Review

by James Beckett,

High-Rise Invasion Season 1

Synopsis:
High-Rise Invasion Season 1
One day, without any warning, high school student Yuri Honjo is transported to a mysterious realm made up of an expansive labyrinth of skyscrapers, as far as the eye can see, with an alien tower looming at the center of it all. Yuri is not alone in this strange place, however; the good news is that her reliable big brother, Rika, is there too, though the siblings are separated by the endless mass of high-rises. The bad news is that, in addition to the other human survivors scattered about the realm, there are also dozens of deadly hunters donned in creepy masks and armed to the teeth. Known as “Masks” by the survivors and “Angels” by the denizens of the realm, they won't directly kill their prey, though they will push them to such depths of despair that the survivors see only one way out: Suicide. Why were these people suddenly spirited away to this awful place of death? What purpose do these murderous Masks serve? With the help of fellow survivor Mayuko Nise, Yuri intends to find her brother and uncover the answers to these mysteries, and she'll do whatever it takes to defeat the enemies that would try to stop them.
Review:

Here is everything you need to know about the tone that High-Rise Invasion is shooting for throughout the duration of its first season: At one point, around Episode 7, one of the disposable side characters has been captured by a beefy villain who has creatively been named “Swimmer Mask” – because he's only wearing a speedo, and is a swimmer, you see. One of High-Rise Invasion's villainesses takes some time to taunt and step on the poor guy, and he glances up her skirt, getting one wistful utterance of “Panties…” before the villain stomps his skull into pulp. The blood is bright neon red, as if the fellow's body was filled with glow stick goop, and you can even see bits of his skull stuck to the heels of the lady's shoes. Like every other instance of gruesome murder that occurs in High-Rise Invasion (and there are a lot of them), this sequence is presented with all of the gravitas and severity of a Saturday morning cartoon.

For many, I suspect High-Rise Invasion's gleeful indulgence in over-the-top violence and crass exploitation will simply be too much of something that will turn them off of the series completely: Too silly, too gross, too stupid, too horny, too nonsensical — take your pick. For those viewers who fall neatly into the category of “hormone-addled teenagers that are a bit too hopped up on Tarantino flicks and their dad's old issues of Maxim”, though, Netflix's adaptation of Tsuina Miura and Takahiro Ōba's manga has a lot to offer. I don't say that as an insult, either – this is the kind of show that will also appeal to any man or woman that still possesses the spirit of their goofy-ass pubescent selves, especially if every so often that spirit needs to be let out to run amok a bit.

Let me be absolutely clear: this is not a show for anyone that wants their anime to be particularly original or surprising, or even halfway intelligent. High-Rise Invasion is Dumb-With-A-Capital-“D”, and it isn't all that ashamed to flaunt it. If anything, my biggest gripe about the series is how the ever-present mysteries of its plot and setting can get in the way of the show just being fun, shut-off-your-brain entertainment. At no point throughout this first season's twelve episodes did I care even remotely about the mystery of the High-Rise Realm, who or what is responsible for bringing our heroes there, any of the increasingly convoluted lore and backstory for the Angels/Masks, or the “God Candidate” humans that can learn to control them. This might partially be attributed to the somewhat clunky localization that can drag down the English dub; for instance, instead of using the subtitle track's much snappier term for its super-powered human test subjects — the aforementioned “God Candidates” — the English dub has everyone constantly referring to “the ones closer to God”, which is supremely awkward to hear, especially when it is repeated close to five thousand times before the season is done.

The story is littered with clumsiness like that throughout, even in the original Japanese. Power-ups and plot beats occur based more on when it is convenient for the plot than what would make for the most interesting story; villains and heroes are dropped into the narrative with little fanfare or consideration for pacing; there is usually very little suspense or tension, in spite of the many murders, because it is usually very obvious when Yuri and Mayuko are going to win the day. Outside of the fact that the writing just isn't of enough quality to make the show work as a compelling mystery or thriller, the pacing is pretty wonky, too. There are three sets of protagonists that we follow: Yuri and Mayuko, a rouge Angel called Sniper Mask who has teamed up with the ditzy Kuon Shinzaki, and the group of survivors that have teamed up with Rika. These characters are all split up for fully half of the season, if not longer, and the story only begins to pick up once their paths begin to intertwine. In fact, up until that point, I was convinced that not even my inner 10th-grade weeb would be enough to win me over to High-Rise Invasion's charms.

Then, a funny thing happened: The writing didn't get any smarter, and Studio Zero-G's middling production values didn't suddenly begin to impress me, either; yet all the same, I found myself starting to like High-Rise Invasion. Don't get me wrong, the show never magically leaps over the bar of shlocky pulp junk food that it set for itself, but it manages to settle into a pretty entertaining groove all the same. I think the credit for this can fully be given to the series' likeable leads. I'm an easy mark, okay? Yuri and Mayuko are both endearingly stupid dorks whose relationship gives off incredibly unsubtle Big Gay Energy™, and they murder people real good together, too. I also ended up coming around on the adventures of Sniper Mask and Kuon, who have their own absurd and surprisingly sweet thing going on that kept me invested, even when the machinations of the plot threatened to harsh High-Rise Invasion's good vibes. I can't say I got around to giving a damn about whatever Rika was up to throughout the season, but two out of three is fine by me.

Credit should go to the show's capable English voice cast, too, who manage to rise above the clumsy localization and inject the perfect amount of sincerity into their performances, even when you can tell that absolutely none of the actors are taking High-Rise Invasion all that seriously (which is a good thing). Suzie Yeung and Jennie Kwan have excellent chemistry as Yuri and Mayuko, and while it took me a while to figure out exactly what Jonah Scott was doing with his take on Sniper Mask, I came to really dig it. I don't know if this will make any sense, but the guy almost sounds like he's delivering all of his lines while driving around the city in a very cool sports car, slightly confused about where to go next, but down for whatever weird shit might pop up along the way. Stephanie Sheh has maybe the most thankless role as Kuon, who is exactly the kind of hyper-bubbly character I am predisposed to find annoying, but Sheh acquits herself well, especially when the character is occasionally required to go into a more serious mode.

High-Rise Invasion is not a particularly good mystery, nor is it very scary, and it has exactly zero insightful things to say about the human condition, or people's capacity for cruelty and kindness, or whatever cockamamie themes it might be reaching for with its larger story. As a blood-soaked mid-budget action-comedy sprung straight out of the collective sketchbook of every young otaku that ever binged too much Highschool of the Dead, though, the show ain't half bad. There's a lot of room for improvement when it comes to the world-building and development of the villains and whatnot, but I'm down for the simple pleasure of watching two goofy lesbians that are altogether too comfortable with slicing people in half wreak havoc across an ocean of alien office buildings for another season or two.

Grade:
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : B-
Animation : C+
Art : C+
Music : B-

+ A funny and entertaining throwback to the panty-obsessed gore-fests of yesteryear, Yuri and Mayuko make for a killer couple, solid English dub performances…
…though the script and plotting are very hit-or-miss, mediocre production values, crass humor and violence will be a turn-off for many

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Production Info:
Director: Masahiro Takata
Series Composition: Touko Machida
Music:
tatsuo
Youichi Sakai
Original creator:
Tsuina Miura
Takahiro Ōba
Character Design: Yōichi Ueda
Art Director: Junki Taniguchi
Chief Animation Director:
Yūsuke Isouchi
Yōichi Ueda
Yuji Ushijima
Sound Director: Masahiro Takata
Director of Photography: Kosuke Tanaka

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High-Rise Invasion (ONA)

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