"Bakugan": I Equip Paper Clip Helper Guy with the Magic Card "Brawling 1-2-3!"
Every few years, a new anime series comes out linked to some toy or card game. It catches on for a few years and then dies out. So far, none have lasted against the original trio of Pokémon, Digimon, and Yu-Gi-Oh! The latest challenger is Bakugan: Battle Brawlers, and it isn’t up to snuff either.
Previously, the evil Masquerade had enslaved the top five Brawlers in the world and set them against Dan and his companions, hoping to beat the do-gooders once and for all. Like the good guys they are, Dan and the others beat up the bad guys and broke their evil spell. However, during their brawls, they began to notice that Masquerade was somehow able to track their movements, even halfway across the world! They suspected this is being done by the caretaker of their Brawlers website, Webmaster Joe, whom they’ve never met and apparently have never talked to (despite Dan and all being the creators of the damn game) but when they finally meet the mysterious webmaster, they find not all is what they seem. Could it be that the spy is actually one of the Brawlers themselves? Runo and Julie begin to suspect their comrades and set out to find the truth while the others waste time teaching a beginner how to Brawl. Meanwhile, Masquerade is actually advancing the plot by doing what he should have done twenty episodes ago: getting his own hands dirty and beating the snot out of the good guys.
If you’ve read my previous reviews, you know I came in late to the show, so I missed a lot of the set-up. While the story is nothing special, it is starting to ramp up a bit. The big battle between Dan, Runo, and Marucho against their enslaved peers comes to a close in a brawl about as close as this series is probably going to get to epic. After that, the gang visit Webmaster Joe in the hospital after they get a tip on his location from Chan (I repeat, why the hell do they not know about Joe when these guys MADE THE DAMN GAME!?) and try to determine if Joe is a spy and if it he isn’t, then who is. And while the good guys are spending their days dilly-dallying around, Masquerade actually gets down to business and does bad guy stuff. Just to remind us that he’s all evil and stuff, I guess. These three episodes are the better parts of the disc because it feels like the plot is moving forward a bit, with the Webmaster Joe episode getting extra points for something I’ll mention a bit later. All in all, if these three episodes were all that the disc contained, I could recommend it as a rental, especially for Bakugan fans.
Unfortunately, there’s two episodes between the Webmaster Joe and the Masquerade-does-his-job episodes and those two are even crappier than usual. For no discernable reason, instead of continuing their quest to find Masquerade or training to make themselves stronger, the Brawlers decide to go back home and lounge about doing menial tasks for whatever reason. This allows us to watch Alice teach a little kid how to be a strong Bakugan Brawler, which just grinds the story to a halt because we don’t give a damn about the kid. We care about what Masquerade’s doing, and the kid will never appear ever again in the series, making the entire episode a waste of time. This may have been tolerable during the first few episodes of the series before the plot got serious, but when you know the big bad evil guy is close to discovering the secret to gaining incredible power, it’s hard to justify wasting precious time on a little kid who can’t do jack squat. And then there’s the “Who’s the Spy?” episode that comes after, where Runo and Julie suspect their teammates of being a spy, one of which is legitimate, the other of which is so completely stupid it doesn’t even deserve to be called filler. And then there’s this idiotic subplot where Runo decides that she’s lost enough nameless Bakugan to the Doom Dimension and quits brawling before she loses Tigerera. (Don’t worry, she gets better.) Now, all the Bakugan are supposed to be alive, not just the talking ones, so why is it none of the characters care about their other Bakugan? It just baffles me.
But my major complaint, as always, is in following the actual game itself. I thought I had gotten a bit of the rules down in previous volumes, but in this volume they blow my theories out of the water as everyone does whatever the hell they want like usual and the victors seemed determined by whoever can showcase the greatest Asspull they can find. Ability cards are thrown every which way, special abilities are brought up and never mentioned again, and we get this new attack called the “Triple Node” which is supposed to be a super-powerful attack but gets beaten both times its used. The Webmaster Joe episode deserves special praise because Joe, having never been in a real brawl before, actually decides to explain what the hell all these special abilities and Abilty Cards actually do, making the game seem somewhat coherent. They could have followed this up with Alice teaching the random-will-never-see-again kid how to brawl well, but the advice she gives is just as nonsensical as the rest of the game. Then there’s Delta Dragonoid, Drago’s evolved form. But unlike Pokémon, the evolution isn’t permanent and for some reason Drago has to re-evolve every battle. How he evolves isn’t brought up, other than fighting and getting stronger (a.k.a. “leveling up,” but that still doesn’t explain why he doesn’t stay evolved).
Bakugan in Japan is a Sunday morning show, which is typically filled with a bunch of kid-demographic shows with a limited budget, meaning not much in the way of good animation. Unfortunately, this show hits the bottom of the budget barrel. Typically you can expect at least some well-animated stock footage to boost the visuals up a bit, but no dice here. All the battles use manipulated stills and crappy-looking special effects to mask some of the stiffest animation ever. Seriously, when even Pokémon or the original seasons of Digimon make you look bad, you know it’s really horrible. The only positives are the Bakugan toy forms, which are in CG and look rather decent. I continue to be impressed at how the designers are able to make so many different forms from a ball, and the toy forms not only look cooler, but have much more personality than their more detailed, 2D counterparts. If only the series was a gag show featuring puppeteered Bakugan toys, maybe the show would be better, or at least coherent.
The dubbing doesn’t exactly help make things any clearer. There are several instances where’s it’s plainly obvious the writers are forcing the characters to say something completely different from the original Japanese version, the biggest example to me being when Dan and company are shocked upon shocked when their generic opponents of the day successfully employ a Triple Node and wonder what the hell it is when they themselves just fought against the same attack not even two episodes ago! All the forced comedy, game errors, and lousy dialog combined with one of the most boring soundtracks ever combine to make a dub that makes me wish Ocean Group Blue Water was doing the dubbing. As if that wasn’t enough, the opening theme continues to be the most inane song I’ve ever heard. “Rock the Dragon” had a decent beat, “Pokémon’s Theme” had some great guitar riffs, and “Digimon Are the Champions” at least had some structure. But this piece of trash is not catchy, not coherent, and not memorable in any way.
As for extras, we get trailers for the latest volume of Ben 10: Alien Force, the previous volume of Bakugan, and the Blu-Ray release of Ralph Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings film. Like other volumes, though, these trailers only play when you boot up the disc, they can’t be selected from the main menu. An insert is also included showcasing some of the newest Bakugan toys as well as other Cartoon Network DVDs. Sorry, Bakugan fans, there’s no holofoil promo card included with this volume.
Overall, Volume 6 of Bakugan is for the diehards of the diehards. If you have no idea what’s going on or have never seen the show, either start from Episode 1 or stay the hell away.
I suggest the latter, myself.