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Friday, February 17, 2012

B't X Neo: An Epic Ending in the Style of Masami Kurumada

[UPDATE - 5/12/2019: This review has been updated to provide new details & insights in light of Anime Midstream's DVD boxset release of B't X Neo that came out on April 26, 2019.]

Back on December 22, 2010, I reviewed TMS' 1996 TV anime adaptation of Masami Kurumada's B't X (pronounced "Beat X") manga. Running from 1994 to 2000, B't X debuted in the very first issue of Kadokawa Shoten's Monthly Shonen Ace magazine, and was the first time Kurumada ever drew a manga for a publisher other than Shueisha. The B't X anime was very good and is interesting in that it was the first time Toei Animation, Shingo Araki, & Michi Himeno had nothing to do with a Kurumada adaptation. It's 14-episode sequel OVA from 1997, B't X Neo, is also interesting in that it's the only Kurumada adaptation to end up diverging from its source material and end in its own way... And, boy, does it end with a bang.

[NOTE: It goes without saying, but if you haven't at least seen the B't X TV series then the following synopsis features spoilers!]

Teppei Takamiya is still on the path towards the center of The Area, where the Machine Empire's Main Tower is located, so that he can rescue his brother, robotics genius Kotaro Takamiya. After going through B't X's death, and rebirth at the hands of Spiritual Guardian Hokuto & B't Max, Teppei and X are now a solid duo and have even gotten the remaining Spiritual Guardians, Fou, Ron, & Hokuto, to question whether their leader, the Machine Emperor, is truly a god or if he's a devil. Meanwhile, Kotaro is still stuck in Under-Hell, where Warden Marcello accidentally dropped a vial that contained a piece of B't Rafaello that was supposed to go to Kotaro for research. Even though Demon General Misslim & B't La Lainya have been defeated, time is running out before Rafaello completes his transformation, which will mean the end of the world. If they have any chance of stopping him, Karen, Empire traitor & Teppei's mentor, has to discover the Great Light that Kamui Island might be hiding deep inside.

B't X Neo wastes no time in getting straight to the story, which continues on with Demon General Quatro & B't Loresso. If there's one major difference between the TV series & Neo, it's that the other major characters truly get their moments to shine. For example, Quatro is a former friend of Fou's who wants the Spiritual Guardian dead, and though Teppei does get involved during the fight, in the end this is all Fou's conflict. Neo also delves into Hokuto's past, Major Aramis' (the person who kidnapped Kotaro) former life, the reason why Misha & Nasha, the Machine Emperor's personal agents, joined the Empire, and even Ron starts to feel that he might have been nothing more than a mindless pawn to the Empire. Hell, even Lt. Metal Face, the first person to fight Teppei, & Marcello get some development & redemption when all is said and done. It's great to see the supporting cast all become relatable to the viewer and become people you can understand; this is especially for Hokuto, since he barely appeared in the TV series.

In terms of adapting the manga, Neo is a bit odd. Normally when an anime diverges from its manga source, it stops doing so at a specific point, but most of what came before it is fairly accurate to the manga. B't X Neo, on the other hand, is only mostly accurate for the first three episodes, i.e the Quatro fight, followed by Episodes 4-9 being mostly divergent material with some small bits of manga adaptation mixed in. This results in some manga scenes being adapted later than they would have been, as well as three characters being portrayed differently from the manga. First, there's Demon General Meimu, who in the manga is related to Hokuto's backstory, and if you know how he's done in the manga you can actually see that he is adapted accurately, if only incidentally. In the anime, however, Meimu is simply another guy for Teppei to fight, though it also involves Metal Face in a way that helps give him extra development. Then there's Aramis, whose major change is that the anime makes her the Rose Knight, a legendary warrior for the empire before the Spiritual Guardians were around. Compared to what happens to Aramis in the manga, Neo does win out a little bit in terms of portrayals, but at the same time Aramis essentially leaves the anime when her past is revealed, only to come back for a short appearance in Episode 13; she doesn't even appear in the finale. The last change is in Juggler, a masked man in a Pierrot outfit who acts as a leader of the forces that are supposed to kill Teppei & the traitors. Though Juggler's overall attitude is the same as in the manga, his actions and backstory are handled very differently. There's also Dr. Lisa Maria Stein (or Shutain, as the English dub calls her), a German scientist who winds up helping Kotaro solve the equation to destroy Rafaello & becomes a semi-love interest, who is an original character introduced in this second third of the episodes; she's overall a welcome & non-intrusive addition,

The last five episodes, in turn, end up being completely divergent from the manga, and what Neo ends off with is an epic battle against a demon that, while not being written by the man himself, definitely gives off the feel of a Kurumada title. While the set-up to these last episodes might feel a little awkward, given that they transfer from Demon General battles to arriving at the final Point without ever establishing what happens to the other four Generals, because they didn't exist in the manga yet, the final battle itself is wrought with intensity, tragedy, & melancholy, but with the permeating hope of shining through staying throughout. Oddly enough, though, Neo does have some scenes which are very similar to how the manga would handle them later on. A perfect example is the scene where Karen approaches the Great Light after finding it, which happens in Volume 15 of the manga; while some aspects of it are rather sudden & without explanation, it matches what the manga would later on do rather closely. Considering that the anime only adapts into Volume 8 of the 16-volume manga, one would think that either Kurumada told the writing staff of the base ideas he had for the end of the manga, or Kurumada was possibly inspired by the direction Neo went; either option is plausible, honestly. If someone was to ask me which ending I preferred, Neo or the manga, I would honestly have to say that both are worth seeing. Though there are similarities, they both go in pretty different directions, overall, and there are enough differences in characterizations to keep from being too similar; I can easily see people preferring either direction.

