The Worst Game to Play With Your Tomodachi – This Week in Anime

With friends like these, who needs enemies? Tomodachi Game is this season’s edgy survival game, but does it have the chops to stand above a long line of mediocre copycats?

This series is streaming on Crunchyroll

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network.
Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.


Nick

Hello, Nicky. I’d like to play a game. For years now, you and your friends have discussed and mocked anime. But now you’ll have to face one that will tear your friendships apart. Can you make it through this show intact, or will you find out who your friends really are?



Also you’ll be killed instantly if you compare this show to Danganronpa at any point. FYI.

Nicky

Damn, and I had a whole folder of Monokumas at my disposal. A shame, really. Upupupupu.

Don’t worry, we have a perfectly serviceable and totally not embarrassingly trite replacement for him. And it’s his turn on the Xbox!

Same image.


Honestly that guy would be a more threatening survival game mascot than Dollar Store Doraemon up there.

Okay, but I bet my money that they would both lose to the “You know I had to do it to ’em” guy. And that’s conveniently the exact kind of energy Tomodachi Game wishes it had.


Tomodachi Game is this season’s requisite edgelord survival game, and while it’s not as embarrassingly shite as Battle Game in 5 Seconds it’s definitely not good either. Having sat through its first five episodes, I’d honestly say it’s like Kakegurui if it were written by an actual 14-year-old.

Death games, gambling matches, and survival mystery thrillers where you quickly learn to trust no one, not even yourself, are a niche but well-known suspense genre in both anime and western media. We tend to get what feels like one or two big hits every few years. The most notably recent being Netflix‘s Squid Game (which I still haven’t seen).

That said, for every big show about testing your wits against a system rigged into getting the contestants to destroy each other to survive, we also get a dozen crappy imitators. These things get pretty formulaic even if you’ve only seen one of them, leaving little room for mediocre ones.


The premise is immediately engaging, but that also makes it a siren song for inexperienced writers who think all they need for a thrilling success is to throw a handful of assholes in a room with a creepy-cute mascot and have them make evil faces. Unfortunately, crafting a narrative about betrayal, ruined friendships, and mind games is actually really hard to get right, and this one doesn’t even come close.

It’s a bit of a cursed genre since it has big shoes to fill while having all the trappings of bad thriller AND schlock horror! I thought maybe it could be at least be an entertaining trash-watch for me like an opossum in your garbage can, but that still involves having something chewy and substantive.

Also, ever since Battle Royale managed to have some actual commentary, creators aping the genre have tried real hard to have their own takes even if they didn’t really put much thought into them. This one is especially simple: what if your friends… COULDN’T BE TRUSTED?????????????????????



Like, wow. How insightful.

T/N Note: “Tomodachi” means “Friends.”

So the setup is dirt simple. You have this boy named Yuuichi who sure does loves his friends so gosh darned much! You can tell they’re close, loving, deeply bonded friends because all of them are introduced with a two-second info dump screen and that’s literally all the characterization they’re given before turning on each other.







I’m not joking. I hope anyone watching was quick with the pause button because literally two minutes later they’re getting kidnapped.

I feel like death games with complete strangers have more introduction than these supposed “friends.”

That’s the Achilles’ heel of this whole thing, really. It wants so badly to emulate the edgy stakes of its peers, but puts zero effort into actually earning them. So the central emotional conflict means nothing to us outside of watching teenagers yell at each other.

From a dramatic perspective, it might not be bad knowing as little as possible before going in to see how the characters unravel during the game itself, but since the biggest stakes are “Our Friendship,” it’s a hard sell when the show just decides to jump right into it. In fact, it only made me sure that I have no reason to trust any of these hormonal clowns. I would quicker trust a serial killer trying to murder me with my life than your average high schooler.



Did I mention that there isn’t even any murder in this premise?
The whole premise is that one of them, for some reason, drafted the other four into a bunch of obviously rigged games where they have to share a 20 million yen debt and slowly work it off by winning. Which could be interesting! That’s like 90% of the plot of Kakegurui when it wasn’t sapphic gambling orgasms, and I enjoyed that show a whole lot. Unfortunately, the games (all two of them) we’ve gotten so far kinda suck.



Yeah, you can make severe and life-destroying debt by itself interesting, and if you’re an adult, your financial situation can say a lot about the state of society. Kaiji does this very well. I don’t really expect teenagers to have any concept of it. So emotionally, the debt doesn’t mean anything and it’s more of a number to slap onto the levels of betrayal some of them are willing to go through to screw over someone else.



The overall outstanding 20 million yen debt is about US$153,669, btw! Maybe a lot for a teenager, though less than a house, or, frankly, some peoples’ college loans. Taking loans for art school might even cost more than that over time.
So you’ve got characters we don’t care about and stakes both too marginal to matter and too heavy to be fun. All that’s left is what kind of sick, twisted games the minds behind this show can come up with. What kind of macabre, psychologically destructive, insidiously genius plans will they—

oh it’s just the prisoner’s dilemma with more steps. ‘K.



Tell me how your friendship lasts when you bring out a deck of Uno with house rules. Have you ever played your friends in Mario Kart? These things are viscous.

