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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

B't X: Kurumada's Take on Mechs

When it comes to anime adaptations of Masami Kurumada mangas there are usually at least one of these links: Either Toei animated it or Shingo Araki & Michi Himeno did the character designs. Saint Seiya and Ring ni Kakero 1 have both links and Fuma no Kojiro at least has Araki & Himeno as the link. B't X (pronounced "Beat X"), on the other hand, is the outlier to this, as it has no real links to the other adaptations. Putting that aside, though, B't X is actually really good manga, and the 25-episode TV anime adaptation of it from 1996 is pretty good.


Kotaro Takamiya is a child prodigy from a Kamui Island, a small island off the coast of Japan, when it comes to robotics. At a young age he leaves home to go to Berlin so that he can learn more, leaving behind his little brother Teppei. Five years later he invites Teppei to Beijing for Mechatopia, where Kotaro will reveal his findings on how humans can create robots with actual intelligence. Shortly after meeting up again a mysterious group called the Machine Empire kidnaps Kotaro and brings him to The Area, their home base hidden within the Gobi Desert. Luckily, Teppei had been trained during those five years by Karen, one of the Empire's strongest warriors called the "Spirit Generals" who became a traitor and escaped, and was able to follow Kotaro to The Area. If Teppei has any chance at rescung Kotaro he'll have to find B't X, Karen's old robotic partner.

Yeah, the basic story behind B't X is pretty much that it's one big rescue arc, which Kurumada already got to mastering while dong Saint Seiya. But in a nice twist, Kotaro's role in this story isn't being a hapless weakling who needs rescuing; instead, the story is split up between Teppei's journey to rescue his brother and Kotaro's eventual mission of finding out how to destroy Raphaello, the Empire's ultimate B't that is slowly going out of control. Both have a purpose and it does help make the story more than just a simple rescue arc.


B'ts are this anime's equivalent of mechs. The word B't itself stands for the fact that they each have a "Brain" that allows them to think for themselves, they run off of the "Blood" of their original donors/pilots, they possess unequaled "Bravery", and are all "Battlers" (a.k.a. they are made for battle mostly). A fifth definition, which isn't mentioned in the manga but is given heavy focus on the anime, is that the B't is a "Buddy" to their donor, and that they can only reach their full potential when the two are perfectly in sync. The B'ts are all based off of animals and vary in size from being only somewhat larger than humans to being giant behemoths that no one could hesitate to call "mechs". Since they all have independent brains, the B'ts also developed as characters, which I found really nice. Also, one has to remember that this is a Kurumada title, so these B'ts can do pretty devastatingly powerful attacks, and it gives the anime a similar bombast and feel that you would normally see in mech anime, especially super robots.

When it comes to the humans, the major characters each have their own style to them, making each identifiable from the others. Teppei is a fiery lead character who seems to have the hot-blood on at all times, making him easy to pay attention to and enjoyable to watch fight. Foh Rafine, Hokuto, and Lon, the other three Spirit Generals, are also interesting characters to watch, though Hokuto doesn't get a larger focus until the last few episodes of the TV series. They are all loyal to the Machine Empire, but once they meet Teppei and also find out how dangerous Raphaello actually is then they start to question if what they're fighting for it truly just.  But, in an opposite direction from Saint Seiya, the Spirit Generals never really befriend Teppei; while they do travel together it's mainly because they have a common destination and potentially a common enemy. It makes for a different relationship between them than the usual "We're now friends!" mentality that is usually seen in titles like these. Kotaro is strong in mind but not in body, but he makes this work for him, as his brain is the one that can solve the mystery behind Raphaello's weakness and even in the worst depths of the Empire, appropriately called UnderHell, he never gives up and instead inspires all around him.

Like I said at the beginning the B't X anime has no link to the other Kurumada anime. Instead of Toei animating this show, TMS did it, and instead of Araki & Himeno doing character designs you have Hideyuki Motohashi, who has worked on shows like GoShogun, the Zenki anime, the Hikaru no Go anime, and a lot of animation direction, and it does show somewhat. While the characters still have their Kurumada-style look to them, it still looks different from Araki & Himeno's style. But Motohashi's style isn't bad; it's just different. Also, though I can't find proof that he worked on this show, there are two episodes, 19 and 24, where the characters look to be drawn by Masami Obari. It's all the more obvious in episode 24 where every major character is shown and it's just completely out-of-place to see the characters look like something from Voltage Fighter Gowcaizer whereas in the previous and following episodes they look like Kurumada-designed characters.


