Background: One of the reasons I like anime so much more than Saturday morning cartoons is the depth so many of the shows have by comparison, the domestic "product" often little more than extended commercials to sell card games or other toys. Most such shows tend to be repetitive and air during prime kid times, generally considered the worst the genre has to offer by a wide variety of people. The most blatant commercial driven advertisement I have come across in a very long time was sent to me for review today, a DVD called Bakugan Battle Brawlers Vol 1, presumably the first in a line of volumes.
Series: Bakugan Battle Brawlers Vol 1 had the first five episodes of the series, totaling up to 110 minutes of material without any extras for those children that prefer to own their commercials instead of watch them on TV like the rest of the world. The lead character of the series is Dan, a kid that loves to play a card game called Bakugan. Apparently, some time back, a number of magic cards rained down on the world, allowing children to engage in battles on time slowing playing fields using balls that contain mystical beasts. There are six types of creature that arise from the cards representing six distinctive worlds (air, earth, fire, light, wind, and dark) with the worlds imbuing certain characteristics on the beasts that could give them specific advantages depending on the playing field and whatever special cards are played in conjunction with them. Yes, this is yet another Pokemon type of card game advertisement with one dimensional characters all using their cards to fight each other as they seek to elevate their standings and become #1.
Initially, the children believe that the battles are all part of a game but as the series continues, they find that a lot more is at stake, another world hanging in the balance beside Earth, a place called Vestroia. The top ranked player in the world is a person called Masquerade who seeks ultimate power, using a special card to banish his opponents' beasts to another dimension as a means of gaining control of the universe. The specifics were spotty in the opening volume but the basics were established to show how little thought was put into the show, how poorly it was all explained, and how leaps in logic were all over the place the motivations of Masquerade to find something very specific in the players he fights, even sparing Dan's Drago (a very special card that talks to him and has fewer limits in the Earth dimension). I could outline exactly what happens in no time at all but rather than spoil your already limited fun this way, I'll simply provide you with a list of the episodes as described by the Cartoon Network's official website:
1) Bakugan The Battle Begins: The Bakugan, Dragoniod, who will soon become Dan's closest ally, begins to explain the origin of Bakugan's and the Dimension of Vestroia. His quest is to find Naga who holds the key to power in the two parallel universes, Earth and Vestroia. Drago must eliminate Naga if he hopes to restore order. But Naga has absorbed incredible amounts of energy and may be too powerful to defeat!
2) Masquerade Ball: It seems a very gifted and mysterious Bakugan player named Masquerade has been stealing Bakugans from kids all around the world. When Dan hears about this through his friends on the web, he decides to put an end to it and challenges Masquerade to a battle. The two meet up and the fight is on! But Masquerade has a secret weapon called a Doom Card, which sends its opponent to its final demise. Dan loses twice and if he loses again, his Bakugan, Dragonoid will be lost forever!
3) A Feud Between Friends: Masquerade teams with a young Bakugan player named Rikimaru by offering him a very special Bakugan. Across town Dan begins training for his rematch with Masquerade. Drago is still unsure of Dan's motives but decides to team up with him in the hope that he can help save Vestoia, the home of the Bakugans. On the verge of defeat with Rikimaru, Drago decides to ignore Dan's orders and uses a dangerous technique to save himself and win the battle. Insulted and angry, Dan curses the day he ever met Drago and throws him into the river!
4) Dan and Drago: Dan is having a hard time without Drago around. He causes a school friend named Ryo to drop his computer, and runs off guiltily, leaving Ryo feeling hurt. Later, Masquerade takes advantage of Ryo's hurt feelings and convinces him to battle Dan. Ryo challenges Dan to a brawl and wins! Dan finds Drago, they make peace with each other and Dan attempts to reconcile with Ryo. But he is still under Masquerade's influence, and a second battle is on! Dan is able to beat Ryo, but not easily. In the end Dan breaks Masquerade's influence over Ryo. But we haven't seen the last of Masquerade!
5) Runo Rules: Dan and Runo meet for the first time other than on the Bakugan web-site and are surprised that they actually live in the same town! Dan accidentally drops his wrist computer, and after he is gone, Runo notices it and picks it up. She sees that Dan has been challenged to a battle by Masquerade down by the river. She decides to go in his place, but ends up dueling against a boy named Tatsuya.
Okay, I know that there is a market for everything these days but I have never admired or appreciated this type of exercise in futility. If I wanted to watch generic shows designed to sell toys, I'm sure I would want said shows to offer me something well written, nicely animated, and providing me with a spark of intrigue but this was merely a Skip It that made me want to wretch. There are so many better shows on The Cartoon Network that I can't see spending time with stuff like this, especially dumbed down anime without the original Japanese tracks most fans demand these days.
Picture: Bakugan Battle Brawlers Vol 1 was presented in 1.33:1 ratio full framed color, using very limited animation that focused more on panning the camera than cells or computer generated frames. Looking cheap, the MPEG-2 encoded offering had a decent bitrate (often hovering in the 4 Mbps area) but did not seem to be any better on DVD in 480i resolution than on cable. It wasn't the worst looking series I've seen but the corner cutting used to make the show showed up in every episode and there was some pattern noise, and compression artifacts observed were plentiful.
Sound: The audio was presented in a 2.0 Dolby Digital English using 192 Kbps bitrate, a 48 kHz sampling rate, and optional English language subtitles. There was no Japanese track present and the amount of separation between the channels was minimal, as was the dynamic range. There really wasn't much difference between the DVD's audio and the cable presentation with the score as generic as could be and the voice acting weaker than anything I've heard from FUNimation or ADV Films.
Extras: The only extra was a bonus card inside the case since there were none on the disc itself. There was also a paper insert advertising toys related to the show and the second volume but nothing I cared about or able to add value to the disc.
Final Thoughts: Bakugan Battle Brawlers Vol 1 was mighty low on the scale of cartoons and anime I have long been a fan of. The show was one lengthy ad for the toys and card game you can buy, the ever changing rules that varied from episode to episode enough to merit special attention as Dan and Drago fought a variety of animal based beasts to become masters in the game. If you really enjoy this one over some of the better thought out series in the subgenre, by all means feel free to email me and let me know why. Otherwise, five short episodes of something you can get for free off television without any extras is hardly a reason for picking up the disc.