They start with a game of Kokkuri which I can only describe as trying to get everyone recreate an Ouija board with a dime. Each contestant gets a question in which everyone in the group has to answer “True” or “False.” So they all have to agree to get the answer correctly, but somehow the scales are tipped towards the minority? And as it turns out, someone keeps disagreeing.


And it turns out it’s all a ~devious~ scheme by the game designers to make them all turn on each other! And we know this because, instead of letting us figure that out with Yuuichi, we cut to a computer room so the worst characters in the show can make their presence known:






Obviously, the point of most of these games are that they’re all actually just rigged. But this doesn’t even give us the fun of figuring out how. I thought it would be easy to say that the coin itself was being rigged to boil tensions, given how it’s already kinda funky in that it supposedly favors the minority. And yeah, these guys just exist to add more exposition with no hint of what their actual goal or motive might be. Also, our “Tomodachi” aren’t even the only group playing the game.

They really do just shoot this show in its foot. The single bit of interest in this show is seeing these games of obvious manipulation play out, but instead of being in the moment with our core characters, we’re constantly cutting to the peanut gallery so they can tell us how brilliant and evil their own games are.


Their biggest crime is that they’re not even funny. There’s very little levity in this show, even the sick and twisted kind.

Every single scene with them is just

Twintails: screeches about how the kids are going to lose

Shamir FireEmblem: Ah but have you considered how humans are innately evil and friendship is a lie

and then Yuuichi makes an evil face because he’s come up with a dastardly scheme while they were talking to themselves.


As for Yuuichi himself, he might actually become the most despicable one out of all of them but that’s probably because he’s the only one with a personality. His background could be pretty interesting given that he’s poor after losing both his parents and it’s somewhat implied he envies his friends or that they secretly look down on him because of his circumstances. He’s probably smarter and a little slimier than your average potato-kun, but his deductions aren’t that impressive because that would involve better writing.



He doesn’t seem like he contributes anything to the friend group other than girls like him, I guess?
He also has to act as the fulcrum point of this show’s rock stupid Friends vs Money dichotomy. In that we get a glimpse into his backstory where his two parents (?) are his Angel and his Devil.





I hate it when my evil father figure and tragically ill mother give me conflicting philosophies that conveniently inform the ludicrous death game I’ve been kidnapped into. It really sucks.
These are also just glimpses, btw. We don’t get any other context behind these two moral stances. It would be more understandable if Yuuichi had his own motivations for wanting money or affection to compensate for his own loss, but instead I guess he has to be told things by other people. We don’t get any of his own opinion.

It’s also implied that some people in the group might also have their own hidden reasons, including someone with a big enough existing debt to sell out their friends in the first place.


Okay, so we don’t have compelling characters or themes. And the games themselves are interminable because the overseers won’t stop overexplaining them. BUT you have that concept of the traitor, right? Surely that could be used for some good drama, yeah? We can spend each episode guessing and wondering who it was, so that we’re never really sure who to trust and whether they’re just playing Yuuichi, right?

RIGHT???

Suspecting them would involve having to know things about them. And most of the characters just barely fall into archetypes. Kokorogi’s a nice soft girl that Yuuichi’s interested in, Sawaragi is the dependable and respectable girl with a crush for Yuuichi that he’s too dense to realize. Tenji is smart, cool-headed, and noble. Shibe deserves to be punched at every opportunity for his idiocy. I don’t think their friendship is worth salvaging.


The first major thing we learn about their relationships is that Shibe forcibly kissed Sawaragi one time, and everyone told her to get over it for the sake of not rocking the boat. Yeah, I think these guys were fucked with or without any of these shenanigans.




Also, this is a minor thing but why are the black bars on these flashback scenes semi-transparent? You can clearly see the parts of the frame they’re supposed to cover up! That’s a super simple video effect, how do you mess it up!?

I didn’t notice that but now it’s gonna bother me and everyone else reading this. The curse of knowledge.

It makes sense considering this show was animated on eight sticks of chewing gum and a drunken Hail Mary, but still.

I think most of the show looks “okay,” honestly, given it’s more realistic aims. But I consider most anime to just look insanely cheap now. It’s snappy enough that I can’t say there’s no directional tone holding this thing together, but that tone is also pretty grounded for a genre known for being way over-the-top for max audience claps.


Maybe my impression of the visuals is being colored by how we’ve spent four whole episodes on this school rooftop stage playing a game of “be an asshole” sugoroku. Because that’s what the whole show has been since the second episode thanks to how drawn out every single moment is.



So the goal is to badmouth your pals and then the audience decides how many spaces they take based on the audience’s votes. The person who gets to the end first loses. Stepping on certain spaces can also accumulate more debt, while surviving ’til the end gets you a bonus.



Man, forget what I said about Uno, these guys wouldn’t last a round of Jackbox. What’s the point of being friends if you don’t even know how to roast them properly? At first, no one tries to write anything and they all take penalties. But if everyone wrote something stupid, it probably wouldn’t be as tense when one of them decided to air the other’s dirty laundry.
It’s a much more complex game than the first, at least, and with the hidden entry stuff there’s a lot of room for intersecting plots. Maybe Yuuichi comes up with a plan, but somebody else also has a scheme going and they mess each other up. Or maybe things happen by coincidence at it leads to Yuuichi making the wrong assumption. And they sort of play with that for, like, one episode via Kokorogi.


