This is one of those shows that tried very, very, very hard to be much smarter than it really was.
The basic idea of Tomodachi Game, which translates into something like “Friendship Game” if I understand correctly, is that a group of friends get snatched out of their ordinary lives and forced to participate in a series of elaborate games designed to test the bonds of their friendship, with their lives at stake, all for the amusement of some wealthy sponsors who enjoy the show. Many a mind-game ensues as wits are tested, bodies are pushed to the limit, false faces are pealed away, and people’s true selves are exposed. Ultimately, it all comes down to what people value more: their friends or their own self-interests.
As cliche as that premise is, what really made this painful to watch was the overblown attempt at making the central protagonist somehow look like some nearly insane super genius of nigh-villainous proportions. It’s a problem that one often runs into when writing super-intelligent people: they can only be as intelligent as the author can conjure them to be. Without possessing such diabolical cunning for real, the depiction of genius tends to fall flat.
Seriously, the schemes that could have been practically Byzantine in other shows were little kid fare here, with the primary emphasis being placed on dramatic reveals rather than truly intelligent cunning.
And how long can a show harp on a single theme, even one as worthy as prioritizing friends over money, before it gets both monotonous and annoying?
The characters weren’t particularly entertaining, the plot was the very definition of “contrived,” the themes were boring, the pacing was dull, the dramatic reveals were highly unsatisfactory, the animation and soundtrack were nothing remarkable, and it takes more than turning the commentator into a hot girl, or even three hot girls, to make a Brock-like commentary on every little thing interesting, no matter the fan service they sprinkle in. Heck, even the addition of murders in the background did remarkably little to spice things up. They were things that happened so the plot could happen. That’s it.
The one thing I actually appreciate from this anime is in one scene at the first season’s final episode. An innocent girl is kidnapped and the protagonist comes to her rescue, but as they are surrounded and being forcibly kept from leaving, the conditions their captors give of their release are as follows: either the young man suffers a serious physical injury, several times, or the girl undresses herself and does lewd things. It’s presented to the girl as her choice to make, but the boy acts first, doing as a man should do and taking the injuries, defending her life, her dignity, and her honor. Most especially, and this is the part I truly admire, he keeps telling her, over and over, that this is not her fault. It’s not her fault! Not in any way. The fault, the blame, the full responsibility for his pain belongs to their captors, the ones forcing them into this, not her.
Do you know how many people there are out there, male and female alike, who need to hear exactly that? Victims of all manner of abuse and assault far too often get caught up in blaming themselves, as surely as those who prey on them do, and destroying themselves for it.
Besides that one distinction, however, I find there to be remarkably little to recommend this anime. I’m not sure I’d even watch a second season, if it ever comes out.
Rating: 3 stars out of 10.
Grade: F. Solid F-Minus.