The Summer 2021 Preview Guide
Battle Game in 5 Seconds
How would you rate episode 1 of
Battle Game in 5 Seconds ?
What is this?
The story begins when Akira Shiroyanagi, a high school boy who loves games and konpeitō sugar candy, gets suddenly embroiled in a battle by a mysterious girl who goes by the name Mion.
How was the first episode?
I'm a sucker for death game anime—especially those with a supernatural twist of some sort. I love watching the characters figure out their powers, make alliances, and battle it out with literally everything on the line. But what I like the most is watching the characters outthink each other. More often than not, the key to winning isn't who has the best power but who uses their power in the most creative way. This is most certainly true in Battle Game in 5 Seconds, especially in the case of our lead hero, Akira.
Akira is one of those kids who is too smart for their own good and is simply bored by day-to-day school life. This is why, when Akira is first attacked by a giant man covered in bandages and later wakes up in a death game, he is more excited than afraid.
Throughout both of his life-or-death struggles in this episode, we see him win by outsmarting his opponents, running away and luring them into situations where the terrain benefits him and makes up for his physical shortcomings. In other words, while his opponents are playing a physical game, he's playing a mental one.
This is made even clearer once we learn about his superpower: he has whatever power his opponents think he has. This is a great hook for a death game series. Most of the time, he is basically powerless and will be the weakest person in any fight. To turn the odds in his favor, he must not only learn his opponent's power and weakness but also their personality and how to manipulate it. Then he must use all this information to trick his opponent into thinking he has the power that they are most afraid of.
Honestly, the only thing I didn't like in the episode is Mion—or rather the implications of her existence. Don't get me wrong, Mayumi Shintani plays the role of psychotic death game host perfectly, but I'm just not sure why the character is a literal cat girl. She clearly has cat ears, fangs, and a tail that moves by itself (so it's not a costume) but what does that add to the character or the series as a whole?
She is the only demi-human character we see in the episode, which makes me question the series' setting. Battle Game in 5 Seconds seem to be going in a mad science direction rather than a magic one. So, does that mean catgirls are a normal thing in this world? Or when Mion got the surgery for her arm cannon, did she get a cat-ification surgery as well? Her existence brings up a ton of questions that seem to do nothing but distract from the already interesting plot and setting. Still, it's a minor gripe in an otherwise fun-looking death game anime.
You know a premiere is in trouble when you find yourself wondering if you can get away with just copying and pasting segments of a review you've already written for your preview guide entry. If you really want to know what I think of Battle Game in 5 Seconds, my review of The Ones Within will probably get you ⅔ of the way there. It's an extremely uninspired death game story that cribs shamelessly from a variety of sources without understanding what makes any of them compelling.
Akira Shiroyanagi is a latchkey kid who is good at games. Like, really good at games. He almost never stops playing them, even during school or to clean up his messy-ass home. He still gets good grades, because it's all just memorization and he's just so smart. One day on his way to school, his game of Tetris on his phone is interrupted by a big dude attacking him, but it's okay because really, isn't running away from an assailant basically the same thing as a survival horror game? Because being good at pressing the right buttons and reacting in a game for sure maps one-to-one with actually physically escaping from and defeating an opponent, right?
It pushes suspension of disbelief far enough that by the time “Monokuma except a catgirl voiced by Mayumi Shintani” is giving her big speech in the auditorium, it had lost pretty much any and all goodwill it may have garnered to carry me through the cliche setup. Not even Shintani's distinctive nasally tones and irreverent performance could gain it back. Plus, the crowd scene confirmed my suspicions about Battle Game's visual panache, in that it had none. It looks like nothing so much as an early 00's digipaint production, with thick outlines, CG textures that slide across the characters' clothes as they move, too-glossy gradients, and off-model background characters that don't look like they were ever meant to be seen in high definition.