Though this is a sequel to the TV series that is produced by the same animation studio, B't X Neo does have a slightly different staff behind it. Gone is Mamoru Hamatsu from the director's chair, and in his place is Hajime Kamegaki (Fushigi YugiKenichi The Mightiest Disciple), with writing headed up by Yoshiyuki Suga (Dragon Ball, One Piece, Saint Seiya), who was a writer on the TV series. Going off of a resume like that, Kamegaki & Suga certainly know how to handle stories that can go into "epic" territory, so having the two for Neo was certainly a great idea. Hideyuki Motohashi is still behind the character designs, which results in the characters having that Kurumada look, but still keeping a style that isn't that of Araki & Himeno. Akira Senju is gone from the music composer position, with Fumitaka Anzai (Combustible Campus Guardress, Urusei Yatsura) handling the music duties here. Though he does mix it up a little bit, Anzai's focus in Neo is clearly about being orchestral & symphonic, which definitely helps add to the epic, romanticized style the OVA gets in its last episodes. You get an excellent combination of piano, violin, organ, & other orchestral instruments, though Anzai does also compose a handful of more synth-heavy songs, to balance things about. It's certainly a different sound than what Akira Senju did for the TV series, but it works well at establishing to heavier stakes at hand in this latter part of the story.

The opening theme is "A Piece of the Sun" by Masaaki Endoh, the legendary anisong singer who now is a big part of JAM Project. Unlike the TV series' opening theme, which went for more of a Asian influence, Neo's opening theme is more of a hot-blooded song that gets you ready for the action and story that's coming... Very much like the other opening themes to Kurumada anime. The ending theme is "Towa no Sono Saki ~You Are the Best Buddies~" by Masaaki Endoh, and this song is clearly the gem of the soundtrack. It's upbeat and positive message about keeping your "buddies" close to you is truly the best message one can get from B't X, and the fact that a vocalless version of this song plays whenever Teppei & X get into their "kicking ass mode" shows that even TMS & Anzai knew how special this song was. The last episode features a insert song, "Hitomi wa Ikusen no Mado" by Aki Hata, that starts at the final climax and plays all the way through the final credits, a simple white-on-black text scroll, which helps add to the mood that the climax goes for. Considering how the story ends it just would have been almost inappropriate for "Towa no Sono Saki" to be the last song heard here.

Unfortunately, Anime Midstream's release doesn't maintain the final episode's effective use of Aki Hata's song into the final credits scroll, instead fading out after the final image to use the usual ED sequence. It doesn't really ruin the last moments of Neo by any means, but it does blunt some of the sting of having a different ending play all the way through; after all, this is a 10-minute song(!), and now we only get four minutes of it. I blame this completely on TMS, because Anime Midstream was simply using whatever masters were supplied to them. Honestly, though, TMS could have simply slapped its mandated English credits sequence AFTER the Japanese credit scroll, which would maintain the original intention of using Aki Hata's song.

All the Japanese voices from the TV series return for this OVA, so Nobuyuki Hiyama is still Teppei, Jin Horikawa is still B't X, Keiji Fujiwara is still Ron, etc. I did not give any real credit to Hokuto's seiyuu, Osamu Sakuta, in my original review of the TV series, but he really pulls out a great performance in Neo, making Hokuto sound believable as the knowledgeable "Master Doc" but also tough and ready to fight. Quatro is voiced by Toshihiko Seki (Duo Maxwell in Gundam Wing, Noboru Takizawa in Blazing Transfer Student), and he easily brings out the crazed vengeance that's on Quatro's mind. Shinichiro Miki also pulls out a very good Meimu, which makes his reduced focus all the more a shame. Finally, in terms of the new characters, Dr. Lisa is voiced by Yumi Touma (Urd in Ah! My Goddess, Emma in Emma: A Victorian Romance), and while she's more subdued than most of the other characters, she fits in fine, in her own way. In all honesty, B't X Neo has a very large cast, mainly due to the fact that each B't is an extra character to consider, but overall every role is excellently done as a whole.

This is an interesting shot, as it looks like a watercolor painting,
but minor lip flaps are done for the characters.

