Let it Rip!
Quick, name three cartoons that exist solely to sell toys! It shouldn't be too hard. Cartoons have long been used as an advertising gimmick intended to spark the interest of young customers. In my day, Transformers and G.I. Joe were the biggies; you just weren't cool without a Transformer in your pocket.
The whole concept is distasteful, if blunted through ubiquitous implementation. But, at risk of sounding like an old fart, in my day the cartoons at least tried to provide some entertainment value of their own. The toys were never explicitly referenced, and the episode plots were decoupled from the toy lines they were promoting. Watching Beyblade, I am appalled at the shallow marketing. The entire series is one long commercial for Beyblade toys. The characters use the toys much like any kid on the playground would. The episodes contain mini-commercials for specific models. Even the series logo depicts one of the spinning tops used in the show.
If you are considering Beyblade because you're an anime fan, let me spare you some time: skip it. If you are a parent trying to ascertain the appropriateness of Beyblade for your kids, read on.
Facts of the Case
This DVD contains episodes 12-16 of the TV series Beyblade, in which teams of beybladers compete against each other by spinning tops in an arena. The top that gets knocked out first loses. The tops are magical and often contain animal spirits that aid the competitors in their attacks. Two rival teams are the White Tigers and the Bladebreakers. Ray, a former member of the White Tigers, possesses a powerful "bit beast" with the soul of the White Tiger. The white Tigers want both Ray and the white Tiger back. But he now belongs to the Bladebreakers. The series strongly promotes teamwork, sportsmanship, and Beyblade™ Toys.
"Crouching Lion, Hidden Tiger"
"The Race is On "
"Going for the Gold"
"My Enemy, My Friend"
Aside from the shameless promotional content, there is little of substance in Beyblade. The tissue-paper plots and cardboard characters are uninspired and repetitive. Admittedly, I jumped into the middle of the series. Perhaps I missed an involved and engaging back story. Somehow, I doubt it.
The cartoon isn't offensive (except in an artistic sense). The bland storylines, ham fisted moralizing, and neutered action avoid any possible gray areas. I realize that this show is targeted toward six-year old boys, so I don't expect Shakespeare. But some variation, originality, or character would be nice. If Sesame Street is homemade alphabet soup with apple juice and a cinnamon-raisin bagel on the side, Beyblade is a box of homogeneous, processed, high-fructose corn syrup snacks, a bottle of sugar water with FD&C yellow #82, and a glossy blurb for Beyblade toys.
The music is pretty catchy. I hope you like it, because the same two songs repeat over, and over, and over again. Instead of paying an unknown composer to write 15 songs, they paid somewhat-known composers to write two songs and used them for everything.
The animation consists of static images with annoying animated mouths pasted on. Periodically, great glowing animals "emerge" from the bit beasts, and we are treated to a slow pan up a larger image. They change pace through fading montages of static images.
The DVD extras are faithful to the show, which is to say they threw in a boatload of commercials. Not just promotional trailers and other fluff, but honest-to-goodness TV commercials.
Pioneer, Hasbro, Toys R Us, and Burger King have combined their collective marketing power to bring us a commercial blitz unlike any that have come before. If you purchase this DVD, be sure to factor in the additional cost of plastic launchers, foam arenas, and plastic/metal bit beasts.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I remember what it was like to be a kid. The dumbest things could ignite my imagination. A spinning top could become a powerful beast with hidden magical powers. In fact, as an adult I have played with variations on the spinning top-arena theme, such as microbots, Battle-Bots, and plain old wooden skittles with strings. The simple appeal of two whirling tops banging into each other will probably never grow old.
Though the characters are poorly constructed, the voice actors are good. They imbued the characters with approachable enthusiasm and never resorted to high-pitched screeches or other anime annoyances.
The transfer is clean with strong saturation and good black levels. There are many examples of combing and MPEG compression, but overall the transfer is strong.
Though pedantic, the messages in this show are wholesome. Support your teammates. Friendship can be independent of work, play, or past conflict. Be a good sport. If your kid is hooked into this show, he's probably getting some positive programming.
As episode followed repetitive episode, I grew more and more resentful. Now I know how Ralphie felt when he uncovered the secret message in A Christmas Story: "d-r-i-n-k m-o-r-e O-v-a-l-t-i-n-e."
Bailiff, escort BeyBlade: Hidden Tiger to the holding cell. There it will await transfer to a maximum security prison to rot for the rest of its days.
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