Darwin’s Game – Anime Preview
Synopsis: Kaname Sudo, an ordinary high school student, receives an invitation to try a mysterious app called Darwin’s Game. Upon launching the app, he’s drawn into a game where players fight one another using amazing superpowers called “Sigils.” Unable to quit the game, he now must defend himself in spectacular battles against far more advanced players. Can he survive? (Official Funimation Synopsis)
1st Episode Review (Warning: Minor Spoilers to Follow):
Tom: Darwin’s Game opens with a special one hour episode (Although it’s pretty clearly just two episodes glued together with opening and ending credits cut out.) The first half of this hour special gets right to the meat of things. A friend of Kaname’s is hunted down in a Darwin’s Game death match, causing him to send Kaname an invite asking for help, only to be cut down by his assailant before Kaname even sees the message. From there Kaname sees the invite at school the next day and quickly becomes sucked into the real life death game that is Darwin’s Game. The show moves as a clip, keeping introductions thankfully light, since most viewers will probably be familiar with the basics of the series’ all too common premise. It’s all action then as Kaname ends up fighting Banda, the very player who killed his friend, and claims the life of another of Kaname’s classmates before things are done. This rapid fire content makes these first twenty minutes a thrilling ride, cutting right to the kind of content you expect from a death match anime; violence, blood, angst, upset and murder. It’s nothing novel, but it is a strong start.
Linny: If you’re someone who tends to enjoy Survival Game anime, Darwin’s Game offers enough high thrill showdowns and one on one fights for survival to at least warrant a look in. As Tom said, the first half is pretty engaging, throwing the audience right into the thick of things and keeping it well paced enough to keep you invested and entertained. And for those curious about the gore level, it is censored with screen darkening so things never get brutally graphic even when limbs are flying around.
Tom: Sadly, for as strong as those first twenty minutes are, Darwin’s Game second half is far less promising. Kaname decides he wants out of Darwin’s game. This calls for him to approach a girl who messaged him earlier, during his brawl with Banda. Kaname goes to meet her, one Karino Shuka, who turns out to be a violent nut case. While Karino displays some bad ass abilities, like being able to manipulate chains at will, it’s also through Karino’s proper introduction that the series falls down a rabbit hole of typical shonen male fantasy pandering. Karino becomes a total submissive upon her defeat at Kaname’s hands, surrendering to him simply because he’s ‘so strong’ (Even though the game murders the fighter who did less damage, but let’s not kill the hot fantasy girl even if that’s what mechanics demand.). It’s pandering like this that immediately mark Darwin’s Game as trashy teenage content, which might be fine, if it didn’t take itself so damn seriously, making it difficult to appreciate in sincerity.
Linny: It’s hard to ignore the male fantasy element given that after defeating Karino and having her submit to him, Kaname then awakens to find himself shirtless and her completely naked and on top of him, begging to ‘start a family.’ Also Kaname is able to defeat her even though he knows nothing about the game and for all intents and purposes, she seems a lot more skilled and informed than him. Yes, most death match games usually have an unbeatable and super talented lead so that’s not the issue by itself but combined with everything else, it becomes an annoying factor making the lead feel like just another generic, infallible, cookie cutter lead. Episode 2 really needed to go back and introduce aspects to his persona that make Kaname unique, rather than rush head long into power fantasy.
Tom: Darwin’s Game opens strong and then very quickly falls off in this one-hour special. By special’s end I feel confident in saying that Darwin’s Game is a middle of the road Survival Game anime. It’s not the worst I’ve seen, but it’s also more generic than it is original. There’s a fair amount of male fantasy pandering, but it’s also played so straight and subdued that it feels like it really wants to be taken seriously, rather than other series, like Real Account that know the story is absolutely ludicrous and just absolutely run with it. Darwin’s Game also doesn’t have enough elements that feel unique or innovative to offset its more pandering/trashy aspects, like Gantz did, making it hard to overlook them. If you’re the target demographic however, probably boys 15-18 , Darwin’s Game is likely to still hit enough of the right points to offer you a fun, if trashy watch this Winter.
Linny: What really soured us on this episode was the latter half, which felt like it dragged out what could have been portrayed in a much shorter and neater time frame. Too much time is spent on the lead up to and actual encounter between Kaname and Shuka. There’s a lot of verbal back and forth, monologues and extended chasing around. Given the much better executed and thrilling opening showdowns, it makes this one feel a lot less fun to sit through. Overall, Darwin’s Game feels like something worth watching for those who want a high violence male fantasy but not for those who want some serious reinvention or ingenuity in the survival game genre. If constant showdowns alone are enough to grab your attention, it’s likely then that Darwin’s Game has enough to keep you hooked.
Darwin’s Game is available for streaming via Funimation. (Both Crunchyroll and HIDIVE will have the series available for streaming on February 2nd.)