First Look: Tomodachi Game

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Manga Adaptation by Okuruto Noboru
Streaming on Crunchyroll

Premise

A group of five friends is kidnapped and forced to play gambling games with a bizarre child-like character, with the aim of winning the money needed to pay back a 20 million yen debt.

Euri’s verdict: Kaijironpa

If you take a gambling game straight out of Kaiji and add in a Monokuma-like character, you’ll end up with something pretty close to the first episode of Tomodachi Game. I do love me a good death game, and heck I’ve seen enough of them across anime and j-drama at this point, but I am a bit apprehensive about this one thanks to the protagonist.

He spends most of this first episode being a total pushover, with total trust in his friends despite clear signs that they’re betraying him. This might be fine as the ending points towards him having something of a personality shift in response to the bad situation he’s ended up in, but I guess we’ll see. He’s not a lovable loser like Kaiji is, that much is certain, so hopefully they can give him something to work with beyond being an edgelord like his parting words for this episode suggest.

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Artemis’ verdict: Quitting the Game

I’m well aware of the contrariness of this statement, but while I do often gravitate toward the idea of death games in fiction (to this day, Battle Royale is still one of my favourite Japanese films for a reason), I strongly dislike the “Oooh, look how dark and edgy we are!” tone that tends to come with them. Death games are by their very nature supposed to be grim and gruesome after all, so why not lean into that?

But the thing is, just because the plot is grisly doesn’t mean the story can’t have a sense of humor, and Tomodachi Game unfortunately strikes me as the type of series that just takes itself way too seriously for me to have a good time with it. Everything is played totally straight, but without any kind of intentional overkill (no pun intended) that would make the proceedings actually entertaining to me. There’s zero sense of self-awareness here, nor seemingly any attempt to provide a deeper message – just a plot that basically repeats every trope we’ve seen before in other death-game titles, purely for the sake of attempting to shock the viewer with how sinister and violent everything is.

It also, frankly, looks pretty cheap doing it. Add in the clunky exposition and incredibly on-the-nose flashback scenes that (I guess?) are meant to endear me to the main character, and I don’t really see anything here that would make me want to stick with this one.

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