The God of High School
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 8 of
The God of High School ?
Is The God of High School's story even salvageable at this point? It's a question that feels both premature and very timely. After all, anything could technically happen in the last thirteen episodes, and it is still possible that the back half of the story could make such a turnaround as to completely change my opinion of the show. Then again, if a show is still barely scraping together the fundamentals of its basic premise with less than half of a season left to go, I don't know if we should be putting our faith in The God of High School's ability to be anything other than The God of High School.
All of this is to say that, while “close/friend” makes some admirable strides towards presenting a story that is something close to coherent, it ends up hamstrung by the fact that the anime has spent months training its audience to expect as little as possible from any material it gives us that isn't explicitly about people hitting each other really, really hard. Mori, for example, is given the most characterization that he's been afforded basically all series long, as we see that his “Goku-But-Somehow-Even-Dumber” persona can indeed be rattled once he learns that his Grandpa Taejin might be in mortal danger. His desire to become stronger has context beyond simply wanting to be stronger, and his relationships to both his grandfather and his friends become so much more believable, and all because Mori is given the opportunity to express emotions that go beyond his childlike hyperfixation on learning how to punch good.
Then again, we're talking about the literal bare minimum of identifiably human dimension that can be applied to a character who is otherwise about as complex as one of the cartoon mascots you see plastered onto the bags of knock-off cereal brands here in the States. If Goku is Tony the Tiger, then Mori is Larry the Liger; his flakes might be frosted, but they still taste cheap. Even less can be said for Q's side-plot, or pretty much anything involving Mujin's conflict with Nox. That subplot basically exists to give Daewi something to do since he got himself in trouble by interfering with last week's fight, and also to waste time by explaining meaningless details that nobody cares about, like how one of the commissioners somehow managed to replace the murdered announcer's family with marionettes, so they're still alive, I guess.
The episode does have one saving grace, though, and that is every scene involving Park Ipyo, who attracts Mori's curiosity by wearing a jacket emblazoned with his grandfather's tiger insignia. We learn that Ipyo was abandoned by his mother after his father died, and that the only source of inspiration in his life came from Taejin bestowing upon him the ancient Korean martial art of taekkyon. Some audience members remark on how archaic taekkyon is at one point in the episode, and the hopefully reliable Wikipedia page explains that it is one of the oldest martial forms in Korean tradition, and it involves “applying both the hands and feet at the same time to unbalance, trip, or throw the opponent.”
I won't lie to you and say that Ipyo is some masterfully-written character that injects much needed personality and diversity into the cast. He isn't. It sure is fun to watch him flip and flail about in the episode's most expertly animated cuts, though! His brief bout in the GoH tournament proper lacks the context I would have liked for his style, and it read as somewhat unintentionally goofy to me at first, but his later meetup with Mori gives the style more flair and identity as it related to Ipyo's enigmatic and upbeat nature. The specific scene where he spars with Mori is some preposterously clean and fluid animation; it's almost distractingly good looking, given how basic an introduction it is.
The episode ends with two reveals. One of which is meant to be an sweet emotional turn, where Mori is bummed about being alone and worried on his birthday. The other reveal functions as a prerequisite cliffhanger, with Mori getting a new lead on his missing grandfather, presumably from Nox themselves. Neither of these payoffs work in the way they are intended to, for the exact same reasons as everything else in this story tends to fall flat. Mori's birthday surprise is basically pointless because it is still incredibly hard to see his friendship with Mira and Daewi as anything other than a cliché that exists for cliché's sake, especially since they are far and away the least interesting characters in the anime they're supposed to be the stars of.
The Taejin cliffhanger also falters because, more than caring about Mori's ability to save him, or what nefarious plans Nox has in store for the Jin family, you just have to sit and wonder how in the hell it has taken nine entire episodes for the Mujin/Nox plot to even begin to intersect with the rest of the story. So what we're left with in “close/friend” is a fairly decent episode that exists to pad out a story that is just plain awful, no matter which way you slice it. I'm grateful that the half-hour I spent with The God of High School this week wasn't especially painful or irritating, but it's pretty sad that such a pitifully low bar is the only benchmark that this show seems willing to measure up against.
Odds and Ends
• All the talk of spooky puppet Not-Stands this week had me reminiscing about my time reviewing Karakuri Circus. That show had nothing close to the technical skill that MAPPA busts out for GoH every week, but it compensates for its janky visuals by being one of the most certifiably insane things I've ever seen in my goddamned life. If you thought GoH was struggling to cram however many webtoon chapters into its thirteen weeks, Karakuri Circus tries to cover over four-hundred chapters' worth of manga in just thirty-six episodes, and the result is a dizzying fever-dream of increasingly bizarre twists and reversals, all of which are puppet themed in some way or another. GoH's story might be nonsensical, but Karakuri Circus' commitment to its own gobbledygook is downright transcendent.
The God of High School is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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