Btooom! & Problematic Protagonists

I’m Supposed to Root for This Guy, Right?

Have you ever been watching a show and everything is enjoyable enough and then you dive into the main character’s backstory and beliefs only to discover that they are a deplorable human and just abjectly horrible? To make things worse, the show wants this character to WIN and you are supposed to want them to. This is exactly how I felt watching Btooom! and its protagonist Sakamoto.

The basic idea of Btooom! is that a bunch of people get kidnapped and sent to an island to participate in a real life death game modeled after the fictional video game, “Btooom!” In the game you fight using only bombs, or as the show hilariously calls them, BIM’s. There are lots of different types ranging from poison gas, impact grenades, timers, homing, etc… Sakamoto happens to be one of the best players in the world, and number one in Japan, when he finds himself caught up in the game.

I didn’t know where else to put this, but he really reminds me (visually) of Light from Death Note

Sounds pretty good so far. However, you find out that Sakamoto used to be a NEET with aspirations of working for the company that created Btooom! You then find out that he is the most abusive dick to his mom because she remarried and wants him to get a job anywhere since the video game company won’t hire him. In one scene he chucks his controller at her and it embeds itself in the drywall. Another scene has him destroying their furniture and beating his stepdad with a chair. How are you supposed to like this guy?

Well, easily, according to the show at least. He’s introduced as a pretty nice and level guy but any time you flashback to his past he becomes worse and worse. You eventually learn that people get sent to this island because they’ve usually done something wrong prior and another person nominated them for it. To no surprise Sakamoto’s mom sent him there to die.

He pushed her so far that she felt it was the only option. She even tried killing herself because of it. I just couldn’t get behind how blatantly, and abjectly horrible Sakamoto was as a human being. I understand that there are in fact people like this in the world, but they don’t make for a great protagonist of a story like this.

Somehow I am supposed to identify with this guy and want him to win even though he is just as bad, if not worse than, some of the so-called, “villains” he has to defeat. This is Btooom!’s biggest problem because even though I was invested in learning about the game and seeing the tactics people employ, I didn’t really want to root for anybody.

The anime tries to skirt around that by introducing you to Himiko, who serves as the female lead and Sakamoto’s love interest. She’s the only character I could see anybody plausibly rooting for. She was sent to the island for something that wasn’t her fault, is pretty messed up emotionally, and overall just doesn’t deserve it.

On that note, this show has a lot of graphic content I wasn’t expecting. Himiko gets introduced early with a detailed rape scene of her friends. She avoids their fate and gets away while calling for help, but that leaves her guilty and broken. In a way, this makes her character super believable, but at the same time the show exploits her fear of men by making nearly all of them creepy rapists for fanservice purposes.

An example……

Himiko does team up with Sakamoto eventually, but it is all over the place. Sakamoto considers, “messing around” with her when she’s unconscious in their first meeting even though he can tell that she’s afraid of men because of that kind of thing. Somehow he manages to resist that, it really didn’t feel like he would have if it weren’t for plot, and things go on.

Later she builds him up and you can almost forget about his transgressions but I just couldn’t. This is partially due to you being reminded a few times, even in the later episodes of what he did. Now the point of this is to show the you that he’s changed a lot because he was forced to in order to survive this game, and that’s a fine story, but he started so low I didn’t want him to get redemption.

Sakamoto’s best scene is when he and Himiko are on the verge of having sex and he chooses not to because he can tell that she’s terrified. She clearly wants to have sex with him in this scene but Himiko is shaking and wincing at every moment due to her trauma. He does the right thing and stops before they get anywhere, very much to her surprise. This was the only time I thought Sakamoto was really a decent person in a general sense, but the damage was already done.

Btooom! has other problems like the forced fanservice I mention and its lack of an ending, but Sakamoto was the thing that nagged at me the most. Obviously, so much so that I wrote a whole post about it. In the end, I would watch more of this if it ever got made. I looked at the manga some and things get pretty wild and even more interesting but the stain left by my initial impressions will always damage my opinion of the series.


With that, I want to know, have you ever watched a show that had a character who was so awful you felt conflicted about the whole series? Let me know your thoughts in that regard and to Btooom! itself in the comments below. If you want to help me out a bit hit that button below to donate a few bucks my way. Lastly, thank you so much for reading and hope to see you back here at Jon Spencer Reviews again soon!

18 thoughts on “Btooom! & Problematic Protagonists

  1. The rape scenes in this show and the general portrayal of women was appalling but what makes it worse is that the director was a woman! So much for sisterhood! 😛

    Liked by 1 person

        1. It is still a lot more complex than that because of how production committees and such work. You have to consider the year of release, the general political climate in Japan, etc… Still, cultural difference is definitely a factor.

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  2. Hmm…I’m toning down my expectations of this series now a bit. I have had this one on my to watch list for quite a long time….but having read this (as usual great) post, it does seem it has some issues. I think characters in any kind of show are one of the most important things, and when you can’t get behind them, for me at least, that lessens the experience of watching something. I’m trying to remember a series where that has actually happened, but for now I can’t think of one. Enjoyed reading this! 😊😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, this one was on my list forever. I got it really cheap so I decided it was finally time to give it a watch. I don’t regret the watch, some of this show is great, I just wish the protagonist’s story was told better.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post (as usual)! 🙂

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  3. Even though he’s a morally repugnant human being, I liked him as a character. I found him interesting in how when he was pampered and cared for he was truly horrible, but once put into a new environment seeing that he realised that he had to make allies and the like to survive and he had to keep people on side. I don’t like him as an individual, but as a character he could have a pretty fascinating journey.

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    1. I could get behind this but he just changes too rapidly and anytime I’m about to warm up to him the show decided to thrust another example of how horrible he was in my face. I just don’t think the approach was particularly good here is my point I suppose.

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      1. The execution probably wasn’t the best. Then again, without an ending I really have no intention of watching it again anyway so I guess it doesn’t really matter (unless it does finally get a continuation).

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  4. I haven’t watched Btoom, but I’ve gotten similar feelings about Hiro from Inuyashiki. He is the villain, but he can’t be redeemed after killing some many people in my point of view, yet the anime tries anyway.

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    1. I have seen Inuyashiki. That’s a pretty common complaint leveled at that show and I can get it, even if I actually really liked that part. I guess I’m weird because I sympathized with Hiro in the end.

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  5. I’ve only seen the first episode of Btoom!, but i’ll be viewing the second soon enough. Not sure if it’s one i’ll continue or not.
    Not a show, but I pretty much felt that way about the titular lead in the Scott Pilgrim film. I found him to be thoroughly unlikable, which left me with no lead to root for in it.

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    1. The male cast of Btooom! Really suffers but the protag is pretty bad. It is unfortunate. Thanks for sharing your experience with Scott Pilgrim. While I didn’t feel that way, I can at least see where you are coming from.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. This was my feeling with Monogatari a bit… but then I realized the point is that the MC is supposed to be a somewhat despisable person. Araragi’s a sex driven fiend! He’s flawed and… Well, if he can grow to become a happy, respectful, law abiding citizen despite all that, then anyone can!
    Basically, unlikable protagonists have their uses!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sure, it’s just that the show flips the switch like night and day. He goes from being absolutely scummy to the nicest guy ever at the drop of a hat. Really, a lot of the male cast does, it just doesn’t work.

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