"Bakugan" I Sacrifice The Instruction Manual to Summon The Paper Clip Helper Guy!
So my last foray into the Bakugan: Battle Brawlers world didn’t go so well. I got lost on the story, I got lost trying to figure out the show’s physics, and I got even more lost trying to understand what the hell’s going on in the actual card game. So, for Volume 5 I figured I’d do some research before diving in. Did it help any?
Previously, Battle Brawlers Dan, Shun, Runo, Marucho, Julie, and Alice had taken off for Europe to try and find any clues leading to the Infinity Core and/or a way to defeat the evil Masquerade. To block their path, Masquerade enlisted the help of the rest of the Top 10 Bakugan Brawlers and turned them evil. One of them, Claus, defeated Marucho and kidnapped Preyas, sending him into the Doom Dimension. In this volume, Dan and the others discover that Masquerade is trying to make his Bakugan the Ultimate Bakugan, giving him power over both Earth and Vestroia, so they decide one of their group needs to evolve into the Ultimate Bakugan first. Unfortunately, Masquerade is off to a huge head start and is able to keep track of all the Bakugan in the world from his secret base, letting him get ahead of the competition. Meanwhile, Julie squares off against her childhood-friend-turned-evil-henchman Billy. Marucho feels depressed without Preyas. Shun deserts the group. And Dan and Runo have a huge fight. With the Battle Brawlers falling apart, has Masquerade already won? Or will the power of friendship prevail?
Last time, I decided to go in blind to see if I could pick up any of the rules of the game or how the show worked. Obviously, that didn’t go over so well. This time, I tried to research how the game worked so that maybe, maybe I would know what’s going on. Unfortunately, Google, Yahoo!, and Wikipedia suck for finding anything on the TCG, so I wasn’t able to find much. I did learn what one has to do to win (when one player’s three Bakugan are defeated, they’re out, kinda like a Pokémon Battle) and I kind of understand what Ability Cards are and how many a player is able to play. Unfortunately, there’s still a lot I don’t understand. I don’t get how a player can send more than one Bakugan out per turn, what the difference is between an Ability and a Trap card (especially since the anime doesn’t seem to distinguish the two), when a player can play an Ability Card, what advantage (if any) a specific type has over another, why the players have launchers when they don’t use them half the time, the entire purpose of the Gate Cards (since in the real life game, the goal is to capture your opponents Gate Cards but in the anime they tend to disappear half the time) and I still don’t know what the hell “HBP” means. I know things can get confusing in Yu-Gi-Oh!, especially for someone who doesn’t play the TCG, but at least in that show you can tell whose turn it is. Here it kind of seems arbitrary.
OK, so I have no idea why Runo is able to summon two different Bakugan in the same turn, or how Tenticlear is able to paralyze all Bakugan at once, or how Preyas is able to be recalled and summoned over and over and over again. At least I can understand the story, right? Well, yes and no. I do understand the overall story and what the characters have to do (especially once it’s laid out in layman’s terms in Episode 18), but the way it’s told bored me to tears so much that I ended up losing track anyway. Early on in the disc, Runo and Marucho get separated from the gang and end up in a mansion some distance away (not sure how far, but probably a different country). Being dimwit bad guys, Masquerade and his bunch didn’t bother to lock the door to Runo and Marucho’s room, take their Bakugan, or even steal their wristwatch radio things! As a result, the two are able to snoop around the mansion and even discover Masquerade’s secret room with no resistance at all. Then again, the heroes aren’t much better, as Dan and the others don’t even bother to try and locate their friends after radio contact (you’d think with the high-priced tech these guys have they’ve have a GPS) and just stand there. Then, as if the whole “travel to a different dimension to battle” thing was stretching my suspension of disbelief as it was, they had to and make Dan magically teleport to Runo and Marucho in order to have a battle! I mean … what? How in the world did Dan manage to invade the battlefield from who knows how far away? Then again, they probably did this so Runo and Marucho would have an easy time getting back to the rest of the gang by episode’s end.
