The Fall 2017 Anime Preview Guide King's Game
How would you rate episode 1 of
King's Game The Animation ?
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How was the first episode?
It's a little unfortunate for King's Game that it had to show up in the same season as Jūni Taisen, a similarly death-game-centered but far superior production. But even if it weren't boxing against a competitor far outside its weight class, King's Game still wouldn't be a noteworthy show. This first episode is needlessly cruel, poorly written, and strangely boring. I'd rather have played Settlers of Catan.
This first episode is essentially one long frustrating wait for the other shoe to drop, as new transfer Nobuaki acts antisocial around his new classmates while waiting for an inevitable death game to start. Nobuaki seems to know the King's Game is going to happen, so there's no real sense of suspense, and watching his classmates first try to befriend him and then doubt his knowledge doesn't result in any satisfying drama. It's basically just one long, awkwardly written wait for the body count to start racking up, lacking the aesthetic intrigue or snappy writing necessary to make that buildup interesting.
It's actually worth spending a moment on King's Game's “stupid” writing, as that makes for an interesting contrast with Jūni Taisen. It's easy to describe Jūni Taisen as “stupid” or “trashy”—its premise is inherently ridiculous, and it embraces the melodramatic, schlocky ugliness inherent to a death game narrative. But Jūni Taisen's actual execution isn't “stupid” - given an absurd premise and over-the-top characters, it executes on those variables with clever direction and generally sharp writing. On top of that, it doesn't strive for any sort of human nature-focused profundity or cruel sentimentality in its execution - it instead elevates its ugliness through great aesthetic flair and lets its characters simply be larger-than-life monsters so we can enjoy the spectacle.
In contrast, while King's Game's premise isn't any more or less “stupid” than Jūni Taisen's, its execution on that premise fails on a variety of levels. For one thing, the writing simply isn't good—none of these characters speak like human beings, their reactions all seem terribly contrived, and the narrative is unsatisfyingly constructed. And when it comes to the torture-porn ugliness side of the equation, King's Game seems to revel in blood and strangulation for its own sake, while also demanding we feel sympathy for its doomed cast. Tragedy obviously isn't an automatic negative, but showing an audience a puppy and then shooting the puppy isn't effective drama—it's cheap, ineffective, and frankly cruel to the audience. A silly premise doesn't demand silly execution—basically any topic can be handled poorly or well, and from its strained dialogue to its tedious narrative structure and aesthetic flatness, King's Game does not execute well.
It's not often that you can tell so much about a show from one glance at its art design alone. Although I guess the best word for it is "generic", the few familiar hallmarks of King's Game's character expressions and color palette are immediately reminiscent of The Lost Village and School Days. You know—unabashed pseudo-horror trash.
Yeah, this is smut. This is schlock. This is based on a story someone wrote on their cellphone. This is just barely animated enough to get the blood spatter right. This is Mamoru Miyano preparing to scream or brood over every line as hard as he possibly can (which is a lot, the man's at least 80% camp-by-volume). If the angelic love interest at the beginning of this is revealed to be the King in question (or at least related to him), I won't even bat an eyelash. So the real question is whether King's Game will be the grand kind of trash or the bland kind.
Well, that's impossible to say one episode in. I can't predict that for this season's other killing game anime either (Jūni Taisen: Zodiac War), and at least that show had an interesting aesthetic. Bloodbath elimination games can go really well or really sour in terms of storytelling, but their entertainment factor isn't always tied to their writing quality. It's a game of extremes; death games need to be either super tightly-written (Danganronpa or Death Note) or unbelievably poor (Future Diary or Big Order) to leave an impact. The general rule is go big or go home, so muddling around in the middle of the shock factor pool won't get you anywhere. At the very least, I can say that King's Game should probably start swimming for the shallow end of the pool, because its writing is already pretty terrible, albeit in a fun way so far. If it gets even crazier from here, this could be a great roll in the dumpster so to speak, but staying at this first-episode level for too long or reaching for sincere emotional investment isn't liable to work out for this show.
Even if its appeal is limited, that junky School Days/The Lost Village vibe that King's Game has going on is promising, because both of those shows were wildly entertaining in all their garbage-glory. If you want a killing game anime that might turn out to be surprisingly good, I'd still put my bets on Zodiac War, but if you want to revel in the gristle of pure dumb nastiness, King's Game looks like it might deliver the goods (aka the bads).
