The only way to win is not to play but this game gets in your DNA.
What They Say:
A class of thirty-two high school students receive texts commanding them to complete strange tasks. Do what the messages say, and more will follow. Fail to go through with them, and face the consequences. Nobuaki Kanazawa has played this game before and knows that these demands must be met. But until penalties for failure become lethal, no one is ready to step out of their comfort zone. With death around every corner, and as orders and punishments become more and more gruesome, the worst in people manages to tear its way out.
The audio presentation for this release brings us the original Japanese language in stereo while the English dub gets a 5.1 boost, both of which are encoded using the Dolby TrueHD lossless codec. The series is one that’s definitely focused on the dialogue with some heightened moments of tension that ramps things up a bit with the score to it. There are some action moments that allows for some sound design to step up a bit with what the game itself involves but it never feels terribly strong or distinctive in a way, allowing more for the dialogue to take center stage. Both tracks are pretty good with what they have to work with and the encoding for it all comes across cleanly and clearly for them. We didn’t have any issues with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2017, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The twelve episodes are spread across two discs in a standard nine/three design, giving it plenty of room to work with. Animated by Seven, the show is one that has a bit of a budget feeling to it in terms of character designs as they’re a little simpler, rarely change outfits, and works with a lot of darker and more muted backdrops for much of it. There are breaks from that to be sure but the general feel of it is a show looking to keep things serviceable and let the story draw you in. The colors are pretty good looking in terms of maintaining a solid feeling and look to it without much in the way of noise. The darker backgrounds hold up very well and the details that we do get are pretty solid and problem free throughout.
The packaging for this set comes in a slightly thicker than normal Blu-ray case that has a pair of hinges inside to hold the four discs from the two formats. The first pressings come with an o-card slipcover that features the same artwork as the case but the vibrancy of the colors, especially the reds, really makes it a very different feeling piece. The cover goes for the murky edges that you’d expect while getting a collage of students in the middle, allowing Nobuaki the center position as the focal point. The logo along the top is simple but effective and there’s a good sense of intensity about it all. The back cover goes for an all-black background with some nice bloodied white lettering along the top for the tagline. The few shots from the show are larger than usual but just dark and murky. Hell, the summary of the premise looks like a typewriter font in white on black to give it a distinctive feeling but makes it a little hard to read. The layout of what’s on the set is pretty clear and we get a good technical grid along the bottom that covers both formats cleanly and accurately in how they’re put together. While there are no show related inserts we do get some artwork on the reverse side with the two leads character designs done in white on black.
The menu design is one that’s simple but I like it for the change it works with. Going with a kind of chalky black background with splatters of red blood, the two main menu discs use some white-lined character artwork for one of the leads along the right. It’s distinctive and stylish but also pretty minimal in a good way. The left side works the logo in white on red with the navigation below it that goes with a bigger splotch of red as the background. It has a simple font to it for the navigation but it works nicely in how it creates a bit of the mood for it. Submenus load quickly and easily and we didn’t have any issues either as the main menu for it or as the pop-up menu during playback.
The only extras included here are the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the Osama Game phone novel and its sequel, King’s Game is a twelve episode anime series that aired in the fall 2017 season. The novel side of it began in 2009 from Nobuaki Kanazawa and ran until 2015 for a total of twelve volumes. It also spawned a number of manga offshoots that come in at around twenty volumes combined and there was a live-action film for it as well. King’s Game is the kind of simple and easy to do horror work since it doesn’t involve anything outlandish visually and we’ve seen similar out of Hollywood as well. There’s a kind of fun that comes from a project like this, “fun” being the odd word, because you get to see how people react to such difficult and stressful situations. The downside is that is that if the cast is too big you don’t get enough time to really get to know them and feel something when the inevitable happens. Sadly, that’s what happens with King’s Game.
The premise involves a high school class of thirty-two students where by the end of it there can be only one. With little real warning to everything, they’re thrown into a situation that’s kept quiet and aloof from anything resembling adults as they begin receiving text messages from an unknown source known only as King. These end up being instructions for the kids to obey with punishments if they fail to do so, which is death. You can imagine the kind of simple silliness that begins all of this and the disbelief over what it really means, almost like a chain letter kind of thing. Do this or bad things will happen. But it’s when the bad things start happening and the students start dying that we get that level of real fear and panic coming out in full force from the class, especially since often the instructions they get are brutal or essentially make it clear that they have to choose who will die by what must be done.
The focal point of all of this is on Nobuaki Kanazawa, a new transfer student into the school who keeps himself away from everyone else. The problem, as we discover across the series, is that this game is basically like a virus that you can’t get rid of. Nobuaki is infected and his presence in this class brings the Game with him and it doesn’t take long for the instructions to start showing up. Nobody believes him at first, as you’d rightly expect, but like a good horror movie/series, the bodies start to pile up and belief begins to come around. The problem is that these aren’t small and simple things that the kids are asked to do early on to entice them into the game. The second episode involves Natsuko as she’s told to have sex with Teruaki and after seeing the way someone was killed just before in the game, it’s something that she still recoils from before going all in on, so much so that she’ll do everything in front of this large group of students.
Suffice to say, there’s a breakdown of stability going on quickly here with these kids and as they’re exposed to more instructions and more deaths happening, they’re becoming increasingly strung out. A lot of personal baggage starts coming to the surface as well and it’s interesting to watch that play out without any investment, much like Nobuaki is, because it happened prior to his transfer to the school. But that’s another piece that keeps the disconnect up for people in really getting to these characters because even when we do explore some of it, it’s all just exposed under pressure and tension amid the looming threat of death. We only see these characters at their worst, not their downfall, so it becomes hard to empathize with that fall and instead just see people snap. Even the punishments are arbitrary at times, such as when one of them has to roll a die and that’s how many people will die – including the person who rolls the die. So what the show really becomes as it whittles away is not a game that can be solved or anything but just the whims of an unknown text killing off people.
While I’m certainly critical of aspects of the show in how it sets its emotional stakes, i.e. poorly, I’ll admit that dark side of me enjoyed watching it. There are any number of movies over the years in the horror genre that works things like this with people in bad situations and just forced to make terrible choices. King’s Game plays well in that with how dark it goes and twisted while also showing how it breaks the characters. The downside for me is that there are no emotional stakes because there are so many characters, so little prelude to it all, that it’s just a series of disturbing sequences. I’d hoped that it would take advantage of being twelve episodes to explore more of it and I’m intrigued by the idea of the game as a kind of viral thing, even as a reaction to something else, that I wish it was explored more. Funimation’s release is pretty standard stuff here but it’s solidly executed and delivers what fans will want in the end, the series in their language of choice in a clean looking and tight little set.
Japanese Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing
Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: Funimation
Release Date: November 27th, 2018
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.