The Spring 2021 Preview Guide
The World Ends With You
by The Anime News Network Editorial Team,
How would you rate episode 1 of
The World Ends with You the Animation ?
What is this?
Neku has died but doesn't remember what happened. He joins the Reaper's Game in The Underground, a contest for the dead where he fights to be brought back to life because…losers are erased from existence. No matter how stacked the odds may be in each round, he must overcome every obstacle in order to survive.
How was the first episode?
A few weeks ago, in anticipation of the anime coming out, I bought the Switch port of the game The World Ends with You. I'd been meaning to play it for a long time, and I figured if I spent about an hour a day on it, I'd have the game finished before the adaptation premiered. Then, I played about an hour of it and got distracted by another game.
And so, while I didn't approach this premiere totally blind, I didn't know a whole lot about how the story here was going to progress. To me, the premiere felt, well, a lot like a video game adaptation. It was easy to see the seams where fight scenes would have occurred within the game, but were skipped over because they didn't advance the plot. The tutorial, the character events, and the boss fights with increasingly-difficult monsters are all there, but there's some serious connective tissue missing. By the end of the episode, three full days have passed, and there's been very little character development other than what's necessitated for the sake of exposition. They seem likable, but few characters have more than a dozen spoken lines or so.
Luckily, the excellent design work fills in quite a few of these shortcomings. TWEWY's extremely distinctive aesthetic – which is heavily influenced by hip hop, graffiti art, and its era's street fashion – is pretty much legendary, and instantly distinguishable from almost every other JRPG out there. The characters' appearances communicate a lot about their personalities, such as Neku's headphones and loose turtleneck symbolizing his withdrawn, antisocial personality.
I wasn't sure how well the art style– with its flat, bright colors and bold lines– would translate to animation, but they look great here. It still looks flat, but pleasingly so, and the whole aesthetic comes together beautifully. The monsters are computer-animated, so they never quite mesh, but it's the kind of otherworldly, not-quite-right contrast that really works.
The news that ALI's planned opening theme song was removed because of the drummer's arrest was a huge disappointment to me, especially since their funk/jazz/hip hop musical style would be a great match for TWEWY's visual characteristics. However, the game already has a famous and musically diverse soundtrack, so the replacement theme, taken from the source, fits well and doesn't come across as a placeholder.
The World Ends with You holds the promise of a good plot, but a video game adaptation really needs a team willing to take the risks necessary to move it from one medium to the other. Some extra scenes showing Shiki and Neku not just fighting the Reapers, but living in this other world or something would do so much to make it more than just a lesser version of the game. Maybe it's time to boot my Switch back up.
“Psycho cane. You're so keen. I need more candy canes.”
2007's The World Ends with You is an RPG unlike any other. From its gameplay system and plot to its music and visual style, everything about the Nintendo DS game is wild and unique. But as fantastic as it is, I never expected it to be getting an anime adaptation—and certainly not 14 years after its original release.
Visually, this first episode is a real treat that looks unlike any anime I've ever seen before. The reason for this is the art style and how the colors are used. If you look closely, you'll see that the shadows have no gradient. Take Neku's hair for example. It is comprised of only three colors: orange, black, and a darker orange halfway between orange and black. Shiki's hair follows the same pattern: red, black, and a dark red between the other two.
In fact, every visual element in this episode—from skin tones and clothes to backgrounds and monsters—follows this style, which in turn gives the anime as a whole a bright, vibrant, and stylized look. The art style also paves the way for a near-seamless integration of 3D-animated elements, allowing the use of all those dynamic camera movements and flashy effects in battle.
Beyond the visuals, the show also impresses aurally, mostly thanks to the amazing soundtrack. Not only is the background filled with music from the game, we also have a new version of “Calling”—one of the best tracks from The World Ends with You—serving as the theme song for the anime. I can't say how ecstatic I am for any other potential remixes (especially “Twister” and “Someday”).
Unexpectedly, the weakest part of this first episode is the plot itself. An awful lot of story is covered in this 24-minute premiere, including the death game situation, Neku's memory loss, the introduction of Beat and Rhyme, and three days worth of activities, which is really too much for an introductory episode. I mean, even something as traumatic as Neku trying to kill Shiki is given like 30 seconds to sink in before both characters move on and seemingly forget about it.
That said, the episode does a good job of giving subtle hints to viewers and allowing them to figure out what is going on before the characters themselves do. Hints of Neku's amnesia, for example, come from him not answering whether “Neku” is his first or last name when asked by Shiki as well as his surprised reaction when Uzuki calls him by his full name. Likewise, the reveal that 777 are reapers is hinted at by the rules of the underground set up by Beat and Shiki earlier in the episode.
All in all, the anime is off to a somewhat shaky start plot-wise, but as a fan of the game, I was thoroughly entertained.
If you looked up “eye candy" in the dictionary, you might very well find a screencap from this long-awaited adaptation of The World Ends with You plastered right there above the definition. Shinei Animation and DOMERICA are doing some pretty incredible things with this series; its vibrantly colored and boldly drawn artwork leaps off the screen, and the use of CG animation works especially well given the setting and characters' almost cell-shaded look. I could get hours of entertainment just watching TWEWY's images fly by on screen every week. That's a damn good thing, too, because I think the show's visual appeal is what is going to help get viewers on board with the production, at least until they can find their footing with the story.
