Shounen Step-By-Step: Bakugan Battle Brawlers Episode 1

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Plot: Bakugan is the latest gaming craze across the globe, but it’s not just any old kids game. The origins of the Bakugan are a complete mystery. Cards just suddenly started raining from the sky across the world, and some of the cards contained monsters which could be summoned by the card wielders. A group of kids decided to make a game out of the mysterious cards and monsters, and Bakugan was born. However, the world where the Bakugan originate from is in danger, and it’s up to Bakugan players such as the hotheaded upstart Dan and his friends to save it.

Breakdown: I’m not going to sugarcoat this. Bakugan Battle Brawlers looked like a very dumb show to me from the instant I saw a trailer for it. Hearing the plot synopsis didn’t help. I think I finally understand what parents felt like when we tried to explain Yugioh, Digimon and Pokemon to them. Does that mean I’m a grown up now?

I have a soft spot for gaming anime either way, so I felt like I needed to give it a shot. My opinions ended up…….well, let’s find out.

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Let’s start out with seriously just parroting the opening lines word for word.

Dan: “I know this is going to sound weird, but one day my whole world changed. You see, cards started dropping from the sky; coming down like rain. At first, we didn’t know where they were coming from or who sent them – we only knew they were more than just ordinary playing cards. And it was happening all across the world. The north. The south. They landed everywhere.

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Together with my new online friends from around the world, we invented a wicked new game that we called ‘Bakugan’. That’s when the power of the cards was revealed. Each one of them held their own battling beast which came alive when you threw it down. The battles were intense, and if you chose the wrong card you lost it and the beast inside. But that’s only half the story. An even bigger battle is taking place in an alternate universe called Vestroia. My name is Dan, and together with my friends Runo, Marucho, Mr. Hotshot himself, Shun, Julie and Alice we are the Bakugan Battle Brawlers!”

Did you get all that? Because holy crap that’s a lot of backstory for a first episode plot snippet.

Let’s break this down piece by piece.

Cards suddenly fell from the sky all over the world and instead of being investigated by any government or being confiscated, all the kids just picked up the cards and decided to make a game out of it while the parents and other adults just accepted it. Okay, I guess that’s fine.

The cards held the spirits of monsters and, when released, the beasts took on the forms of…transformable marbles that you could shoot onto a playing field, allowing you to release them into a more formal beast state, and they conveniently also work with the game that the kids made up?

But wait, there’s more!

These beasts also exist in an alternate dimension called Vestroia where they battle each other all the time and might be at war for some reason.

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And what do these kids being the Bakugan Battle Brawlers have to do with it, besides the fact that they play the game?

It’s just so much to take in in a matter of about 45 seconds. That could’ve been an episode all its own.

Anyway, after our intro narration, we get our theme song which is a really mixed bag. I like the melody and instrumentation, but the lead singer just sounds horribly generic and the lyrics are the exact same BS that plagues nearly every show similar to this; never give up, power’s in your hand, blah blah blah.

Our main character, Dan, arrives home and goes through his little marble things that all look exactly the same yet he can tell them apart somehow. He then runs off to meet a little runt named Akira whom he supposedly had a Bakugan match with, but Akira reveals that he’s switched with his big brother, a towering fat thug named Shuji. I don’t know why they’re keeping in all of these Japanese names, yet they altered Dan’s name to being short for Daniel instead of his real name of Danma.

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Anyway, Shuji states that his specialty is subterra space, something Dan’s never even heard of before, and they start their battle.

They each draw a card and call the field to open, which sends Dan and Shuji into another dimension and slows down time…..Why did the many governments of the world not take these cards again?

While in the weird multi-colored purgatory dimension, Dan and Shuji draw one more card each to set their gate cards, which grow to the size of a soccer field and materialize face down. Shuji throws a brown and yellow marble on the field and calls his Bakugan to stand which prompts the marble to open into a little monster form. Out of the field comes a giant praying mantis monster.

Using his….calculator watch (?) Dan analyzes the field and finds out that his opponent is a subterra mantis with a power level of 270.

Dan selects his Bakugan and throws a marble thing out onto the field, calls it to stand which prompts it to open into a little monster form. This summons some giant red snake that is never named with a power level of 320. They battle or Bakugan Brawl and it looks like Dan’s monster will win because he has the higher power level, but Shuji opens his gate card and changes the playing field to a desert – Egypt I suppose if the pyramids are any indication. This gives the subterra mantis a power boost to 420, which allows him to beat Dan’s monster.

