Darwin's Game
Episode 1-2-3

by Lynzee Loveridge,

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Darwin's Game ?

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Darwin's Game ?

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Darwin's Game ?

Death game anime have a bad rap. I understand that B-movie level logic interspersed with crazy personalities and buckets of blood is not everyone's cup of tea, but I think you have to be in the right frame of mind to enjoy anime like Darwin's Game. Sure, the set-up is often contrived to get the gears in motion, but I think we've been approaching shows like this all wrong. Death game anime are like roller coasters. You know when you strap in that you're going to get thrown around at high speeds, but the best roller coasters are the ones that catch you off guard with a sudden drop or a corkscrew into a dark tunnel. The worst thing a death game anime can be is predictable, everything else is just part of the ride.

I preface this because explaining the first double-length episode of Darwin's Game sounds totally bonkers. You have to accept that a mobile game app could somehow unlock a supernatural power in its real players and, despite most of the players probably getting sucked in by accident like Kaname, they quickly adapt to the consequences of their kill-or-be-killed scenario. Or, as we've seen already, they players just happen to be pretty screwy to begin with. You could say as much about Shuka, Kaname's enemy turned ally. After losing two classmates to the game while trying to survive being attacked by a dude in a baseball mascot costume, Kaname meets Shuka. Wearing a multi-tiered dress and wielding chains like they're her own appendages, Shuka doesn't trust Kaname initially because he's a noob and doesn't know how his powers function. They come to an understanding after he manages to get the drop on her and now Shuka wants nothing more than to practice making babies build a guild of fighters with Kaname.

Kaname's power, while not as intimidating as Shuka's, has a lot of strategic applications. It's easiest to explain through reference of a popular franchise, you might have heard of it, called Fate/stay night? See, in the Fate series there's a red-haired guy named Shirō Emiya who uses magic to manifest objects he's (to keep it simple) memorized the make-up of. Kaname can do that. But he's in no way a skilled fighter and the game is set up to prevent players from hiding out for too long. Winning matches earns points and they be can spent to buy "items" that will keep you of random battles for a set period of time, but they won't save Kaname if he comes face to face with a player. He can also trade them in for cash, adding another potential motivation for other participants.

Also there's a turf war going on in the background between local yakuza, an upstart gang of players called the Aces, and uh, a boxing club.

Darwin's Game already seems a little too interest in the technical aspects of "fight me or die." For instance, if Shuka and Kaname are going to make a guild, he'll have to level up his rank. Nevermind that Shuka could do this as a higher ranked player, starting a family is a man's job and Kaname just sort of accepts this while I assume understanding the implication that he's going to have to defeat (or kill) more people. Before Shuka and Kaname can get a kill count going, an in-game event puts all the local players on high alert. The "treasure hunt" teleports the selected players to Shibuya where they must collect at least three rings in 24 hours or face certain death. The event drags Kaname, Shuka, the Aces leader Wang, info-trader Rein the Analyst, and many other players into the match.

This is where Darwin's Game introduces its next silly convenience; who or whatever is controlling the game is able to emit a brain-controlling signal to make sure all necessary bystanders exit the area. I don't know if you've been to Shibuya, but that's a lot of people. Only someone with a lot of cash, a wanton disregard for human life, and access to advanced tech could pull it off. Enter the puppeteers of Darwin's Game; a secret casino run by the very wealthy and the bets are made on players lives. A woman named Themis is in charge of the casino but the series is still keeping some cards close to its chest. Entertaining the wealthy is evidently not the only purpose of Darwin's Game.

Meanwhile Shuka and Kaname are split up after the teleportation and Kaname finds himself trapped in a hotel under the control of The Florist, a dude who kills people with plants. He and Rein, an expert in fighting another day, decide to stick together to escape as defeated players become reanimated into botany-brained zombies.

Darwin's Game will have to keep reinventing its mayhem if it wants to stay entertaining. It's already working at a disadvantage with Kaname who in the first three episodes has slowly devolved into a viewer stand-in with little personality or ingenuity. Most of the characters introduced so far fail to be particularly interesting; Shuka is no Yuno Gasai. The question is whether the anime will step-up its game and bring some really interesting twists during Sigil matches. So far there's a wide variety of of powers but the show needs to amp up how these powers are used.

Rating:

Darwin's Game is currently streaming on FUNimation.


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