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Friday, May 11, 2018

Anime Hajime Review: Ousama Game The Animation

***Warning, the following may contain spoilers for Ousama Game The Animation. Reader discretion is advised.***

Series Synopsis

1. All students in the class shall participate.

2. After receiving an order from the King, the order must be completed within 24 hours.

3. People who do not complete their order shall be punished.

4. Withdrawing from the game midway is not allowed.

These four rules have been ingrained into the consciousness of Nobuaki Kanazawa (voiced by Mamoru Miyano). Ever since he looked upon these words in an innocuous group text, his life has been nothing but a nightmare.

Nobuaki was the sole survivor of a sadistic game that claimed the lives of his dear classmates. Winning this game was a fate Nobuaki has been unable to bear. And then, the unthinkable happens.

The game has followed Nobuaki to his new school and has started up again. This time Nobuaki swears to save his new friends and put an end to the deadly curse known as the Ousama Game.

Series Positives

Ousama Game was a horror story about a high school class tormented by a vicious curse that was slowly killing each of them off one at a time. The students’ deaths ranged from tragic to Oh-My-God that was brutal. Finding the source of this curse and discovering a way to get out of their horrific situation alive became the single goal of the entire class.
Hmm, that sounds awfully familiar, doesn’t it?

To give Ousama Game some slack, I am not going to spend this review comparing it to Another. In case you are unaware, Another is one of my all-time favorite anime. Pitting any series against that standard could easily turn unfair, especially if a show is not up to snuff.

When I went into this series, as I do with every series, I wanted it to be great. I wanted this to be my next favorite anime. But to add a little salt to this optimism, this is the same kind of expectation I have when I go to Vegas. Sure, I always want to hit the million-dollar jackpot and retire early, but I know the odds are never in my favor. Therefore, I at least hope I can get a fun time out of the experience.
Too bad even that is never a guarantee. Sometimes you crap out, and other times you crap out hard. And then, sometimes, you get Ousama Game.

To put it as simply as I possibly can: this show was bad. But I can’t leave it at that. Ousama Game does not warrant the usage of the word “simply.”

Before I go-off on this series, we need to take care of some housekeeping.

First, “Ousama” is the Japanese word for “King.” As such, the English title for this series is The King’s Game. Therefore, when I use the word “King” throughout the rest of this review, I am referring to the entity giving the orders to the class.

Second, Ousama Game was a series that had two stories. I will be mentioning these two stories quite a bit. To avoid confusion, I am dubbing them as the Past Storyline and the Present Storyline.

In the Past Storyline, we learned of Nobuaki’s first experience with the Ousama Game and how he managed to become the sole survivor.

In the Present Storyline, we saw the events of the current the Ousama Game and how Nobuaki used his experience to get through this second round.

Can two different storylines playing out simultaneously work? Absolutely, and I have seen it done many times. But for this to succeed, there needs to be organization, purpose, and thought. Or, at the very least, a show needs to let its audience know when it is switching from one to the other.

Guess which of those aspects Ousama Game didn’t have. Time’s up. This show had none of them.

I know this is supposed to be the Series Positives section of the review, but there aren’t that many positives to bring up. I can’t stress enough how frustrating these two storylines made this show.

For starters, it didn’t help that the locations and characters of these storylines had few discernible features. Each segment had its three to four critical characters which helped keep things in order. Too bad the bulk of the Past and Present Storyline’s casts were nothing except cannon fodder who were only around to die.

The first time this series jumped from the Present to the Past, it took awhile for me to realize the show had changed settings. And this never got any easier to discern because there were a lot of characters to keep track of, even during the later episodes of this series.

However, Ousama Game having two sets of characters shouldn’t have mattered, since we knew the outcome of the Past Storyline – Nobuaki won. That meant no matter who we met in the Past Storyline, their fate had already been sealed.

The reason this did matter had to do with the fact that this setup gave Ousama Game a massive handicap.

When you know what is going to happen in a story, it’s hard to create tension. Nowhere is that a bigger problem than in a horror story where tension is the entire point. Half of this show set itself during the Past, so half of this show was setting itself up to fail.

That leads me to ask, why would I ever bother caring about characters that are for sure going to die? There is an answer to that question, and that answer was one of the many tragedies produced as a result of Ousama Game.

One of the most disappointing aspects of this series was watching the better of the two storylines play out and knowing the stronger one was also the secondary one. The Past Storyline, and the Past Storyline alone, should have been Ousama Game.

The Past Storyline

Let me make this clear. Although I am saying the Past Storyline was the stronger, I’m not saying it was perfect. There were a ton of issues with this half of the show. I could do an entire review on those problems alone.

Nevertheless, if the Past Storyline of Ousama Game wasn’t burdened by the Present, the potential of this being a decent horror series wasn’t zero.

A great tool in horror’s toolbox is the element of the unknown. The mystery, the confusion, the what-the-hell-is-going-on aspect of a horror story can be frightening. Ousama Game took that away.

Granted, for most of this series, we didn’t know why the Ousama Game was a thing. However, we did know some critical details.

