"Brutal Japanese high school survival horror" is pretty much its own genre now, right? So how different can yet another one be? It's true, King's Game absolutely has all the earmarks of its predecessors -- but it plays with the format in a lot of seriously weird ways. And earlier versions of the stories already have a major fan following for that reason.
It's a gruesome tale with a massive body count: all the members of a high school class receive text messages from the "King," an entity who issues orders they must fulfill within 24 hours or suffer a punishment. It could be kissing a classmate. It could be killing a classmate. it could be simply going a day without crying. But at their worst, the punishments are capital in nature, and come from nowhere. It's not uncommon to see a student spontaneously catch fire, or have their hands explode off their arms in fountains of blood.
Who the King is, and how they have such control over the players, no one is sure. The only thing that's certain is they have to play -- because opting out also means death.
Not familiar with the series? If you're a fan of psychological horror, you really ought to give it a go. Why? We'll tell you why:
1. A Story in the Past and Present
With multiple storylines already running through the King's Game universe, a big question for existing fans was which story the anime would cover. Protagonist Nobuaki has played the Game in two classes -- and the anime covers both.
Most of what we see is played out in flashback, covering the class before the present one as Nobuaki explains to his current classmates how the King's Game works. Fortunately, the two sets of characters are kept clear, and different-colored subtitle borders help you keep everything straight. In other words, even if you're not familiar with the preceding manga or novel, you're getting the back story given to you. And because they're playing out "simultaneously," the twists and turns in the plots arrive just at the right time.
2. Yui Horie's Crazy Heel-Turn
Prolific voice actress Yui Horie appears in King's Game as Natsuko Honda, who -- for a grand total of one episode -- sure seems sweet. But we're disabused of that so quickly that it's not even a spoiler to say she goes from girlfriend material to... well... what you see above.
Horie is multitalented, having played a variety of roles in anime and video games, but there's something great about hearing her snap from sweet to sadistic in the course of a minute or two. And while we don't currently see a whole lot of Natsuko (with most of Nobuaki's focus being on his previous classmate, the similarly-named Chiemi Honda), she's a terrifying treat when she's there.
3. Many, Many Motivations
Generally for something as brutal as the King's Game, the main motivation is to stay alive. But this series knows how people are -- and they know that the best and worst will come out in people in a crisis.
In both the past and present story lines, we see students who view the game as an opportunity. Be it petty revenge or the ability to be get away with urges they've been shamed for in the past, the King's orders are often used and manipulated to take out long-term aggressions.
Meanwhile, there's one student in particular who's decided they're going to have "fun" playing the King's Game. Because games are for fun, right? Right...
4. A Promise of Answers
Not everyone's here to mess around, though. In both the past and present, Nobuaki has a contingent of classmates who take the King's threats seriously and are looking to help him end it. Their research yield results (and occasionally punishments), meaning that before the series is over we will know who the King is and why this is happening. And considering not every series delivers on its promises of explanation, that's pretty reassuring.
Of course, fans of the other versions already know what the King's Game is -- so don't spoil it for those who are learning via the anime!
5. Great Themes
And what's an anime without its themes? Both the OP and ED are awesome for this series.
Japanese metalcore band coldrain rocks the opening with "Feed the Fire," which is performed (as with all their tunes) entirely in English. And bringing up the rear with ending theme "Lost Paradise" is Pile, known to Love Live! fans as Maki Nishikino.
Kara Dennison is responsible for multiple webcomics, blogs and runs interviews for (Re)Generation Who and PotterVerse, and is half the creative team behind the OEL light novel series Owl's Flower. She blogs at karadennison.com and tweets @RubyCosmos. Her latest story can be found in My American Nightmare.