Battle Game in 5 Seconds
by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 1 of
Battle Game in 5 Seconds ?
How would you rate episode 2 of
Battle Game in 5 Seconds ?
There's something funny about Battle Game in 5 Seconds, and I'm not sure if it's intentional or not. The first episode seems as straightforward as its title would suggest: We've got our lead character Akira, whose entire personality is that he is A Gamer, he gets into a fight with a stranger with no explanation, then is conscripted into an entire super-powered fight club with only slightly more explanation. The base spectacle of death game stories like this is seeing how powers with differing degrees of esotericism interact and allow our heroes to come out on top, so it's not necessarily a bad thing that Battle Game seems to initially set out to excise boring middlemen like 'plot' and 'character development' so we can just cut to the chase of seeing how Akira uses his complex powers of convincing people to come out ahead against a guy with the expectedly basic first-episode enemy power of, apparently, turning a stick into a sword. Boom, dusted, let's settle in for twelve episodes of hopefully increasingly interesting knockoff Stand battles otherwise devoid of context, Mayumi Shintani is here, this could work.
Except then the second episode wheels around to another lead character to follow in Yuuri, and does basically the opposite of how it tried to draw us in with that first episode. Huge swaths of this episode are devoted to detailing Yuuri's past, how it ties in with her worldview, and setting up the goal she's going to be striving towards in living through this show's dedicated tournament arc. It's perhaps precluded a bit as the episode starts, spending a solid two minutes re-explaining Akira's powers from the previous episode, letting us know we're going to be getting into some details with this one. But it just ends up reminding us of the odd inversion of priorities we're seeing between the characters and situations between these episodes, with all of Yuuri's build-up in service of revealing her amazingly interesting power of...super strength.
Again, that's not necessarily bad; it's just odd. Funny, as I said, that Yuuri gets more background information imparted to endear her to us than the ostensible main character. Hell, her opponent in the second episode also gets a full-flashback section detailing his backstory and motivations, and he's a pedophile murderer (that is, a pedophile who is also a murderer, not someone who murders pedophiles), which is still more than Akira's gotten so far. The obvious answer to this characterization conundrum is that Akira being an antisocial video-game obsessive is supposed to mark him as the self-insert cipher for this show's intended audience to project onto, so further definition is unnecessary and would just get in the way of those kids at home imagining all the doubtlessly cool ways they'd make use of his unique ability. However, that just means that if you aren't one of the Akiras in the audience, any focus on him is going to come off as tedious in the face of the other sides of this story that feel like they had a modicum of effort expended on concocting them.
The other issue, then, is that for as much space as they let it take up in the second episode, Yuuri's backstory still isn't all that clever or compelling. It's supposed to be wrapped up in a formative hatred of 'random chance' that instead is exemplified mostly in the unavoidable happenings of life. Though again, there's something funny about the presumptive lesson Yuuri could have taken from the repeated issues of her stalker scenario being "Never help anyone". Everything surrounding that is just the most expected kind of tragedy porn, and while part of me appreciates how little time Yuuri has for much of this anime-drama bullshit, it doesn't make it any more entertaining when we still have to take time to detail how rotten her luck is to make us root for her. Again, she's fighting a pedophile murderer; she's basically the hero by default in this scenario, and all the overt explanations and unnecessary flashbacks don't make it more satisfying when she finally deploys the most basic superpower ever to break that guy into bits.
If we're on the subject of the fights themselves, I guess we gotta take a moment to talk about how this thing looks, anyway. Obviously the original manga was popular enough that they knew someone had to make an anime of it (to say nothing of apparently being notable enough to be voted in for streaming reviews, so thanks for that, all you lovely people), but no one wanted to be responsible for the whole show. So the anime version of Battle Game is a co-production between Synergy SP and Vega Entertainment, with CGI animation from Studio A-Cat. Now I know what you're thinking: "This show has CGI animation? Where?!". I'm just going to assume some of the fancier digital effects for things like fire and explosions seen so far necessitated the inclusion of a whole third studio in this project, because the others barely seem to be handling what else is here. There is honestly a decent amount of animation for things like character movement – it never looks like a broken slideshow or anything. But the characters themselves always seem to be barely hanging onto their models, coloring and textures are cheap and sloppy most of the time, and there's this kind of sickly patina overlaid on the screen most of the time that largely reminds me, alarmingly, of the ol' GoHands color filters. That is not a good association, but at least it portends the possibility that this might turn out to be a fun show to watch fall apart in real-time.
Because otherwise I really can't say where this series might be going. It took two full episodes to show us what it thinks the most effective deployment of backstory informing battle content looks like, and what we got there was Storytelling 101. We're at least already moving on from the 1-on-1 battles into a team format, which could necessitate a little more complexity, except the sword-stick guy from the first episode is back and on Akira and Yuuri's team, so how dynamic does it fully intend to get? It's a hard call if this show's at its 'best' when it's making an effort or just screwing around, exemplified in a scene late in Episode 2 where Mayumi Shintani's character randomly appears to seemingly read Akira's mind, drop the dramatic plot-twist that the characters' powers run on the lifespans of the people on Earth, only to walk it back with "Ha ha, just kidding! Unless…" That kind of juxtaposition, same as the wildly out of synch characterization prioritizations so far, makes me feel like Battle Game just right and truly does not give a fuck at this point, and compelled as I am to watch it to see where it might go next (as well as because, you know, it's my job) I'm not sure how much I'm supposed to care either.
Battle Game in 5 Seconds is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Chris is a freelance writer who appreciates anime, action figures, and additional ancillary artistry. He can be found staying up way too late posting screencaps on his Twitter.
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