Story & Characters
I wanted to try something new. Something to not only get myself back into reviewing, but perhaps to engage those who
also do reviews or have considered doing them. What happens to be this so-called project? The Summer of the 90s! For myself, the late 90s served as a springboard to my discovery of anime. It
holds as a fond memory to me, and some incredible viewing experiences. While most of the shows that really helped me to
get into anime have already been reviewed, I wanted to cover some of those that have not. Be it those that were simply
not popular enough, those that were never televised, or those that just never caught on. While it may not exactly be
summer yet, I wanted to start this off with something that I’ve been meaning to watch for awhile.
For those of us that lived in the US, anime was rather difficult to come by. You could buy it, but DVDs weren’t sold
in collection packs like they are now. It was very rare to come across one, and when you did you were more than likely
shelling out an arm and a leg for one. DVDs weren’t much better, with a singular DVD costing up to 30 USD. Given
that some series spanned roughly 8 DVDs, this became an incredibly costly endeavor. If we didn’t use a computer, we
were left with only two other options. Borrowing from friends, and watching on television. If it seems like I’m
rambling on endlessly, I’ll get to the point. Back during the early 2000s, two program blocks were to go-to for
anything anime. The more popularly known Toonami and Adult Swim Saturday night block, and Anime Unleashed on the then
TechTV (G4). It was a great way to not only sample a show, but to also broaden your tastes. Some of my favorite shows
were introduced on these blocks, and some of them I always wished to return to. One of those was Betterman. I finally
had a chance to recently, and I honestly wish I had visited this sooner.
Betterman, created in 1999, was a bit of a side project from the staff that worked on the GaoGaiGar series. Created by Sunrise’s internal Studio 7, and
directed by Yoshitomo Yonetani,
Betterman ranks up there as probably one of the most unique and complex shows I’ve seen. Dealing heavily with
biological themes and Jungian symbolism, Betterman remained rather low key in terms of popularity despite its pedigree
and US televising. Even after viewing the show, I can’t exactly describe how I feel about it. However, we should get
into the plot first before I get into that.
Betterman mainly revolves around a young man by the name of Keita Aono. Keita is unlike any protagonist I’ve ever
seen. He’s a nerdy looking guy who’s a bit bizarre, but at the same time he’s got strong morals and values.
However, he never stops being a human being. He gets terrified and lets him fear control him, yet at the same time
he’s willing to stand up for what he believes us.
Keita is a high school student. He leads a pretty normal life and is a bit of a military otaku. However, all of this
changes when his childhood friend, Hinkoi Sai, transfers into his class at school. He tries to warmly greet her while
the rest of the class is asking her questions, only for her to get a call and then up having to leave the school.
Ketia, curious about the newly appearance of his childhood friend, finds himself going back home on a rainy day before
accidentally falling down several flights of stairs on his awesome-looking scooter. Where does he find himself? Outside
the entrance of an underground theme park. He then finds himself asking more questions, like why wasn’t the theme
parked blocked off. There was a major accident that was reported on the news early that day, so why was no one there?
What exactly happened there? After a series of events, he finds himself face-to-face with a young lady strapped to a
machine. She seems weak and timid, with a very soft voice. What is she doing there? Suddenly, the vehicle she’s in
starts to descend, and before Keita knows it he finds himself meeting his childhood friend again. What is she doing
down there? And then there’s the matter of the giant robot she’s in. What’s that all about? So many questions
that Keita has, but all he can think about is protecting himself. but what he is protecting himself from? What is
Betterman wastes no time getting straight into the meat of things. Already within the first episode we’re deeply
immersed in it’s atmosphere. The theme park that Keita stumbled upon? It was suppose to open that day, but
mysteriously 200 people were killed. The girl strapped to a machine, she’s part of a crew specially composed to find
out and combat this mysterious threat. What’s more, his childhood friend is part of this group. This recent
discovery then creates a spiral of events that slowly transcend into chaos and the possible extinction of humanity
One of the biggest benefits, and possibly negatives, of Betterman is that there is a lot of information to soak in.
Limpid Channels, Neuronoids, Algernon, Betterman himself, and so many other things are thrown at us throughout the show.
Normally, one would think so much information would result in an overload or become overbearing to the viewer.
