By all accounts, this show should be a disaster. The art is washed out in light bloom. The characters are all either playthings of the universe or irredeemable assholes. The protagonists are insert sues that just act obnoxious. It is based off of a light novel series whose illustrator was accused of tracing over images for them. There are no actual stakes except for the superficial stakes of this fantasy world that our “heroes” seem detached from.
So why do I just enjoy watching it?
Honestly, the flaws of this show are so apparent that they seem to overtake the strengths of the series, which do exist. This is, in no uncertain terms, a wish fulfillment nerd fantasy show. It belongs up there with Sword Art Online (a show where my hatred of it has been well documented at this point), a show for lonely nerds about lonely nerds being the best at everything because games run everything. This should be my poison.
Well, it’s not poison to me because this show is often falling into the trap of “not giving a flying f***”. This show takes the ridiculous premise that it has and just shrugs, saying “sure, why not?” while taking the premise to bizarre extremes. It starts off dumb, says “okay”, and then proceeds to see how dumb it can possibly go.
This is a good thing, as there is nothing worse than a dumb premise being given the gravity of a Shakespearean play (see also: why Moffatt is a terrible writer). The levity towards the premise allows for the viewer to look at the show and see a show that does not need to be taken seriously. You just watch and let the nonsense wash over you.
This allows the show’s strengths to shine better. Like I said earlier, the world of this show is run on games. The best moments of the show are watching these games. The original author, Yuu Kamiya, had a good eye towards how these games should be played, how they should be ruled, how one can overcome the rules with magic, and the level of strategy needed for each game. Even if the result is a foregone conclusion (the protagonists always win, which is actually not a spoiler), the show does a good job of pacing each game, injecting them with lulls, darkest hours, and interesting turns. It does become a series where you will watch just to see how convolutedly the protagonists can defeat their opponent, much like how you watch a Bugs Bunny cartoon to see how he will outsmart the idiot who is after him.
There’s also the relationship between the two leads Sora and Shiro. As much as my (and many others) would look at the two of them and cringe, the series gets one aspect right in a very effective way: they are each other’s living emotional crutch, with the two unable to function when separated at even a small distance. This actually plays into another strength that the series possesses: no character is likable, either by accident or design. I feel like Step was supposed to be the relatable and likable foil to Sora and Shiro, but the endless amount of abuse she gets from literally every other character makes her seem less likable and more pitiful. Every other character is a variation of unlikable, from being racist and possessing a superiority complex towards the other races in the world to a sense of smug arrogance that makes them feel loathsome to being so self-defeatingly negative that you cannot help but wish they would go away. If you need likable characters in order to get into a series, this is not the series for you. If you like watching sociopathy and stupidity done by awful people, however, this will be entertaining.
Madhouse did the animation and, color saturation and light bloom aside, this series moves in a very average way. The characters are consistent in movement and it looks like Yuu Kamiya’s illustrations, but there is nothing impressive about the animation. The only noteworthy aspect of the animation is the light bloom and color saturation, which make the series look more fake and artificially glossy. It looks way too warm and inviting, as well as looking like a video game (actually, moments in video games look more real than the rest of the series in that regard). It’s weird, but distinctive.
The Japanese voice cast, thankfully, did not do a “real” performance, instead falling into comedy pratfalls vocally with every seiyuu either hamming it up or giving a performance that seems very out of place (read: they read it like any other role). Sentai Filmwork’s dub is as mediocre as you can expect, but it is enjoyable hammy, especially with Scott Gibb as Sora, who was just so hammy and fun to listen to. If Sentai did more dubs like this, they would actually be listenable.
This series is a huge guilty pleasure of mine and, while the faults are neither hidden or subtle, the strengths still shine through and make this an enjoyably trashy anime series.
Final Grade: B