In 1980, movie critic Gene Siskel famously shared his disdain of the movie Friday the 13th by spoiling the come-to-realize plot point of who the killer truly was. This, he felt, was the best way to discourage people from actually watching the movie. In the same vein, let me tell you who the killer of the 2017 anime release of King’s Game: The Animation. The orders are being sent… by a virus. That “30 years ago” sent its instructions by mail, but now it lives on the internet and can use cell towers. It doesn’t have a clear motivation. It can cause people to self-immolate or have their heads magically decapitate or even to break all the fingers in their hands through the power of suggestion. It also survives through the bodies of those who won the game previously, although why it would need to is weird, since it… also can travel by mail, internet, or cell towers.
So apparently this is an adaptation of a cell phone novel, of all things, and I uh. I must not be a whole number, because I can’t even.
Note – I’m a member of a Discord server called Leth’s Lazy Lounge, where we all did an “anime exchange” wherein all participants bring a show to the table, we all watch what we can during the week, and then we share our thoughts. Many participants shared one of their favorite shows. A few shared a show they just wanted to discuss, and a couple were apparently chosen just to mess with all participants. I’ll be taking all of these seriously. This is the fifth show of this exchange. We won’t be discussing the fourth show.
The Premise: Nobuaki Kanazawa is the author of the franchise King’s Game. The main protagonist is also named Nobuaki Kanazawa. That’s gotta be handy! Anyways, this character survived the LAST King’s Game, and he’s in a new school just chilling when a NEW one starts. Everyone in his class is informed they are all part of the “King’s Game.” The King’s rules are absolute, and those who don’t follow them are punished. The orders are silly if not a bit creepy – two characters must kiss, one character must grab another character’s breasts, so on and so forth. The class doesn’t take these seriously, despite the author’s warnings. Sorry, the main character’s. And then classmates start dying.
Remember kids – when the phone says “sexually assault your classmates” you’d better freaking do it.
The whole show is basically an attempt at a horror thriller, with characters doing what they can to survive the orders given as well as the machinations of other classmates. At the same time, there is some investigation into the history of the King’s Game, right up until episode five of twelve where the show tips its hand way too early and overexplains in grim detail what these students are up against.
There’s a framing mechanic where the main character recounts how he survived the last game, and what is different in this newest iteration. This gets a little confusing at times, but it was necessary for this show to have 12 episodes.
Why it Works: Look, I’m not gonna lie, it really doesn’t.
There are some genuinely interesting story beats, especially towards the final arc. Some of the mind games that the King has the characters play are truly sadistic, and they are played out well. The main antagonist, Natsuki Honda, takes the viciousness of the games to a new level in a way that feels believable, if not in some ways unrelatable. There are moments, especially at the beginning of the second half of this show, where her actions makes the viewer really wonder what’s going to happen next.
It’s use of sound is okay, especially the use of cell phone ringing as a sort of jump scare tactic. The OP deserves a special mention as well; Feed the Fire by Japanese post-hardcore rockband Coldrain really sells that this is going to be a horror show. It’s fitting and not overwrought (which is more than I can say for the show proper…)
The show ends on Lost Paradise, by Japanese-Korean musician Pile. It fits the theme of the show, but is rather forgettable outside of it in my opinion. Not offensive, just not noteworthy.
Why it Doesn’t Work: This show’s handling of the virus breaks any suspension of belief, creating a world where the rules are all made up and the points don’t matter.
In fairness, the anime handles the virus slightly differently from the source material and its continuations, but that fairness only goes so far because the idea behind it is bullshit to begin with. In the cellphone novel, the virus was weaponized by the military and went awry, giving the reader an understanding as to why it was attacking high school students the way it was… but only kind of. In the anime, there isn’t any real discussion of this. It’s a virus, it spreads through the internet and cell towers and also through the bodies of the people playing the games. While an argument that, say, such a virus might encourage people to commit suicide could be handwaved, some of these deaths are so over the top that the idea their bodies are making it happen through the power of suggestion just doesn’t hold water. People can’t be hypnotized so hard that their heads pop off, that’s not how anything works.
The result is a show with some truly over the top deaths, the type of which might get a sharp laugh from a certain type of horror fan, but which ultimately isn’t justified. It’s horror porn without the suspense because it’s made clear very early on that these kids are less characters and more walking corpses just waiting for their chance to, I dunno, catch fire or something.
The character art is serviceable, but the backgrounds are incredibly repetitive and overused. The use of CGI is amateurish and stands out in the worst of ways. It is also way more amusing to me than it should be that adults almost never make an appearance. One girl’s father abused her before dying, and he is referenced with a short cut-out; later, a participant who is told to kill the thing she cares about the most kills her entire family and we get to see stills of their bodies. Don’t worry though, she doesn’t kill the dog, the thing she truly cares about. She loves her doggo. Who wouldn’t?
I also took serious issue with how the main character handled the game. He survived the first game, knowing that it ended with the choice to continue it or kill himself. Why did he think the new game would be any different? He takes no real action to stop the virus, and at points he goes out of his way to not even survive. It makes sense under the lens of a Japanese Shonen protagonist, but pull that camera away to a world of horror and it all just falls apart.
Overall, I’m not sure who would get enjoyment out of this show. It’s not even so-bad-its-good. I can think of quite a few horror movies that were so over the top that I might enjoy them with friends or while eating popcorn; King’s Game merely made me wonder what bullshit it would pull next. Once we learned the secret of the virus, it was all an uphill slog just to make the claim that I finished it; bragging rights and nothing more. There’s no real mystery and no real buy-in into questioning who would die next. King’s Game threatens people to watch it or face punishment, only to discover the punishment was watching it to begin with.
King’s Game- The Animation was produced and animated by Seven; it was released stateside in 2017. I watched it on Funimation, because they have the rights for the dub and there are few things I enjoy in life more than fighting Funimation’s streaming service to watch a show I don’t enjoy. It can be found for sale in a variety of markets, or streamed in Japanese on Crunchyroll.