King's Game: The Animation
Nobuaki Kanazawa avoids his new classmates as much as possible, but he still ends up playing the King's Game with them, in which an unknown entity messages them with "orders" that require all manner of horrible treatment by some class members against others, on penalty of grotesque death for any who resist (and for the "losers" in the various games he forces on them, of course.) The class nearly DOES kill the messenger, blaming Nobuaki for bringing this weird plague on them, and maybe they have a point- for he's played it before, when he failed to save anyone but himself. THIS time he resolves to save everyone he can.
After the life-affirming Naisho no Tsubomi, now I review THIS, its antithesis. Well, yin always needs its yang, but THIS yang doesn't seem to have a single spot of brightness in it.
The "King" seems to love pitting the "players" (victims) against one another, doing such things as forcing them to choose winners and losers in a popularity contest in which the loser dies a horrible death- the King can do Elfen Lied- style dismemberments by remote control, or cause the victims to spontaneously combust, or force them to hang themselves. (Strangely, all these deaths, particularly the more bizarre ones, somehow don't seem to attract any police attention- while the paranoid hysteria of the class- QUITE justified, in this case- reminded me of Higurashi, there's nary a Detective Oiishi in sight-and he might actually have been WELCOME here...) The show is such an over-the-top splatterfest that some commenters on Crunchyroll wondered if this was meant as some kind of horror parody like the Evil Dead movies. Doesn't seem to be, though; looks like they MEAN it to me.
A large chunk of the show gives the story (in flashbacks) of Nobuaki's previous encounter with the King. We see both noble attempts by his fellow classmates to take down the King, and, on the other hand, also craven acts of debasement and violence by those who would do ANYTHING to keep from dying like this. The Queen of Self-Preservation is Natsuko Honda, who it turns out has ALSO played the Game before, and was driven stark raving mad by the experience, now willing to murder ANYONE to save herself. Nobuaki was himself morally compromised in the first encounter, in his attempts to at least protect his friends- and even more, in his final decision- but he hasn't completely surrendered his humanity, and this time wants to save others, even at the possible expense of his own life.
So- and here we have to spoil it- DOES Nobuaki save anyone?
The answer is both No and Yes, depending on who we're talking about. And not without some heavy lifting by another.
The King is a pretty arbitrary creation, really. "He" loves forcing people to have sex, or, again, having them choose other classmates for sacrifice, or having them torture or mutilate themselves or others - the show certainly owes a big debt to torture-porn like Saw. The scenarios recall the ones dreamed up by the actual Marquis de Sade, the product of a horribly twisted human intellect, so I couldn't see how the "explanation" we're given for the King (so far as we get one) made any sense at all. The King's remote-control murder capability also gets an "explanation" that is the purest hokum; as with Orange's time-travel, it really would have been better to attribute the whole thing to magic rather than the awkwardly contrived, ridiculous pseudoscience we get, though I might have been more forgiving if the pseudoscience had yielded some useful strategy to stop the King. Still in fairness, it WOULD be hard for the kids to think straight anyway, since the daily "orders" keep them under chronic psychological stress (and some of them just snap, making it even worse); it also denies them the time to research the King. For the King has some interesting fallibilities. "He's" apparently NOT omniscient, twice condemning to death persons already dead, and once seemingly needlessly killing a number of students because his order is ambiguous. The really interesting question here is an epistemological one- how does "he" know what "he" DOES know? (You'd see what I mean if you watched this, but I hope you'll be sensible and not do so, so never mind.) The heavy-metal opening song is about as unpleasant as it SHOULD be with THIS material.
Someone I described this show to thought it sounded like Death Note, a show I haven't seen myself. Again, I noted echoes of Higurashi, and outright theft from Elfen Lied, but I know that in those latter two shows there are innocents who eventually DO survive. King's Game is more like the King of Nihilism, even though its hero is at least TRYING to be ethical (and atone for his previous sins); his approach just doesn't seem that effective. AT ALL. Even our villain Natsuko turns out to have conflicted feelings, though somehow manages to make ALL of her thoughts, no matter how contradictory, reinforce her homicidal behavior. After all the carnage and brutalization of human beings we've witnessed by the end of this, I kinda felt like Suzu (In This Corner of the World) did when Japan surrendered. I think I need antidepressants. — Allen Moody
Recommended Audience: 18+ ONLY! There's a little prelude (and aftermath) of some sexual activity here (commanded by the King, of course)- this is the first non-hentai show I've ever seen where you'll see a used condom- but the gruesome, graphic depictions of dismemberments exceed Elfen Lied's by a couple orders of magnitude. (The more ethical characters sometimes die quieter, more dignified deaths- I suppose this is another of the show's sops to "morality".)
Version(s) Viewed: Streaming on Crunchyroll
Review Status: Full (12/12)
King's Game: The Animation © 2017 Seven
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