“Our bombs are smarter than the average high school student. At least they can find Kuwait.” – A. Whitney Brown

Manga Entertainment recently released Sword Art Online, an anime about people having to play a computer game for real and if they get killed in the game they really do die. MVM Films has recently released BTOOOM!, an anime about pretty much the same thing. However, there are some key differences.

The main difference is that BTOOOM! is set in the present, unlike SAO which is set in 2022. The central character is Ryota Sakamoto, an unemployed 22-year-old who lives with his mother and whose only job aim is to work for Tyrannos Japan, the company behind his favourite video game, “BTOOOM!”. The game is so called because the only weapons in it are various kinds of bombs. Sakamoto is the best player of the game in Japan, and is in the top 10 best players in the whole world. He has even married another player in the game.

One day Sakamoto wakes up to find himself dangling from a parachute which has been caught in a tree on a deserted tropical island somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. After escaping from the parachute he finds that he has a suitcase containing some food and drink, and a pack containing what he discovers are bombs. He also has a mysterious glass chip implanted into his left hand. 

Sakamoto then finds himself attacked by someone else [also attacking him] with bombs, but of a different kind. After getting out of this predicament, Sakamoto meets other people, including a girl called Himiko who is scared of him, and a businessman named Taira, who explains what is going on. Everyone on the island is there because someone else wanted them to disappear. The organiser has sent them all to this island as part of a game. Everyone has glass chips in their left hands and a set of bombs which vary from time bombs, homing bombs, poisonous gas bombs etc. To escape, a person needs to collect eight chips: their own plus seven more. The way to get the chips – blow everyone else up. Sakamoto thus discovers that he is being made to play “BTOOOM!” for real.

The similarities between SAO and BTOOOM! are numerous. They are both “death games”, and indeed both are connected to the world of video games. Both feature male leads (Kirito and Sakamoto). Both also feature female leads who later serve as romantic interests (Asuna and Himiko – later we discover she is the woman Sakamoto married in the game, but both fail to realise this for some time). Both are adaptations of print stories which debuted very close to each other (the first SAO novel came out in April 2009, and the BTOOOM! manga in June 2009). The anime adaptations were also released close to each other (SAO in July 2012, BTOOOM! in October 2012). The print versions of both these series are still being written so the anime are, strictly speaking, incomplete adaptations, and both print series have been translated into English by Yen Press.

The differences are therefore key to judging which is better. As stated earlier in the article, BTOOOM! is set in the present. Because of this it is more believable than SAO, or rather it is at the moment, but I doubt we will get to play a game like “Sword Art Online” by 2022. Another difference is the length. BTOOOM! is just 12 episodes long. SAO has 25 episodes, one film and another series coming later in the year.

BTOOOM! is also grittier and darker. Not only is there the violence, but there is some added fan service in it as well. While both anime are given a BBFC rating of 15, Yen Press rates the manga very differently. The SAO manga and novel are rated as a “Teen” 13+, but the BTOOOM! manga is a “Mature” 18+ work.

The darkness is most evidence in the treatment of the female characters. Himiko is on the island because some of her friends were the victim of a rape attack and they believe Himiko abandoned them. In SAO Asuna gets attacked by some tentacle monsters which kind of grope her. In BTOOOM! Himiko is almost raped by another player. Because she is attacked by an actual person it is a lot more shocking. It certainly shocks Himiko because she then develops a phobia of men and often attacks men with a smuggled stun gun. Another woman on the island is there because she is a survivor from a previous game and she has no glass chip because her left arm was blown off by the man she trusted. 

So which is series is better? Personally, I think if you compare BTOOOM! with the episodes of SAO released so far, I think BTOOOM! does come out on top. The darker and more believable plot give it the edge. SAO storyline is nice and epic, but it varies from game to game, with the ALfheim plot letting it down. The new series of SAO may swing things back in it’s favour, but currently BTOOOM! is more entertaining.

Also, the price of the BTOOOM! DVDs is better than the SAO ones. The cost of BTOOOM! per episode is less than that of SAO. The BTOOOM! DVDs also have better extras. It has clean opening and closing, Japanese promos, and a “Digest”, which is a selection of mini-video profiles of each character that gets killed.

The one major problem with BTOOOM! is that MVM has not released the series on Blu-ray, unlike Manga Entertainment’s release of SAO. To make things worse, the Americans did release BTOOOM! on Blu-ray, so chances are that many people will prefer to buy the US version. Other than this issue however, BTOOOM! is a very decent series.

8 / 10

Ian Wolf

Ian works as an anime and manga critic for Anime UK News, and was also the manga critic for MyM Magazine. Outside of anime, he is data specialist for the British Comedy Guide, is QI's most pedantic viewer, has written questions for both The Wall and Richard Osman's House of Games, and has been a contestant on Mastermind.

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