For one, the Present round of the game wasn’t an isolated incident. With there being two storylines, that meant there were at least two examples of this phenomenon. Therefore, this was not a chance occurrence. There must have been some sort of condition that kept the game alive.

Along with that, there was a character, Nobuaki, who knew a lot about what was going on from the get-go. For example, Nobuaki knew the rules of the Ousama Game.

A horror story can have this kind of person because that establishes a source of information. To keep the unknown factor alive, any secondary character can fill this role. But if a story is going to give this job to the main character, then it better know what it is doing.

Ousama Game didn’t know what it was doing. Or at least, it didn’t know what it was doing in the Present Storyline.

In the Past, nobody had any information at the start. Nobody knew what was going on. Imagine if Ousama Game was just this. Not only would the characters not have known anything, we would not have known anything. We would have been as in-the-dark as everyone else. We would have been learning alongside Nobuaki and his friends.

And the word “friends” is crucial; that was the strength of the Past Storyline.

In the first Ousama Game, Nobuaki watched on helplessly as his friends, who he had known for years, die right in front of him. This included his girlfriend and best friend, both of whom he loved very much. This level of comradery did not exist in the Present Storyline.

Due to Nobuaki’s personality, him wanting to save everyone, regardless of how long he had known them, made sense. But this series tried to make it appear as though Nobuaki and his current classmates were as close to each other as he was with his former ones.

Bull crap, stop pretending. Also, this series had no business forcing in a romance between Nobuaki and a character who didn’t get a proper introduction until episode eight. I’m getting sidetracked.

Earlier, I asked the question of why I would bother caring about characters who I knew were going to die. It is true that if I already know the outcome, a story has an uphill battle in getting me to worry about its characters. But this is not an impossible battle to win.

There was a scene in episode three that established why the Past Storyline was the stronger half of Ousama Game. And to be honest, it wasn’t just one scene that did this; it was a series of events that led to a moment that demonstrated what this show could have been.

Not to give too much away, but the King ordered a popularity contest between two students. After a class vote, the loser would receive punishment. Nobuaki was frantic in not wanting to lose here. Not because he was the one on the line, but because his best friend, Naoya Hashimoto (voiced by Shinnosuke Tachibana), was.

Given the threat of what the punishment could be, Nobuaki and the other candidate did what was necessary to get the required number of votes. And to save Naoya’s life, Nobuaki had to do something rather dirty. Regardless of how low his methods were, they paid off.

Once learning of their defeat, the other candidate took matters into their own hands and decided to do something before the King could decree the punishment. That fear, that gut reaction was what made the Past Storyline a somewhat fascinating watch. Then when you consider what the punishment turned out to be, it couldn’t have been more fitting.

Due to the other candidate’s rash actions, they could no longer complete their assigned punishment. Therefore, Naoya, the winner of the popularity contest, had to do it instead. Unfortunately, the King decided to change what the punishment was. This added a layer of unfair randomness. The King could do whatever they wanted, and there was nothing the participants could do about it.

As for the new punishment, Naoya had to do something he felt was a betrayal to Nobuaki and his other friends, and thus, didn’t want to go through with it, even at the cost of his own life. But since Nobuaki had already committed himself to saving Naoya, there was nothing that could have stopped him at this point. If Nobuaki had to use force to protect the people he cared about, he used it.

In the span of half an episode, Ousama Game created a compelling dynamic between several characters. Suddenly, there was a group to root for despite the inevitable. Compare that to the cast of the Present Storyline, who wasted no time in pissing me off. And this sense of utter annoyance extended to the Present Storyline’s version of Nobuaki as well.

The admiration I felt towards Past Nobuaki didn’t transfer to the Present one.

The Past Storyline could have had a chance if Ousama Game had given its entire attention to it. Would that have fixed all the problems? I doubt it because there was still a lot of stupidity here. Plus, it wasn't as if the Past Storyline was free of foolish character decisions.

I don’t know if I could have recommended a solo Past Storyline Ousama Game. But I know this for a fact. Had this series decided to focus its efforts in a single direction, we wouldn't have gotten the Ousama Game we did.

Series Negatives

I’m going to try to keep myself focused here. There was a lot wrong with this series. But I don’t want to write an entire novel covering every instance when Ousama Game went brain dead. In fact, the sooner I stop thinking about this show, the better.

I’m serious; on several occasions, I had to pause an episode because I could feel my brain melting as it tried to make sense of the schlock this show was trying to pass off as a story.

Where should I even start?

How about the time when a character used her temporary King powers and gave herself a roll-of-the-dice chance of finding the real King. If you are thinking I’m equating this gamble to a standard, six-sided die; I’m not. The odds were nowhere near that good. The character in question had a one out of a thousand if not worse chance of finding the true King. And this character took this chance because she believed in Nobuaki’s gut feeling that the King was a member of the class.

Surprise, it didn’t work out.

And if that doesn’t do it for you, how about the one instance where the King decided to be vague with the instructions. Although the orders the King gave were brutal, there was never any need for interpretation. This much-needed consistency was something Ousama Game was doing well at maintaining. That was until the King ordered everyone to not take any “unnecessary” actions.

