OP: “No Pain, No Game” by Nano
While had some premières this season that intentionally obfuscate in their openers, deliberately sowing disorientation in the audience to focus on style and atmosphere. Btooom!, by contrast, dives right into the story. It’s a classic anime sci-fi setup, and it’s pretty clear what’s going on just about from the opening credits. There are certainly blanks to be filled in, but if you’re a fan of the medium you can make a pretty good guess about what will fill them. Given that there hard sci-fi isn’t the major force in anime it once was, new series that do it well are always welcome – and the early returns seem to indicate that this is such a series.
The focus of the first episode (it appears as if each major character will be the focus of an introduction episode} is Sakamoto Ryouta (Kanata Hongou), a 22 year-old NEET living at home with his mother who spends his time in the basement playing the MMORPG “Btooom!”. We’ve seen plenty of games like it in real life – the only real twist seems to be that you fight with no guns of any kind, only bombs – and plenty of scenarios like Sakamoto. He fails at life but thrives at Btooom!, having risen to the rank of #10 in the world (someone on the production staff is clearly a tennis fan), and spends an unhealthy amount of time as his mother pressures him with increasing urgency to find a job.
Again, the scenario that follows is pretty familiar: Sakamoto wakes to find himself in a jungle, in possession only of a bag containing a convenience store bento, a bottle of tea and a small pack of timer-based bombs. Only later does he remember being approached on the street by some MIB types before waking up hanging from a tree by a parachute. Yes, it’s Btooom! come to life – and it seems as if people like Sakamoto are being pitted against each other in a game where the stakes are life and death. Familiar or not, though, it’s a good premise around which to build an anime.
So far it mostly works, thanks to the premiere’s excellent brisk but manageable pacing and eye-catching cinematography. The focus of the episode eventually turns to Sakamoto’s battle with a blonde-haired stranger (Hiyama Nobuyuki, criminal to kill him off in one ep) with his own set of bombs and no interest in dialogue. From what I know of the source material this show is going to get pretty dark, dealing directly with the dark side of online gaming addiction and the troubled lives that drive mostly young people to it. There isn’t really any rooting interest in the premiere – I certainly wouldn’t call Sakamoto likeable, though he’s done nothing to merit being blown up by a total stranger. Whether this ends up being a straight-up survival game or a deeper exploration of the debt society owes to those who decline to contribute to it conventionally remains to be seen, but either way it seems to have a chance to be breathlessly entertaining in a refreshingly straightforward way.
ED: “Aozora (Blue Skies)” by May’n