After watching yet another bad episode, I couldn’t but wonder, “Is there a way to fix Ousama Game?” What is it missing? What are we looking for when we watch this type of show? Maybe there are too many deaths. Maybe there are too many characters to keep track of, too many orders to pay attention to. I can’t even remember some of them. I had to force myself to remember that Naoya was in a popularity contest with a girl just two weeks ago. I can’t even remember her name anymore. Every week, the story introduces new characters just to kill them off. Last week, we had Nami. This week, Yousuke and Kaori bite the dust. And each time, the show wants to feel emotionally devastated by these characters’ predictably inevitable demise. Nami was in love with Nobuaki. Yousuke and Kaori were in love with each other. He only wanted to protect her and prevent her from ever crying, but in the end, he was powerless just like the rest. But did I feel anything as these bit characters slowly bit the dust one by one? No. There’s no way you could possibly establish a strong character in such a short amount a time, and Ousama Game shoots itself in the foot for even trying. And if you keep trotting out new characters every week just to kill them immediately, you end up desensitizing the audience to future deaths.
The show lacks any sort of escalation, and as a result, there’s no mounting sense of dread or anxiety. There’s no established safe space that suddenly gets invaded by an unwanted, outside force that the characters are powerless against. Take, for example, Silent Hill 4: The Room. The game establishes the player’s apartment early on as a hub. You’re can be safe here. You can take a breather here. Then near the end of the game, your apartment is suddenly haunted by ghosts. You feel as though your safe space has been snatched away. You suddenly have nowhere to run. The game has plenty of flaws, sure, but I still appreciate the way it disarms the player by making subverting their sense of security.
Ousama Game shouldn’t have gone full throttle so soon either. The game should’ve started out small. Let’s say only a few people are even aware of it. The story does get this part somewhat right. The initial orders are dumb and silly: student A must kiss student B. Sounds harmless enough, right? So naturally, everyone thinks it’s just a practical joke. And let’s say the initial punishments are also equally harmless. People open their lunch boxes to find that they have one less octopus wiener or something. Haw haw, guys. Real funny. But in contrast, Nobuaki’s punishment gets worse over time. His locker gets trashed. His notebook goes missing. These punishments can be carried out by anyone, so he doesn’t immediately think that the supernatural are involved. Still, the severity is increasing. “Hey, who’s messing with me?” he wonders, “A bully is fucking with me, right?” He slowly starts to get paranoid. He passes out in his room. He wakes up to find his hair completely shaved. A text message says his punishment is a loss of hair. “How? Did someone break into my home?” That’s the key to anxiety: feeling as though you’re in danger when you should be safe. Having your personal space invaded. Still, nobody believes him when he starts bringing up his punishments. They think he just did these things to himself. He starts losing friends. Even the teachers call him out for his erratic behavior. He can’t help but wonder maybe he’s just going insane.
Finally, we can hit the point of no return. Naoya gets the next order. Nobuaki tries to tell Naoya that the latter absolutely has to obey it or something really bad will happen. But the warning falls on deaf ears: “It’s just someone screwing with you. Nothing’s going to happen to me.” Give Naoya a pet dog or something similar, and it suddenly shows up dead. Naoya accuses Nobuaki of killing his dog. You have to slowly work your way up to death. That’s when the game is ironically no longer a game, but a fucked up situation. But the premise should not focus so much on the game itself nor the game’s mechanics. Instead, the focus should have always been on the characters’ deteriorating sanity, friendships, and trust in one another. There should’ve been red herrings to make the audience doubt the supernatural quality of the show. We should’ve wondered where or not Nobuaki is of sound mind before coming to the stark realization that the King’s Game is not only real but deadly. We also should have been led to believe that there’s a way to overcome the King. The main issue I have with the show’s premise right now is, well, why even bother? The King knows immediately when you’ve broken a rule or failed to complete an order. Not only that, you die right away. The King is not only omniscient but omnipotent as well. So what’s the point? What hope do you have against that? Nobuaki can go on and on and on about that village all he wants. Who’s to say leaving the city isn’t an “unnecessary” action and thus doom you to death?
Well, I’ll stop here, because the post is starting to veer too much into fanfiction, and trust me, I am no fan of this fiction. I just thought this might be a better mental exercise than attempting to cover the fifth episode in any sort of depth. Oh, should I summarize it anyway? Okay. More people die. The kids are helpless. The end.