Content Warning: suicide imagery, alcoholism, dubious consent, animal death (cat)
What’s it about? Ono Goro is an unremarkable teenager until the day he receives a message on his phone, informing him that as a chosen one he’s entitled to a wish. Assuming it’s a prank, Goro wishes for the chance to fool around with his crush, Sawa Honoka. The wish, it turns out, is very real. And twisting reality comes with consequences, including battles to the death with other “chosen” candidates.
The phrase “created by Yoko Taro” has led me down some strange roads over the years. At best, the auteur has crafted artful, meta-laced stories about outcasts making connections in the face of seemingly inescapable suffering (including my favorite game of all time, Nier Replicant). At worst, his scenarios become a checklist of shock-value schlock that never sufficiently pay off their gambles (and hello to you, SINoALICE). Am I going to watch more KamiErabi GOD.app? Yes, but I also genuinely think the original Drakengard is kind of incredible. Other people should not make my mistakes.
Actually, KamiErabi is only loosely a Yoko Taro production. He’s credited as the “original planner,” here meaning that he wrote a base draft that was then finalized by series composer JIN (Listeners). It still bears some early hallmarks of his particular bugbears though, from a general interest in metanarrative and monkey’s paw wishes to the very specific use of tiny pixies attempting to taunt people into suicide. And as long as I’m dropping names, the character designs are by Okubo Atsushi (Soul Eater), meaning that if you are me you can spend at least a solid minute wondering why Goro’s flirtatious shark-toothed bestie Akitsu looks so familiar.
I know I’m dragging my feet here, but that’s because there’s precious little to discuss about KamiErabi on its own merits. This is a death game story like many others, with a particular debt to The Future Diary. Its color scheme is garishly neon in a way that swings back and forth between “compositionally interesting” and “eye-searing.” The characters are frequently stiff and limited in their movement, with at least one scene of desynched dialogue. It looks and feels like I could be watching a playthrough of a PS3 game, particularly once Goro finally gets his own glowy murder weapon. If there’s an unintentional upside, it’s that Honoka’s boob-first introduction is too polygonal to land as especially sleazy.
Don’t worry though, that preoccupation with the taboo is in full effect, ranging from the eye-rolling to the genuinely rather upsetting. Akitsu has Goro film a faked suicide video, which he accidentally posts. The “bystander effect” has fatal consequences for a cat in traffic. Goro masturbates in front of his (dubiously consenting, given the magic) crush before she tries to murder him. The premise of “twisted karma” is a gift basket for ways you can arbitrarily retcon new, horrible things into a character’s backstory. It’s tryhard, and it feels very different to interface with in an anime released weekly rather than a game or novel you can complete at your chosen pace.
There will almost certainly be a recontextualizing third act twist, but a person has to feel compelled to make it that far to begin with. And why on earth would you, when you can watch the drastically superior NieR: Automata Ver1.1A right now, never mind the unbelievably packed schedule of other Fall shows on offer? If you likewise have the brain poisoning of a Yoko Taro completionist then there’s a few fun connect-the-dots moments to hunt for, but I encourage everyone else to sprint in the other direction.