Death games are a staple genre in Japanese media and although we haven’t seen them as often in anime recently, there’s still a couple a year to keep fans interested. The latest offering is King’s Game The Animation from Anime Limited, but does it prove a gripping watch? I’m here to find out!
Nobuaki Kanazawa has just transferred into Kure Academy. At first, he’s aggressive and goes out of his way to alienate himself from his classmates, but then everyone in class receives a text from someone known only as the “King”. The texts contain orders that must be obeyed within 24 hours (sometimes sooner) or face a punishment of death. To begin with, the class blame Nobuaki for sending the creepy texts, but Nobuaki isn’t behind it and is horrified, having lived through this same situation at his previous school…
The text messages indicate that the students are to take part in the King’s Game, which you can’t escape from (if you try, you die). Having lost all of his friends before, Nobuaki tries to get his new classmates to understand the situation they’re in but nobody believes him until people begin to die. Even then, everyone is out to protect themselves while Nobuaki pleads with them to work together to try and escape the game alive. Will anyone survive the King’s Game?
King’s Game The Animation is an adaptation of King’s Game and King’s Game: Extreme phone novels. Because of adapting two different novels, the anime spends a lot of time jumping between the present day and Nobuaki’s experience with the last King’s Game. Here we see a completely different side of him where he was friendly and loved his friends and girlfriend dearly. As we watch him lose those close to him, we begin to understand why he distanced himself so much in the present day.
We know within the first couple of episodes that everyone in Nobuaki’s previous class died, leaving him the only survivor of that game. Initially, I thought this would take some of the suspense of the series away, but it ended up being of no concern. Watching how the cast was picked off one by one was still fascinating, perfectly capturing what many like about the horror/death game genre.
The problem with the split focus is that it takes a while for the flashbacks to finish and for us to focus solely on the present day. This means I found myself more attached to the characters from Nobuaki’s past than anyone in the current class. This isn’t helped by the fact so many of the present characters are killed off early on, thanks to not believing in the King’s Game.
Having said that, if you’re watching King’s Game The Animation for the characters then this isn’t the show for you. The series is grim, happy to kill off its cast at the snap of a finger and aims to keep you on your toes. Ultimately no one is safe and it’s not so much a matter of will anyone survive but how and when will they die.
Perhaps the biggest issue the series has is that it makes no sense. Even when it does try to explain why any of this is happening, who the King is and so forth, it’s just not convincing. It didn’t end up being too distracting for me because I just accepted up-front it was going to be dumb but entertaining, but it might annoy some viewers. My advice is to turn your brain off and just roll with it. King’s Game The Animation is highly entertaining as long as you don’t try to take it seriously.
Animation for the series has been handled by studio Seven (Holmes of Kyoto) and while the series doesn’t look all that great, the animation does the job. There are quite a few scenes where characters are just standing around talking, which are hard to stay invested in. That said, the studio has done a fantastic job with character expressions, perfectly conveying the sense of hopelessness and fear the King’s Game gives them. Befitting of the ’18’ age rating on the box, the deaths of the characters are also suitable gruesome and not for the fainthearted!
The music for the series has been handled by Naoyuki Osada (Doreiku The Animation, Nanaka 6/17) and their compositions work well with the series. Nothing truly sticks out as being memorable, but it works well within the context of the anime. The opening for the series is “Feed the Fire” by Coldrain while the ending is “Lost Paradise” by Pile. Both themes are catchy and fit the show well.
Where voice actors are concerned, both the Japanese and English dub team do a great job. I admittedly prefer the Japanese side because of Mamoru Miyano (Tamaki Anzai in Devil’s Line, Shuu Tsukiyama in Tokyo Ghoul, Osamu Dazai in Bungo Stray Dogs) playing Nobuaki, but Coby Lewin (Climb in Overlord) also does a fine job in the lead role. Given the wide variety of characters you’re sure to like and dislike in equal amount in either set of audio, it comes down to personal preference in the end.
As previously mentioned this release comes to the UK thanks to Anime Limited and is available on Blu-ray in a collector’s edition. The set includes all 12 episodes with both Japanese and English audio. On-disc extras include trailers and clean OP/ED. The collector’s edition also comes with a 20-page art booklet and a poster.
Overall, King’s Game The Animation proves an entertaining entry in the horror genre. It has a reputation for being a terrible anime but, provided you don’t take it seriously, there is a compelling narrative to be found here.