The director & head writer of this adaptation is Mamoru Hamatsu, who was also behind Ronin Warriors' second half and the OVA, Heroic Legend of Arslan, and the 2005 anime adaptation of Glass Mask. The adaptation is pretty accurate to the manga, and only has three real moments of filler: There are two moments of complete filler in the first half and then there are three episodes in the second half that turn a trio of utterly forgettable grunts from the manga into a somewhat threatening group. Also, the end of the TV series, which is then continued in a sequel OVA, alters the story somewhat so that all the major characters can be given screen time.

The music is actually really great in this anime. Akira Senju, who also did the music for the 2004 Tetsujin 28 anime, Victory Gundam, and most recently Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood and the Tales of Verperia movie, seems to split up the soundtrack by having a good number of orchestral themes as well as a fair number of songs that utlize a more synthesized sound. Both types of music fit in really well for the moments they are used and overall it's a great soundtrack for the anime. The opening theme is "Haruka ~ Sailing for my Dream~" by FENCE OF DEFENCE and is a really catching theme, which seems to be a common theme among Kurumada anime. Unlike the other Kurumada animes, though, instead of going for a hard rock sound F.O.D. instead went with more of a Asian, maybe Chinese, influence and it actually works really well for B't X, especially since the Spirit General's B'ts are based on the Four Mythical Beasts of Chinese folklore (the Qilin/Kirin, Phoenix/Suzaku, Dragon/Seiryu, and Turtle/Genbu). According to Wikipedia Japan, the Taiwanese & Chinese airings of the anime eventually featured a different opening theme: "HIGH PRESSURE" by T.M. Revolution; listening to the full version the song isn't bad by any means (though it's early Revolution, so it's before he got his usual style), but I just can't see it working with B't X footage due to its upbeat & happy sound. The ending theme, "Boku no Ikikata" by Blue Boy, is more of a rock-styled song and makes for a nice ending theme.

The Japanese voice cast is really nicely done, with some easily identifiable voices. The best performance, though, is by Nobuyuki Hiymama, who voice Teppei. In fact, it astounds me that this is the only time Hiyama has ever voiced a Kurumada character in an anime adaptation. Considering that Hiyama's hot-blooded screams are perfect for a Kurumada character, it's amazing that he has only voiced Teppei, but he makes it count by making Teppei absolutely awesome. Jin Horikawa (B't X), Kazuya Ichijou (Foh), Keiji Fujiwara (Lon), and Nozomu Sasaki (Kotaro) also do great performances, as do most of the cast.


Now some people might remember that the B't X anime actually was licensed for North American release by Illumitoon Entertainment. For those who don't know, Ilumitoon was founded by a group of people who previously worked for FUNimation Entertainment, and therefore had dubs that used a lot of the same voice actors. The main problem with Illumitoon, though, was that they were aiming to be similar to 4Kids, except that their DVDs would be dual-audio. Once those first DVDs came out, though, all buyers got was bad video encoding, altered music for the English dubs, and English script "dubtitles", complete with closed captioning, rather than actual subtitles for the Japanese audio. I can't say much about the dub, as I only heard a small portion of it, but I would imagine that the performances at the very least were somewhat good; Eric Vale voicing Teppei as well as directing it can't be that bad. But Illumitoon barely got anywhere, as they only got two DVDs in for B't X and Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo, one DVD for Beet the Vandel Buster, and no DVDs for Get Ride! AMDriver before their distributor dropped them. Since then Illumitoon and ADV teamed up in 2008 by getting B't X and AMDriver's dubs onto The Anime Network on Demand... But since Illumitoon only dubbed up to episode 14 for both shows viewers could only watch so much. Illumitoon still seems to be alive, as their website does list a 2010 copyright, but they haven't made any sort of movement since the Anime Network airings. It's a shame, too, as all of the anime they licensed were solid titles, though your mileage can really vary with Bobobo.

Behold!  The last DVD Illumitoon Entertainment Ever Released!

Overall, the B't X anime is a solid adaptation of a really good Masami Kurumada manga. You can definitely do better by watching Saint Seiya or Ring ni Kakero 1, but if you've already seen those or you're a fan of mech anime then I definitely say give B't X a try. After the TV series there was a 14-episode sequel OVA series called B't X Neo, which Illumitoon also licensed but obviously never got to, and I'll cover that title sooner or later.

4 comments:

  1. It was a real shame how they changed the story from the manga and omitted 4 of the demon generals, and thus some great enemies & fights.

    Erick Fischert

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  2. With its canned, predictable action sequences and mirthless attempts at humor, it displays an ineptitude that is frankly shocking considering the talent involved.

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    1. Thank you for your opinion on this show. I obviously feel the opposite to a fair extent, but that's just how it is sometimes.

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  3. I own the B't X English dub dvd's. (The second dvd's subtitles are not dubtitles.) BTW, I actually enjoyed the dubbed episodes. I'll create a blog review of it soon. I'll let you know when it's finished.

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