Past columns have covered what I have referred to as “death games.” A genre of anime where the principle focus is on a character who finds themselves in a game where the object is to survive being killed by your fellow players, and often to try and kill the other players yourself.
One of the first I covered was Sword Art Online (No. 34), or SAO for short. While it had its merits, it also had a lot of detractors for its slow pace and the large amount of “filler” it included. Shortly after this series began another death game anime was broadcast, which had similar ideas and some would say is better than SAO. This series, called BTOOOM!, was aired between October and December 2012 and lasted 12 episodes. It was adapted from a manga that started in 2009 and is still going.
Both of the series are about video games, but BTOOOM! is set in the present day whereas SAO was in the future. In the video game BTOOOM! the players fight each other play in teams, but the only weapons available are different kinds of bombs. Ryota Sakamoto is the best player of the game in Japan. He is also in the world top ten and has even married someone virtually in the game. Ryota is 22, unemployed, and lives with his mother who wants him to get any job, but the only firm he wants to work for is the company who makes BTOOOM!.
One day Ryota suddenly wakes up in a strange place: on a remote tropical island, hanging from a parachute that is caught in a tree. He also finds a glass bead implanted in his left hand and that he has been given amongst other things a case, inside of which is what he discovers to be time bombs. After freeing himself from the parachute Ryota finds other people on the island – who try and blow him up. It is at this point Ryota discovers that he, and indeed everyone else on the island, is being made to play BTOOOM! for real.
Ryota learns from another player, Taira, that other people who all hate them have entered them into this contest. The object is to collect 8 glass beads (7 plus your own), by killing other players. Once you get 8, a helicopter comes to rescue you. Ryota tries to figure out if it is possible to escape from the island while trying to avoid having to kill anyone needlessly. As Ryota continues, he meets a female player, Himiko, who is extremely scared of men after nearly being raped by another player. But strangely Ryota and Himiko are closer than they first think, for as the viewer knows but they do not, Himiko is the woman Ryota virtually married.
There are a lot of similarities between SAO and BTOOOM!: both are death games; both have male leads; both the supporting female leads are romantic interests to the male lead; both are print adaptations of stories that debuted around the same time; both print versions are still being written; and both print versions are released in English by the same publisher.
However, there are key differences. BTOOOM! is more believable, it is set in the present day, it is more mature, and it is a lot darker, as is evidenced by the attempted rape on Himiko. In SAO there is something which might be argued to be a bit of a rape scene, in which a tentacled monster gropes the female lead Asuna (for more detailed and graphic examination of “tentacle rape” see No. 49, Urotsukidōji, Legend of the Overfiend) but it is nowhere near as dramatic and shocking as the rape scene in BTOOOM! because the attack is by an actual man. Himiko is not the only woman to be attacked by a man in the series. Another woman who appears later in the series was betrayed by her male friend who later blew her arm off.
The darker, more believable plot, as well as the fact the plot is more direct, certainly makes BTOOOM! more appealing than SAO. However, it should be pointed out that SAO begins a new series in July which may swing things, especially given that the next SAO story to be adapted is arguably the best one in the canon. This however is also balanced out that the ending of BTOOOM! was slightly open-ended, so it may return too.
BTOOOM! is released on DVD by MVM Films. A Region A Blu-Ray version is also available from Sentai Filmworks.