We also get no clue what Yuuichi’s plan is this time unlike last time. Personally, I found this game premise less fun because there’s even LESS potential for the game to be rigged.

“The house always wins element” is really important in gambling tension; it’s more than just playing against your opponents, it also gives a larger enemy/entity that the characters can face up against and sometimes even overcome together when they’re smart enough to figure out how it’s rigged. But here, it’s really just about emphasizing the betrayal.


Also, any intrigue flies out the fucking window when episode three just tells us who the traitor is. Not by Yuuichi figuring it out or them revealing themselves. We just suddenly flip over to the traitor’s perspective and BAM it’s Store Brand Gendo here.



It’s also the episode where we get Kokorogi’s uncomfortable compensated dating turned rape backstory after getting bullied in middle school. It’s very trashy and sometimes leers but it honestly could’ve been even less tasteful in terms of this kind of misery. It was nice to have the two seconds to suspect why someone would fall victim to the whole scheme before it completely gives away the gambit by the end of the episode.



I’ll give it this much: it could have handled that plotline far worse than it did. And while I’m damning with faint praise, kudos to Crunchyroll for figuring out how to make an actually useful content warning:



Granted, it’s still mortifying to watch Kokorogi beg Yuuichi to believe she’s still a virgin. And then also act like Yuuichi believing and accepting her is evidence that he’s broken inside.



I want to believe that this is Yuuichi’s one act of being a good dude here if I also still didn’t trust him with a ten-foot pole just like everyone else.

Amazingly, the security cam clubhouse did say something correct. Y’know, before going back to being boring misanthropes!!


She delivers, like, eight cynical monologues about the nature of humanity per episode so broken clock, twice a day, etc.



We know nothing else about them other than they might be the closest thing to an authorial voice without a hint of irony. It’s just played completely straight the whole time AND they’re constantly explaining the plot without letting Yuichi or the audience figure that out themselves. It’s such a bad example of tell-don’t-show when we have no choice but to listen to the bad guys without any kind of opposition or tone dissonance because the show distrusts the audience that much.

And again, they frame Yuuichi not slut-shaming his friend as evidence that he’s got some dark, vile secret in his past. So it’s just the Madonna/Whore dichotomy with some extra steps.



I guess it’s just impossible to, like, not value a girl exclusively for her virginity unless you’re a secret psychopath.

Which granted, these gals are likely psychopaths too, but we don’t know shit to tell us otherwise even though they’re obvious baddies. The characters haven’t done anything to prove them wrong, philosophically.

And even if you’re in it for the pure trash, there’s not even any interesting drama to be mined from this game. Oh no, Shibe’s dad is a corrupt politician. Ooooooh Sagawara and Tenji had an arranged engagement for a hot second. None of these secrets are actually shocking, but the show treats them as earth-shattering.

It would’ve been good if that was all used to set up for why each of them had their very own reasons for playing this game and leave that mystery stewing. But it already blew it and it’s all because Tenji couldn’t get over his childhood crush on Shiho!

That’s not an oversimplification either. That’s his whole motivation for getting all his supposed friends into a massive game of debt gambling and actively tearing apart their relationships: he is down atrocious for his fake girlfriend. He’s been literally spying on her for months leading up to this.






It totally kneecaps the second game for the audience when you figure out all the big lies are just coming from the same person. The penny game in Kaguya-sama had more mystery and setup.

And that’s before we spend an entire episode with him mugging to the camera and obviously manipulating everything. Like, literally a whole 22 minutes of just him making super simple evil plans and smirking at the audience about how eeeeeeevil he is.






And yet, I still don’t give a damn about any of their friendships. It really feels like nothing of value is lost here when all you’ve seen is the bad. There’s very little that would make you feel warm or fuzzy enough about these characters to make you feel like they deserve to be happy or that they were even very good friends to begin with.

I had very close friends in high school, but even I think that a majority of school friendships are shallow relationships formed by general proximity compared to bonds formed through common goals or shared interests.


Yeah, it’s not like you have to create dire circumstances to break up high school friendships. 90% of those dissolve on their own not long after graduation. So you end up with a show that isn’t edgy enough to be fun trash, but is too cynical to be emotionally effecting in any way. You would have a more entertaining time watching random YouTubers play Among Us.



Basically the only thing I can recommend from this mess is the OP. And that’s entirely because I’m a Nana Mizuki mark and it’s great to hear her sing anything.

It’s probably the biggest reason I actually found this show mostly bearable even if it’s not enough for its premise. Even if the show started feeling a little smarter and tried to up the stakes, it wouldn’t be enough to justify the previous episodes of slog. A good OP, at least, can make any show just a little better.

And yet the moment the full version hits Spotify goes the last reason anyone should bother with this show. This is just a vacuous time vampire. I genuinely would rather watch the really bad SAW sequels than this. Which reminds me, time to let us out of here, asshole!


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