I played TWEWY on the DS back in the day, though it's been a solid ten years or so since I touched it; for whatever it's worth, I think this premiere actually does a good job of setting up the overall premise we're working with. The trouble folks might have is that, in true Tetsuya Nomura fashion, TWEWY's story is Extra As Hell, and buries its audience in an avalanche of inconsistently capitalized nouns and verbs. The expectation is that you'll pick things up as you go along, same as our hero Neku does, and while it worked for me, it might be too expositional for anyone that hasn't gone down this rabbit hole before. I was honestly surprised how much of the series' lore came back to me over the course of just this one episode: Game Master, Reapers, pins, Partner Pacts, synchs, the Noise, and the Underground. Seeing Shiki, Beat, and Rhyme again was like running into old friends from grade school after years apart, except they look as young and preposterously stylish as ever, and I'm just here wallowing in all of the extra Pandemic Pounds I've been packing on over the last eighteen months…
In any case, TWEWY's premiere was chaotic, but a hell of a lot of fun, and I'm guessing that this will serve as the perfect primer for the next game in the series which comes out later this year. I don't know if we should be expecting too much in the way of complex themes or character development here, though what we see in this first episode is pretty straightforward: Neku is a surly misanthropic amnesiac who doesn't like to play with others. Like Shiki tells Neku, it's no good to try and win every fight on your own; you've gotta get by with a little help from your friends. I don't know if they would be enough to sustain an entire season of nuanced dramatic storytelling, but I think it'll do just fine to keep the flashy and fun antics of the Reaper's Game humming right along through the season.
Just to be upfront, I have no real familiarity with the original The World Ends with You game. I've heard the name plenty, seen the character designs out in the wild, and have a friend who yelled a lot about it after she finished Kingdom Hearts 3, but otherwise I'm a total neophyte. I know for certain there's a fervent cult fanbase for this property who have held vigil for over a decade in hopes of a sequel, and I do plan on checking out the Switch port when I have the time, but I'll have to ask for TWEWY diehards to cut me some slack and trust that I'm speaking with good faith when I say this first episode kinda sucked.
As I said, I can't speak for certain about how this new anime is going about adapting the story of its source material, but I get the distinct impression that this first episode is compressing a lot of material to fit the run time. By the time the credits roll, our heroes have already cleared 3 of the 7 days of the Reaper Game they've been trapped in, and all of them have been solved by pretty brisk fight scenes stitched together by blatant, obvious exposition. It's a bizarrely breakneck pace that very much feels like somebody condensing a good couple hours of gameplay and worldbuilding into 20 minutes, and it's the furthest thing from graceful. We're introduced to a colorful cast with distinct, interesting designs, but then barely get to spend any time with them as we speed through the plot to get to the next fight scene, and it leaves this premiere feeling totally hollow.
Which sucks extra bad, because this production has done an astounding job of bringing the distinct art style of the game to animation without sacrificing any of its charm. In most cases you'd expect such thickly outlined, busy designs to feel totally out of place, but a combination of strong direction and a sharp eye for compositing ensures every shot of the cast pops in just the right way. The CG utilized for action scenes similarly benefits from such distinct and cartoony designs, working to ease you into the transition without ever distracting from the hyperactive fights that are happening. It's a really impressive accomplishment, and the one part of the premiere that might actually get me to continue watching this adaptation. Translating such unique designs in a way that looks good in stills and in motion is no small task – director Kazuya Ichikawa and his team should be proud of what they've pulled off here.
Between that and knowing how well-loved this franchise is, I'm tempted to go easy on this premiere, pass it off as a good enough companion to the game for those already initiated, and call it there. But honestly, in spite of all those faults, it does feel like there's something special buried beneath the surface here, and it feels like an insult to the heart apparent in the material to ignore it being fumbled. Maybe this is just an inevitability of having to fit a whole game into a single season of television, but I still hope the series can find its legs and do its own legacy justice sooner or later.
You want action? You got action! And jargon. Lots of jargon. Also an amnesiac badass protagonist with the social skills of a slug, a girl whose pants shouldn't be staying up, and a lot of other kinds of oddball things. Welcome to The World Ends with You.
Quite possibly all of this makes a lot more sense if you've played the game this show is based on. That at least might help with the specialized vocabulary issue that I had with the episode – apparently Players need to form a Partner Pact in order to be able to use Psychs to fight the Noise during their time in Underground, which is a separate-yet-connected realm that allows them to Scan the people still in Realground while they try to complete their quests and avoid being taken out by Reapers. While it isn't all that difficult to figure out what all of this means within the episode's context, it's still a needlessly fancy way to say “find a partner to fight monsters within the game so you don't die.” Where things get more interesting is in what isn't explained, such as why, precisely, our protagonists are stuck in Underground in the first place and why Neku doesn't remember any of it.
Figuring this out is the chief inducement to continuing to watch the show. (Or to play the game.) Neku's lack of knowledge is worrying, especially since he seems to be the only one who doesn't know what's going on – and the Reaper who has it in for him, Uzuki, may have something to do with this. She's certainly more interested in him than in Shiki, Beat, or Rhythm, although that could simply be due to the fact that he's drastically different from them in his words and actions and clearly at risk of being taken over by Noise, which may turn him into a monster himself. Even more concerning is that not only did he not get any information about the “game” he's currently being forced to play, he also blacks out between missions, which doesn't seem to be the case for at least his partner Shiki. That seems to suggest that he's fundamentally different from the others, although how is as yet unknown.
On the most basic level, it's clear that Neku's amnesia is just an easy way for the episode to throw a lot of information at the viewers in short order. While that's not great, it's also reflective of the rapid pace of this episode, which covers three of the seven days Shiki says they have to play the game. That indicates that there's more to this story than just what's presented in this set up, so there is promise here. Unfortunately this really does feel like too much shoved in our faces at once, and I can't say that I find the characters anything more than moderately interesting, if not outright obnoxious. (In all fairness, I think Uzuki is meant to be annoying.) I also don't love the thick black outlines on the characters, but that's a lesser evil here. Right now The World Ends with You needs to calm down and slow down just a little, because this is, if not an actual mess, at least a bit overwhelming.
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