At this point in the writing of my review, my husband walked into the room and started a heated discussion with me about whether it's truly a death game story or if it's a just shonen tournament arc under all the death game generic markers, where the point is to find out what powers everyone has and see cool fights. While I strenuously disagree, if you approach the show through that lens without worrying about the plot, it's a bit more tolerable (it's still not very good). Here's the thing though: cool fights are only interesting to me within the context of an interesting story and characters I'm invested in. Akira stinks as a protagonist, the plot set-up really is nothing but death game cliches, and I have serious doubts about whether the visual direction is up to the task.
If there's any anime sub-genre that can rival Isekai for being 1000% played out and old hat, it's Death Games. Despite being a logistically complicated and difficult story to tell by default, it seems like every year we get at least one of these things trying to put their own spin on what the author thinks Battle Royale was about. Sometimes it's a video game. Sometimes it's a government conspiracy. And sometimes, like with Battle Game in 5 Seconds, they just replaced Monokuma with a VTuber voiced by Mayumi Shintani and called it a day.
Believe me, if you've seen any given Death Game scenario in any anime in the last ten years, you already know everything this premiere has to offer, only it was probably measurably better than what we have here. Akira is about as charmless a lead as you can get: a game-obsessed loner who talks exclusively in video game metaphors, even when he's being chased down by a crazed, masked killer. By the time he was commenting that he has to treat this threat like a Survival Horror game, I was actively wishing for him to bite it. The rest of the cast are cardboard cutouts, with the exception of death game host Mion, who is an even larger cardboard cutout who tries her best to do the menacing ringmaster shtick without much success. I know that having shallow or unlikable characters is a prerequisite for this kind of story, but it's remarkable how absolutely nobody in this premiere comes off as even slightly interesting. All that on top of the basic premise being so tired it's hibernating, and you have a show with almost negative amounts of appeal.
Then there's the production. Battle Game is, from I can tell, a co-production between three separate studios, two of which are relatively small and have rarely helmed full TV productions before now. That's already a recipe for disaster before you learn that both the credited Director and Chief Director have never actually lead a full season either. That alone marks this as a project scrapped together with spare parts in the dying throes of a production bubble, and it absolutely shows in the premiere. The action animation wavers between stilted and incomprehensible when it's not doing its best to not move at all. Character designs melt and mutate between shots, but are so dull that it's hard to notice if you're not paying close attention. Anything resembling a cool visual idea is rendered with all the amateurish flare of a student animation project with none of the charm.
That this is the first episode means things are almost certainly going downhill from here, so unless you love watching horrible animation limp onto your TV screen, you're better off not following this one. There's nothing in the story or characters or premise to make up for what is likely to be an awful visual experience, and you're honestly better off watching any of this series' obvious predecessors instead. Yes, even The Future Diary.
There are a few things that will keep me from watching more of this show, but the chief one is not the ridiculous premise, the skewed logic, or the half-assed character designs. No, it's that voice – the voice of Mion the magician/cat girl hits my ears like nails on a chalkboard, a knife on a porcelain plate, or that sound my dog makes before he throws up: it makes me want to not have ears. I'm not sure what makes it worse than any other role I've heard Mayumi Shintani in, but every single time Mion opened her mouth, I just wanted her to close it again.
As I said, though, that's just one of the issues plaguing this episode. Battle Game in 5 Seconds, or Battle in Five Seconds After Meeting according to the on-screen English, is only marginally more logical than dystopian soccer manga Blue Lock in that no one's parents signed off on them being a part of it. Instead, Akira, Ringo, Yuuri, and the others are all randomly selected people who have been registered as dead with the Japanese government so that Mion and her shady (but less irritating) partner-in-crime can use them as guinea pigs for some sort of augmented reality fighting game. Or at least, Mion claims they're all randomly selected – almost immediately Akira's situation gives the potential lie to that. Akira's a super gamer, as in it's all he does, even in class. He plays to distract himself from what is plainly a very unhappy family life; his handle is Key as in “latchkey kid,” but from the state of his home, it doesn't look like there are any adults present, at least not mentally. Another player, Shin, is shown in the opening theme to be a professional wrestler, while schoolgirl Yuuri…isn't liked by animals? Presumably that's meant to indicate something off about her. The point is that this feels much less random than Mion claims, and there's a decent chance that she not only chose people no one's likely to miss, at least on an emotional level, but also who she thinks she can best use in her sick little battle royale.
