The God of High School
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 10 of
The God of High School ?
All of the problems The God of High School has encountered in its mad dash to cram as many manhwa chapters as possible into a baker's dozen worth of episodes are exacerbated by the fact that it is essentially two different shows fighting for the spotlight. For the most part, GoH has been an incredibly run-of-the-mill martial arts tournament story that is frequently jazzed up by powers and transformations handed down by legendary beings from all over the world. Sometimes, though, GoH also wants to be a heavy hitting Fate of Mankind Battle Anime, with religious conspiracies and ancient orders vying for the power of the warrior known as the Key, who will do…something. Despite how often the exposition would make you think that these two halves of the plot are fundamentally related, it has been almost impossible up to this point to even articulate what the fighting tournament has to do with the Evil Plot to Take Over the World, and vice-versa.
Nowhere is this clearer than in “oath/meaning”, an episode that is desperately trying to tie all of its disparate threads together into something even halfway coherent. That this is the first time the audience has been given even a morsel of information about Nox's grand plan says a lot about how successful it is. Sure, it's nice to know that Nox is specifically out to destroy every shred of existence or power that pertains to any god except their own, including the charyeok users that channel their abilities on Earth (I'm still a little fuzzy as to whether Nox is working for the capital-G God of the Abrahamic tradition, though I'm sure it doesn't really matter). That kind of basic understanding of the central conflict of the story would have been a really great thing to have months ago, though, and like everything else that is plot related in The God of High School, it's either too-little-too-late, or too-much-too-late.
Take every single scene that follows Mujin and the other Commissioners as they get caught up in a surprisingly apocalyptic-feeling battle in the city, while the rest of the fighters just do their thing in the tournament. It's a wildly over-the-top affair, with another giant Heaven-sword piercing the sky and threatening to destroy Seoul, a cavalcade of monks performing a power boosting ritual while a guy in a hat does some charyeok spirit summoning to stave off the threat, and a cameo appearance by an ominous shadow monster that I guess is God? It's so, so much, and all of it is utter nonsense as far as audience investment is concerned. You could have told me that Mujin was out with an army of Magic Hamburglars to do battle against an Evil Sky Grimance in the McDonalds Wars, and not only would I have believed you, but I might have actually been more interested in watching that go down, if only for the chance to see Mujin bust out a Ronald McDonald Stand as his charyeok power, or something.So the show has not succeeded one bit at marrying the tournament story it has been focusing on to all of the nonsense surrounding it, but at the very least the tournament story gives us a feast for the eyes in the martial arts animation department. We get some more backstory for Ipyo and his cadre of fighters, too, not that any of it amounts to much: Seungah is a buff woman who gets way too little screen time, and her determination to fight is about all we get so far as her personality is concerned; Ipyo, in addition to that whole deal about being abandoned and meeting Mori's grandpa, has a brother named Seungyon who got his leg busted up by Jegal. Ipyo is likeable enough, though I don't think I need to point out how lazy it feels for GoH to be using “injured loved one in the hospital” as the key motivator for two different protagonists.
But like I said, we're not here for the backstory or the script or any of that stuff; we're here because this episode's two bouts showcase what is probably the best hand-to-hand combat that the show has put to animation to date. Daewi's match with Seungah is the lesser of the two, since it is obviously just an appetizer for Mori's match with Ipyo, but the fidelity of the animation is still ridiculous. I have to assume that a lot of it was rotoscoped, because the specific parries and counters that Daewi and Seungah both get in just look so damned intricate and clean. Daewi also displays a bit of icy charyeok power too, which continues GoH's practice of granting its characters convenient powers boosts whenever the hell it feels like it.
That same sloppy writing threatens to undermine the Mori/Ipyo fight, especially because it plays up the scene as being so especially dramatic and engaging when it really isn't. Ipyo goes on and on about Mori's three weak points: That he is bad at close quarters combat, apparently; that he puts too much strain on his body with his techniques, and that he telegraphs his moves too early. Ipyo displays quite the advantage for the majority of the fight, but then Mori addresses all of these issues by copying Mira and Daewi's own martial arts and using them against Ipyo. That Mori can perfectly adapt other magic martial arts to his own is met with little more than mild surprise from his friends, because why not? The one rule of GoH is that its main characters will invariably succeed, and the show is perfectly happy to spring whatever made up contrivances it needs to in order to make that happen, foreshadowing and build-up be damned. It's hard to get too mad when the fight is so much fun to watch, though. The complex and fluid animation isn't reserved just for the occasional close-up cut or anything; from beginning to end, the whole match between Mori and Ipyo is a blast to watch, even when their silly powers and lame monologues would otherwise deflate the excitement.
We shouldn't need to give up on the story in order to enjoy the mindless spectacle, and that's why GoH continues to be a pretty bad show, all things considered. Bad shows can still have good episodes, though, as “oath/meaning” proves. It may be stupid beyond all rational understanding, but when the production values, direction, and even the voice performances are all keyed into the specific levels of hype that GoH has been trying to maintain for ten episodes straight now, and you finally surrender any desire to care about or make sense of the plot or the characters, it can be kind of fun. Mori can use everyone's powers, Ipyo has transformed into some kind of kitsune or something, and God is literally trying to stab all of Korea in the face. If nothing else, I am morbidly curious to see where all this can possibly go next.
The God of High School is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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