Shuji: “Oh man, that was easy. You fell faster than a deck of cards in a tornado.” Is he meant to be too dumb to realize it’s supposed to be a ‘house of cards in a tornado’ or are the dubbers dumb? Decisions, decisions.

High off his first round win, Shuji sends out another Bakugan. This time it summons a giant enemy crab.

Dan isn’t fazed by this and also sends out another Bakugan, this time revealing a…..Male Garudamon?…..Nah it can’t…..B—huh?

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Anyway, Dan opens his gate card, which changes the playing field into a bunch of fire and Garudamon dude easily hits the enemy crab’s weak point for massive damage.

It’s one to one now and they prepare two new gate cards for the tie breaker. They each release another Bakugan and they summon….one green and brown lizard warrior and one red lizard warrior thing. Shuji’s monster has a power level of 320 while Dan’s has 280. They brawl and Dan activates an ability card (?) which makes fire on the ground and powers up his lizard warrior thing I guess to a point where he can take out the brown lizard warrior thing.

Dan has taken the lead and now Shuji only has his mantis left. They set gate cards again (?) and they launch their Bakugan. Shuji summons his mantis while Dan calls out Mr. Garudamon again. Shuji opens his gate card, which creates desert again, and then uses his ability card to give the mantis some sort of super powered slash ability.

However, Dan’s not sitting back and letting him finish his attack as he also has an ability card, a counter ability card to be precise, that gives Mr. Garudamon a shield of fire to stave off the slash attack. This ability card I guess also gives him enough power to take out the mantis and Dan wins.

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Since we’re at commercial, I think now’s as good a time as any to ask what in the depths of fuck just happened?!

Traipsing into Episode One-derland for a minute, first episodes have a lot of work to do. They need to hook us in, they need to establish the world they live in, what the main character is like etc. It has to set a strong foundation for the series to help us understand the story as it unfolds in subsequent episodes. When it comes to gaming anime, there’s an additional factor that absolutely needs to come into play; explaining how the goddamn game is played.

I have no clue how this game is played right now, even after seeing a full match, and that is a huge problem for this type of show. I know some Bakugan fan is probably looking at this now and rolling their eyes at me for not getting it merely by watching, but it is not set up in any way that explains really anything.

Where is our audience surrogate – the character who explains stuff about the plot to unimportant people as a means of explaining to the audience certain aspects of the story? Usually on the side lines as someone marvels at the game?

For example, in Yugioh, our audience surrogate in the first episode was T’ea and to a lesser extent Joey who explained the game’s basics to Tristan. In Beyblade, a completely superfluous character explained the game to another completely superfluous character. In Pokemon, Ash, Brock and Misty usually doled out that information either straight to us or to Ash as he was also a rookie. You get the point.

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I just have so many questions like, why send out two gate cards supposedly every turn if you’re not going to just use them immediately or at all? I was under the impression that two gate cards are set and neither player can play more until both of those cards have been used. They don’t send out more gate cards on each turn at first, they just suddenly start doing it. Can you not use two gate cards at once? Gate cards can also be used to weaken enemies? Are gate cards just like field power bonuses in Yugioh? Who or what dictates the power increase or decrease?

What are ability cards? Why can you just grab them and chuck them out whenever you please instead of having a legit deck and a hand of cards?

Why do these monsters seem to have no names? Mantis kinda sounded like it was being pronounced ‘Mantriss’ but, really, that’s it for a name? Just throw a consonant in there and it’s instant name? None of Dan’s monsters were given names. Shuji’s other monsters weren’t given names. I think some of the ability cards had names but I could never hear them because the other sounds drown them out. (Poor sound mixing is yay)

Why do they need to transport themselves to an alternate dimension to do this? Why does doing so slow down time across at least the whole city? And are the parents of these kids just okay that their children play games in alternate dimensions with real beasts that they keep….in…balls….In fairness to Pokemon, they don’t usually go to alternate dimensions to do that. What is that little device on Dan’s wrist and why does it look so….boring?

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I know that Yugioh is justifiably ragged on for constantly prattling on about what a card does and the rules of the game and certain strategies etc. but you know what, I’d rather know too much about what I’m watching than have really no idea. Dan does have slight inner monologue and the little watch thing helps slightly, but the watch thing only popped up a couple of times, same with Dan’s thoughts. In addition, Dan’s analysis was pointing out stuff that was already pretty obvious. Other than that, absolutely nothing.

