Bomberman Jetters – The Owl in the Rafters

Posted on Oct 05 2011

Welcome back to the Rafters! Today I’m going to kick off the first round in a tag-team review with my good friend and update schedule neighbor, Bargain Gamer. Today I’ll be covering Bomberman Jetters, the anime and tomorrow Bargain Gamer will tackle the game of the same name. I want to stick to my schtick though, so even if I’m only going over one anime, I do want to take the time to first give a little briefing on Hudson’s classic Bomberman franchise. If you were born before the late ’90s I’m sure you’re at least partially familiar with the name Bomberman, even if you’ve never played the games. In fact it may very well be impossible for a child of the 80s or 90s not to have heard of Bomberman. As the quintessential action puzzle game, Hudson’s long lasting series of Bomberman games once made their way across every major gaming platform since 1983.

When I say “every platform” I mean EVERY platform: Starting with the MSX and ZX Spectrum, arcade cabinets, the original Nintendo Entertainment System, the TurboGrafx-16, the Amiga, the Atari ST, PC (DOS), the original Nintendo GameBoy, the Sega Genesis, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, the infamous Virtual Boy, the Sega Saturn, the PC (Windows OS), the Neo-Geo MVS, the Nintendo 64, the original Playstation, the GameBoy Color, the Sega Dreamcast, the GameBoy Advance, the Nintendo GameCube, the Playstation 2, the Nokia N-Gage, the Nintendo DS, the Xbox 360, the Playstation Portable, the Nintendo Wii, and The Playstation 3, as well as cellphone, iPod, and iPhone OS compatible games.

In fact, the only three systems I can think of that didn’t have a Bomberman game were the Sega GameGear, the Bandai WonderSwan, and the original Microsoft Xbox. Technically there is no Bomberman game on the 3DS yet, but there were plans for one, although they got canceled. Other than those the Bomberman franchise has successfully survived, albeit with now dwindling success, even into the next-gen era of gaming.

More than that Bomberman has also ventured into a variety of other genres with racing games, a game that added sports minigames and a digital pet simulator onto the traditional game mode, block-drop style puzzle games, several action RPGs, a Tactical RPG, a pinball game, and on top of it all Bomberman has even seen cross overs with other franchises with games like Wario Blast, and Bomberman B-Daman which lead to a successful series of toys and even its own anime series, B-daman Bakugaiden V.

Over the many years, Bomberman has undergone mostly minor changes to design and Jetters marks an interesting departure from the iconic marshmallow head, trading it in for a rounder face and more typically “anime style” eyes that help Jetters stand apart visually from all its many, many kin. The design still maintains the lack of mouth and nose however. To further this soft and somewhat gentler change from what was really already a remarkably kid-friendly image of a serial arsonist, the character is also made out to be a young boy, rather than an ambiguously young adult, or entirely ageless character, as he had been in past reincarnations. (Often times the bombermen race are actually referred to in-game as robots/androids and not living things at all)

I’ll say it right now that how this show never made it to America truly baffles me. While not as big a hit as other classic games like the Mario or Sonic franchises, it has still been a recognizable member of the classic gaming line up. The lack of an anime adaptation probably has something to do with a lack of American ownership, as Hudson’s US office is notably smaller than those of larger companies like Nintendo or Sega at the time.

Still, all of the bomberman characters are MOUTHLESS and a number of other regular characters speak via wiggling mustaches. I really don’t think there’s a show that would be any easier to dub than this one. Other than convenience though, the show really is a shining example of the model children’s action/adventure series that bolsters a strong host of all those features that made children’s anime so desirable to American television during the late ’90s and early 2000s: An engrossing sense of adventure, obvious product tie-ins with the games, some colorful and exciting stock footage that never gets old, a fun cast of characters, and a wonderfully charming soundtrack. It really would have fit perfectly into a Saturday morning cartoon block.

Getting to the show itself however, the second half of the name comes from the elite interstellar peacekeeping force known as the Jetters. And number one on the Jetters’ list of most wanted is Bagura, (aka Burgler) a returning villain of the Bomberman franchise, and his gang of Hige-hige Bandits.

Burgler, as his name might suggest, is a thief who operates out of his own private space station, from which he sends his legions of Hige-hige bandits and their field commander Mujoe across the galaxy to pilfer one-of-a-kind treasures. At first these treasures are fairly straight forward, but on some occasion the targets can seem entirely worthless, save that they are in fact one-of-a-kind. Also on board Burgler’s space station is his inventor, mechanic, and all around cyborg mad scientist, the aptly named Dr.Mechadoc and not far into the series MAX, the notorious mercenary space bandit is hired by Burgler to pick up the slack where Mujoe and crew have been continuously thwarted by the Jetters.

The story follows Shirobon (aka White Bomber) a young, up-and-coming bomberman from the planet of bombermen. Shirobon’s older brother, Mighty, is not only a talented bomberman with legendarily unmatched skill and power, but also the heroic and kindhearted leader of the Jetters. When Mighty doesn’t return from a mission and is declared MIA, Shirobon is recruited to fill the gap in members. However Shirobon has only 1 of 8 “bombstars”: jewels awarded to bombermen based on their mastery of the bomberman arts. The first star is awarded for just being able to create bombs at all. So, as a rookie on the Jetters team, and quite frankly, something of a bumbling screwup, Shirobon has to learn how to master his powers to try and live up to his brother’s legacy while helping the Jetters team thwart Burgler and the Hige-hige Gang’s plans.

