- Release Date
- Winter 2020
- No. of Episodes
Darwin’s Game is a 2020 Action anime from studio Nexus; by this point, their only “big” name series has been Chivalry of a Failed Knight. Whenever a new “Play or Die” anime comes out, I’m always wary about it mainly due to two huge problems that series of this caliber seem to usually tend to miss. Either they focus solely on the action and fail to have any good characters or even worse, having no actual plot, or the story and action are excellent. Still, the animation is terrible, or some part of the series does something that turns its viewers off. Whatever the reason may be, I always watch these new shows with a “how will this show turn out?” mentality.
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While the story itself is rather adequate, it’s still bland, and on paper, it sounds even worse than it truly is. Which is an unfortunate thing about this series. When High School student Kaname Sudou receives an invitation from a classmate to play Darwin’s Game, a mobile game he has never heard of. However, once he opens the app, he is greeted for a world of superpowers. Inside the Game, the players must use their superpowers, called Sigils, to not only stay alive but to also figure out how to get out of the Game. Can Kaname survive the dangerous battles against the dominant players who attack him? Or will he end up getting killed due to his own mistakes?
As mentioned above, the story is decent, but sadly, this is a terrible aspect of the series itself. With any anime series where it deals with High Stakes Games, the story needs to be enticing while also not showing all their cards right away, which it does a sufficiently great job at doing. Although the series is only eleven episodes, the pacing does do better in some areas, but it does excellent with its world-building. Which, for a lot of series and even ones outside of this genre, have a difficult time creating, especially when dozens of new series are premiering every season. Outside of the generic gunk on paper, the story isn’t bad, but at the same time, it isn’t anything to bend over backward for.
The notable aspects of this show aren’t what I was initially looking for. Especially when dealing with an eleven episode story, so in theory, there isn’t any room for filler. However, what I did notice about the series’ story isn’t inevitably inadequate, but it’s just not a plus. It’s blatantly evident that some players Sigil are better than others, but if you’re not within the main cast, then the players are pretty much screwed. Another aspect that didn’t pan out well for this series is that as stated before, where the flow of the story was better in some areas than others, which is typical for any genre, it perhaps needed that additional episode. There isn’t any filler, which is excellent, but mayhap it just needed a little cushion to glide easier through those rough sections.
The Art Style in this series is very well polished and is clearly loved by the artists. For instance, the art style within the app is different than what one would expect. While the application artwork is more chibi, the real world is sleeker and more realistic while at the same time looking precisely like its source material. The color schemes are ideally used and altered to fit the attitude of the story, where it’ll be bright and cheerful then, later on, become cloudy and ominous. Each one of the characters’ designs is unique and readily identifiable, which is a unique asset a series should have.
Outside of the beautiful art style, color schemes, and even the character designs, is something even more impressive and meshes perfectly together. The Animation Production is spot on and is exactly the same wavelength with the art style, which is a great plus for this series. The action scenes look smooth and are actually fast-paced when necessitated. While the most beautiful hallmark of this series animation production is the use of revealing to its audience what’s happening without really showing us. They use characters’ eyes, the sound around them, the shadows on the wall to intensify the dangerous aspect of this world, and that no matter how good the player is, there’s always someone better.
However, while these two are great collectively, there are a few problems within them that are problematic for any show. While the biggest challenge for these two isn’t within itself, but towards the entire series as it stands. The problem is when there is an action scene, it’s a beautifully created spectacle, but outside of that, it just becomes above average. Which is very unfortunate but is to be expected when the show is less than the standard. Reasonably this is a potential problem for any studio where they only produce one series a year if that. However, it’s no excuse and definitely isn’t justified when the series opens up with an hour-long episode specifically for world-building and character setup.
The characters within the show are intriguing, but not above everyday normalities of typical anime series. Kaname Sudo, a 17-year-old high school student who accidentally gets roped into playing Darwin’s Game after the death of his best friends. His Sigil, “The Fire God’s Hammer,” allows him to recreate weapons and other simple objects he touches. He forbids himself to kill anyone and allows himself to do so only under self-defense, and with the help of his friends, they’ll hopefully be able to leave the Game that haunts their nightmares. His love interest Shuka Karino, a 17-year-old girl from a wealthy family. Her Sigil, “Princess of Thorn,” allows her to control wire-like objects, which she utilizes to wield spiked chains.
Then we have Rein Kashiwagi, a 13-year-old middle school student who is an information broker. Her Sigil “Laplace’s Demon” allows her to calculate physical vectors and ables her to see into the future, which is only limited to physical limitations and predictions. She doesn’t fight much but can when it is needed and is not afraid to shoot her sniper if necessary. Ryuji Maesaka, a 21-year-old man that initially was an enemy of Kaname during an event but became friends after working together. His Sigil “Lie Detector” pretty much allows him to tell if someone is lying or not, and in this game, that’s a huge advantage. While his Sigal doesn’t offer him any combative assistance, he is ready to fight whenever possible with his heavily armored bulletproof suits, masks, and artillery.
The most interesting character of the show is also the youngest, Sui/Sota. This young character has a dual personality due to the presence of her deceased older twin brother Sota’s soul, within her body. While Sui is the quiet, shy, and kindhearted one, Sota is the opposite. Sui’s Sigil, “Pollux Light,” allows her to control water, which mixed with Sota’s “Castor Light” that will enable him to freeze things are a fantastic combination.
The antagonist within this series is a bit generic but had great potential. Wang, the leader of the infamous yakuza clan Eighth that ruled over Shibuya. His Sigil allows him to reach extremely high heights within seconds. Bloodthirsty, violent, and devilishly wicked, he delights in torturing people and even has a habit of cutting off their fingers and pickling them into juice. Outside of this character, there isn’t anyone who I’d classify as an antagonist.
While the entirety of the series is not the best, what really hurts this is the story takes the easiest way to expand it without even trying. The series tells the viewer that a group of elites is watching the Game unfold, which is a potentially tremendous problem for the viewer. Mainly due to it being set up for future seasons and is done very poorly. The most unforgivable mistake this series made was not only committed once but twice. They flipped the antagonist’s personality once their beaten and had no initial set up for it. At the same time, the series gets hurt within the last episode, they seemed to miss a huge opportunity to end this series on a high note; instead, they shied away from the pacing that was being done. The consequence has resulted in an abysmal ending, potentially leaving the viewer questioning why they watched this series.
This series isn’t the best in the story department, and most definitely in action, but it was somewhat entertaining to watch. However, if someone is low on action series and is looking to view one with a slightly – and I do mean slightly – better story then what was expected, I’d recommend this. Nevertheless, don’t expect anything outside of a bland to somewhat average anime where the ending takes it potentially down to flavorless. This is unsettling when a viewer spends time watching it, and then the creators slap them in the face at the finish line.
Cody Senpai is the creator of BakaNow, an anime review website that specializes in spoiler-free reviews for everyone. He is an avid anime watcher who has traveled to Japan numerous times to not only experience the culture and history but also to build friendships with people through a common interest. He is an avid animation fanatic from birth and even went on to major in communication to help share the importance of the stories we love to watch and listen to. Cody lives in Denver, Colorado and loves to do anything adventurous.