I have never felt so lost watching the first game of a gaming anime. No one’s explaining strategies, no one’s explaining rules, no one’s explaining card effects, I don’t know what these monsters are called, I don’t know the names of the cards; things happen and then Dan wins.

Medabots, which is probably the worst shounen gaming anime I’ve ever seen to this point, did a much better job of explaining this stuff to us in its first few minutes. Rules, structure and even some strategy.

To make matters worse is how Dan is portrayed so far. He is just very very very typical. That’s pretty much the perfect word for his character. Typical. A kid who loves a game and is so good at it that he’s never lost. The first match we see him in is one in which he seems to pretty easily win, and he even ends the match by saying it was easy. So great, he’s not even a humble type protagonist, he’s a cocky prodigy type.

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I wanna punch this kid in his goggles.

Even his character design, color scheme, element selection and the types of monsters he usually uses are very typical. Red, fire and lizards/dinosaurs/dragons.

As for the battle in just an entertainment aspect, it was still dull as dirt. Nothing at all in this match was unique or cool. Shuji had a mantis, a crab, and a brown lizard warrior thing. His gate cards were deserts and his only ability card was a slashing attack. Dan’s side was equally boring; fire gate cards, fire ability card and a fire counter ability card with a red snake, a male Garudamon and a red lizard warrior thing. Also, how boring and uncreative are you to have the final match be two nearly identical monsters only palette swapped?

Plus, considering the opponent was the also typical easily defeated archetype of fat stupid cocky thug, there was no question about who would win so it’s even more boring.

Well, maybe we’ll get better as the episode goes on.

After the commercial, Dan is seen bragging to his online friends about how awesome he was in his match earlier and proclaims himself the most awesome Bakugan Brawler.

Runo states that Dan is still stuck at 121 in the world rankings, but Dan checks himself to see that he’s now 117. Runo and Dan have a little argument and Runo really comes off as a jealous bitch. I can’t understand why she’s friends with Dan. Julie chimes in to gush over Dan, and apparently she calls him Danny. Ugh. I can tell from her very first line that I’m going to hate this girl even more than Runo.

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Marucho tells Dan that he should set his sights on Shun as he’s currently ranked number one, and if he tries hard enough he could surpass him in a few years. Alice states that a few years is too long to wait, and that he should find some way to challenge him as soon as possible. Wait, what is the rush? A second ago he was excited to just be at 117, now they’re acting like it’s an emergency to challenge and surpass the highest ranking brawler. Slow down, guys.

Dan yet again gets all cocky and says he’d probably beat him easily because no one has ever even given him a challenge before. Why the like for these cocky main characters? Is it just in the hopes that they’ll get that ever sweet ‘humble pie’ arc where they get thrashed and learn to not be such an asshat?

Also, Dan is a 12 year old boy and most of his group of close friends are cute girls his age, one of which obviously has a huge crush on him and another starting a love/hate relationship deal. I’m getting Gary Stu vibes.

We cut to Shun who is lamenting over the fact that defending his title isn’t even hard. As he wishes for an opponent who will give him a real challenge, we suddenly shift to looming narration I think from a Bakugan as he wishes Dan would understand that Bakugan is more than a game.

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The unknown Bakugan then explains Vestroia to us. The dimension is separated into several sections based on the elements. The earth section is called subterra, and considering this seems like a very basic aspect of the game it seems kinda dumb that Dan is where he is right now in rank and yet never heard of it. Unless it’s just insanely unpopular as an element.

The light section is called Haos. The dark section is so creatively named Darkus. The water section is called Aquos. The wind section is Ventus. Finally, the fire section is Pyrus.

The narration suddenly ends in the Pyrus section as a red dragon, named, again so creatively, Drago, confronts a white dragon named Naga as he tries to stop his relentless pursuit of power. Drago accuses Naga of being responsible for someone named Michael, and Naga reveals that he has a card that opens a portal to Vestroia….wait, I thought they were in Vestroia, just the fire area of it. Oh whatever. Naga escapes and we cut back to earth where Dan is being challenged to a rematch by Shuji.

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Oh joy, a reprise of a boring match. I can’t wait. But hang on, Shuji’s now using Darkus attribute Bakugan. Oooh. Wait, if he was best at subterra attribute Bakugan then shouldn’t this match go even worse? Oh hang on again, apparently now Shuji’s calling himself the master of Darkus. This guy’s an idiot and is obviously going to lose again. Why am I here?