However, Betterman not only takes it’s time in explaining, but also offers a simplification as well. Keita serves as
a great fish-out-of-water character in the
series. He has absolutely no clue as to what is going on, and as he learns about it so do we. It’s not uncommon for
the show to take time to offer more scientific explanations, but to also break it down in a matter that’s relatable to
anyone. In my opinion, this is truly where Betterman shines. There’s a lot of science that goes on in the show and
it could've been very easy for the show to leave a lot of things a mystery and instead have the audience research it on
their own. While there are some things that most likely will spark a greater curiosity to research on your own, as
previously mentioned this show is very biological heavy sometimes. There is also so much that is explaining and makes it
more than easy to follow along. However, this also means that you can’t turn off your brain while watching this show.
Sadly, this also starts to fall apart near the end of the show when things start to take a more meta approach and some key factors are either left open ended for the
audience to decide upon, or else quickly put into place without giving the viewer much time to think about it.
It is with consideration to all of this that I believe Betterman is meant to be a very deep psychological look on the
human condition itself and I felt that they really handled the majority of that aspect in a great manner. While another
individual may have a different impression, this was a constant impression that I kept coming back to during my
This also brings me to another great positive of the show itself. The story. While I would more than love to continue
to tell you about all of the cast and characters; like the Bio-Engineer Miyako Asami, who seems to have a deeper
connection to what’s going on and some of the personnel involved. Or someone like Shigeru Akamatsu, who is the head
of the Akamatsu Industries and inventor extraordinaire. The real joy lies in discovering these characters and growing
with them. Simply telling you about the cast and crew does them no justice. They’re all unique in both personality
and in belief and each of them, for the majority, bring a strong element to the story. It also is because in order to
explain certain characters or events, I have to get into other information that is covered, which ruins part of the
experience and in some cases results in major spoilers.
There’s also aspects like the Neuronoids, which require two individuals to operate them and only those with Dual Kind
abilities can pilot them. Finding out what Dual Kind is and how Neuronoids operate really is part of the magic behind
the show and simply spelling it all out not only ruins the fun, but the experience itself. It’s one of those rare
shows that really rewards the viewer for watching it fully through. However, it can also create confusion. I remember
during my introduction to this series, I didn’t catch it at the beginning. Needless to say I was completely confused
and lost, and while certain pieces were put into place a lot of it was just a giant, jumbled mess. In some cases,
missing certain aspects of the plot can completely hamper the overall experience of the series.
Betterman also takes place on a variety of different locations and set pieces. Sunrise wasn’t afraid to take us to
different locals and it certainly shows. Each piece, more importantly, also serves as a set piece for progressing the
So with all I’ve explained, and with Sunrise being involved one would think that Betterman is a mecha based show
that’s about fighting monsters and villains. Well, not exactly. Betterman is more along the lines of Action, Horror
and Suspense with Mecha mixed in.
One of the things that always intrigued me from what little I viewed of Betterman was the set up of the show itself.
Betterman is not violent. Not in the traditional terms of using gore or blood to establish a horror setting. Rather,
it relies on music, lighting, and voice work to really make a scene stand out. Each of these elements work nicely for
creating an atmosphere that was both tense and enticing. Yet, at the same time the series itself isn’t so drenched in
horror that someone who isn’t a fan of the genre couldn’t get into the series. It’s more like horror-style
elements were utilized as part of the story itself as oppose to simply being aimed at scaring you. Essentially, the
elements are simply an ends to a means for telling the story, creating suspense and drama.
However, this also comes to one of the problems (or benefits) of the show. Betterman is sort of all over the place when
it comes to tone. While Keita is general the focal point, the series felt the need to give us some fanservice scenes
early on. More of it isn’t so much in the way of panty shots and can be simply viewed as a young teenage male being a
young teenage male (one of the scenes he’s carrying the young girl who was strapped to a machine, Sakura, and they
have a little moment around that). These shots themselves are also rather rare, resulting in only about a handful of
times. While some of the time they were more than an acceptable form of breaking the tension and lightening the mood,
others just felt random and came across as forced comedic moments. It was a great way of reminding us that Keita was
just a young man and made him far more human, yet these scenes generally felt out of place with the rest of the series
despite all of that. Thankfully, comedy and drama and both nicely done and don’t come across as forced or ruin any
moments. They’re a nice break and give us time to get comfortable or relax until something happens again. That is,
until the end.
