Lets Manga: Beet the Vandel Buster

Back in the far off year of 2002 a series by the name of Beet The Vandel Buster was published in Monthly Shonen Jump by writer/artist duo Riku Sanjo and Koji Inada. The series follows the titular Beet as he aspires to be a Buster, a sort of high-class mercenary, and put an end to the Dark Age of the Vandels, a race of demon like creatures that rule over the majority of the world.

On his first day as a Buster, Beet witnesses his childhood heroes, The Zenon Warriors, taking on a particularly powerful Vandel. Just as it seems that the Zenon Warriors have the Vandel on the ropes, Beet yells out in excitement, catching the attention of the Vandel who then proceeds to mortally wound the young boy. In order to save his life the five Busters give Beet each of their Saiga, a magical weapon construct connected to ones own soul. In doing so they successfully pass on their greatest power to the boy, saving his life, but in the process leaving them defenseless against the Vandel. As the Busters charge into battle Beet loses consciousness only to find both the Zenon Warriors and the Vandel gone without a trace when he awakes. From that moment on Beet assigns himself the task of wiping out all of the Vandels and ridding the world of its Dark Age.

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The Writing

Riku Sanjo is at his best in this open world fantasy adventure and shows just how far he had come since the duo’s previous work, Dai no Daiboken. While the story and setting are simple and very Shonen they are done near flawlessly. Each character is given plenty of room to grow with no one feeling too particularly overshadowed. Of course this is a story about Beet and as such he gets the bulk of the shining moments within the series. That said it never feels as if it’s too much of a hindrance on any of the other characters and Beet himself manages to show off legitimate development for all of the time that he’s given. Beet aside the supporting cast is wonderfully entertaining, with each character having distinct and fun personalities. Even the Vandels themselves each manage to have an impressive amount of characterization, be it the quirky minor villains or the surprisingly interesting, and sometimes rather intense, big bads.

Surrounding the characters is an impressively fleshed out world for that of a battle manga, and an intriguing one to boot. Every facet of the world functions similar to that of a fantasy roleplaying game, with such things as the Busters and Vandels gaining levels, videogame-esque economies, and even power-up modes for each of the Saiga. The reason behind this choice seems to be entirely for appeal as the world itself is not actually supposed to be looked at as a game, but rather just game-like. That said, it all works fairly well and helps to showcase the growth in strength of each of the characters through visualized leveling. Whether more was meant to be done with this style of world was unfortunately never able to be seen as the series went on an indefinite hiatus in 2006, leaving the story without a conclusion.

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The Art

Being a monthly series the art feels very polished and manages to increase in quality as the series progresses. While, like the story, the art is simple, Inada’s work matches up very well with the story, world and characters laid out by Sanjo. The design of the characters falls in line with the game-like theme of the world with the main characters looking very much like your typical cool RPG-esque heroes and the villains taking on a sleeker and, of course, demonic design akin to that of a Dragon Quest game. Which is fitting given the duo’s previous work, as mentioned earlier.

The overall aesthetic to the series is a fairly lighthearted one, with the human characters looking quite animated and the Vandels looking more “cool” than monstrous or grotesque. The series has an obvious look of wanting to be more fun and adventurous as opposed to taking a more serious tone. That said, both the art and the writing manage to hit a suitable dreariness when dealing with a more somber or ominous moment, while at the same time going just as big and bombastic as necessary for its fight scenes.

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The Wrap Up

As mentioned earlier, Beet The Vandal Buster is unfortunately an unfinished series with it only making it about four years into its publication. The series had originally gone on hiatus following artist, Koji Inada’s, sudden illness. A mere six months later Monthly Shonen Jump had announced that the magazine itself would cease publication with an alternate magazine, Jump SQ, taking its place. Since the end of Monthly Shonen Jump, writer Riku Sanjo, has gone on to do work for the Toei Company, writing for several of its television shows, such as Kamen Rider W and Jyuden Sentai Kyoryuger. To date, Inada has continued to remain out of the public eye with it being uncertain as to his current physical condition.

While Beet The Vandel Buster seems to be in a never ending limbo it is, regardless, a series worthy of attention. For what it does, be it simple or not, it does it near flawlessly. The team of Sanjo and Inada proves to be an effective one and each manage to compliment the others’ talents very well. It is a series that pretty much exemplifies a shonen battle manga and is worth a look, ending or not.