Anyway, he summons a black and purple turtle thing while Dan summons the same red lizard warrior thing from earlier only he summons him behind the turtle thing. Okay, so now we’re adding stuff we didn’t see in the last match as you can apparently summon Bakugan on various areas of the field as long as you have decent throwing or bouncing capabilities. What this does is beyond me. They don’t bother to tell you anything about it.

Shuji throws out another Bakug—What? Since when can you summon more than one Bakugan per round? That never happened once in the first game. Anyway, he summons a Darkus Stingslash, in front of the red lizard warrior thing. The little calculator watch thing explains that the Stingslash has a power level of 330 while his red lizard warrior thing apparently called a Saurus has 280. They brawl and Dan, seeing he’s in trouble, opens his gate card which is just the same fire. This increases his Saurus’ power level to 310.

Class, can you tell me which number is higher? 330 or 310? You’re right! It’s 330, the power increase wasn’t enough and Saurus goes down…..Which means….Dan’s an idiot? I mean, he had to have known that the gate card wasn’t powerful enough to save his Saurus so why even bother using it?

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Oh wait….he wasn’t destroyed….but….yes he was. I saw it happen. He was hit, glowed and then turned into his little marble form. That’s defeat isn’t it? It was before. Why is Dan saying, after the fact, that he needs to increase his Saurus’ power level by at least 20 more points if he should be out of the running? Again, this didn’t happen when the monsters were defeated in the first match.

…..And what was the point of the turtle in that battle? For that matter, what was the point of summoning the Saurus behind the turtle?

We cut back to Naga who is now in the center of the universe as he stares at the two conflicting forces of infinity and silence. The two forces keep Vestroia in balance, and he wishes to absorb their power to, say it with me everyone, RULE THE WORLD!

Of course

He also needs to do this to unite with someone named Hal-G. *shrug* He starts the absorption while prattling on about how much power he’s feeling when something goes awry. Apparently he had an overload of negative energy, which threw the balance that is required off. Without enough positive energy to counteract it, he is absorbed into the silence force as it is corrupted by darkness. Then all hell breaks loose as Vestroia starts falling apart. The various elemental sections that were once separated from each other are now open and collapsing.

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As a Darkus Bakugan attacks Drago, Dan gets a vision of the battle, mistaking Drago for a Bakugan of his as he is confused by what is happening to the dimension. The vision ends and Shuji, using his Stingslash, attacks Dan’s giant red snake thing. However, the snake thing counters him and constricts Stingslash as Dan opens his gate card called Quartet battle. This prompts Drago and the Darkus monster to be transported through Shuji and Dan’s ability cards as marble things. The marble things both roll onto the field, stand and summon themselves as Dan’s ability card turns into a Dragonoid card.

Why do you need a special card to have a quartet battle when you can seemingly summon Bakugan whenever you want?

Drago tries to get the Darkus monster, called FearReaper, to snap out of his rage since he has been influenced by the influx of negative energy. The power builds and FearReaper won’t listen so Drago kills him….and…that’s the end of the match. I guess Dan somehow won because of that. I’m just now realizing that they don’t explain the scoring system either.

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You know what really gets me though?

Dan: “I don’t get it. I thought Bakugan was just a game. But there’s more to it, and I gotta find out what.”

You thought it was just a game…Cards rain over the skies of earth. These cards act as dimensional portals which slow down time in the real world. They also act as portals for one specific Bakugan, in marble form, to emerge, and while in the alternate time-slowing dimension you create, the monsters become real and are under your control. All the while you possess the ability to create elemental powers and other abilities.

You are the dumbest person—nonono, these are the dumbest….entire human population to ever exist if they truly thought there was nothing more to all that than merely a game….that THEY CREATED FROM IT.

This isn’t like Yugioh where magical stuff happened through a legit game that was merely based on magical things originally. You created a game from interdimensional cards and marbles that turn into monsters yet you’re surprised that it’s not merely a little kid game? There’s not enough dumb to go around.

Later that night, Dan tries to get the Bakugan to talk again, but to no avail. He gives up and names Drago, of all things, Drago. Thank God both whomever named Drago initially and Dan are both incredibly uncreative. Come to think of it, I guess the same can be said of Bakugan.

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Dan: “Well, time to hook up to the web.”

When was this show made again?….2007? Yeah, stop that.