Stories about teenagers dying off one by one due to diabolical circumstances have been a staple of horror for at least the past four decades, and anime certainly has its fair share. This is merely the latest effort in the vein of Another or Magical Girl Raising Project, and it doesn't waste any time in establishing its grim tone. It opens with Nobuaki in a desolate landscape scattered with skulls. Within 90 seconds, he's nearly drowning as he watches a girl he cared about get dismembered. Most likely that's a dream sequence referencing the first King's Game he participated in, but it's an attention-grabbing way to open an episode and establishes pretty well while he's so screwed up coming into his new school.
The concept this time is just a variation on the King Game, where you draw straws to see who gets to give an order that others must carry out. It wouldn't be interesting if people weren't dying as a result though, so the series doesn't piddle around about getting to the heart of its draw. It takes just a few minutes to establish the class and potential love interest Natsuko before getting into the game and the kind of paranoia it can generate, and by the end of the episode, ten of the initial 32 students are already dead. The first game rule – no “Deep Rest” – is a cheap shot on the part of King, since it's sent at a time when a good chunk of the students would already be asleep and thus have no ability to follow the order, but whatever gets the grisly deaths rolling, right? Though it's probably irrelevant to the story, I would definitely be interested to know how the authorities respond to this. Nine classmates hanging themselves and a tenth exsanguinating would look hugely suspicious, after all.
Stories like this don't care about such details, though. No, it's more likely that this will be a study in how the kids in the class react to this crisis and the chaos and accusations that will emerge. Place your bets on who will die next and see what happens! I wouldn't mind at least a tentative romance developing between Natsuko and Nobuaki too, and I won't be surprised if it turns out that she has a deeper connection with Nobuaki than is already apparent; the tidbit about her parents being dead doesn't seem innocuous. Any thirst viewers may have for graphic content also looks like it will be readily met.
Though there are some rough edges here, decent production values, a fitting hard rock closing song by American indie band Pile, suitable tone for its material, and snappy pacing all speak well to the chances of this series succeeding. This is director Noriyoshi Sasaki's debut helming a full-length series, and so far it looks like he knows what he's doing. I'm already strapping in for a fun, bloody ride.
I know I just said that I prefer my high school anime to have some sort of melodramatic gimmick, but King's Game may be taking things too far. With almost the exact same premise as at least two other manga I can think of, this horror story features a class that's forced into a deadly game via cellphone where someone calling themselves “the king” gives orders and supernaturally metes out punishments. (You know, like in ARISA.) The game appears to follow its lone survivor to his new school, which is how it arrives at Kure Academy's class 2-1 – Nobuaki is the “winner” of the last game, so now he gets to play it all over again! (You know, like in Tohyo Game – One Black Ballot for You.)
I understand the appeal of this kind of story, especially in a high school or middle school setting – kids that age can be vicious, and this is one way to bring that cruelty into the light and present it metaphorically. But it's also a really exploitative subgenre of horror, especially since at least three of the initial demands made by the King are sexual in nature. I have a feeling King's Game won't be pulling many punches when it comes to its depictions, given that it didn't shy away from showing the release of urine when someone hanged themselves or one guy erupting in bloody pustules before bleeding to death. Of course, it also shied away from showing Nobuaki and his former girlfriend having sex, so it's probably more interested in grossing us out than in titillation.
Despite this material not feeling particularly fresh, the episode does a decent job of introducing the story. The opening flashback certainly lets us know about the nature of the game in question, and the misdirection with the relay race juxtaposes nicely with Nobuaki's actual relationship with his classmates. We know what happened before, but to them he just seems like a freak who not only isn't interested in their friendly overtures, but also seems to be going out of his way to be an asshole to them. Even when the truth is revealed, they can't accept it, because his earlier behavior was so alien to them. It might have worked better for Nobuaki to just level with them about the game when he got there, but how could he? The poor kid is traumatized, and it doesn't look like that'll be ending any time soon.
If you prefer your horror more subtle, King's Game doesn't seem likely to deliver. The most subtle thing about this episode is the almost-sex-scene, and while it could have been much more gory, the camera definitely enjoyed lingering on Yuichi's doom and the tormented or hanged bodies. It also moves at a breakneck pace, which in some ways is a major point in its favor, because if we're too caught up in the action and gore, we can't notice lackluster character designs or suspicious plotting. I almost think this will be better binge-watched so as to really get into the grim experience, because if we have too much time to think about it, the story doesn't quite hold up even one episode in. But it is the kind of horror we haven't had for a while, so if you've been languishing for a decent gore-fest, this is probably worth checking out.
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