King's Game The Animation
Episodes 1-3

by Christopher Farris,

How would you rate episode 1 of
King's Game The Animation ?

How would you rate episode 2 of
King's Game The Animation ?

How would you rate episode 3 of
King's Game The Animation ?

King's Game is terrible. Terribly entertaining, that is! That bad joke is about the level of subversive cleverness you can expect from this series. King's Game The Animation is a cheesy B-movie in anime form that's arrived just in time for Halloween, heralded by buckets of crappy-looking blood and a Lostprophets-ass theme song.

On paper, King's Game's concept is deadly serious social manipulation, as a group of high schoolers are sent text messages from a Saw-wannabe ‘King’ in an effort to divide, distress, and eventually kill all of them. The show even attempts a clever narrative spin by showing main character Nobuaki's previous King's Game in flashbacks parallel to the current second round. Make no mistake though, King's Game is a distinctly dumb series, falling somewhere along the lines of Final Destination in its brand of over-the-top murder-porn cheese. There have already been multiple gruesome deaths (including an odd fixation on people evacuating their bladders after hanging themselves), as well as setting up some largely implied sexual manipulation.

It's hard to tell how purposeful the tone of this series is supposed to be. The actual writing of King's Game seems bad in a straightforward unintentional, with concepts being poorly explained or characters making stupid decisions for seemingly no reason. The class's collective opinion of Nobuaki turns on a dime multiple times due less to his own actions and more because of how the plot needs them to treat him at that moment. The group's gradual acceptance that the King's Game is real gets protracted past what you could expect of the audience's attention span in both its past and present versions. Almost none of the characters have any lasting impact beyond when they're actively doing things onscreen. On top of that, the technical merits are pretty low, looking decent in stills but with almost no good animation. As a production, King's Game should be a pretty low-tier drag.

Except that King's Game is also hilarious. I need to stress at this point that this isn't the kind of bad show I would elevate to the level of ‘so bad it's good’. Rather, instead of being entertaining in its failures, King's Game just executes classic schlocky heights in the most entertaining way possible despite its poor execution in other regards. Every new plot twist is blatantly telegraphed by the show before it happens and the characters all react in stupefied shock. There's no way the series could deliver the shock of Nobuaki's school-chum hanging himself after "stepping out for a drink" in any serious manner, so instead it plays to absurdity with ridiculous canted angle shots of his discovery, and a needlessly detailed inclusion of his strained expression, tongue lolling out of his face. The scene of Nobuaki screaming then hangs around like a ridiculous punchline. The third episode's flashback content ups the ante even further, as a post-classmate-death chat about Naoya's dating prospects obviously precludes an order that will force him to hook up with Nobuaki's girlfriend. Is your friendship strong enough to ask your girlfriend to save your best friend's life by having sex with his unconscious body? King's Game is asking the real questions.

The best example of this show's comic absurdity so far is Natsuko. From her cold-open cliffhanger line of “I'm going to DIE if I don't have sex with Teruaki?!” you know you're in for a treat, but things get even better as the episode progresses. The show's cloying use of clichés made it obvious from the beginning that the too-nice Natsuko had some sort of dark secret, with the seeming likelihood that she was the King behind the game in the first place. But that would have been too easy a reveal for this series, so it leapt at the chance to show its real hand immediately. Mid-argument over the King-mandated sex act, Natsuko's voice drops a couple of octaves, her personality does a 180, and she starts stripping in the middle of the field. There's a bunch of confusion as she reveals herself to be a manipulative social Darwinist, who's basically here to screw up all of Nobuaki's plans for uniting the class and surviving the King's Game. The ridiculous nature of this reveal, the amusingly effective voice acting, and the multiple shots of her standing around in a bra advocating Nobuaki's murder while her classmates whisper that “She seems kinda different now, huh?” all result in a laugh-out-loud scene. It's a baffling plot twist, the best kind a show like this can hope for.

This all makes King's Game kind of a tough nut to crack in terms of grading. On a technical level, this is not a good show. When it isn't delivering outrageous plot twists in the most hilariously stupid ways possible, it's a dumb and cynical slog. But once it gets going, you find yourself laughing and unable to look away from whatever happens next. I've had a great time watching it so far. This show's goal seems to be creating the kind of rollercoaster that gives the audience whiplash so bad that their only hope to correct it is to get right back on the ride and hope it whips them in the other direction to even out. It's firmly cheesy deep-cable-TV-movie schlock that succeeds as raw entertainment where it fails at everything else.

Unlike the stupid kids in its cast, King's Game The Animation actually has a hope for survival. It has to keep the audience interested with increasingly stupider twists and turns. So long as it keeps avoiding being boring, its multitude of other sins can't fully catch up with its momentum. I can't help but recommend you check it out, so long as you've got a strong stomach for cheesy sex, violence, and stupidity.

Grade: C-

King's Game The Animation is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.


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