The God of High School
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 5 of
The God of High School ?
“Ronde/hound” is devoted entirely to the God of High School preliminary finals match between Mori and Daewi, which is an especially heated bout on account of the brutal and needlessly cruel beating that Daewi dished out on Mira at the tail end of last week's disastrous wedding episode. The good news is that not only is the show back to doing what it does best, which is focusing on the action spectacle of the tournament itself, but MAPPA took an all-hands-on-deck approach to delivering some of the most eye-scorchingly gorgeous and well-choreographed animation of the season so far. This is the good stuff that you should be looking forward to when The God of High School cranks its dials all the way up to eleven.
Seriously, this entire review could be spent breaking down all of the awesome animation cuts and directorial choices we get throughout this fight, and it's a damned perfect showcase for the kind of crunchy and weighty one-on-one combat that MAPPA excels at putting together. The early fight begins with a flurry of quick but fluid strikes from each of the two fighters, and the show even has the courtesy to frame a lot of it in mid- and long-shots. A lot of series use distance as a way to mask limited animation by way of either rendering the action into abstract blurs or reducing the scope to fewer, simpler movements. Here, though, the increased screen real estate is used properly: To give the audience a full few of the fighters' skills without screwing up the pacing with sloppy editing and janky camera movements.
In a live-action film, especially ones with skilled martial artists in front of the camera, this is often used as a way to show off the authenticity of the fights, since actors have to actually be able to do the moves in full frame, and it becomes harder to use obscuring angles or stunt-doubles as easy crutches. These obviously aren't the same concerns an animated martial arts fight scene has to deal with, but the techniques have the similar effect of highlighting the authentic skill of the people making it all happen; it's just that, in this case, the stars are the animators and storyboarders. Even when Mori and Daewi start relying on more superhuman acrobatics and flashy displays of martial arts powers, the movement of their bodies and the rhythm of the battle remain at the center of the audience's focus, at least most of the time.Once the battle starts, “Ronde/hound” only cuts away from it to provide more context for Daewi's emotional state, and this is where the episode doesn't work nearly as well, and that's because GoH's character and narrative writing just kind of sucks. For one, Mira's dark and overly brutal defeat was apparently just a cheap way to get her in the same hospital where Daewi's buddy Seungtae is, so she can conveniently be around when Seungtae kicks the bucket and deliver his final note to his friend. This right here is a perfect example of really lame writing choices that could have been so much better if the show just took the time to develop its story and cast more thoroughly. Imagine how much more emotional weight both Mira and Mori's fights against Daewi would have been if they all felt like genuine friends beforehand, and the other two knew about Daewi's goal of saving Seungtae. It would be so interesting if Mori and Mira had to weigh their own personal quests against something their new friend holds so dear; instead, Mori and Mira have no idea why Daewi is acting like such a tool, and the whole matter is eventually forgotten anyway.
In addition to relegating Mira to the role of Plot Device Girl, “Rone/hound” also wastes a bunch of time by cutting away to flashbacks to both Daewi's delinquent childhood and the arrangement he made with Mujin to push Seungtae's treatment up should Daewi win the prelims. All of this rigamarole amounts to very little at all, in the end, because learning that Deawi used to be a street fighting punk doesn't make him any more interesting, and we never get any idea of why Seungtae was such an important friend outside of…well, the show just insists that he was a real good guy, okay? Plus, the episode chops all of these flashbacks up and uses this very melodramatic score to constantly interrupt the fight, in an effort to make it all feel more meaningful and whatnot. As a rule, I tend to dislike when fight scenes get their pacing ruined with flashbacks that could have just been told in order, before the fight, since more context is almost always a good thing. Some great series and films can get away with the non-linear flashbacks because the writing is strong all around, but it never works when a story is trying to make a weak scene stronger by shoving it in between a bunch of punches and kicks.
So, once Seungtae's treacly narration kicks in, the background dissolves, and Mori and Daewi's strikes become emboldened by ink-brush flourishes and even cleaner animation. Did I find myself swept up in the drama of two young men embracing the fight for their own sakes, just like Seungtae wanted for his old chum? No. To be honest, I'm impressed by how little I care about God of High School's world and characters, even halfway through the season. There is surely some ambitious Street Fighter/One Piece crossover fanfiction out there that is more interesting than what we've gotten from GoH up until now. The spectacle is first-class, however, and “Ronde/hound” ends up being tremendously entertaining in spite of the story it is trying to tell, not because of it.
Odds and Ends
• So is Daewi just over his buddy's death, now? Because damn if that entire subplot didn't feel almost as pointless as Mira's Bogus Wedding Adventure from last week.
• Also, Mira apparently couldn't beat Daewi because she was just too weak (which is just stupid), or maybe because she was still injured from the wedding battle (which is still pretty stupid), but does that explain why Daewi completely mopped the floor with her? Or why she didn't get some kind of replacement sword to use, since, you know, her entire fighting style is based on having one?
• Also, what was the point of Mori eating that magic-tainted fruit two weeks ago? Are we to thing that he wouldn't be able to do a bunch of the superhuman stuff he does without it? What about Daewi? Does he also have magic fighting powers, and if so, how much of the crazy visual touches we see in this fight should we take literally? Why is any of this even happening? Who is Mujin, what is up with that cult, why does the world not seem in any way phased by the presence of giant evil ghost Stand things and teenagers who fight like Dragon Ball Z charatcers!?
• Don't even get me started on the existence of the nanomachines that the GoH tournament can apparently give away like candy, despite being a world-changing that would change the way human society functions for the rest of time. Man, this show is dumb.
The God of High School is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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