Darwin’s Game is not the same as King’s Game

Darwins Game Key Visuals

 

  • Genre : Action, romance, violence, Bottle Royal
  • Episodes: 11
  • Studio: Nexus

 

Mobile games are turning into a real bane. You think it’s all lighthearted casual fun, free to play easy to install and them before you know it they hit you with the small print. You’re just minding your own business and somehow you now owe 60$ in microtransactions for some game that isn’t even that fun or you know, or maybe you only had two hours sleep because you spent hours mindlessly tapping on a screen and letting your brain melt slowly, or somebody is trying to murder you. Any one of these things can just put a damper on your day. For Kaname it’s mostly the latter that has him down, especially since a couple of his good friends are dead now and he accidentally got roped into this whole thing without even knowing the rules. So how do you quit a real life free for all PvP? Not easily…

That’s kind of a weird title for my post… In case some of you don’t know King’s Game is an anime with an extremely similar premise which I watched a while ago and reviewed here: King’s Game – A Modern Transcendentalist Rallying Cry. I stand by that title! Grated the plot of both Darwin’s Game and King’s Game is sort of basic horror fodder right now so it’s not weird to find two similar animes but the second I started watching Darwin’s Game I was struck by just how many elements were pretty much identical. Even the title is almost the same. And since I didn’t enjoy King’s Game much, I was just about to drop Darwin’s Game when something made me stick around…

Darwin's Game ep3-5 (6)

what could that thing be?

Now visually speaking Darwin’s Game is what I would qualify as competent. It’s not bad. The ladies are very pretty and have very pretty eyes. The boys are much less interesting in design and for me, less attractive, but they get the point across. The backgrounds are similarly forgettable but functional and a lot of attention is given to floor plans and layouts to really coordinate the virtual space with the action which I thought was a very nice touch.

I don’t have much to say about sound design and apart from a few classic tropes the non verbal storytelling was rather minimal. It’s an o.k. looking show which most people are not likely to remember for its production unless you happen to particularly like a specific character design or something.

Oddly though, this may have played in Darwin’s Game’s favour. This is a convoluted sentence but I really wanted to keep it…

Darwin's Game ep3-5 (14)

You know what else I kept? Dozens of eye close ups!

Like I said, I almost dropped this show at the first episode, which is a double episode by the way so that 11 episode count is really 12 like most other shows. First the production is not bad in any way but for me didn’t have any particular element that would keep me watching. And the set up is so full of worn out horror tropes that I felt like I had seen this show before.

The basic premise is that there’s a mysterious mobile game that sort of appears on your phone and if you happen to open the app you automatically become a player in Darwin’s Game. It’s a sort of Battle Royal in which players kill each other for fabulous prizes and indecent sums of money. There is a lot of techno-magic going on that ensures non players are never in the way and players can have supernatural abilities called sigils. When every man nice guy (standard protagonist) Kaname finds the app on his own phone he suddenly gets sucked into a never ending fight for survival and manages to collect both allies and foes along the way.

Now King’s Game does differ in the fact that the mobile app gives you random and increasingly gruesome tasks to accomplish in order to survive (or else you are supernaturally killed) instead of sucking you into battles to the death, but the tone and effects are very similar. The character archetypes are pretty much the same as well and the early story was progressing along the same narrative beats and plot points.You have to understand, I really didn’t like King’s Game much and found it a chore to finish so these commonalities were giving me very serious pause.

Darwin's Game ep9-11 (22)

I have a bad feeling about this

However, after seeing that Darwin’s Game had a much better rating than King’s Game I decided to stick around only out of curiosity. I find that sometimes two very similar shows can have very different ratings and it’s always fascinating to me. However, after episode 2, it became very apparent that these were wildly different shows and one was clearly better.

I know merely comparing two shows is not much of a review but I really did enjoy the exercise of figuring out why one worked for me while the other didn’t and I think sharing that with you will help you get an idea of what type of show Darwin’s Game is.

First thing that I think really helped Darwin’s Game is the shift from Horror to Action. Now Darwin’s Game is a very violent anime and occasionally quite gruesome about it. A lot of the deaths are bloody, onscreen and the victims are often very young or more or less innocent. It has just as much gore and suspense as any horror series I have seen but that’s not what the plot chooses to emphasize. Instead of slow moody scenes meant to built up tension we have quick moving action that rarely broods on the tragedy and dread of the situation.

Darwin's Game ep6-8 (3)

no hard feelings

This in turn changes the character archetypes and the way the story treats them. People in Darwin’s Game get over things pretty easily and quickly. They have to, they don’t have time to be all gloomy. Which means the overall tone is a lot more happy go lucky in spite of everything that is going on. The story also becomes much more plot driven with the appeal being trying to figure out who is behind the game and why it exists rather than character driven with the audience breathlessly hoping our heroes will survive.

This means a bit less development for the cast in favour of more daredevil plans and twists along the way. And I think that this is what works best in this type of story. It also means the characters don,t have to be as helpless or sympathetic since their deaths aren’t the focus of the narrative. They can survive, and kick some behind along the way. They can also be kind of ruthless in their own right with a lot of the essentially innocent character deaths being of their doing. Hey, it’s a kill or be killed world out there. For me this meant that despite having less time devoted to character backstory, motivation or development, they seemed more complex and well rounded (if rather unhinged).

