Gratuitous Violence, Necrophilia and Losing the Plot in Btooom
November 9, 2012 Leave a comment
Violence in anime can often be something we take for granted, much like we take it for granted in action films, even though there seems to be an explosion every minute. In general violence isn’t bad, if it is for a particular reason, however, there are times when violence is used in a gratuitous and unnecessary way. The results are often described (quite accurately in many respects) as torture porn, with violence essentially taking the spot where a proper plot or story would go. In anime there was a period where many films and OVAs employed ‘ultra violence’, with the gratuitous use of violence and general destruction and dismemberment of characters for no apparent reason. In many respects films like Akira help to demonstrate elements of the violence used, with the obvious ending sequence when Tetsuo finally loses control exemplifying the extreme direction of some anime. Although in this case there is a distinctive reason for the scene and in it perfectly encapsulated elements of Akira’s story.
One other area where extreme violence has been used to make a distinctive point can be found in Survival Games. Stories like Battle Royale in its various incarnations employs violence in a distinctive way in order to make political and social points pertaining to the problems that Japanese society was facing at the time. The extreme violence that class 3-B are subjected to brings out their inner most fears and desires, coupled with demonstrating the destructive powers of the state. Through the eyes of Shuya Nanahara we see his middle school class go slowly (on in the case of some rather quickly) mad – they are forced to kill in order to survive, and while Shuya, Noriko and eventually Kawada attempt to work together as they try to survive this brutal game of life and death while the world watches in horror and perhaps awe.
All of the characters inherent flaws and problems come out over the course of the game, with Mitsuko Souma and Kazuo Kiriyama appearing as the most dangerous and most damaged individuals. The problems of each character are brought out for the world to see, problems that were kept hidden by a society that does not want to see the inherent flaws in how it is run. They are left alone without anyone to help them, and instead of attempting to rectify this situation; the game is set up to scare others into obedience. There are other equally fascinating survival game anime or films, including Gantz, and in some respects Sword Art Online (although in this case the survival aspect is often forgotten or pushed to one side). They all have elements of fighting for survival through a series of strange and deadly circumstances. More recently we had Mirai Nikki, a heady mix of psychotic main characters, a warped game involving numerous dimensions and a twisted romance between two people who inevitably try and kill each other.
It was a fascinating series that was both well written as well as being utterly bonkers, with characters that were larger than life and quite clearly mad. In all of these cases there have been very specific reasons behind the survival game, although they may not be entirely obvious. Btooom on the other hand has none of this – it is not an interesting or intelligent exploration of Japanese society and culture, neither does it have the heady psychotic elements of Mirai Nikki or Gantz, it is grey, dull, and flat. Btooom is Battle Royale Lite, everything that made Battle Royale, and indeed any other survival game (excluding Sword Art Online) interesting has been taken out and thrown out the window, leaving only the gratuitous violence and similar setting. While other series explore elements of rape or abuse in order to demonstrate the damaged nature of many of the characters, Btooom does not. The setting of Btooom potentially lends itself it a fascinating story, with Ryouta as the troubled individual who for unknown reasons has effectively given up on life. In many respects his disparaging remarks and utter rejection of society are reminiscent of the ‘Hikikomori’ problem (at least according to the Japanese government) that Japan I supposedly facing. He is socially withdrawn, and essentially rejects every other option given to him apart from working at Tyranos.
The problem is that none of this is ever explored in any real detail and is instead glossed over almost instantly as we are shown the island where he has to fight for his life. We are therefore left with a relatively negative impression of Ryouta, with the very essence of his character ignored and glossed over by the plot. By glossing over these issues the series has already failed at exploring the inherent flaws in elements of Japanese society and daily life. The focus on finding a good job, along with the societal pressures of doing well, going to university, having a stable income, marrying and having children all come together to produce people who simply shrink into their own little worlds. Battle Royale and even Mirai Nikki on the other hand, succeed partly because of their exploration of the problematic relationship that the main characters have with each other and society at large.