This, by far, is my greatest complaint. The ending. While rather difficult to discuss, the ending itself feels like a
combination of being rushed, and trying to resolve everything at the same time. This was the one time where everything
being explained didn’t have the same luxury of being well explained and given enough time to soak in. We’re
barraged with an enormous amount of information regarding key characters, as well as the deaths of several main
characters. Suddenly, the show has gone from strategically using horror-elements to tell a story, to fully embracing
the horror to bring out a much darker plot. While I’m not sure if it was the creator’s intention, there are several
questions left and one giant head-scratcher at the end. I can’t help but to feel that some of the aspects handled
really just felt rushed. It was sort of like they knew how they wanted to end the show, but didn’t know how exactly
to go about it or didn’t have enough episodes to work with. Where as some other elements are left completely open
ended. While I gather that this was simply so that the audience could deduce whatever they felt was the possible
choice, I feel that too much was left open-handed instead of giving us at least a bit more to work with.
This also bleeds into my second problem. There’s a large part of the show that focuses on something in particular,
Algernon. From the research I’ve done, it sounds like the interpretation itself is left up to the viewer, but there
are so many questions in regards to it that it’s hard to accept just that. While the general feel of the show makes
this perfectly acceptable, I can’t help but to wish for a bit more information. We learn a lot in regards to
Algernon, but so much for interpretation. Normally, I love it when shows let me imagine my own ending, or breed my own
answers based upon what I know. However, I can’t help but to feel that Betterman wanted us to essentially assume how
the show ended with the information we’re given and in this case, it was too little for generally something that
we’ve been constantly informed about.
At the end of it all, though, Betterman is still a rather solid viewing experience. It falls in a similar category that
another show I reviewed did in that either some
people will really get into the depth covered by the show, or else some people will just not care for it at all.
Personally speaking, I feel that it will fare a bit better than the other show, being that Betterman helps it’s
audience understand far better and more importantly, keeps things consistent. At least until the end of the show.
In my previous paragraph, I discussed very briefly upon the art. As mentioned numerous times, Sunrise handled the
animation and my goodness does it show. While the show is well over a decade old, and it certainly shows in some
aspects, the show looks incredibly good for its age. Still imagery is used to a much greater extent, and some choices
of effects are just plain weird and do not work. Or at least they didn’t work nearly as well as they may of wanted
When it comes to the overall look of the series, it’s superb. Betterman strongly resembles a good portion of anime
from the late 80s to early 90s. Everything has a much darker look to it, with a much greater emphasis on shadows.
However, the entire show itself is not dark and some parts are rather colorful, especially when they go to other
locations, the general tone the series has a more older vibe to it and it pays off in spades. What makes Betterman such
a treat to watch is just simply to see what they’ll show next. The animation, for the majority, is absolutely
stunning given it’s 1999 date. While there are dips here and there in terms of quality for the animation, and on the
DVD releases I have some of the scenes later on actually look blurry, the overall look is surprisingly good. This 26
episode series looks better than OVAs I’ve seen around from that time. It’s also worth mentioning that the show was
done in Widescreen, which made it surprisingly ahead of it’s time and further showcases it’s beauty. I really
cannot stress enough how good this show looks when it’s setting a scene and how effective it is to the overall
Characters are also a strong point as well. Artwork was handled by Takahiro Kimura and boy does it look stunning! There are a plethora
of good looking designs in this series, ranging from character base, monster base and mecha base. This series
definitely has a great appeal, and it’s even better in terms of dramatic angles and lighting on the characters. By
far, the strong point of the series is just the visual flare everything seems to have.
Alas, just like with the story, there are some strange choices for the animation itself. While the mecha itself look
stunning and battles are generally quite a spectacle to behold, there are some very weird choices of effects. There
will be some scenes that will show mirror images slightly overlapping each other and have them turn in a 360 degree.
There’s also some really interesting choices they did for other visual distortion based effects that, honestly, took
me out of the show. It’s rather apparent that this series was meant to be extremely experimental in terms of visuals
to accompany the events in the story, and for the majority it paid off. Within all this, some of the scenes just came
across as completely out of place and raised an eyebrow more than once.
It’s just a shame, with that in mind, they chose to lazily do the intro. The intro composes of just an underwater
live action scene going from point A to point B, with stills of the characters dissolving in and out of the scene. Half
way through the series, it changes to add a few more characters and changes some of the stills, but it’s essentially
the same introduction. While being rather creative and understanding the point of it, it comes across as horrifically
lazy. Given the attention to detail paid to the series, it’s really shocking that our first introduction to Betterman
is this terrible intro.
