First Look: BEM

Anime original by LandQ studios and Production I.G
Streaming on Funimation

Premise

Bem, Belo and Bela are monsters that wish to become human, something they believe can be achieved by helping humans out in the crime-riddled area known as the Outside. Bem soon encounters Sonia Summers, a police officer that was sent to the Outside and who wishes to fight against the rife crime and corruption.

Euri’s verdict: Bem, Belo, Bela, Brono, Barle, Brog, 2poch

It’s becoming increasingly common for shows with slower starts to launch with multiple episodes in their opening week. We saw it this season with Vinland Saga, which kicked off with the first three episodes to help establish its world, characters and plot. After an episode of BEM, I can’t help but wonder if a second episode might have helped.

As it is, BEM is fine. There’s nothing new about a gritty, crime-ridden city with a smattering of the supernatural, but it’s set up well enough. We get a glimpse at the police force here, and how they have an understanding with what appears to be a crime gang that extends to police bribes. Sonia Summers, our by-the-books cop and protag, makes it very clear that she wants nothing to do with any of this. It’s very surface-level, so while it does the job, it would be nice to learn a bit more about how things work in the Outside.

We pretty quickly get our supernatural elements, as our villain of the week appears to be a water-person. This was probably the weakest part of the episode for me, as while this villain shows that it is genuinely a threat, their design just… isn’t great. The show is obviously going for a dark and broody vibe, and while I don’t think it quite gets there, the design of this character sticks out like a sore thumb. It almost feels like it was ripped out of a western Saturday morning cartoon.

The same extends to Bem, the leader of the three monsters who are trying to become human. His human-like form is fine, but late in the episode he transforms into a very generic-looking demon. It’s not intimidating in the slightest, which again dampens what’s meant to be a grotesque and brutal form that easily picks off the criminal.

Going back to my comment on launching with more than one episode, we need to talk about the exposition. Almost everything we learn about Bem and the water monster, from what they are, how they became that way and motivations, was revealed in rushed commentary from the water monster mid-fight with Bem. It was very clumsy, and felt like something thrown in at the last moment after realising that it’s kind of important to set up.

Bem, Bela and Belo are, in my opinion, the biggest draw to this show. We don’t learn why they want to become human in episode one, and given that they’re seeing some of the worst of humanity in the Outside, you can’t help but wonder what the motivation is. They all have humanoid forms that work just fine, so it’s not like they have to hide and sneak around in order to survive – it’s more than that. Hopefully there’s a pay off to this later on in the show.

While BEM was far from an awful show, I don’t think there’s enough here to draw me into episode two, either. That said, something I discovered after the fact was that this isn’t the first incarnation of this show – this was made as part of a 50th anniversary special. There have been three other animated iterations, most of which were known as Youkai Ningen Bem, with the original coming out way back in 1968. On top of that, there has also been a live-action film and a TV series.

I will admit that I’m still mildly curious about what a modern, full-length TV adaptation would do, but it’s a bit of a shame that the show’s history is more alluring than the show itself.

Artemis’ verdict: By The Numbers

There was nothing wrong with this, but nothing particularly right either – it was just fine, with nothing to make it stand out one way or another, particularly in a season where there are at least a couple of other new action-fantasy shows airing. The biggest problem with Bem’s premiere was that it felt too by-the-numbers shounen; nothing we haven’t seen, and seen done better, countless times before. Add to this the clumsy exposition by way of side-character commentary, and the almost complete lack of meaningful characterisation of our main lead other than the archetypal ‘naïve outsider fighting for justice’, and Bem honestly seemed a little pedestrian in comparison to many other urban fantasy titles. The anime also looked a bit on the cheap side, although the music at least was more than decent – it’s not enough to make me stick around, but elevated my experience enough that I didn’t consider it a real waste. Still, for my money, Cop Craft is the higher-tier urban fantasy series this summer.

One thought on “First Look: BEM

  1. To each their own, I guess – I really enjoyed this episode. To me for now this is promising be the kind of show that reminds me of how nice anime can be, even without reinventing the wheel or having shiny animation or some huge melodramar and a twisty-turny plot. (And I’ve been watching and reading this stuff for far longer than I care to admit.)

    About the character/monster designs though, aside of the characters kind of having to look a certain way to adhere the original designs, I thought the show actually had a sort of Saturday morning cartoon type noir look, just with an anime touch. I kind of appreciated how retro the whole thing looks.

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