Ryota Sakamoto is a slacker or if you want to be polite a NEET (not in employment, education or training.) Rather than further his studies or go job-hunting, the twenty-two year old freeloader spends his days indoors playing a multiplayer online death-match game called Btooom. Irritated by her offspring’s rudeness and hermit like tendencies, Sakamoto’s mom decides to rid herself off Ryota by requesting that the corporation running Btooom kidnap him. They duly oblige and whisk him off to a deserted island along with a group of other undesirables. What’s the purpose of this mass abduction you ask? Well it seems like the Tyrannos Corp would like to recreate their virtual game as a real life event. If Ryota wishes to return home he’ll have to compete in a life or death contest were participants try to blow each other up with explosives. Sounds bad. Bet he wishes a developer of dating sims had kidnapped him instead.
Animes based on online games seem to be all the rage these days. Were Btooom differs from something like Accel World is that the show’s characters are forced to battle in the flesh rather than in a virtual reality environment. This raises the stakes because Ryota’s prowess with a mouse and keyboard counts for little when surviving out in the wilderness. At least he seems to be in decent shape so the odds of him emerging victorious are greater than if a stereotypical World of Warcraft nerd found themselves in a similar position. Those overweight basement dwellers may be able to slay dragons online, but in the real world climbing up a flight of stairs is a quest they would rather not undertake (I should know as I’m a former MMO addict who resembles the chubby antagonist from South Park’s Make Love Not Warcraft episode.)
In order to attain their freedom the Btooom competitors need to amass a stockpile of eight crystals. The catch is that the gems in question are only obtainable from enemy combatants. The crystals are grafted onto the right hand of each unwilling participant and can only be extracted by killing its owner. Rather than go on a murdering spree Ryota instead elects to band together with fellow friendly players and search for an alternate way off the island. Will this pacifist approach succeed in a twisted game being fought by some rather unscrupulous characters? Time will tell. The real question should however be why is Ryota so averse to committing homicide? He is after all a gamer, which the media brands as sociopaths who have been brainwashed into violence by the likes of GTA and Flappy Bird (don’t laugh, the latter has caused me to go on a destructive rage many times.)
Overall I have to say that I really enjoyed watching Btooom. I did however find Ryota’s love interest Himiko to be somewhat irritating. She spends a good chunk of the series being distrustful of men, even after Ryota saves her life on multiple occasions. When she eventually warms up to him her personality switches from a devout man hater to a damsel in distress that cannot do anything without prince charming bailing her out. Perhaps I am being harsh though as her rabid loathing of men is explained during her backstory. Another thing worth mentioning is that, despite being presented as token eye candy, I doubt anyone is going to get fan service jollies from Himiko given that she is often the victim of sexual assault. Btooom doesn’t shy away from what would realistically happen if a buxom blonde found herself on a lawless land populated by degenerates – so be forewarned that some scenes make for uncomfortable viewing.
On the action front Btooom delivers some exciting sequences that capitalise on the fact that each character has been assigned their own exclusive type of armaments. It’s fun seeing how the rivals try to outwit each other using a range of grenades, mines, gas bombs and remote controlled flying BIMs. It’s edge of your seat stuff… or at least it would be if the creators didn’t overuse the trope of having the hero dramatically avoid a blast at the last possible second.
My rating for Btooom is three and a half stars. I can’t quite bring myself to give it four stars, as I have seen other shows handle the plotline of “strangers being forced to kill each other” a little better. It was also disappointing to see episode twelve finish on a non-ending, which teases a potential second season. I’m uncertain if a season two will ever be green lit though, so fans may have to bring out their reading specs to see how the story continues in the ongoing manga. Ironically the anime about bombs ends up going out on a whimper instead of a bang.