Thirty-two teenagers engage in a game of fear, ethics, and death.
Meet Nobuaki. He’s a new transfer to his school, and he’s more than a bit standoffish. When a text goes out to the entire class, his reasons for his antisocial behavior becomes clear. The text is from someone called “The King” and the class is now a part of his game. You cannot leave the game early. Each day, you will get a command from the King, and you must complete it by midnight. If you don’t, you will be punished. At first, the class thinks its just a joke or an actual game. That is, until kids actually start getting killed by punishments. When more of the class dies, the rest gather to figure things out. Nobuaki admits the truth. He has played the King’s Game before at his previous school, and he was the only survivor. However, the best way to survive is to work together. Too bad the class’s queen bee, Natsuki, finds the King’s Game as the perfect environment to live her truth and unleash her inner sociopath. She manipulates people, trying to get Nobuaki (and anyone else who goes against her) killed.
King’s Game the Animation is actually the fusion of two manga of the series, which are themselves based on a phone text novel. While we are brought into the story at the beginning of King’s Game: Extreme, episode two begins a flashback arc that tells the story of the original King’s Game manga. In it, we see the events that lead up to Nobuaki surviving his first Game and gives us the reasons why the characters of the present day are out in the sticks looking for clues. There is a ton of information we learn about the game along the way, but…
Our Take (Contains Spoilers)
…None of it matters.
This show is a horrible piece of a turd when it comes to writing. Not just in plot, but in characters. Let’s start there. The only character that successfully fills their role is Natsuki. It is the first time in my life that I honestly wished anyone a slow, torturous death in humiliation, much less a girl. She is relentlessly manipulative, sadistic, and selfish. Everyone else? Cannon fodder. Even Nobuaki, the main character, is uninspiring. He spends most of the show crying and whining, and no, that is not hyperbole. As soon as the game begins, he is crying. He does not stop until the end of the show. He plays the martyr a little too hard, constantly trying to sacrifice himself for his ungrateful classmates as they drop like flies because they threw in with the psycho, knowing full well she was just that. But why are the other characters so meaningless? Well, let’s talk about another problem with this show: the flashback arc.
We spend from episode two to episode six in a story arc where, while Nobuaki and two of his classmates head off to the ruins of a town, Nobuaki recalls most of what happened in his first game. He had tried to get to these ruins before but had been prevented by circumstances. However, by the very nature of the King’s Game, none of the characters from that arc translate over to the modern art. This leads to a cast of sixty-four characters, most of which die rather quickly and in the background. Once we learn a character’s name, they die minutes later. They aren’t given much backstory or even much personality that would make them memorable. They show up, serve their purpose, and die. Even as the two respective classes get down to the last eight, it feels as if most of those characters weren’t there until just now. Even then, those characters all have two different reactions to their impending death. Boys either become broken crybabies or violent, mindless bullies. Girls either become lovesick wanderers looking for their perfect romantic death with their beloved, or a psychotic, manipulative pile of disease. The show especially loves this last one, because they enjoy depicting a shift from a young, pure face to one hellbent on engineering the horrific deaths of their friends and loved ones. There are no heroes in this show. Nobody, not even Nobuaki, gets up with determination to face the problem. Oh, wait. There was one. Kenta. What happened to him? Yeah, killed because of a lovesick yandere. Nobody stands up to Natsuki. Even though it is obvious that the police are looking the other way. Thirty-two children that are all in the same class die horrible, even impossible deaths, all within a week of each other. You think you might want to put that file on a detective’s desk? Maybe send a patrolman out to the school to make sure everything is alright? No? Well, that brings us to the biggest problem with this show: logic is a foreign concept.
I hear you, “But these kids are all scared! Of course, they aren’t being logical!” And you’re right. I don’t fault them for less than stellar cognitive abilities in a crisis. Logic is foreign to the writers. If you don’t want massive spoilers, skip this paragraph, because I’m about to reveal the true nature of the King and his twisted game. You see, The King is a bioweapon. It is a virus engineered to use hypnotic suggestion to force people into believing that the punishments are real, and thus, enacting them. Why does it do this with a game instead of just killing them? I don’t know. They never explained that. Or how hypnosis is supposed to make a person’s body parts fall off, one by one, or burst into flames in the middle of a rainstorm. They also never explained how it suddenly went from being a biological virus to be a computer virus that infects phones, hence the texts. They also never explain how, after a 24-hour hike across an archipelago to the ruins on top of a mountain, Natsuki whips out a chainsaw from nowhere that seems to be able to start up in a tenth of a second. Are you seeing the problem here? It gets better. There are two clues that the students piece together in the hopes of ending the game. One is that the King will only reveal himself to everyone in the class that hates each other. The other, revealed in the last episode, is that the only way to end the game forever is for all of them to die, no survivor. The first clue is never brought to fruition. It is the unfired Chekhov’s Gun, a big no-no in writing. The second clue, pieced together from the hidden texts assembled from the phones of students over the course of three King’s Games, is false. Mega spoiler: everyone that is a character in this show dies. The game starts up again in the stinger as a way of getting a season two. This is a massive assemblage of ideas, and they were all thrown together in a bottle to duke it out. Only the stupidest survived, and were stitched together into a horrible mockery of an anime. Remember that metaphor. We’ll be coming back to it later.
Early on in the show, before the lack of logic or deep characters or worthwhile plot reared their ugly heads, this was a show with real promise as a horror series. It had extremely visceral deaths that were well animated and grisly in style. As the series wore on, however, the shock factor began wearing off. It also began to drop in quality and emphasis. Two guys who were actually given an entire episode of screen time died the same way. The first one was given high-quality animation, and his death made me wince. The other was given crap animation, and the writing was so schlocky, I couldn’t care less. No, dying slowly while leaving your friends all your good wishes is not a dramatic death. It’s camp. Beyond the slow drop in animation for deaths, errors start creeping in. Riona’s breasts are amorphic entities with their own will, changing shape from one shot to the next, despite the fact that she’s standing still. No, it doesn’t jiggle physics. The animators just can’t be bothered to draw her boobs right. Do they look big? Good enough. Print it. Doesn’t matter they aren’t facing the same direction as the rest of her body, or suddenly look like they’re sagging off her chest. Naw.
This is what gets me. This show could have been great. It has incredible potential for suspense, horror, and terror. Yes, those are all different things. However, a boatload of writers who can’t be bothered to do their jobs took this show and drove it off the deep end, making it a curse in and of itself. It could have been amazing. Instead, its final episode got the lowest score I have ever given an episode.
The average score for the series was a hair over five points. However, that is only because the first four episodes were actually good. If you look at the series as a whole, I would have to give it three points out of ten.