As if the story wasn’t bad enough, the characters themselves are even worse. Julie and Billy have their destiny battle, but the physics are a bit wonkier than usual and the final conflict leaves for very little suspense. Even worse, Dan and Runo have this big huge fight (so huge they refuse to speak to each other) over nothing at all. Seriously, the fights between Inuyasha and Kagome were more heated than this little tussle, and at least those bickering matches had a reason attached. The worst part is that both of them end up forgiving each other by the end of the disc with simple apologies. No speeches about how they were wrong, no examples as to why they work better together, not even a legitimate shipping moment between them. Just an “I’m sorry.” Oy. Shun then gets a spotlight episode to where he’s supposed to learn how important friends are and how he should be a team player. Only problem is, not only is this problem introduced literally out of the blue, but the moral kind of loses meaning when the guy learning the lesson completely and utterly dominates his battle with no noticeable change in personality at all. It’s like the writers forgot about Shun and needed to give him some screen time to justify his VA’s presence. It also really bothers me how the main characters never seem bothered that their non-talking Bakugan are sent to the Doom Dimension while they cry for hours if they lose their talking Bakugan to the Doom Dimension. (I feel stupider every time I type “Doom Dimension”).
Visually, the show is just as bland as ever. Animation uses a few frames as possible with the most special effects and motion going towards the stock footage, usually of the various Brawlers sending out their Bakugan. The actual battles lack any kind of drama whatsoever and usually consist of nothing more than a flashy punch or fire breath. At least in Pokémon we get some different poses and flashier backgrounds for the limited-animation battles. Much of the CG is used to animate the various Bakugan in their toy forms as well as the Ability and Gate Cards, which actually isn’t that bad. There’s a lot of bad stuff about this show, but I do like how the designers are able to come up with so many transformations based around the same shape. So much so that I even got one of the Bakugan toys from McDonald’s (which is about as much money as I’m ever going to spend on the show) and I honestly think these little guys have more personality than either their 2D counterparts or their human masters. Maybe if this had been a gag series about little plastic transforming toys, I’d like the show more.
The audio sucks does as well. All of the cast members are lifeless and unremarkable, which sucks since this is supposed to be a volume heavy on character development. The emotional battle between Julie and Billy loses what little sadness it had thanks to some horrid voice acting, while Dan’s room-clearing eruptions make even less sense than normally. I know Nelvana wanted to dub this show on the cheap (probably figuring it would be a modest success, nothing more) but they could have at least gotten Ocean Group Vancouver to dub the show. They’re not perfect, but they’re better than the horrible actors we have now. As if the voice acting wasn’t bad enough, it’s further marred by generic action music and a still-horrid theme song. Though at least the music in this show stays in the background like its supposed to do, which is something your average 4Kids dub has trouble with. It’s still generic and I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the tracks were taken from Beyblade or Battle B-Daman, but at least it’s not overpowering.
For extras we get almost zilch. There’s a paper insert for various Cartoon Network DVDs (Bakugan, Total Drama Island, The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack, and so forth) and toys. When you pop in the DVD, it loads with trailers for Bakugan Volume 4, Ben 10: Alien Force Volume 4, and the multi-platform video games Mini-Ninjas and Lego Harry Potter, both of which are much more worthy of your money than this show, and I don’t even like Harry Potter. Unlike the previous volume, there’s no special promo card included with this DVD. Probably so you’ll go to McDonald’s and try to get all their not-so-special promo cards, but like the previous volume, you can’t access any of the trailers from the menu. If you wanna watch that Mini-Ninjas trailer again, you’ve gotta turn off the player and restart it. Yay.
Overall, this is, just like last time, only for diehards of the TV show. Newbies are advised to either start from the beginning or petitioning for Duel Masters, a much better show, to be released on DVD.