Finally, the fact that the story relies on a lot of well established tropes and fairly basic production also served in efficiently getting me quickly hooked into the action. We all know the basic concept of a Battle Royal, all these people suddenly rapped into this kill to survive situation. It’s a familiar premise that doesn’t really need much explanation or justification at this point. And motivation becomes inherent as well. All these characters are acting this way because they don’t want to die. Great, I get it, I relate, I also would probably not want to die!

Darwin's Game ep2 (16)

getting pixelated seems bad

Smartly Darwin’s Game doesn’t waste any time reexplaining concepts that are by now well known by most of the audience and instead just concentrates and the few tidbits of information that are unique to the show giving the series a more individual feel than it would have otherwise and makes the characters fun and fun to watch instead of bothering with explaining their thought process. The visuals and sound design are the type of stuff anime fans have seen so often that they don’t interfere in any way. There is no overload and no distractions. You get thrown right into the story and then it just never stops for the entire run. And that more or less nonstop action is done very well.

Every time an episode ended I really wanted to know what happens next. Darwin’s Game didn’t affect me in any deep way or stir up my emotions or anything, personally I liked all the characters but didn’t really care anyone specifically. My favourite is chosen mostly on character design. But I was really entertained for the entire run. I should say I finished the series in 3 days and even without being able to directly compare I’m rather confident that Darwin’s Game is the type of show that is really at it’s best when taken in in consecutive more or less uninterrupted viewings. The momentum is really what it has going for it and I have a feeling that if you break it, the series becomes considerably less interesting.

So what I’m saying in short if that Darwin’s Game wasn’t the same as King’s Game…

Darwin's Game ep2 (13)

Favourite character: Rein – obviously

What this anime taught me: nothing – I already knew butterflies are evil

If you don’t drink, how will your friends know you love them at 2 a.m.?

Suggested drink: Game Set Match

  • Every time we see a butterfly – shiver
  • Every time anyone says “sigil” – take a sip
  • Every time the game sends a push notification – go to the settings
  • Every time Kaname dodes – take a sip
  • Every time Shuka is merciless – think about your priorities
  • Every time Kaname is considered outstanding – be confused
  • Every time Kaname hears his inner voice – take a sip
  • Every time Sui and Sota switch – take a sip
  • Every time someone makes a noble sacrifice – get a snack
  • Every time Rein figures it out – cheer
  • Every time we see Wang – take a sip

Darwin's Game ep9-11 (27)Like I said the lady character designs are very cute, let me show you what I mean:

Irina

I'm much nicer than I seem, we should be friends!

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9 Responses

  1. There was something about Darwin’s Game that made it a lot of fun to watch. I even liked the main character (Kaname) and his relationship to Shuka. She had style, grace, and the mouth of a sailor if she was in a fight.

    Enchanting combination!

    • Irina says:

      Yeah! There was nothing special about the series but I thought it was fun. And in the end, what more can you ask for!

  2. Maica says:

    I love the title of your review. 😄
    So, I appreciate that you gave 2 reviews in one- avoid King’s Game, and if I am looking for a horror rpg anime, this one could be good.
    I watched a Kdrama remake of the Japanese drama Liar Game (the Japanese drama has been on my wishlist for a lonnng time now, but I haven’t found a place to watch it yet). Have you read the manga or watched the anime (not sure if that exists) of Liar Game?

    If so, which did you think was better?

    • Irina says:

      I’m efficient. I did read Liar Game a long time ago and I quite liked it. At least the beginning, I might have forgotten the end…

      They don’t really compare though. Liar Game is very psychological and full of mind games. This is a silly action show.

  3. Dawnstorm says:

    I dropped the show the moment the snake came out of the mobile phone. By then the cumulative effect of the show getting on my nerves was just too much. As usual, with shows I drop this quickly that’s inconclusive. I’ve come back to a lot of them and ended up liking them (genre-relevance: it happened to Mirai Nikki).

    Sounds like I’m not missing much, if I don’t watch it.

    • Irina says:

      Wait wasn’t that about 10 minutes into the first episode?

      • Dawnstorm says:

        Yes. I didn’t even know it was a double episode until the first reviews came in. I had an immediate antipathy towards the show from the opening shot, and then nothing convinced me I was wrong. I don’t necessarily trust myself (been proven wrong time and again), so I tend to keep my eyes and ears open for shows like that.

  4. raistlin0903 says:

    Karandi and me watched King’s Game back in the day, and it became a kind of guilty pleasure. It was a show that we both felt the same about: it was really bad, but still weirdly enough we enjoyed it, despite the many (and there were many) flaws it had.
    Reading this review and seeing how it’s better then King’s Game, I have become quite curious for it. As is of course usually the case here in Holland, it’s not yet available for me. But…I will most assuredly keep my eyes open for it. As always your review was spot on, and it only shows that sometimes it pays off to stick around watching a series, and not giving up on it after just one episode😊

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