All in all Madhouse does a pretty good job here, delivering a non-ending that serves the purpose with few surprises.
Certainly, there were multiple challenges facing the anime staff in crafting this episode. Not only is this a one-cour anime adapting a manga that covers nine volumes, but it’s an ongoing manga to boot. As always it comes down to a choice – come up with something original to give the series closure, or leave things open-ended. And I think given the type of story Btooom is, Madhouse made the right choice here – a concrete resolution shoehorned in at this point in the narrative would likely have been a disaster.
Most of the focus in this final episode was on Taira, who’s been very much a forgotten character these past few eps. It certainly struck me that Sakamoto was being a bit insensitive about how paranoid and insecure his friend was getting, but I didn’t necessarily expect things to progress to the point they did. Taira was actually one of the more interesting characters in the cast, but he became more and more childlike as the series progressed, to the point where his dependence on Sakamoto-han was almost comical. That’s why I liked the twist of introducing his wife and son (played by an actual kid), in hallucinatory form anyway – it certainly raised an immutable death flag as soon as it happened but it cast that demise in a somewhat more understandable and tragic light.
Of the rest of the cast and the game itself, there was next to nothing. There were a few brief shots of the survivors over the end credits, and a final montage depicting something going wrong on the island, with the Tyrannous flunky who seems to know Sakamoto being sent there to fix it. Presumably this all refers to future events in the manga, and we’re left with the “CONTINUE? YES/NO CREDIT 0” graphic to bring events to a close. It’s a novel way of asking the audience to buy Blu-rays and manga, I suppose, though I think it’s pretty unlikely we’ll see a second season based on the performance of the early volumes.
It seems pointless to try and do a serious retrospective analysis on this series, given that it never really tried to get itself taken seriously. It seems natural to compare it another Madhouse show with ugly character designs that revels in man’s inhumanity to man, Rainbow. That was certainly the better show, but there came a point when I found it almost impossible to watch, which never happened here – and I think the reason is that unlike that series, Btooom never took on an air of reality. I enjoyed Btooom on the action/thriller level – most of the episodes were well-paced and exciting – and I found its spectacularly misanthropic POV rather interesting. Btooom was definitely an equal-opportunity show when it came to making both genders look bad, and in some sense it almost seems as if the primary function of the series – if indeed it has one – is to condemn human nature and the human animal in broad terms.
In fact, if there’s any intellectual question I ask myself as I look back at the somewhat visceral experience of watching Btooom, it’s the one I asked after episode 9. Is this show trying to make a deeper statement about humanity by effectively turning the show itself into the event it portrays, or is it simply engaging in unintentional self-parody? Either way there’s a sort of meta quality in watching these distasteful people behaving abominably towards each other in this grotesque reality show they’ve living out. I don’t watch reality TV myself, but I wonder if the game that Tyrannous is putting on is really all that different from Honey Boo-Boo and it’s ilk – and if that isn’t actually the point. Don’t look for Btooom to be showing up in my Top 10 list, but I’m not sorry I watched it – it was fun (most of the time, anyhow) in a shameless way.