The English dub by Sound Cadence, which is the first of its kind for B't X Neo, brings back mostly everyone from the studio's dub of the TV series, which I covered in 2018, but with some recastings. Namely, Daman Mills (Alone/Hades in Saint Seiya: The Lost Canvas, Frieza in Dragon Ball FighterZ) replaces Chritospher Bevins as Hokuto, as the latter moved to California in between season recordings, & Wendy Powell (Envy in Fullmetal Alchemist, Lady Iku in Shigurui: Death Frenzy) actually returns from the old Illumitoon dub to reprise her role as B't Madonna, taking the place of Rachel Rigg. Mills' Hokuto is almost a beat-to-beat (no pun intended?) clone of Bevins' performance, which is amazing, while Powell's reprisal makes her similar to Eric Vale's reprisal of Teppei; she started the role, so she's going to end the role. Other Ilumitoon returns include Stephanie Young (Karen), who now voices B't Rosemary, & Cynthia Cranz (Gaku & Karin), who now voices Hokuto's mother in a flashback. For new roles, voice acting veteran David Matranga voices Quatro, and really nails the seething anger of a character who had absolutely no previous set-up until now, so kudos. As for Meimu, we have Stephen Fu (Nikaido in Golden Kamuy), who also does a very good job with the short time the character has to show off. Finally, Kira Buckland (Reimi in JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Diamond in Unbreakable) voices Dr. Lisa, giving the character an appropriately German accent, though this makes it all the more odd that the dub didn't pronounce her last name as "Shtein", as it would be in German. As for returning cast that I only briefly brought up in the Retrospect in Retrograde re-review, Justin Briner does an excellent job as Marcello, Alison Viktorin plays up Misha's maniacal nature perfectly, & Tyson Reinhart does a great job at showing Metal Face's true emotions when things are at their worst. Just as with the new dub for the TV series, Neo's dub is a great mix of veteran actors & young up-&-comers that simply nails everything excellently. The only thing I'd ding the dub points for is using a vocalless version of "Hitomi wa Ikusen no Mado", which also sounds slightly quieter than the vocal version the Japanese audio uses, but that again is at the fault of TMS, not Sound Cadence; it's still more than effective for its use in the dub.

The B't X TV series was a really good adaptation of the manga, & B't X Neo not only continues that quality but actually surpasses it by diverging into its own ending that really delivers in terms of being an epic ending the likes of which Masami Kurumada is known for. B't X was the title that got me into Masami Kurumada's works, and when I first saw this ending I was floored and amazed, as American animation doesn't normally go into the direction that anime can go. Now, all these years later, I still feel that Neo's ending stands up excellently and was a great culmination to everything that had happened before it. Those last five episodes are a bit of an emotional tour de force, showing no hesitation to hit you hard, and even the parts that come before it are handled in a way that makes it so that you can't truly tell what is going to happen next. Looking at the B't X anime's licensing history, it's sad to see that ADV never worked on it after licensing it back in 2002, and it's even sadder that Illumitoon's attempt was so poorly done, but at least now Anime Midstream has managed to not only give all 39 episodes an official English release on DVD, but has also given it a simply outstanding English dub by Sound Cadence, one that easily matches up with the kinds of output that the likes of FUNimation, Sentai Filmworks, or even Discotek Media produce. The fact that B't X Neo's release in particular actually became Right Stuf's #1 Best-Selling DVD release for a week is proof of that quality, and it shows why B't X as a whole is another great example of why Masami Kurumada shouldn't just be recognized for Saint Seiya. He has proven multiple times, both before & after doing Seiya, that he knows how to deliver great action titles with stories & characters that grab your attention, and it's time that his other work be given that kind of respect & recognition.


  1. This is one of my favorites anime, great read thanks.

  2. It was a great review, i'm a great fan of B't X :)
    Though i am a bit perplexed that you call the ending to Neo, epic, as it ends with Karin's sister telling the story of how the heroes went on to defeat the evil, which we didn't get to see.

  3. I'm a fan of the manga, but I never got to watch the anime. It's a shame that the OVA is only available (if you can call it that) on VHS, but maybe it will get a BD release someday. One can dream, right?

    Just one correction: according to Japanese Wikipedia's B't X article, Yoshiyuki Suga only worked on the X Neo as the head writer, while the director was Hajime Kamegaki. ANN's encyclopedia credits Suga and Kamegaki as "series director" and "supervisor" respectively, but they must be wrong, since Suga only works as a writer.

  4. nostalgic with bt'x, tappei is my anime idol when i was a little girl

  5. Still confused with the ending of the series. Was Teppei death ? And what about the Four Knights ? The Fou's sword? at the end seems quietly saying they're die?

  6. I've read the manga and watched the anime and I can honestly say that the anime's ending was far greater than the manga's. In the anime version you get to see the Knights and Teppei fight together againts Raffaello in a way the manga just does not deliver... also, the final sacrifice they all have to make in order to save the world, is too epic. In the manga they all live, it's the B'ts that die when re-entering Earth's atmosphere. You can say the anime's ending is raw and beautiful, and the manga's is more of a "happy ending".

  7. i have to be honest, Neo itself still felt a bit rushed (I can't see all the evil generals that the protagonists supposed to fight), but definitely better than the TV series, and that ending was truly epic.

    1. I wouldn't necessarily call Neo "rushed", but it is obvious that the staff decided to simply skip over the remaining four Demon Generals (of which only one or two would have been properly introduced in the manga by that time, anyway) & go straight into the finale. I think there might have been a throwaway line about them running away (or at least trying to) once Raphaello got loose, though.