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There almost seemed to be a theme to the Winter 2016 season: shows which had intriguing premises, premises which set up questions which the viewer absolutely had to have an answer for--then went off on strange tangents and made little or no effort to answer them. Darwin's Game was a show which got off to a good start but couldn't keep up the momentum. It opened with a tantalizing question: 'How does this terrifying but fantastical game operate, and can a person escape from it?', then promptly threw that question to the wind and instead focused on frustrating fights-of-the-week.
I took few notes while watching episode one, but that was because it was exciting and engaging and I wanted to see what was going to happen next, not write things down (The show didn't seem to have anything to do with Charles Darwin or evolution). Kaname is drawn into a deadly game and for most of this first episode is running for his life. He has no time to wonder WTF is going on or how it got started, which makes the show seem more sincere and realistic than ones in which people clearly do have time to do that, but don't. It's sort of like Gantz; the competitors here are perfectly human, but they've attained such fantastic skills (like invisibility) that they might as well be aliens. Episode one is basically twice as long as usual; in the first half Kaname gets his first taste of the game and narrowly defeats a psychopath who likes to wear a bizarre costume. The manner in which he won was believable and intriguing, which matters a lot in shows of this sort. In the second half he goes searching for information with a girl who seems willing to help him but winds up in another duel. You can get help from others during your matches, and it soon became clear that Kaname and this girl, Shuka, would reach a 'you-help-me-in-my-fights-and-I'll-help-you-in-yours' agreement (might the game pit them against each other at some point?). The way they wound up at the very end was kind of cheap (but titillating nevertheless) and gave me my only pause from being completely pleased with this show. It turns out that there is a way for both combatants to survive a duel. We get a hint of who's behind the system and what opponents Kaname will meet in the future. All things considered, pretty neat.
The problem is, while what we really want to know is how this bizarre game came about and whether it is possible to escape from it, this show turned out to be more about fights of the week and the wild abilities of Sigil holders. And the fights weren't nearly as good in succeeding episodes as they had been in the first one. I thought the showdown at an elevator with a heavily armed competitor in episode three was unconvincing. Sigil abilities are often so bizarre that it's hard to suspend disbelief and take them seriously. Shuka seemed a little too good to believe as she almost casually took down gun armed opponents with her array of blades on chains. And the man who can manipulate plants and use them as deadly weapons was a stretch, to say the least. Kaname assembles a team of tough fighters, largely by having mercy on opponents he has defeated and persuading them to join him. It seems to go without saying that eventually they will try to overturn the game system as a whole and free the surviving contestants. But for now they just fight to stay alive, which is depicted in a not altogether brilliant manner and as a result my enthusiasm for this show dropped off somewhat. I wished it would get on with the main story, that is, start building towards an exciting climax. Instead we get an arc about a feud between Kaname's team, the 'Twilight Ravens', and a gang called the 'Eights', which doesn't contribute much of anything to answering the main questions and seemed like a waste of time to me. we get a hint that the D-Game is basically a source of amusement for the wealthy and powerful. How they manipulate time and space and wild stuff like that remains unknown. Sometimes we get hints that something may soon be revealed about the origins of the game; which seemed encouraging to me, since the daily battle to survive is OK but not brilliant. But they seldom pan out. All too often anime which have some fantastical mystery behind them--in this case, who is behind Darwin's Game and how does it work--never provide an answer and are content to deal with whether the protagonist(s) can win the battle to stay alive or something like that. I was a bit surprised when one of Kaname's team gets killed in episode seven; previously I had been getting the feeling that this was the sort of show in which only bad guys get killed and these people would all survive more-or-less unscathed to the end. But little else surprised me, which is not good.
The battle between Kaname's team and the Eights ends inconclusively in episode eight, but Kaname is the winner of a major competition and is granted a wish (within reason) by a high ranking person behind the game. One would think he would ask this person to tell him everything he knows about the game, but he opts for some sort of fighting skill instead. He is told about the only two ways to exit the D-game alive--win it, or destroy it. I had hoped that with this arc over, maybe the show would get back on track--but instead it goes off on another frustrating tangent, regarding the number one ranked player in the game who has taken an interest in Kaname. Then we are back to the feud with the Eights. It dawned on me that this must be a two-season show, because it was wasting far too much time to wrap up after just one. To my surprise, it was only one season (and 11 episodes) long. I was sure that there would be an announcement of a forthcoming second season at the end, but there wasn't. At the very end Kaname does something which he should have done around nine episodes earlier, namely he resolves to destroy the D-game. Better late than never, I guess, but the question naturally arises that even if a second season does come along someday, is this worth watching all the way to the end? If it really did stop fooling around and concentrated on revealing the secrets of the game and taking it down, I guess I would. If.
Last updated Monday, March 30 2020. Created Thursday, January 16 2020.