There is a criminal lack of good Betterman art.
Stepping into the wayback machine for this little known horror series from 1999. A little background first before my review. Why exactly did I watch an almost obscure series from so long ago anime-wise? Because it was directed by Yoshitomo Yonetani and produced by Studio 7, the same people who made Gaogaigar. It even has character designs by Takahiro Kimura, and if you’ve seen any of those designs, then you know that his women are incredibly sexy. He’s working on Code Geass right now, and anytime your fappin’ to Karen, you have Mr. Kimura to thank, not Clamp. Anyways, since I heard this took place in the same universe as Gaogaigar I thought I’d take a look at it, and I’m damn glad I did.
In the world of Betterman, a mysterious disease has been ravaging humanity that causes people to go insane and kill others and themselves. The cause of the disease, or even if it is a disease, is unknown. It could be a virus, a mutation, or the wrath of God. Nobody knows. Mode Warp is a scientific institute that researchs Algernon with the help of Akamatsu industries, who provides their research mecha Neuronoids. Neuronoids are ungainly robots who have to be piloted by two people, both Head Divers, people with abnormal mental abilities. One of these Head Divers is Keita Anno, who meets his childhood friend Hinoki Sai who he hasn’t seen in years. She is a Head Diver herself, and drags Keita into the world of Algernon.
The Betterman of the title is a super-evolved human who can transform into different forms to battle monsters through the use of seeds. Betterman has four distinct forms, such as Nebula, Forte, or Lamia; each with it’s own unique abilities. Other characters are Miyako Asami, a logical researcher from Mode Warp; Shigeru Akamatsu, the energetic head of Akamatsu Industries; his loli daughter Sakura, who can read people’s consciousness’ through the Limpid Channel; and Shou Yanagi and Kaede Murenai, a pair of Head Divers with psychic abilities. And these are just all the characters at the beginning. There are a ton of other mysterious people that appear throughout the series; some good, some evil.
Now, Betterman is a thinking man’s anime. Even though it follows a monster of the week formula most of the time, it’s plot is very complex and needs to be carefully paid attention to to understand. While some say Betterman isn’t understandable at all, I think all the mystery’s, aside from a couple small ones, are answered by the end of the series; you just have to pay attention to get them. One of the things I like most about Betterman is how logical it is. It uses cold, hard biological information to explain the many mystery’s and monsters that appear throughout the show. When was the last time you’ve heard of a monster being described as nothing but a mass of urine bladder cells? The terms can be confusing, but fascinating at the same time.
To me, Betterman is the best horror series I have ever seen. It’s the only anime to actually make me feel creeped out and afraid. Most of the action takes place at night in abandoned, cramped areas, where people have vanished or died. The mixture of this with the often eerie soundtrack creates a dense, claustrophobic atmosphere, where your constantly wondering whats around the corner. It helps that all the characters are wonderful, and you come to care about all of them. Keita can be an idiot at times, and his ability to pilot the neuronoid so well is kind of stupid, but his love for Hinoki and wish to protect her is beautiful and romantic. This is what makes the ending of Betterman so heart-rendering. Betterman has the most brutal ending I’ve seen since End of Eva, with deaths, mass destruction, revelations, madness, etc. I’m trying not to spoil it, but the ending left me so emotionally drained I feel I have to talk about it.
If you’ve been looking for a good horror-themed anime, or maybe one to get those brain juices flowing, I couldn’t reccomend Betterman enough. It’s unique mixture of mystery, horror, great characters, and realistic science are a winning combo in my book. It may be hard to get into, but you’ll be hooked if you stick with it. Betterman’s been released on DVD for awhile in English, and you can get the whole series for around forty bucks in a boxset. Not a bad deal, especially since the extras on the DVD’s, Mode Warp files, really helps clear up some of the plot. Now, if I could just find the full song for the damn ED. Why is it so hard to find songs for a show that’s a decade old?
Takahiro Kimura is my god.