Beet The Vandel Buster is available in English by Viz Media having been fully released in a healthy twelve volumes. No digital copies are currently available. There is also an anime for those who are so bold! Produced by Toei animation, it ran for two seasons for a grand total of 77 episodes. The series was licensed by Illumination Entertainment in North America, but only saw a single DVD release covering about four episodes.

This has been Lets Manga!, a brand new series with a stupid title that I have been working on for a fair amount of time. If you have any criticisms or suggestions then feel free to blurt them out as you will. Lets see if we manage to do this again sometime. Until then, bye bye!

Dairanger: Whatever Happened to Lord Zed?

Going into Dairanger I found myself with an assortment of different emotions. Having just come fresh off of Zyuranger, my expectations were considerably low. Obviously the two series should not be judged on each other’s merits, but the biting distaste that I had for Zyuranger hadn’t quite let up. That all said, I had heard a variety of good things about Dairanger and was, albeit only very slightly, hopeful that the series would turn out well.

Thankfully, it did. While I wouldn’t put this on many ‘Best of…’ lists, I can say that I enjoyed myself the majority of the time. The show displayed an interesting blend of tones, both serious and somewhat ridiculous, and managed to integrate a decent number of likable and entertaining characters. This, coupled with my general lack of knowledge on Dairanger’s plot prior to my watch through, led to an investing and overall very memorable experience.

I think I’ll actually start with the tone of the series this time around as it’s one of the more interesting aspects of the show. Dairanger follows a martial arts theme akin to that of older Chinese kung-fu flicks. This is shown in a variety of ways outside of the obvious use of martial arts. The film style of the show is noticeably different from the previous year’s Sentai, taking a somewhat pseudo film like appearance, utilizing effects and camera angles more commonly seen in martial arts films. Alongside this we have the usage of title cards displaying the combatants of various fights appearing intermittently throughout the show. The last one of note actually comes from the Jin story arc as many of the scenes act as partial homages to the genre itself with the most apparent being Jin’s warrior-like death at sunset.

Unlike the majority of Sentai that I’ve seen, Dairanger’s story is actually more of a compilation of different plot lines rather than one major one. While none of these plots get too terribly deep, they are all fairly well put together and are interspersed over the course of the series as opposed to simply being aired in one go and then forgotten. This is one of the strongest aspects of Dairanger’s story as, while it doesn’t deliver on one big arc, it does manage to intertwine its many smaller ones in a way so as not let any one of them become too overplayed.

For instance, the Kujaku story line is played out over the course of the series and is honestly one of my favorites from the show. Now the arc picks up for about one or two episodes at a time before shifting focus away to something else and because of that this story, which could have easily been a one off arc in any other series, became an investing plot line that managed to make me look forward to whenever it would pick back up. It managed to stay around long enough to make you care, but rarely got to a point where it became tedious or dull.

While there is a variety of stories to be seen within Dairanger, there are, of course, a couple that take precedence over the others. The major one of these is the arc surrounding Kou and his heritage. This arc actually took me somewhat by surprise as every previous experience of mine with toku child actors was an annoyingly soul crushing one. Kou, oddly enough, not only turned out to be a decent toku kid, but also one of the more interesting characters of the series. In fact this arc’s early stages impressed me quite a bit in terms of a sixth ranger arc, especially coming off of the almighty Burai bullshit that I sat through with Zyuranger. While credit may go to Burai for being the first regular sixth ranger, I’d say that more credit should probably fall to Dairanger and Kou for having the first competent sixth ranger story arc.

Of course, with every series there comes a handful of negatives. I really enjoyed Dairanger on a whole, but I still feel the need to be fair in my view of it. So with that said, I would like to clarify that any problems that I may have found that might resemble nitpicks are not presented out of hostility or any sort of desperate search for something to hate. Rather they’re presented in an attempt to cover all of my bases. To show all of the highs as well as the lows.

While the main cast is fun and have no real annoying quirks about them, they are fairly shallow when it comes to actual depth of character. Only a few of the characters really get any amount of growth and it’s very minimal at best. That being said, where the growth is applied is very welcome as the cast becomes a lot less hostile towards each other and a lot more team like as the series progresses.