The Jetters Team itself is/was comprised of Mighty, the original team leader, now MIA; Dr. Ein, the scientist who founded the Jetters; Shout, the self-proclaimed replacement leader of the Jetters team; Birdy, Mighty’s suave and cool headed right hand man and best friend; Bongo, the strange fuzzy mechanic; Gangu, a robot designed by Dr. Ein filled with a convenient gizmos and gadgets who hangs around Bongo; and then of course Shirobon himself. While not an actual Jetters member, there is also Shirobon’s closest friend, Rui the baby Louie. The Louie were a race of kangaroo-like creatures introduced in some of the early Bomberman games that have made sporadic reappearances throughout the franchise as mounts known as “animal armor.”

Every episode centers around a new mission and new confrontation with the Hige-hige Gang, venturing to a new planet, protecting a new treasure, and fighting off a new villain of the week. The villains are supplied by Dr. Mechadoc and his Combination Bomber beam, a machine that turns any object(but usually animals) into a hybrid bomberman. Later the machine is upgraded to combine one animal and one inanimate object into a single bomberman giving birth to a host of wacky fusion monsters. Towards the first major climax of the series the machine is also used to create a “Four Heavenly Kings” style elemental boss team common in Japanese video games, as well as anime and manga, the Bomber Shitennou (lit: “Bomber Four-Heaven-King”): Flame Bomber, Mermaid Bomber, Grand Bomber, and Thunder Bomber.

As I said earlier, the show follows an expected formula for a children’s action/adventure show and does it to perfection. It holds your attention with relatively clean animation, fun character designs, action packed fight scenes, a wide range of different worlds, an endearing cast of characters, emotive musical score, and a charming script with a number of cute running gags to keep up with as the story progresses, and on some occasions the show can even take on a more serious tone whenever Shirobon’s search for Mighty comes into play. What perhaps makes this show most interesting even to an older audience, and what makes it genuinely admirable as a kids’ show is that while it does maintain an overall light-hearted feel to it, as the episodic adventures shift toward an ongoing plot Shirobon actually develops as a character.

Now, it’s not in any profoundly astounding capacity, but still the maturation of the character is very clearly noticeable. Granted, character development ought to be a given in any story, but realistically a vast majority of anime now’days have absolutely minimal character growth, opting more for a sit-com style of writing that assigns an archetype and its stock reactions to each character and never really changes them. So, while the overall mood of Jetters remains light hearted and goofy, Shirobon does rise to the challenges put before him, often after first coming to terms with his own flaws, and gradually he masters new techniques, earns his other 7 bomb stars, fulfills his brother’s legacy, and in doing all this goes from being a goofy, blundering, brat to being a still goofy but reliable hero.

The story undergoes a few long running story arcs with 2 major bosses with different four-man miniboss teams, a fighting tournament, and of course plenty of episodic adventure episodes with training arcs thrown in between major battles over the course of 52 total episodes. Bomberman Jetters was a year long show, airing between 2002 and 2003 on TV Tokyo. The show was animated by Studio Deen and directed by Katsuyuki Kodera, storyboard artist behind a wide range of other shows, including Full Moon o Sagashite, Hell Girl, Solty Rei, Zipang, Ginga Densetsu Weed, which I have reviewed before, and various episodes of other shows. Oddly his only other directorial role happens to have been on Sci-Fi Harry, a distinctly not child-friendly sci-fi series notorious for its awkward depiction of America.

The show’s pleasantly surprising soundtrack was composed by Kazunori Maruyama, who had worked on the soundtracks of two other children’s shows during the mid-late 90s and more notably composed the soundtrack of the live-action tokusatsu series Kamen Rider Ryuki, which was adapted into the American Daytime Emmy award winning Kamen Rider Dragon Knight.

Technically there are several different games throughout the Bomberman franchise that qualify as related or as indirect tie-ins to the Jetters anime. These include: the Hige-hige Bandits appearing in Saturn Bomberman Fight!! for the Sega Saturn; Mechbomber 015, Burgler, and Dr.Ein appearing in Bomberman Fantasy Race for the original Playstation; MAX, Mujoe, and the Hige-hige Bandits appear in Bomberman Generation for the Nintendo Gamecube; while a character sharing MAX’s name and general design does technically star in both Bomberman MAX: Challenger Version and Bomberman MAX 2: Red Version for the GameboyColor and Gameboy Advance respectively, the character in question shares no background or personality traits with the MAX from Jetters, although Mujoe and the Hige-hige Bandits appear in the MAX 2 games to reprise their role as antagonists.

Apart from all those however, there is but one game that actually relates directly to the Bomberman Jetters anime, and that is of course the Bomberman Jetters videogame. Originally released in Japan on both the Gamecube and Playstation 2 (and two GBA games under the same name but with completely different mechanics) in 2002, the North American release in 2004 was for the Gamecube only. If you think it odd that they would release an anime tie-in game for an anime that was never aired in the US, you aren’t alone. Supposedly the game was intended to act as a sequel of sorts to an earlier Gamecube Bomberman game, Bomberman Generation. Stranger yet is that they fully dubbed the game, calling upon the English voice actors that had dubbed Generation. I could go into further detail myself, but I’ll leave that to someone much better suited to that task, my partner-in-crime, Bargain Gamer.

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