However, the ending itself received a far greater amount of attention. I’ll discuss more of that in the sound
Despite with how strong everything else in the show was, I couldn’t help but to feel that voice acting was sub par for
the majority. I watched Betterman by watching one episode in English, and the other in Japanese. Three episodes were
watched in both languages to get a good comparison and feel, while other scenes throughout were re-watched in both
languages to get an even better grasp. To whom the spoils go towards?
The Japanese dub!
However, this was by no means a landslide victory. While the voice acting quality overall was much greater on the
Japanese track as oppose to English, I felt some voice actors did a fairly good job. Keita Aono was voiced by Kappei Yamaguchi (This guy has been in virtually everything in the past two decades,
most notable for InuYasha and Teddy from Persona 4) was probably the most consistent characters. While his dub
counterpart, Matthew Erickson did a rather decent job he lacked the consistency
that is Japanese counterpart had. Now, you may be asking, why is the Japanese dub barely scraping out with a victory
over a cast that seems to bounce back and forth in terms of quality? Well, the biggest issue is this. English. See,
for the Neuronoid to be piloted, it responds to English comments. You Have Control, I Have Control, Synapse Attack,
G-Set and so forth. While being an interesting mechanism, I can’t help but to find it almost comical. Akamatsu
Industries, which is a Japanese Company, co-built these things and yet for some reason the base commands only respond to
English. It’s even said, during the second half of the show when a different model Neuronoid comes to Japan from
France, that they had to change the vocal commands from French. This part just struck me as odd, and unfortunately it
greatly reflected in the voice acting too. While not everyone struggled with this, it was incredibly noticeable.
Sadly, this happens whenever there is a sequence that involves the Neuronoid being piloted. Hats off to whoever came up
with the concept though, because I really dug it. It’s just something that sort of throws out the mood of the show
that’s established and almost makes it slightly comical. What’s worse, is it’s not the Engrish but the voice
commands themselves. Definitely a part where more practice with the dialogue in advance would've helped the actors
become far more comfortable with the phrases.
However, this can be overlooked slightly when it comes to sound. Background music, for the majority, is beautiful.
Could this be? A show where I finally like the music? Well, maybe if we’re just talking about the background music and
some of the pieces.
I really have to mention that the soundtrack to this show greatly helps set the mood of the series. Generally speaking
from my personal experiences, what really makes horror or thriller visuals so exciting comes down to the lighting, and
mainly the music. One of my favorite video games is absolutely terrifying to play because of how well sound and music
is used in it. The same can be said about Betterman. There will be periods of dead silence, or when you’ll simply
just hear something in the background as a sound effect. It creates a fantastic mood, followed by some rather well done
scores. You aren’t just watching something, you are experiencing it. This is especially notable during the first
half of the show. By far the best part of the sound section.
With that in mind, the opening and ending. Well, I didn’t mind the songs. Matter of fact, the ending itself was one of the few anime songs I sought out
when I was younger. This especially helps with the fact that the visuals and the ending song really fit with the series
itself. While the introduction is very calm and soothing, it’s the ending that really fits the theme of the show
By today’s standards, Betterman may not look nearly as well. It may also not be nearly as appealing due to the amount
of material it covers both in terms of symbolism and in terms of biology. Alongside the experimental style some of the
show uses to tell it's story, it definitely paints itself as one odd ball of a series. However, Betterman stands up far
better than most shows from that time period. Superior visuals, a haunting soundtrack and an incredibly interesting
in-depth story keep it in high standards. I’d go so far as to say that Betterman is probably one of the few series
from the 90s that still looks fairly good by today’s standards.
It’s with that in mind that I have to say I was truly surprised at how good Betterman actually is. When I first
watched the show, I found it to come across as a bit convoluted and full of itself. It also struck me as a huge mess.
Yet, when I had the chance to watch the show and catch every single episode I found that not only was that completely
off base, but wrong. While some may find this show to be a bit much, and the ending certainly supported that, the
overall experience is incredibly enjoyable. It offered me an experience that is non-existent in this day and age. By
no means was the show perfect and there were more than several hiccups, Betterman truly surprised me with how much I
enjoyed it and more importantly, how good it was. Even if the second half of the show wasn’t nearly as strong and by
the end it lost some of it’s steam.
Betterman, essentially, gives people a chance to really sit down and think about humanity itself. It’s a rather
interesting outlook and for those who are open to it, they’ll enjoy it. Bear in mind that this show isn’t light
when it comes to information, and the show does get slightly dark near the end as well.
By far, it exceeded any expectations I could've ever had, and made for a fantastic start.
Reviewed by CyanideBlizzard, May 13, 2013