As for the villains, they never really feel truly threatening and ended up falling more along the lines of just being dicks. While quite a few one-off villains were given very entertaining personas, they were unfortunately tied to some of the weaker filler episodes. This actually felt like quite a missed opportunity as a little bit of flair among the main cast of villains would have been greatly appreciated. Sadly the weaker characters such as Zydos and Gara found themselves in the roles of Generals while the funner and more interesting characters had much less screen time than they really deserved.

Carrying on, several of the story arcs displayed throughout the course of the series do run into the trouble of really knowing how to actually end. Despite my enjoyment of the overall set up to Dairanger, it ultimately felt like several of it’s story arcs had fairly lackluster endings. Going down the list; Kujaku’s arc felt very hindered by the inclusion of Gara’s back story and almost slipped into the realm of being laughable because of it. Jin’s final episode felt bizarrely out of place with it coming off as more comedic than the rest of the arc. In addition to this his story felt as if it had more room to grow, predominately because of Ryu and Jin’s mutual respect for each other having just been formed. Sadly Jin was quickly killed off and the arc overall felt less significant than it should have been. Despite my enjoyment of Kou’s story on a whole, it felt oddly stale towards the end and found itself for some reason completely missing its own character of focus with Kou having been removed for much of the final few episodes.

Of course this all brings us to the ending of the series itself. The final few episodes of the show reveal that not only were most of the Gouma nothing more than puppets made out of mud, but so too was the one that we had been led to believe was their creator, Shadam. Now a twist, I can handle. Truthfully the mud puppets thing was not as much an issue for me as the way it was handled was. The twist has no real build up. There’s literally no groundwork laid for this kind of revelation and really only results in bringing up more questions once a sensible amount of thought is put into it.

Now, credit where credit is due, the loose ties that this twist leaves behind do fit well with the final message of the series. That being, that as long as one side exists the other will always be there and the conflict will continue on eternally. This final message is probably the best note that we could have ended on with this kind of series. With the show being more of a string of story-lines as opposed to being one solid story, there was obviously going to be some difficultly giving it a definite end. To the show’s credit, it didn’t try to and really it didn’t have to.

Of course it also didn’t have to make its main characters dress up as old people and do a very gag-like epilogue set decades in the future, but c’est la vie.

So overall, while Dairanger certainly has its issues they never became so intensive to where they ended up ruining the series for me. Instead I find myself looking back fondly on the series as a whole and slowly, against my own better judgement, overlooking those little road bumps that we experienced along the way. When it comes to older Sentai it definitely sets its own tier and while it may not entirely stand up to some of what we have now there is no doubt that, to me, this one’s a star.

Liveman: That Was… Fun?

You ever hear of a film or television show referred to as being “So bad it’s good”? Honestly, it’s a phrase that I’ve see get tossed around quite a bit as of recently. Basically, it implies that a movie/show can be enjoyed not because of its technical merits, but because it is so tremendously bad. Whether it is because the thing that you’re viewing is so over-the-top or just downright insane, you’re still enjoying yourself even if the story and characters are poor. Does it make the show good? Well, from a technical standpoint, no. You may not be able to find any sort of redeeming quality with the show from an intellectual standpoint, but you still might be entertained by it.

To make a long intro short, when I say “It’s good because it’s so terrible” I don’t really mean that the show is any good. In fact, the show I’ll be discussing is pretty bad. What I mean is that I find joy in how ridiculously bad it is. It amuses me. Does that mean I’ll look back fondly on the show that I have in mind? Well, not in the way that most people would anticipate. I won’t look back on this as being a well written show or a series with a lot of emotion and impact. No, when I look back on this show I’ll remember the time when a teenage boy was impregnated with an evil space vagina’s green caterpillar baby.

Liveman

Liveman is stupid.

That’s kind of the best summary that I could really give for this kind of show. It’s not really a series that offers much complexity in terms of plot and it’s characters are incredibly underwhelming. A lot of any kind of amusement from this show stems solely from how absurd every single thing is. And that’s not necessarily bad.

OK, yeah, obviously it’s pretty terrible on a technical scale. In fact, this falls pretty darn low in terms of actual quality. To start, the story is woefully simple. It follows three students whose friends were murdered by three of their fellow classmates. The fifty or so episodes that follow are more or less just their path to revenge. With the exception of Green Sai and Black Bison’s introduction(which results in about two episodes worth of actual plot) that’s pretty much the whole story.

