Originally a manga published by VIZ and Shonen Jump (in Japan) Beet the Vandel Buster is the brain child of Riku Sanjo and Koji Inada. With 52 episodes under its belt and a sequel series Beet has done better than most anime over in Japan but has been relatively unknown here in the States. This introductory volume marks the first anime release by newcomer Illumitoon and really gives us an idea at what the show is about.
The world featured in Beet the Vandel Buster is in the utter chaos known as the Century of Darkness. Demons (Vandels) have surged forth and threaten to devour mankind and take over the surface of the planet. It's up to heroes/mercenaries of sorts called Vandel Busters to step up to the plate and take the bad guys down. It's no short task to be sure and not everybody is up to the job but one kid feels that he is ready.
At the start of this volume Beet is introduced as a Buster who is protecting a village and summoning a powerful feathered sword to vanquish a three star Vandel. It is apparently no small task to do that and for a kid of Beet's age it's virtually unheard of. When the dust clears the show flashes back in time by three years and starts telling Beet's tale from when he first signed on as a Buster. Brash, immature, and full of energy Beet idolizes Zenon and his Vandel Buster team so much so that he makes a pact to become a Buster.
Rambunctious is another way to describe Beet as he sets out to train and fight the Vandels. In one of his first attempts he tries to take down a five star Vandel but fails miserably and has to be rescued by Zenon and company. This is a common theme earlier in Beet's life since he is often a burden on the people that he admires and he's told so on more than one occasion. In fact the little pain in the butt gets in the middle of a decisive battle between Zenon's crew and a high level Vandel. The end result is that his friends lose and Beet is left for dead.
Before Zenon and his team are entirely defeated though they imbue Beet with their soul weapons called Saiga. This gives Beet the strength to live but in their parting moments he learns that Zenon is really his brother. Just by looking at the design of the two characters it's not really shocking but it did add a layer to the show that is typically avoided. Once again time bounces around and we're three years into the future back where we started.
Beet waltzes back to his home town after being AWOL for the past three years thanks to extensive training. Armed with the five Saiga and the same brash determination he portrayed when he was younger he sets out to give Paola (a childhood friend) a hand with a Vandel. It seems that this big mud demon is terrorizing the town and Paola had it in her Buster head to go after him alone. Lucky for her Beet isn't the wimpy little brat that he used to be.
I have to admit that with the first episode of Beet the Vandel Buster I was expecting a kid's show without a lot of depth. Luckily it turned out to be a kid show with a good amount of depth and an interesting concept. Once Zenon and company gave their "souls" to Beet my interest peaked and seeing the kid in action was a treat. I wonder about the show's longevity and whether or not the plot can hold up but these four episodes were actually pretty good. It looks like Illumitoon may have a strong release right out of the gate.
Originally airing in 2004 Beet the Vandel Buster is presented with a 1.33:1 full frame aspect ratio. The picture is unfortunately a mixed bag of quality. There is a fair amount of grain, aliasing in a few spots, and compression artifacts that crop up from time to time. Apart from that the visuals are sharp and the overall look of the show is solid; it's just that in between there are a few rough spots. It's also worth mentioning that the art style is appealing but some of the design is a tad generic when you get right down to it.
English and Japanese language tracks are presented here with a 2.0 stereo offering. The dubbing for both tracks is surprisingly good. I say surprisingly because Beet is a kid's show and typically the English dubs are less than savory for those. As far as technical grades are concerned the quality is basically about what you'd expect from a stereo track. There is no real diversity on the soundstage but the audio remains crisp and prominent. My biggest and only gripe involving the audio is the butt-ugly subtitles that Illumitoon decided to use. The repulsively large white font will do nothing for those of you who want to use subtitles.
Beet the Vandel Buster gets the typical bonus features for anime. That is to say you're only going to find clean opening and closing animations and a handful of trailers.
Going into Beet the Vandel Buster I was expecting little more than the average kid's show that you'll find on a weekday afternoon. The Century of Darkness is an interesting idea and the Vandel's relationship to the Buster works well within the confines of the show. Admittedly Beet's character can be a little annoying at first but it works because the other characters acknowledge that. Hopefully we'll get to see him grow as the show progresses. I'm going to recommend this first volume but we'll see where the show goes in the future.
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