In 1999 author Koushun Takami wrote a book that would kickstart a very niche horror genre: Battle Royale. After a successful debut and a wildly successful film only a year later; other creators have tried their hand at telling similar stories.
A group of classmates thrown into an unexpected game of death, King’s Game: The Animation takes the foundation laid out by Battle Royale and tries to run with it. They’re not the first to do so either.
But does King’s Game: The Animation meet the expectations of those looking for a gory thriller? Or is it unsuccessful in standing apart from its genre peers?
King’s Game: The Animation
Publisher: Kadokawa Pictures Inc.
Director: Tokihiro Sasaki
Premiere: October 5, 2017
King’s Game: The Animation follows Nobuaki Kanazawa, a young man who just transferred to a new school under mysterious circumstances. Despite multiple attempts by his classmates to become friendly, he rebuffs all of them.
It’s only thanks to Natsuko Honda that Nobuaki breaks out of his shell and is invited to join the relay race during the class’s Sports Day. However the night after the Sports Day, what Nobuaki was fearing has come to pass as all students receive a message at the same time.
All members of the class are now participants in The King’s Game and must follow any orders or receive a punishment. The first order: Nobuaki must kiss Natsuko or else they both receive a punishment.
At first, the class thinks that it’s a joke and that Nobuaki sent it as some roundabout flirtation with Natsuko. Nobuaki meanwhile, is horrified as thanks to flashbacks we learn that this isn’t Nobuaki’s first encounter with The King’s Game.
After Natsuko tricks Nobuaki into kissing her, The King’s Game starts in earnest as multiple commands are issued at once. Among them is a command to not fall asleep, the punishment for sleeping is to hang yourself to death. A punishment immediately inflicted on members of the class who were unfortunately already sleeping when the order was given at midnight.
From there, the game begins to escalate in earnest and Nobuaki is blamed for possibly bringing the game to the class. The truth of the game, Nobuaki’s past, and the strange behavior of Natsuko once the game begins in earnest.
The matter of Nobuaki’s past are where the largest and most disorienting issues with the series lie. The first episode begins with a strange flashback or dream, and small flashbacks are repeated throughout the first episode.
The problem is that these flashbacks give the impression that they were actually an earlier season of the show and I was left wondering if I had missed something and was supposed to recognize the people in the flashbacks.
Luckily this isn’t the case, and beginning with the second episode there are longer flashbacks. In fact, the anime tells both stories at once: Nobuaki’s past and the current King’s Game.
The flashbacks are only a problem in the first episode and they actually assist in the pacing of the episodes. Without the flashbacks, the story would either progress too quickly or be stuffed with melodramatic filler as the students cope with the deaths of their classmates.
But the series strikes a balance between keeping both stories going and dealing with the students reconciling and coming to terms with how the game works. Like Battle Royale it shows both good in its heroes and the conflicted emotion of being somewhat responsible for their classmates deaths, as well as the bad; those who are punished and shunned by their classmates for using the game to torment or blame others for their faults.
The series isn’t afraid to be gory and brutal, even if some of it is nonsensical. The deaths that are more grounded in reality are more interesting, when someone hangs themselves, or throws themselves from a window.
This is in contrast to one death where someone’s blood literally erupts from his body. This gives the King’s Game some appearance of being magical or supernatural in some way.
The character designs manage to be distinct. There are only a few characters with eccentric hairstyles but most of them fall in line with being realistic dye colors like blonde and white hair.
However despite the attempt at distinct designs, it can be frustrating to keep up with who is who. A problem that will likely become less relevant as more characters die.
The voice cast performs admirably although some of the crying and screaming can be unrealistic and grating. Or at least I assume it’s unrealistic based on how hammy the acting is, I thankfully don’t have a reference for what a realistic traumatized wail of mourning sounds like.
Nobuaki Kanazawa is voiced by Mamoru Miyano whose other roles include Kei Nagai in Ajin and Joe Shimamura in 009 Re:Cyborg. Natsuko Honda is voiced by Yui Horie who has voiced Makie Sasaki in Mahou Sensei Negima and Tsubasa Hanekawa in the Monogatari series.
The opening and ending themes are both heavy metal with passionate lyrics, screaming, and most of the lyrics of the opening are in English. FEED THE FIRE by Coldrain is the opening song, followed by Lost Paradise by Pile.
Both songs suit the gory themes of the series, but lack any catchy melodies fans expect from anime openings and endings. The background music of the series is almost nondescript, it lacks any presence but that’s to be expected from a horror series that relies more on sound cues than a musical score.
Ultimately King’s Game: The Animation is a gore-filled and fun thriller that fans of series of Alice in Borderland and similar series will enjoy. It manages to come close to Battle Royale but that’s setting the bar high to begin with.
It’s not often that series that focus on grotesque “games” such as these manage to make it to TV. So while King’s Game: The Animation might not be a series fans have been waiting for, it’s a passable addition to an already niche genre catered to horror fans.
King’s Game: The Animation was reviewed using a personal Crunchyroll account. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.