Dropped: Darwin’s Game…Over

Darwin’s Game – 02 – Infodate

As I suspected, Shuka doesn’t want to have Kaname’s baby. She’s only naked because she was too tired to change into PJs after carrying him home and dressing his wounds. Fair enough…

As for the “family” she seeks, after a long time playing (and winning) solo, she now wants to create a guild of sorts within the game. Kaname is eager for allies (not to mention the saying about keeping your enemies closer) so he’s all for joining forces, much to Shuka’s delight.

Shuka believes the first step to being good partners is to become good friends, so she suggests a date in Shibuya the next day, when she wears the same red dress (she either really likes the dress or the show lacks the budget to put her in too many other outfits for too long).

In between doing date-y things, Shuka feeds Kaname more exposition about Darwin’s Game, or “D-Game” as it’s called in public (spreading info to non-players is a heinous breach of the rules). The episode kinda drags throughout the date…it’s just so talky and bland.

Even as a countdown begins for a special D-Game Treasure Hunt Event, Kaname is challenged to a fight by Inukai, a high school student a grade below him who is interested in fighting the noob who defeated the Undefeated Queen.

Kaname uses a stun gun and Inukai’s own warning about taking care of one’s phone, not to mention intervention from Shuka, to force Inukai to surrender. Then the Treasure Hunt begins, and since there are more players (300) than treasures to find, not everyone is going to survive.

Darwin’s Game – 01 (First Impressions) – Quick Study

After a quick look at someone standing on an I-beam high above the city, we begin with a chase that isn’t quite as thrilling as the music would want us to believe. But the chase kinetically, succinctly presents and answers questions about the nature of the titular game.

Will you be relentlessly pursued by a baseball panda with a cloaking device and a cleaver? Yes you will! Can you call for help? Sure, but it will cost you, with no assurance anyone will respond. What if you lose? You die. So far so good. All we need is a protagonist more likable than the guy who just died.

Enter Sudou Kaname, friend of the deceased, who was one of the people the guy texted before he died. That text is an invite to a free-to-play mobile game. Before his other friend Kyouda can stop him, Kaname accepts, and a goddamn snake pops out of his phone’s screen and bites him.

Now that he’s an official player in the game, he almost immediately ends up in his first battle, not knowing the rules or that the stakes are all too real. The baseball panda Banda-kun is his first opponent, and the bear apparently notorious for beating up on rookies like Kaname.

Fortunately for Kaname, his “Luck” stat in the game must be pretty high. After a frightful chase during which Banda kills a cop, Kyouda intervenes but is injured, and Kaname gets a basic grasp of some of the game’s rules, Banda is hit by a car and Kaname gets the win.

The catch? Both Banda and Kyouda are killed in the most unnatural way: being blinked out of existence one cube at a time. Kaname has lost two friends and narrowly escaped with his life. When he checks the loot from his win, a handgun appears at his door. He doesn’t like this game. You can’t really blame him.

Still, as far as inescapable Battle Royale scenarios go, it could be far worse for Kaname. His first battle is a fluke win, while an experienced player in Karino Shuka reaches out with an offer to teach him more about the game, and she’s gorgeous. Shuka’s also not very trusting, so when Kaname reveals he brought weapons to their meeting, she initiates a battle between them.

Despite having air superiority and knowing the warehouse location back to front, Shuka’s mistake is not achieving her objective of eliminating a potential threat without dilly-dallying. Their battle only stokes Kaname up, awakening his inner sense of self-survival at any cost—even shooting a gun at a woman, something he’d never do. That gun is conjured by his previously-unknown “sigil”, or special skill.

Yet as exhibited when he cared for Kyouda, Kaname is a nice, well-adjusted guy. He doesn’t end up having to kill Shuka, as she surrenders instead, and promises to obey Kaname henceforth. That’s a surprising wrinkle in what had been presented as a “win-or-die” scenario, but not an unwelcome one, as Darwin’s Game had already killed off a fair number of characters and Ueda Reina is too good a seiyu to only bring in for one episode.

This show is full of battle royale and shounen cliches, one of them being the hero suddenly collapsing from exhaustion moments after victory. Another is his one-time-opponent seemingly falling for him on the spot. It yet another spot of luck (or possibly horror), he wakes up Shuka’s bed, with a naked-as-a-jaybird Shuka dozing beside him.

In addition to T&A, Shuka offers an abrupt proposal for Kaname: she wants to “make a family” with him. Huh. BIT random, but not altogether out of the blue. It’s clear Shuka, nicknamed the “Undefeated Queen”, has been doing this for a while. It’s likely been lonely game, and she likely hasn’t met someone quite like Kaname before: someone who risked himself to trust and spare her.

At this point I’d like it more if this was some long game to exploit his kindness to use and dispose of him, or perhaps it’s the start of an earnest romance in the making. Either way, this was a diverting and intriguing enough opening double episode to warrant further viewing.

Alice to Zouroku – 02

Last week Sana met the ‘vinegar’ (Zouroku); this week she meets the ‘honey’, Z’s lovely, kind, and capable granddaughter Sanae, voiced by Toyosaki Aki. Sana is in Defense Mode at first, but Sanae manages to disarm her with a pig puppet, something, incidentally, Leon did to get Matilda’s mind off the trauma she’d just endured.

