HIGH CARD – Episode 1

By: Vrai Kaiser January 10, 20230 Comments
Finn holding up a playing card

Content Warning: Gore, body horror, bombing

What’s it about? Finn is a small-time pickpocket who uses the money from his fenced goods to support the Sun Field Orphanage. When a buyout threatens to leave the orphans on the street, Finn heads to gambling haven Bell Land in hopes of a huge payday. But he quickly ends up in deep with a group of people playing a high-stakes game involving magical playing cards.

There was a promotional image for HIGH CARD that I believe was only sent around to press outlets prior to its release. But since it really does a lot to convey the mood of the series, I’ve elected to include it for public consumption below.

The Alliance of Magicians. "We Demand to Be Taken Seriously."

HIGH CARD is desperate for you to think it’s cool. Cool Suits and Cool Explosions and Cool Car Chases following Cool Fight Scenes with lots of blood. Its prologue is an in media res heist that throws out a lot of context-free terms, because apparently anime is bound and determined to make me miss Baccano! lately. Protagonist Finn is pulled straight from the big book of standard action protagonists: he’s rude and unpolished, but we know he’s got a good heart because he cares about orphans! Nothing gets you those sweet, sweet pathos points faster than threatening to kick orphans out on the street.

HIGH CARD is, I must inform you, profoundly inane. It has the same vibe of slightly sweaty desperation as the ill-fated GoHands project K, a show that was a donut of multimedia marketing concepts with a central depression where the narrative heart belonged. Every beat of the writing is something you’ve seen before, even its Unique Selling Point of collectible weapons that have a designated superpower attached. But I will say this: the last six minutes or so are so committed to visualizing their C-string gimmicks that it was kind of compelling to watch.

An Unhinged Amoral Killer whose power is turning things he touches into marbles? Laughable.

A five minute sequence in which he turns people’s body parts into marbles, complete with blood spatter that doesn’t match up with what appears to be a freezing effect on remaining limp stumps? Funny as hell.

Having a dude slip on those marbles, back into a corpse’s gun so that it fires into his guts, and then fall out the window? Transcendent.

a man balancing a marble on his tongue
This is a very dark and serious program

The climactic battle scene was so committed to straight-facedly playing out the hour 72 idea from an exhausted pitch meeting that it shot the moon and came around to being a little bit fun. And while the car chase is a bit drab thanks to shaky compositing, the tight-quarters hand-to-hand scene actually looks pretty good. There’s no denying that director Wada Junichi can make an action sequence look slick.

Unfortunately, a cool fight scene cannot carry an entire show, and this first episode left me with pretty low confidence in the show’s ability to sell a narrative with characters worth caring about. The boarders and animators go all out in selling a couple sequences of Finn doing pickpocketing misdirects, and they’re fun, but I was appreciating the craft much more than I was getting invested in Finn himself.

Finn staring at a pile of poker chips with a neutral expression
He did manage to recreate my expression during the episode high points, though

I also, maybe preemptively, feel pretty cynical about how this show will handle female characters. Maybe it’s that The Girl One featured in the opening credit’s group of five is inexplicably wearing heels with her functional suit; maybe it’s the fact that the prologue opens with a female character saying she’s taking part in the big important heist not for some grand purpose but for the (unimpressed looking) male character she’s on the radio with. Maybe it’s that SAKUGAN managed to waste basically every interesting female character it introduced. Maybe it’s just well-earned shounen cynicism.

It is nearly impossible to keep up escalation on the level of high-octane brain death that provided what entertainment there is in this first episode. Believe me, I’ve been down this road before. I invite High Card to prove me wrong, but I’m not holding my breath.

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