King's Game The Animation
by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 9 of
King's Game The Animation ?
It's been a week, but my mind still keeps going back to King's Game's infamous Haircut Scene. It's just so perfectly emblematic of everything wrong with the show, from its out-of-nowhere appearance to its clumsy attempt at character pathos to its unintentionally hilarious presentation. That lightning-in-a-bottle absurdity also marks it as a sign of how watchable the show can be sometimes, compared to this week's episode that notably lacks that level of entertainment.
Structurally, this episode picks up right where that last one left off with its barbarous barbershop bombast, but tonally this episode of King's Game jumps off a cliff faster than Ria did after she caught fire in the flashback. Unlike the shifting implications of last week, Teruaki's plan to assign his accumulated negative points to Natsuko are spelled out as part of a ploy to recover the cell phones, as well as putting Aimi in the negatives as well. The show attempts to momentarily frame Teruaki as some noble hero, putting his hairdresser dream and life on the line to save all these kids who are likely going to die anyway, only to mess that up by having him aggrandize his scheme like a diet Light Yagami. This sudden odd move to make him sound like a maniacal schemer falls flat in the face of his plan being sound given how dangerous Natsuko is, and the effort to spin a more cynical tone into this episode permeates the rest of its story.
Natsuko's vaunted threat level really takes a hit in the first half of this episode. Not only does she completely fail to recognize the obvious friendship-test scenario that Aimi's negative point predicates, but despite being heralded as a hardened badass up until this point, she ends up being too squeamish to even break her fingers to offset her own points! The reasoning for this is purely so we can get the scene where she forcibly breaks Aimi's fingers to save her skin, emphasizing the twisted ‘friendship’ between the two.
Up until now, the gratuitous violence of King's Game had stayed at B-movie levels of schlock enough to keep it hilariously afloat above more off-putting carnality. This week, the show finally runs out of leeway. Natsuko pinning Aimi down and smashing her fingers is just gross and lame. It's such an obvious play for shock value that it becomes more off-putting than amusing. More frustrating is Natsuko's explanation that she's motivating Aimi to do her bidding by claiming that people will do anything if ‘pushed to the brink’, which mostly seems like a desperate excuse for terrible writing. Is her own warped worldview the reason Natsuko wasn't able to understand Aimi's reason for taking a negative point, or am I just giving this show way too much credit? Worse, now that the points between Teruaki and Aimi have canceled everything out, the whole game ends up being completely pointless, with no one ending getting killed this round.
That ultimate futility undermines most of this show's recent efforts. Aside from a couple of ultimately minor character deaths, Nobuaki's extended departure from the class to take a field trip to Yonaki Village has left us right back where we started, with the class just playing the Game together with hardly any new information gained or motivations updated. As these idiots take stock at a hospital for their self-inflicted hand wounds, the story rejects the very notion of anyone learning anything from the situation, with Natsuko's nihilistic pragmatism continuing unabated and Teruaki resolving to remain optimistic in the face of the group's abject failure to improve their situation. The class even falls right back into the status quo of looking to Nobuaki for guidance, despite still having no reason to believe that he has any idea how to save them. That issue is immediately reinforced when Teruaki gets killed anyway as a result of his catastrophic stupidity and Natsuko's ruthless cruelty. Always lock your phone, kids!
If there's something to be said for this episode of King's Game, it's that it finally achieves something akin to a consistent tone after nine weeks of the show's fumbling. Unfortunately, the depressive darkness and cruelty that envelopes this week just makes an already poor series simply unpleasant to watch. There are still some moments of unintentional dark levity, such as Teruaki's head suddenly falling off his inconsistently-censored neck wound, or his little buddy placing a hat on Teruaki's empty stump after his sanity has snapped. However those moments are too few and far between in an episode that seems to be largely desperate to convince us to finally take this show seriously.
Unfortunately for King's Game, we already know it doesn't hold up to scrutiny as a serious show. Some elements, like a few more implications of what went down in Natsuko's first Game, could merit interesting exploration in a series equipped to handle those ideas. Dark stories that use their bleakness can draw some meaning out of the lowest human moments. While I can certainly see that King's Game is shooting for that with this episode, it can only land on the most amateur-hour edginess instead. This is a feel-bad story with no reward.
King's Game The Animation is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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