King's Game The Animation
by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 11 of
King's Game The Animation ?
It's been kind of a tough time for everyone lately, so thank goodness the old King's Game rollercoaster hit a definite upswing this week. It does take a moment to get going, with the show stuck in a recap of the cliffhanger with Nobuaki seeming to sacrifice himself for Riona. But the instant it deflates that with a last-minute revelation that Masatoshi miraculously staved off drowning long enough to get the King-inflicted suffocation (that or the King's breaking his fatality rules for dramatic convenience), you're able to breathe a sigh of relief that the show has gotten over its ill-advised attempt to be taken seriously.
The production values alone degrade to goofier than usual this episode, which is right on target for what little entertainment fuel this show still has in the tank. There's a bizarre cut to Nobuaki and Riona having changed locations and clothes before they debate the complicated ethics of sacrificing yourself to save someone, and then we get a half-assed heartwarming montage of them enjoying their morbid stroll together. The idea that we're supposed to buy them actually bonding over running for eight hours with the prospect of dropping dead on the line honestly doesn't stretch credulity any more than the rest of the show's nonsense. So when the time limit rolls around again and the dumb duo's deliberations devolve into playing a self-inflicted game of rock-murder-scissors, before just running past each other in the opposite direction a lot, it's stupid in the almost fun way that made this series watchable back at the beginning. And at least we get to see Nobuaki get kicked in the balls this week.
The show's cheap execution can't even be escaped in its cop-out character deaths either, as it turns out Aimi ran even further the other way past them so she could be the one to die. It's supposed to be some kind of penance for helping Natsuko and then letting Nobuaki carry her part of the way, but since all the drama got used up on Nobuaki and Riona's petty antics, Aimi's death feels lacking in build-up or impact. It doesn't help that this supposedly somber moment results in another inappropriately hilarious beheading death. As an aside, have you noticed how King's Game has utterly run out of creative deaths by this point? That was supposed to be one of its big selling points!
It's all a poor excuse for pathos, but then the show reminds us how hard it can really stumble by taking us back to that god-forsaken flashback of Nobuaki's first Game! Because this story was actually the previous book in this series' source material, not intended to be presented as a broken-up flashback, the way it just jumps back into this part, with Ria leaping to her fiery death before the final order comes in, cranks the pacing and intensity up to eleven immediately. It's jarringly slapped into the middle of this episode, just one more reminder of why this format was such a bad idea. And while Chiemi's obvious sacrifice is an astoundingly limp finish to a story that swells with an attempt at bombast, the note Nobuaki leaves us on is actually compelling. Not knowing whether he chose to continue the game or accept a punishment is almost interesting by the standards of this show's suspense. If anything, that's the biggest problem with this otherwise ridiculous series; it's so close to good ideas but keeps making bad narrative choices.
For instance, right after teasing us with the compelling mystery of Nobuaki's choice, we jump to Natsuko going full Wacky Races on the other participants instead. Seriously, her initial plan is to flip a road side around to lead to a trap she prepared beforehand, Dirk Dastardly style. While it's annoying to abandon the one interesting plot point this show has ever conceived, at least it reminds us why Natsuko is such an appreciated commodity. Her ridiculously obvious sinister shenanigans result in the other kids comically failing to find their way up the mountain, even rounding back to attempting some sort of point as she works to impress her twisted social Darwinism on a barely-introduced girl named Rina.
The problem is not just that the episode's lowered production values make Rina's breakdown (complete with goofy zombie apparitions of her betrayed friends) come across more silly than scary. It's also that Natsuko had no reason to try to mentally intimidate Rina anyway, since it's impossible to predict that Rina would just freak out and jump off a cliff instead anyway. So why didn't Natsuko just kill Rina the old-fashioned way? The obvious answer is that the series really wanted to hammer home what the King's Game does to a person's psyche, but we've already spent eleven episodes with Natsuko making that clear, so a low-rent version of her who doesn't go all the way is just superfluous. It's just another case of the show being edgy for edge's sake.
But King's Game failing to execute on its ideas is nothing new at this point. Instead, this episode at least rises back up to the level of ‘amusingly terrible’ again. Rather than depressing, the turns to Baby's First Nihilism are so ham-fisted and impossible to take seriously that it's a relief. I really hope this is the tone this series manages to ride into its last episode, for all our sakes.
King's Game The Animation is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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