Dan enters into a video chat with his friends and explains his experience with a talking Bakugan when Runo reveals that the chat rooms and forums are flooding with people who experienced the same thing. Dan concludes that the Bakugan did indeed talk, though it’s never established that the Bakugan can’t talk to begin with so this revelation really isn’t impacting to us as an audience…actually, why can’t the Bakugan that they’ve been summoning this whole time talk? Why are they different from Drago, Naga and the others?

Dan: “Maybe there’s more to the Bakugan world than we thought!”

You’re still all really dumb.

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This….is awful. Just…terrible. It’s not the worst show I’ve ever seen by a long shot, but it’s definitely the worst shounen gaming anime so far. Congrats, Medabots. You’ve been bumped for now.

What a huge mess, especially as an intro episode. The premise is very dumb, even by gaming anime standards, but it could have been very acceptable had….anything been properly explained or explored.

I have no clue how to play Bakugan even after watching one and a half matches (the second match has a big gap in it and seems to end abruptly). The rules seemed to change in the second match, and I am just completely lost on how it really works. It’s also frustrating that cards, Bakugan and the items for the game like the marbles and Dan’s watch are not given names, at least not now. This fails on multiple levels as a first episode and as an advertisement.

Face it, gaming anime are meant to sell toys or cards or what have you. I know I saw a slue of Bakugan toys in stores when this show was popular. Why would a kid want to buy Bakugan toys if they have no clue what most of the stuff is called nor how to friggin’ play it? I mean, obviously a lot of them did because it was a pretty successful gaming anime, but it really just seems like, basing it from the first episode alone, you’re either focusing on the lowest common denominator who will just want the toys and watch the show because of mindless action and monsters or you’re aiming the show at people who already know how to the play the game, which only exists because of the show….

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The other storyline involving Vestroia, while having more explanation and focus, is also not really given much explanation outside of the elemental areas of the dimension and the forces of infinity and silence being sent out of balance. If Drago was narrating that part where we first get a scene in Vestroia….does that mean Drago knows who Dan is? And why is he so important if he does? I swear, if they turn Dan into some ‘chosen one’ or messiah character I am dropping this series like a hot rock soaked in acid.

Character-wise, we’re also really scraping some barrel bottom. Dan is just blah at best and annoying at worst because he’s such a cocky kid who keeps winning, thus giving him fuel to continue being a snotrag.

Shuji is an idiot who was never a threat, making both battles boring and predictable.

Shun, even though we only saw him for a minute, is the very typical silent loner sitting at the top of his game and will obviously be the rival of the main character. Runo’s a bitch, Julie’s an annoying little Dan fangirl, and while Marucho and Alice are fine so far they also show zero personality in the couple of scenes that they’re in.

Drago is also very typical. As if his name weren’t generic enough, you can tell right off the bat that he’s some largely noble creature trying his best to protect everyone and do the right thing.

Naga is about as generic bad guy as you can get. Two things are revealed about him so far; he has a great thirst for power and he wants to take over the world. Even the destruction of a world due to a lack of balance is overdone.

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Design-wise, the Bakugan are largely uninspired. Even the ability and gate cards are boring. You can’t really tell any of the Bakugan marbles apart except by attribute, which makes me wonder how the Brawlers can make accurate selections without opening them. The summoned monsters are just animals mostly. Snakes, scorpions, praying mantises, dragons, turtles, etc. What is slightly different from just animals is usually just an animal slightly altered like Saurus or Garudamon guy thing.

The character designs are fine, and I will admit that I like the color selections as well as Julie’s design, but Dan’s design is really cut and paste – he even wears goggles on his head.

Animation-wise, it really seems like there are some instances where it’s painfully obvious that they’re trying to make it look like it’s of much higher quality like when Dan throws the Bakugan out on the field. Sadly, these moments just spotlight how bad the animation really is. It juts, they reuse shots like there’s no tomorrow, and even the shots where they make a big effort to look well-animated just look bad. It looks like Dan is trapped in the same dimension that the guy from the Maxell VHS head cleaner tapes is from. Every part of him is just moving so much and so fast, except for his limbs which are purposely animated to be slow to make the animation look better.

While I will continue with this series just because, this really is a terrible first episode. I hope this series gets better over time, and I really hope with every fiber of my being that they start explaining this game more so I can actually follow along. At least become a mindless shounen gaming anime that I can understand and follow without having an aneurysm.

Next episode, Dan brings Drago to school to continue his attempts at getting him to talk, but he gets in trouble with his teacher because of it. Meanwhile, a mysterious guy named Masquerade is challenging Brawlers.

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