan are: Battle Brawlers, New Vestroia, Gundalian Invaders, Mechtanium Surge, and BakuTech! Bakugan.

The story of Bakugan begins when cards mysteriously fall out of the sky and are picked up by children all over the world. The cards feature different characters, environments, and powers. The kids created their own game with the cards, unaware that the cards correspond with an alternate world called Vestroia.

It turns out that in Vestroia, there is a rogue Bakuman monster named Naga who wants to seize all the power for himself. When he tried to absorb one of the two cores and seize its power, the negative energy proved to be too much for Naga. This negative energy exploded and the other core fell to Earth. This caused the creatures from Vestroia to start emerging in Bakugan battles.

The protagonist of the series is a 12-year-old named Dan. He was responsible for helping to create the Bakugan game, and his life revolves around Bakugan. Dan’s goal is to become the number one ranked Bakugan player in the world. In the first episode, he moved up from number 121 to number 117. Dan, along with his friends form the Bakugan Battle Brawlers, and they are accidentally dragged into fighting for the fate of Vestroia against the Doom Beings. The franchise focuses on the Bakugan Battle Brawlers not only playing Bakugan, but trying to save the alternate world of Vestroia as well.

My main exposure to Bakugan was watching the one hour premiere on Cartoon Network, where the first two episodes of Bakugan Battle Brawlers were shown to back-to-back. I have also seen parts of other episodes in the franchise if my kids happened to watch part of a Bakugan episode because there was nothing better to watch on TV at the time.

Within the first five minutes of the very first episode, Dan is engaged in a Bakugan battle with a boy named Shuji. Dan ends up fighting with this boy three times within the first two episodes. Unfortunately, there was never any real exposition about how the Bakugan game is played during the battles, so I found myself feeling rather lost as to what was going on. In fact, by the time I finished watching the first two episodes, I was still rather confused by what was going on. My husband commented that he had thought he had figured out how the game was played, but then one of the characters would do something that would contradict what my husband thought he had figured out. Not only was I confused by the time I finished watching the first two episodes, I was also bored.

I also had trouble using my “willing suspension of disbelief” when I watched those first two episodes. When the mysterious cards were falling out of the sky, why didn’t the police or the government step in and get involved? And knowing that Dan co-created the Bakugan game, how come he’s ranked so low? There was also something that happened in his first battle in the first episode that took him by surprise. As one of the co-creators, shouldn’t he be able to expect these events?

From what I’ve seen of Bakugan, I was left with the impression that it was a property trying to cash in on the popularity of similar battling shows, such as Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh! It really came across as a derivative show that didn’t have a lot of logistical thought put into it.

As time has shown, the Bakugan fad in the United States wasn’t able to last anywhere near as long as Pokemon did. While there are fans of Bakugan out there, it’s no longer the “cool” property with the “must have” toys and products that it was back when Bakugan Battle Brawlers first started airing on Cartoon Network back in 2008.

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