BTOOOM! is an anime series based on a manga by Jun’ya Inoue. The anime was produced by Madhouse and was directed by Kotono Watanabe. The series aired on Japanese television from October 4-December 20, 2012. As of this writing, Sentai Filmworks holds the North American license for the BTOOOM! anime series.
Ryota Sakamoto is an unemployed 22-year-old who lives at home with his mother. He spends his days playing an online game called BTOOOM! and he’s one of the top-ranking players in the game. Ryota’s mother keeps trying to get him to apply for jobs, but he’s told her over the past two years that there’s only one job that he wants.
One day, Ryota wakes up and finds himself in the jungle, attached to a parachute. He has no memory of how he got there, and all he has on him are his backpack with a couple of items he bought at a convenience store, a change of clothes, and a pack that he doesn’t recognize. When he investigates the pack, he discovers there are bombs inside. After this discovery, Ryota is suddenly attacked by someone else who also has bombs. By the end of the first episode, Ryota comes to discover that he is in a real-life version of the BTOOOM! game.
Over the next few episodes, the audience gets to see and learn about some of the other players who have ended up on the island where this game is taking place. The most important of these characters is a high school girl named Himiko, who has a very tragic and intense backstory both before coming to the island and after being dropped off on the island. She set up a meeting between her friends and a group of guys she knows from her building, and unwittingly set her friends up to be raped. When she appears later with snacks and is almost raped herself, she manages to escape and call the police. While the perpetrators were arrested, Himiko’s friends blame her for what happened and resent the fact that she escaped. Himiko became isolated and turned to the virtual world of BTOOOM! to escape the pain of her reality.
I have a love/hate relationship with Himiko’s character. I was impressed at how realistically the story portrayed her with “survivor’s guilt” regarding the rapes, and how she is very distrusting of men for a while in the series. But, for much of the anime, Himiko is portrayed as simpering and weak, needing to constantly be saved by Ryota or someone else. Yes, this portrayal is rectified near the end of the series, but I kind of felt like the simpering act went on a little too long. I had expected this to back off earlier on, as Ryota gained her trust. I had hoped that her character progression would have happened a slight bit faster than it did.
But before joining up with Himiko, Ryota meets and befriends a businessman named Kiyoshi Taira. Taira was not a gamer before being dropped off on the island, and he comes to rely on Ryota to protect him. Taira’s story arc becomes very important near the end of the series and is ultimately the catalyst for what we see happen in the final episode.
There are some other interesting characters introduced as well, such as the 14-year-old abuse victim turned murderer Kosuke Kira. He also has a tragic backstory, but unlike Himiko, he is not portrayed as being sympathetic. Instead, Kosuke is shown to be quite the psychopath. Near the end of the series we learn that another player, Nobutaka Oda, has a connection with Ryota. Unfortunately, Oda’s backstory comes out so late in the series that the writers don’t get to utilize it much before the final episode. It’s obvious when the connection is revealed that there should be a buildup to a final confrontation between Ryota and Oda, but it doesn’t happen.
When it comes to Ryota as a protagonist, he goes through the traditional “hero’s journey.” He starts out as an arrogant loner NEET who thinks he’s one of the best players in the world of BTOOOM! But as he goes through trying to survive in the wilderness and interacting with the people that he does, he goes through a transformation of realizing what’s important. He goes from being a character with little to sympathize with to someone that the audience can cheer for and want to see succeed.
Compared with other series I’ve seen that feature characters trapped in a game, this is the most intense one I’ve seen at this point, thanks in large part to the backstories and experiences that some of these characters go through. It also becomes a bit twisted when the truth behind how and why Ryota and the others ended up on the island and in this situation in the first place.
I also noticed that this series has a strong Lord of the Flies vibe to it, with the concept of characters from a civilized world being stranded on an island and having to survive in the wilderness. There’s also this sense of how only the strong will survive, which was also a prevalent theme in Lord of the Flies. The main difference here is that there’s a game involved, and that the goal of this story wasn’t necessarily for everyone to try to cooperate in order to survive.
As of this writing, the BTOOOM! manga is still ongoing, so the anime suffers the same issue that most series being developed during a manga’s run encounters: there isn’t a true ending for the series. It basically feels like that an arc of the story has finished, but there are a lot of loose threads still hanging out there. The anime even kind of admits to this with the final shot, which basically says, “CONTINUE GAME? YES/NO.” In other words, the door was left open to potentially produce another season in the future. It’s been several years since BTOOOM! aired on television, and there has been no sign of anything more coming out. If more episodes for this series were ever produced, though, I would probably watch them just to be able to see how the story continues.
In the end, BTOOOM! wasn’t bad for what it was, but it was a little unsatisfying to not have a true resolution to the story. I was gripped enough by what I saw to want to follow the characters and to find out what happens to them, but I’m not sure I liked the series enough to ever re-watch it. At this point, it’s likely a title I won’t be adding to my anime home video collection.