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15 home / august 2002 / reviews Turn Page BackwardBack to HomeTurn Page Forward

Betterman Vol.1 DVD
Bilingual DVD
5 episodes
125 minutes
Creepy and mysterious, Betterman is instantly addictive for those of us who need to see something dark every once in a while.
Overall Rating:

Animefringe Reviews:
Betterman Vol.1 DVD
By Patrick King

I didn't know very much about Betterman aside from the teaser trailers on other Bandai DVDs, so I went into this series largely without bias or expectations. I started watching it after getting off work around eleven at night, and as usual, I powered up the receiver, flipped off the lights, and prepared to dig into the disc.

By the time I finished the first episode, I was slightly creeped out.

Betterman offers its viewers a delightful mix of genres, ranging from fantasy to horror, with a healthy dose of school-themed subplots on the side. The story focuses upon Keita and Hinoki, young childhood friends that are unexpectedly reunited under encountering some bizarre circumstances. In this, the first volume of the series, a scary entity known only as Algernon makes its presence known to the viewers by slaughtering a disturbing number of people at "Bottom World," a newly-completed subterranean theme park. Even though Algernon is more phantom than foe in this first disc, he is apparently a force to be reckoned with. Luckily, with a seemingly endless stream of funds from the shadow organization "Mode Warp," one leading technological company has created a gigantic two-person mech designed to battle the supernatural forces of the enemy. The pilots - called "Dual Kinds" - for this mech must possess a special psychological trait in order to control its movements, and early on, we discover that Keita has a particularly close link to Hinoki, making him a perfect replacement for her former partner - a poor fellow who is slain before he can even appear much on camera. In the first encounter we witness against Algernon, we also meet the title character for the first time. Betterman is a character still wrapped in the unknown by the end of this disc, but he seems to have the ability to adapt his body to various situations by ingesting little seeds and taking on alternate physical forms. So far, everything is rooted in science fiction biology, but there's certainly a taste of fantasy and horror here, as well. A skillful weaving of genres is simply something I've come to expect from Japanese animation, and Betterman by no means disappoints in that respect.

Visually, this show is very satisfying. I love the character designs; they strike me as different from many of the other shows I've seen, and the mech designs are equally original. Hinoki in particular is a very different sort of female lead, an attractive alternative to characters in other mech-based shows. More than anything, I get a kick out of Betterman's many forms, for each one reminds me of the biomechanical dragons from Panzer Dragoon, something that has been happening more frequently as the upcoming game nears completion... Most of the show is very dark and softly portrayed. Lines seem fuzzy around the edges more often than not. This would not be bad if it weren't for scenes that clearly have sharper lines and possibly even a different animation frame rate, most likely due to computer graphics. The contrast is noticeable and could possibly break a viewer's immersion in the, otherwise, excellent story. It's an odd nitpick to make, saying that some scenes look too good, but it's like watching a TV series with OAV or movie quality animation thrown in for good measure - CG should only be used if it's not noticeable, somewhat of a contradictory suggestion, but one that makes sense if you think about it.

The sound effects, music, and voice acting are all up to snuff, and as usual, my only complaint is with the English voice acting. Changes are made to the dialogue that bother the purist in me, and it seems hard to find American or Canadian voice actors that can put the same emotion into lines that their Japanese counterparts are able to bestow upon their characters. Overall, my standard suggestion applies - if you like to see things unchanged and can read fast, go for the subbed version. If you like to look at the pretty pictures, head for the dub. Such versatility is one of the reasons I love the DVD format...

There are a few neat extras (production sketches, a shiny reversible cover, and more) and in general, I can't complain about the packaging. You gotta love that hairstyle. This is a great series, and I'm very interested in where it may be going. As most series do, Betterman raises innumerable questions and leaves the viewers hanging by a thread by the time the volume ends. There's plenty of originality to go around, and my most significant complaint is merely a technical one, regarding the quality jumps the show makes in certain scenes. This isn't a reason to avoid the disc, and it doesn't make me anticipate the next release with any lesser excitement. *Sigh* If only this was a boxed set...I wouldn't have to wait.

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