What in the hell does “unnecessary” mean? It turned out the participants weren’t allowed to cry. How Nobuaki and everyone else figured this out is beyond me, but that’s not the point. If the King wanted to play dirty, why wasn’t the order something like “don’t breathe?”

Oh, why don’t we talk about Ousama Game’s second hardest kick to the nuts – the truth behind what the Ousama Game was. It’s not often I run across something so mindbogglingly stupid that it throws me into a fit of uncontrollable laughter. Believe it or not, sometimes trying to add logic to something that could have stayed supernatural is the dumbest thing imaginable.

As you can see, there was plenty of nonsense to go around. But the kicker is, all these examples I listed were from the Past Storyline. You know, the one I said was the better of the two. Regarding the Present Storyline, it was a goddamn train wreck.

The Present Storyline

Take all the positive aspects of the Past and flip them. Then take all the negative aspects of the Past and multiply them. You have just created Ousama Game’s Present Storyline.
What madness did I watch?

There is one positive thing I can say about the Present Storyline, and her name was Natsuko Honda (voiced by Yui Horie).

Natsuko was the villain of this series. She was also the best character. She was the only person who made any sense. I did not care in the slightest if she was manipulative and maniacal. It, however, irked me a little how out of nowhere her transformation into this show’s antagonist was. But I can overlook that since she was the person responsible for the only chilling scene in this supposed horror anime.

Other than giving Ousama Game its due credit, I bring up Natsuko because she was a critical component in the scene I am about to describe. Here is but a taste of the infuriating nature that was this series.

One of the orders the King gave Natsuko was for her to have sex with a specific classmate. By this point in the series, the realization of the severity of the Ousama Game was only beginning to sink in. Can you blame Natsuko for not wanting to give her virginity away so willingly? I doubt Natsuko cared about that at all because again, she was the evil one.

Faking or not, that didn’t stop the other half of this equation from losing it.

In front of the entire class, the guy the King ordered Natsuko to have sex with threw Natsuko to the ground and got on top of her. The whole time this was happening, she was struggling. Not a single person moved to help Natsuko who was, no joke, in the process of being raped.

Remember that detail because it’s going to become important in a moment.

Natsuko managed to get away, and this was part of the catalyst for her sudden character change. Natsuko went from her caring mentality to her insane survivalist logic; the latter of which was her true nature as confirmed by the show. With her actual personality out in the open, she then turned the situation around. While still in front of everyone, Natsuko took charge and was about to fulfill the King’s order.

It was this which prompted Nobuaki to speak up. Nobuaki tried to stop Natsuko from proceeding. And Nobuaki did this all the while ignoring the fact that no more than a few minutes before this scene, he was ready to give in to the Ousama Game. Had he gone through with that, as a result of disobeying the King’s order, Nobuaki would have been responsible for Natsuko’s death as well; an outcome he was acutely aware of.

When Nobuaki opened his mouth, almost in unison, Natsuko and I looked at Nobuaki and said, “Bitch you just tried to kill her. You have no right to speak here.”

I might be paraphrasing what Natsuko said with what I said.

Regardless, the entire class could see that the once happy-go-lucky Natsuko was not the Natsuko that was in front of them. This Natsuko was cruel, deranged, and dangerous. They also saw this new Natsuko walk up to Nobuaki and pull him off to the side for a chat.

Nobuaki and Natsuko’s private talk did not go well. It did not go well because Nobuaki insisted on being a jackass. In response, Natsuko, out of nowhere, screamed for help. When the rest of the class showed up, Natsuko claimed that Nobuaki had attacked her.

Do you want to know what happened after that? The same class that stood by as a RAPE was about to happen in front of them, and who had not seen a second of Nobuaki and Natsuko’s discussion, turned to Nobuaki and tried to beat him to death. And the entire time they were doing that, they were ignoring Natsuko’s unapologetically out-of-character call for Nobuaki’s murder.

This group was nothing but a bunch of idiots.  

The worst part was, this entire exchange happened in episode two. There were still ten more episodes to go. Can you see why I might be a little peeved?

Ousama Game only went downhill from there, and it started off pretty damn low. I can’t bring myself to detail another instance of this show’s idiocy. But there is one more thing I must talk about.

Remember when I said the true nature of the Ousama Game was the second hardest kick to the nuts? The hardest came at the end of the show. After the final credits, after everything was all said and done, Ousama Game couldn't help stroke its misplaced ego. The last middle-finger this series gave came in the form of three simple words: To Be Continued.

Final Thoughts

Is this series among the worst I’ve reviewed?

This show was incompetent. The writing was atrocious. The characters were insufferable. This story took a fascinating idea and pounded it into the ground. And I never even mentioned how subpar the animation was. So yeah, this is among the worst.

Were you expecting a “but?” There are no but’s. Not with this one. Ousama Game The Animation is a series you should go out of your way to avoid.

But these are just my thoughts. What are yours? Have you seen this show? What would be your advice concerning Ousama Game The Animation? Leave a comment down below because I would love to hear what you have to say.

And if you liked what you read, be sure to follow me on my social media sites so that you never miss a post or update. Also, please share this review across the internet to help add to the discussion.

I’m LofZOdyssey, and I’ll see you next time.

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