Sana didn’t witness her family’s murder, but she did witness…something very bad, which is why she had to leave the facility. But outside the facility is extremely hazardous, both in terms of what could happen to Sana and what she could accidentally do to others with powers she’s not 100% in control of.

Still, the Kashimura residence is a great safe house to demonstrate her powers writ small, so to speak, if “writ small’ means conjuring a whole herd of pigs upon seeing Sanae’s puppet, to creating a mammoth pancake when she can’t wait the nebulous “a bit” for seconds.

Sanae gets Sana into more contemporary clothes, fixes her hair by hand, and fills her belly. All the while, Sana inspects the home, which is a stark contrast from the cold, sterile research facility. Also, that big pancake, like any food, required a massive transfer of energy, leaving Sana tuckered-out.

When the research facility comes up in conversation, Sana starts to talk, which is the best way to process what happened, deal with it, and move on. She mentions how everybody was either very professional or very nice, and how she didn’t even know how to communicate before meeting the twins, expanding our knowledge of Sana’s abilities. Interestingly, the memories seem to be narrated in two voices: the young Sana, and an adult Sana voiceover.

When talk of what she found in the deeper levels of the facility (which involved huge crystals and lots of blood), Sanae is there to give her a needed hug. This new place may be ‘weird’, and more cramped and less clean than the facility, but it is where she currently belongs, at least until a proper plan of action can be formulated. Sanae makes sure Sana knows she is safe, and that everything will be okay.

Energized by her meal, her nap, and her hug, Sana is ready to take on the facility now, and when she decides they’ll look for Zouroku, she and Sanae end up teleported to, in quick succession: high over Tokyo, on a tarmac as a plane lands, clinging to a rushing freight train…and Antarctica.

It’s clear, then, that while Sana has immense power to conjure anything and travel anywhere, she’s still a long way from controlling her powers, either their level, or keeping whims from becoming reality. Tackling the facility in this state would be reckless.

In another example of the unpredictability of those powers, Sana and Sanae finally return to Tokyo, it’s to Zouroku’s flower shop, and the pigs come along for the ride, destroying the shop in short order. It’s another blunder, but far better for such blunders to occur in a controlled, safe environment than at the facility where many other ability-users will be deployed against her, even the twins.

Sana still has her ability-using ally whom we caught a glimpse of last week—she said they’d “meet again soon.” But I’m glad Zouroku’s granddaughter has been introduced to smooth Z’s rough edges, and the warm and cozy slice-of-life with Sanae and Sana was appreciated and a nice respite from what is sure to be more action and danger going forward.

Alice to Zouroku – 01 (First Impressions)

The Gist: Sana, who belongs to a group of supernatural power-wielding humans known as “Dreams of Alice”, has escaped the research facility where she’s been held as long as she can remember.

While being pursued by the facility’s director, armed with other Dreams of Alice, Sana meets Kashimura Zouroku, an elderly florist, who gets caught up in the ensuing chaos.

He eventually agrees to let her stay at his place “for a while” as long as she helps him out and doesn’t use her powers.

A2Z, as I’ll be shortening it to, is a seinen anime, and as such, deals with what could have been a moetastic mess with a clear-eyed sobriety, a deliberate pace, and with a refined attention to detail. Zouroku is truly an Old Man’s Old Man, who wouldn’t be out of place in a show like Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu, and the way the young Sana instantly starts cramping his old man style is highly believable as well as entertaining.

We’ve seen plenty of “I don’t need this” characters, but Zouroku immediately earns that attitude by having so many years under his belt, and to a degree, having earned the right to live his life the way he wants. If a bunch of magic-using urchins start messing up his Shinjuku, well, he has a problem with that. Of course, once he learns where Sana is from, and how she’s no doubt had to deal with stuff no little kid should, his position softens, without breaking down into 3-gatsu no Lion Gushy Grandpa Mode.

I also liked the application of the magic itself. It’s weird, fun, and creative without getting too whimsical. As soon as we saw Tachibana standing on the palm of a giant hand, I knew we were in for some weird stuff, and her short but exciting dual with Sana’s mysterious benefactor, as well as the Mini car chase with the chain-and-arrow-wielding twins, are very well-directed sequences. The CGI is very much noticeable, but not distractingly so.

What I appreciated was that mundane scenes of Shinjuku are treated with as much care as those action scenes. This may be a first episode and the animation quality may well dip, but for now the world of A2Z is lively and lived-in, avoiding being too flashy, surreal, or stylized. Similarly, the character design is very simple, but effective, calling to mind that of Madoka Magica. A little kiddy, belying its more mature themes.

We don’t know exactly what’s up with Zouroku and his granddaughter, but my take was that she passed away or maybe moved out on bad terms (it’s suggested she’s older than Sana in any case). The sudden appearance of Sana in Zouroku’s life suggests this won’t be a one-sided relationship: both parties will get something out of it.

Sure, at first, that means more trouble for Zouroku, but whether he was planning on it or not, it also afford the opportunity for him to do something more important than a floral arrangement for a yakuza’s girlfriend.

What exactly that is, and whether or not he’ll simply stay out of the way when Sana & Co. go off on each other again, I look forward to finding out. This confident double episode was a surefire way to get me quickly invested.