This perhaps isn't any sillier than any other story where the base premise is that people all have to fight each other. And maybe some of them really are dead – after Mion blows off Akira's arm, we do see scenes as if he's in a hospital before he wakes up in the auditorium for her spiel. But it's hard to feel much attachment to any of them or concern about their situation when it doesn't do much beyond the very basics for its viewers. We have hints about Akira's backstory, but we don't actually know anything that makes us want to root for him over his opponents unless you count the fact that he's the first character we meet. That his power is “Sophist,” meaning (in the show) that it's basically whatever he can convince someone else it is, doesn't speak all that well of the writing, because that's a cheat skill if ever I saw one.
Long story short, Battle Game in 5 Seconds doesn't do enough in its first episode to make itself stand out in any good way. It'd be one thing if it was just a little silly, but when you factor in Akira's power, the gimmicky character designs (the lingerie lady particularly stands out), and of course Mion's godawful voice, there just isn't anything here that entices me to recommend it.
I appreciate it when a series doesn't waste too much time getting to the point. True to its title, Battle Game in 5 Seconds gives us a scant few seconds to meet our protagonist, Akira, before it's off to the races. One second, he's an unusually intelligent and game-obsessed latchkey kid that's looking for his next entertainment fix, and then boom, a Frankenstein-looking son of a gun comes out of nowhere to commence with the battle gaming. Akira holds his own, too, thinking of the whole scenario like some sort of wigged-out survival horror simulation, but it isn't even another five seconds after he kills the thing that a mysterious cat-lady witch named Mion comes out of nowhere and blasts Akira's guts out.
This is where we get to the inevitable part of the premiere where the whole show stops in its tracks so a bunch of confused characters can stand around in a circle and have the rules of their imminent demises explained to them in excruciating detail. Even though this scene takes up fully half of Battle Game in 5 Seconds' first episode, I'll spare you the tedium of breaking it all down, because it isn't anything you haven't seen a dozen times before: Everyone's been teleported to a weird alternate dimension and given secret, gimmicky powers that they need to kill everyone else with, lest they be killed too. This is helped by the fact that every character, including Akira, seems to be mildly sociopathic, so there isn't any real drama or human emotion to be mined from the premise. It's just people with powers killing other people with powers. Presumably, there will be some fanservice sprinkled throughout to balance out the gore. You know, the usual.
To be frank, there isn't much more to say about the technical or artistic merits of this premiere. The show is being animated by three different studios (Synergy SP, Vega Entertainment, and Studio S-Cat), though the extra manpower doesn't look to have improved the series' meager production values any. The action follows the predictable pattern of having the main character meet a new foe, monologue to himself a bit while they duke it out, and then handily win the day with his nifty superpowers. Mion cackles and foreshadows throughout to break up the pace, and then it's off to the next fight. You know, the us—Wait. Sorry. Now I'm starting to repeat myself.
There are precisely two notable elements of this premiere, and they basically balance each other out in regard to quality. Mion is voiced by the inimitable Mayumi Shintani, who most folks from my generation will know as Haru from FLCL, though you youngsters will likely recognize her as that snarky tech expert from Promare. She's not really doing anything different from her usual shtick here as Mion, though something must be going on, because I found Mion to be almost unbearable to listen to. Given that she's the ostensible Big Bad of Battle Game in 5 Seconds, that's a mighty big red flag.
I will say, though, that Akira's power has a lot of potential, since his ability in battle will change depending on whatever his opponents think his power is. That's a cool variable to toss into the equation, though it only makes the show more interesting in an abstract sense. I still don't give a damn about the story or its characters, so I doubt I'll be going out of my way to check out Round 2 of this particular murder tourney.
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