They all have their issues and the education system, along with society in general only helps to further push them into the ground, telling the characters that they are not good enough or have not lived up to the expectations that society and culture have. The psychotic nature that many of these characters exhibit is not inherent, but is instead the only way that they can express themselves when all restraints have been removed. Characters such as Mitsuko and Yuno may be completely insane and are willing to kill anyone that gets in their way – with Mitsuko willing to use her body to get her own way having been abused as a child and simply assuming that sex makes things better – but they also want to belong and to be happy. Because no one has ever helped them before they have grown up into warped individuals, abandoned by society and left to fend for themselves – the survival game in this respects brings to the surface all the inherent flaws in their lives and shows how society allows people to fall through the cracks.
By showing characters back stories and the abuse that they have lived through, these series can help produce multi-dimensional characters, and help to explain their current situation. Yuno was abused by her parents for example, and although she eventually killed them, these events in her past had a tangible effect on how she approaches the survival game and her relationship with Yuki. Her fixation on Yuki, along with her psychotic tendencies are therefore not inherent, but were created by her destructive past, and in terms of the stories plot, the abuse she suffered means something. Similarly for Mitsuko, the sexual abuse that she suffers at a young in the book (it is elaborated on in the manga adaptation) has a significant impact upon how she views rape and sex in general. The horrific abuse that Mitsuko had endured during her childhood leaves her physically, emotionally, and psychologically damaged. She changes from a happy, innocent child into a manipulative young woman who uses her good looks and body to seduce others. She also deludes herself into thinking that touching and having sex makes everything better.
Her trauma also creates two separate personalities, with the ruthless Mitsuko who is manipulative and lacks any notion of mercy when it comes to killing her classmates, along with the most childlike Mitsuko who simply wants to be loved and not be abandoned. These characters have terrible pasts, but they are all intrinsically linked to their current mental and emotional states, the pasts are therefore deliberately graphic and extreme to demonstrate the pain that they have had to live through. We see none of this in Btooom; with characters back stories seemingly pointless and having no real impact upon who they are and why they are there. The violence and numerous explosions seemingly cover over these stories and histories, leaving the viewer with an empty feeling, as if nothing meaningful has happened. Himiko was nearly raped, and due to her innocence and naivety lead her friends into a flat where they were gang raped. All of these events are horrible and resulted in Himiko being ostracised from society and eventually sent to the island due to the hatred of those she ran away from.
However, the attempted rape, along with the problems she had with her old friends are essentially glossed over and instead we have another attempted rape. In this case the attempted rape isn’t portrayed as destructive or terrible, but instead as a simple reaction to the current situation. It is gratuitous and becomes the centre of the episode, whereas it should have simply been something terrible and shown as such. The abuse that Kousuke has to suffer is also essentially glossed over and presented in a gratuitous and actually quite disgusting manner. The characters in Btooom clearly aren’t meant to be likeable, and with every new character that is introduced it becomes clear that they are as likable as the last. They are all psychos, twisted by some trauma in their past, but instead of trying to explore these pasts in more detail, Inoue Junya simply presents them as inherent unlikable.
There is a complete lack of subtlety in Btooom, with everything thrown at the screen as if the author is hoping that some of it will stick. The violence is gratuitous for the sake of it, and the inclusion of Necrophilia and crazy characters that are meant to be as unlikeable as it is possible to be utterly spoils the whole experience. Then we come to the issue of atmosphere or lack thereof in Btooom; while other survival games have successfully produced a think, almost tangible atmosphere throughout, Btooom does not. It plays out like a series of well-timed explosions, leaving nothing to the imagination, almost like Inoue Junya is paranoid of the audience falling asleep in between (reminiscent of every Michael Bay film, ever). The series is terrible and uses violence, rape, and necrophilia instead of a meaningful plot or story.