The rest is, unfortunately, filler. We get the occasional flashback here and there, which goes towards establishing why the betrayal of their classmates was such a big deal. Well, aside from the killing part, of course. Most… All, of these are attempts to humanize the three antagonists and are pretty laughably bad. One villain’s entire redeeming quality is the fact that he was nice to a puppy once. Yeah, forget the murder of our long time friends, this guy really likes dogs. As you can see, some of them don’t make a whole lot of sense, but that said, this is a series that sees the leader of a gang dressed as a caveman who utilizes vampire gorillas in order to rob local businesses. So, logic discarded.

About midway through, we get a bit of a shake up as one of the antagonists, Mr. Puppies, is actually rehabilitated to a certain extent(if you call being turned into a drooling man-child rehabilitated). With one enemy gone, two more take his place and all is pretty much back as it was. And there’s the problem with the plot. Well, one of them. The whole thing basically has Umeko Syndrome. Now, I use Umeko(DekaPink) because she is pretty much what I view as being the perfect example of a waste of focus. Every episode to involve Umeko served to pretty much hold up the plot and keep it from moving. Further more, everything that she may have learned or everything that developed with her as a character was reset by the following episode, furthering the uselessness of her focus.

That is more or less what happens every time there is any sort of attempt to move the plot along in Liveman. Someone may have a flashback or a character may come back from their past and we’ll get a small push towards the story as well as another glimpse into the lives(and potential rehabilitation) of the enemies. Then it goes away. We hit the reset button on everyone’s intelligence and put the important stuff on hold until the next episode or two of plot somewhere much further down the road. It’s little more than a means to extend a simple, poorly thought out idea into fifty episodes.

The characters are also no real help. I’d complain about development, but lets be blunt here, there’s not really much character to develop in these guys. You could say they’re an assortment of tropes, but even that might be pushing it as none of them really do a whole lot. I mean, they obviously do something or else you just wouldn’t have a show, but they never really feel like they’re accomplishing anything of interest. They’re blank slates that almost have the illusion of being stereotypes. I mean, I’ve sat here thinking about what kind of characters they were, but the only things I could come up with were very loose descriptions of their appearances. Yusuke wears a red jacket, is the leader and is supposed to be this upstanding dependable type. Megumi wears those stupid suit jackets, likes animals and dressed as a nun that one time. Joh has a skateboard. There should be more to them, but sadly there just isn’t.

So why am I being so hard on Liveman when I had previously been pretty(ahem) lively about it? I mean, for God’s sake I compared it to Umeko of all things. Well, part of it is to obviously attempt a fair review and let you know some of the issues that I found with the show. The other part is to avoid misconceptions. All too often it seems that whenever a person says that they like something then others immediately jump to the conclusion that they must like everything about the show. That’s almost never the case. A show can be enjoyed despite its flaws just as much as a show’s flaws should not be overlooked despite the time and love a person invests into it. I like Liveman, but in no way do I want you to think that I like everything about Liveman.

Why then, do I like it? Well, it stems back to my opening bit about things being so bad that they’re good. There are a decent number of bad Sentai that I’ve watched and Liveman is included in that round up. What keeps me from hating Liveman despite its terribleness, though, really is its terribleness. Somehow, someway Liveman managed to pull together just the right amount of awful acting, awful effects, awful story and incredibly absurd moments to actually make itself a pretty fun watch.

Unlike something like Zyuranger or Go-Onger, I never really found myself annoyed by what was happening. By no means is it investing, but it’s a delightful compilation of madness that throws all sense of logic and rationale out the window in favor of the most ludicrous story lines that I’ve ever seen in a Sentai. I almost never felt bored or frustrated as I did with Zyuranger and I never felt like things were overly generic as they most certainly were not. It’s not a good show, but at a certain point, whether the writers meant to or not, you begin to convince yourself that this unbelievable usage of anti-logic is almost intentional.

And that’s great! It’s fun, it’s entertaining, it’s insane and you’re just right there with it, taking it all in. So, no, Liveman isn’t a good show. I’m not even sure that I’d recommend it to someone looking for a quality Sentai to watch. When you’re in the mood for the more irrational side of the Sentai spectrum, though, then by all means fire away. I had a fantastic time watching this shitty little show, and whether you think it’s good or agree that it’s bad, either way you’re in for quite an experience.