Content Warning: threats of sexual violence, fanservice, suicide imagery
What’s it about? High schooler Yuri finds herself suddenly in a strange world of skyscrapers, connected by rope bridges and with any access to the ground levels blocked off. With murderous beings wearing full-face masks stalking the rooftops, Yuri must gather her courage and her wits and find a way to survive this place long enough to find her older brother.
High-Rise Invasion starts with a bang. Or, more accurately, it starts with [foreboding music] [man grunts, screams] according to Netflix’s captions. This ominous, blurry scene of bloody murder quickly snaps into an upbeat, electronic opening theme, after which the show slows back down to molasses pace for a scene of Yuri crying as she tries unsuccessfully to contact her family on the phone. This clunky opening sequence sets the tone for the rest of the episode: schlocky carnage, high-octane action, and our protagonist whimpering.
To be fair to Yuri, my first reaction to finding myself mysteriously transported to a weird new world would probably also be wobbly fear. But there’s still something disheartening about her establishing character moment being her sobbing helplessly while her older brother infodumps about the skyscraper world over the phone.
She quickly finds herself in a veritable conga line of damsel rescues: first, she is attacked by one of the mysterious and malicious Masks, who comes after her with a sword. She is saved by a pair of police officers, but they quickly turn on each other, one pushing his supervisor off the roof and declaring gleefully that he’s now alone with a high school girl and a cool sword.
He gets straight to threatening Yuri with said sword, commanding her to undress. Though we’re ostensibly in Yuri’s head during this sequence, hearing her frightened thoughts about how at least this is better than being killed, the camera seems to be on the cop’s side, panning over Yuri’s body as her camisole is sliced open button-by-button. Truly an insightful and delicate piece of commentary about the abuses of power prevalent within the police force.
But don’t even worry about it, because once the scene has gone on juuuust long enough to be super uncomfortable, a mysterious masked sniper takes out the leery cop. Yuri decides she’s had enough of being preyed on (and fair enough, since it happened twice in the span of about five minutes!) and straps herself with the weapons of her fallen attackers. It would be a badass moment if the lead-up wasn’t so gross and the “character development” not so lightning fast. A frightened young woman learning to harden her resolve and become a killer by necessity is a potentially fascinating and wonderfully grimy character arc, but here it happens so quickly and with so many panty shots that it doesn’t land.
Throughout the rest of the episode, Yuri outwits and fights off another Mask, only to learn that the creatures underneath the white smiley-masks are in fact humans being mind-controlled. I wonder if the mind control was what commanded this particular assailant to wear a maid outfit, or if she happened to have it on already? There are many questions about the nature of this world dangling in the air, but the worldbuilding speculation is muddled in between splashes of blood and shots of Yuri’s underwear.
I can feel that this show wants, deep in its bones, to be suspenseful, but the stakes across this episode end up feeling pretty low. Yuri is in peril, Yuri is rescued. Yuri is hungry. Yuri immediately stumbles across a backpack full of supplies. Yuri apparently needs no training to fire a gun, and needs five seconds to figure out how best to trick a Mask. Again, if the transition between her being a helpless damsel and her being a sharp-shooting action hero had been longer and intertwined with character growth, it could have been super interesting. But here we are with a teenage girl who becomes a whiz with a pistol because she nearly got sexually assaulted. Girlboss!
If schlocky action and gritty murder games are your deal, you might find yourself at home with High-Rise Invasion. However, I’m sure there are many fight-for-survival sci-fis that play with similar ideas with better execution and fewer peeks at the teenaged protagonist’s undies. It’s not a jewel in the already dubious crown of “Netflix Original Anime” by any means.