Darwin’s Game is a mysterious, sinister smartphone app that, upon activating it, forces the users into a real world ‘game’ where they are pitted against each other to fight to the death. Main character Kaname is sent a link to a game by his friend Hamada, and despite the warnings of Kyoda – another friend – installs it out of curiosity. Hamada, who was killed in the opening scene of the show – had sent him the link as a sort of SOS request – one of the many features it allows.
In the first half of this double-length first episode, Kaname is paired up with ‘Banda’ – the local baseball team mascot – and a terrifying flight for his life begins. With the help of Kyoda, he manages to learn a few things about how the game works – including the fact that one’s smartphone is functionally useless for anything other than Darwin’s Game once it begins, rendering them unable to call an ambulance when Kyoda is wounded. Players are also all granted ‘Sigils’ – random powers that may or may not be of use to them. Banda’s is to turn invisible at will, an advantage until he gets hit by a car. The loser of the battle disintegrates, leaving nothing but an weirdly pixelly body outline behind. Unfortunately, Kyoda also perishes, Kaname is left alone to figure out the rest of the game by himself. However, his defeat of the notorious ‘newbie killer’ Banda attracts the attention of the experienced Shuka, who decides to monitor him and offer her help.
In the second half, after winning a gun from the game’s gacha system (which is instantly delivered to him), Kaname meets with Shuka to learn more about the game, demanding to know a way to end it or withdraw. Unfortunately, it isn’t possible – the only way to not die in Darwin’s Game is to kill before you can be killed. Their conversation takes a dark turn when she reveals she cannot trust anybody who doesn’t know their own Sigil – which Kaname does not, as the app, which should be able to tell him what it is, only gives him an error when he tries. Shuka – whose Sigil is the ability to control deadly spiked chains, – instigates another fight, aiming to kill. Eventually, Kaname realises that his Sigil is the ability to materialize a perfect copy of things that he needs (or perhaps has touched before). With a combination of items (including the gun), Kaname manages to outsmart Shuka without killing her, demanding that they both live. She reveals yet another game feature – that the instigator of a duel can end it if they surrender to the opponent and obey them, which she gladly seems to do because…she’s now in love with him and wants his children.
Right so, I nominated Darwin’s Game for myself because I’m somehow still a sucker for all these shlocky trashy killing game shows, and because I somehow didn’t learn my lesson after sitting through all of King’s Game. So I was actually kind of surprised when, for almost 98% of its run-time, Darwin’s Game was pretty solid. Contrived and unoriginal, sure, and the main characters power seems terribly similar to Fate‘s Shirou Emiya (his hand even lighting up in a similar way) but polished enough to be watchable and suspenseful enough to actually be pretty thrilling. Just when I was thinking the show might not actually be trashy in the way I expected, the last minute or so of the episode happened. In quick succession, as though it has restrained itself all this time, Kaname faints into Shuka’s (the girl who was just trying to violently kill him) boobs, she blushes, a hooded girl with no pants monitoring the situation from afar comments on how strong he is for a newbie, and he later wakes up half in bed with Shuka naked and her telling him to start a family with her. The trash! Here it is!
It’s an extremely stupid development that gave me tonal whiplash, but something about the blatant trashiness of it was actually kind of comforting. This is the type of stupid show I went in expecting after all. It almost doesn’t feel fair to fault it for that. It made me burst out laughing at least.
As far as shows of this ilk go, Darwin’s Game does at least have more effort put into it than most. Double-length opening episodes can sometimes be a chore to sit through, but the writing is fast-paced and the fights intense enough that it didn’t feel like too much of a slog. And these are quite exciting fights – well animated, tense, some really great action, music and camera angles. I certainly don’t expect this story to be at all satisfying, and it might be a miracle if I actually like any of the characters, but this type of show is complete brain junkfood to me and I can’t help myself. I’m going to watch a few more episodes and see what happens – shameless addiction to crappy killing game shows aside, I am curious about the other game features, such as its mysterious points system – and whatever is going on with the yakuza feud in the second episode. But if you aren’t into this type of thing – besides some polish, you’ve probably seen this show already, and maybe several times, so theres probably not much need to see it yet again.