It’s a Wonderful World
It is such a blessing in disguise that Square Enix has finally decided to bring back to light the fantastic JRPG The World Ends With You, not just as a sequel, but as an anime adaptation. This still stands as my all-time favorite DS game, hell, maybe even my favorite mobile Nintendo game of all time. But has time been kind to this transformation? Or did this attempt turn out to be zetta lame? Let’s take a look at what went right and wrong with this drop-down the DS nostalgia lane.
The World Ends With You Anime Review
Right off the bat, I’ll warn watchers that this thing has got a crap-ton of CG in it. That said, I’ll also alert you to the fact that the CG here actually looks damn fine considering the reputation CG gets in anime. All of the antagonistic creatures of the series are rendered like this, and when the battles start heating up, I never felt jarred or off-put by their designs. Moving past that little disclaimer, let’s take a look at the plot as a whole. Just a heads up, there’s gonna be some spoilers abound in this since we’re looking at the whole show from start to finish.
Neku Sakuraba, an asocial teen, clad in headphones to block out the world, wakes up one day sprawled out on the street with no memories at all in his head while hundreds of people wander past him like he’s a ghost. While playing in traffic, he realizes he can’t touch anybody or anything around him at all as he heads to the statue of Hachiko. Moments later, he receives some spam mail from hell on his phone barking orders at him, telling him to defeat the Noise around Hachiko and that failure means “erasure” all while a timer literally shows up on his hand and starts counting down. Neku learns he’s part of the Reaper’s Game, a game you’re automatically entered in when you die, where the only entry fee is the thing you value most, in this case being Neku’s memories. You’ll need to survive seven days in order to win the grand prize of coming back to life. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, but every Player is already dead, meaning the Underground is actually some kind of Purgatory! So not only does Neku not even get an ounce of peace and quiet after keeling over, he now has to play a redemption game with hundreds of other people.
The game’s helped being managed by a plethora of staff called Reapers, who enforce the game’s run in a certain fashion, as well as managing walls, so they don’t have any escapes. From making and break walls to giving challenges to the Players when they aren’t trying to Erase them, they’re always around and always making sure the show runs smoothly. Above them are the Game Masters, which act as a sort of manager for the week’s game, Conductors, which are leaders for the Reapers in the city and act as right-hand men for the Composer, who’s essentially the big overseer of the city and everything happening to it. Around the Underground are Noise, manifestations of negative emotions that are set to attack any Player in sight. Getting to Hachiko’s Statue spawns a bunch of those, and Neku’d love to take matters into his hands, but he absolutely needs to pair up with somebody to actually attack these things.
A nearby Player named Shiki takes a liking to him, and the two join forces, much to the edgelord’s dismay, creating a Pact that allows Neku to fight back with some pyrokinesis. Shiki uses some shady voodoo magic to make her stuffed cat attack, while Neku uses Pins (yes, literal pins) to cast magic spells. They both come equipped with Player Pins, which let them scan the inner thoughts of random people (though not Players, that’d ruin the cooperation factor) and give them the ability to Imprint, or shove thoughts into people as well. With the two together and kitted out, they’ll need to live through seven days of these missions for a chance to revive themselves.
Now that we’ve dumped the best attempt at a synopsis as I could manage, let’s get to the actual review.
We’ll start with reviewing the animation, designs, and look over some changes from the game to the anime, because even in its DS form, The World Ends With You was a real eye-catcher with its art style. First and foremost is how the characters were adapted and even improved on from Square Enix’s designs. In the game, the characters were insanely thin, with Shiki being the most egregious case. Her hips were narrow enough she could be mistaken for a living skeleton. Whether this is bad or not is up to the viewer, though. I always saw it as just Square Enix making claim to another unique art style, which worked just fine in my eyes. Still, others might be put off by the unnaturally extended appendages and pencil-thin torsos. The anime goes out of its way to show fullness to their bodies in a natural figure that, in my honest opinion, was the perfect happy medium between keeping some of that original art style from the game and making it easier on the eyes. Speaking of easy on the eyes, the colors are well-defined and strike that fine balance between adding flavor and the occasional eye-candy (seriously, go look at that graffiti art, you could stare at that stuff all day and still see new details) while not making everything obnoxiously bright and sickening to try and filter through just to see what the hell you’re even staring at. The perfect way to see a taste test of this is to check out the intro animation, which is probably one of the most stylish openings I’ve seen in a long while.
This said, the animation does suffer a bit from these color directions, in that sometimes they get a little too overzealous trying to cram colors into the fights. Some might prefer this as it, again, adds flavor to what you’re seeing, but some might find this a bit garish. I personally only struggled to tell what was going on maybe three times at most. Everything else was mostly subdued enough to make that colorwork for the action instead of against it. The fights are some of the primo eye candy here, the CG making itself as slick as possible to lend some fluidity to the combat. While I would’ve absolutely loved to see Neku use a few more pins than just the basic elemental ones, I digress. The tattoo designs of his attacks transition very well to the battlefield here, and even his partners’ attacks get well-animated moves to compliment Neku’s attacks. If you want a super-stylized, CG-assisted urban fantasy fight-to-the-death, you simply cannot miss out on this one. I’m no art snob, so read my words with a pinch of salt, but this is some well-concentrated artistic style that a few studios could learn a thing or two from.
Now for how the plot and characters are handled, and boy, is this a mixed bag. I felt the same feelings here I did when I was watching the Danganronpa anime: Haste makes waste. This anime would’ve shot up twenty-fold in quality if they didn’t chop out so much material. The small tidbits and side material are what make character-driven stories like this work, and while you can still detect some character development even in the anime here, it’s nowhere near as heavy-hitting as the game was able to pull off. I don’t expect a twelve-season anime to cover the ludicrous amount of content the game has, but one season simply isn’t enough to really have your cake and eat it too. I could even see two seasons working, but there needed to be more to truly get accurate character portrayals. The whole deal with Neku playing Tin-Pin Slammer for the Golden Pin, the ramen subplot with Makoto, Neku’s opening monologue, all gone. Some could argue they didn’t contribute all that much, but it was flavoring for the characters and their interactions, and it did wind up feeling a bit sad to just drop them. These are some very well-written characters, and such a short time for them to shine winds up leaving them duller than they ever should be.
I’m not sure if it’s because of the aforementioned shortness, but some aspects of characters got changed around too. The most glaring one was Neku, and that he is far, far nicer than he was in the game. Normally, I wouldn’t be complaining about this, but his whole character development arc is about chipping away the asshole outta him, and when you remove said asshole, there’s a lot less impact when he goes full buddy-buddy. Instead of it feeling genuinely heartwarming and an end to a journey, it winds up feeling a little insincere and unfulfilled. Seriously, he hated even the thought of being near Shiki at the beginning of the game. While Neku still does make an attempt to off her as the game did, they chalk it up to the Noise making him think bad things instead of Uzuki egging him on to not trust her and Neku’s inner hostile asshole actually going along with it all on his own!
There’s also a bit of a change to Uzuki and Kariya, which is a damn shame because those two became dark horses of their own right, especially with Kariya. When Kariya straight up tells Beat that it’s his fault Rhyme got erased, there was no sympathy or emotion, whereas the game had him teach Beat that it happened because he got careless. Kariya also stood idly by when Uzuki convinced Neku to try killing Shiki, and when it turns out the Rhyme Noise they were supposed to reward Beat with was fake, Kariya didn’t seem all that interested in apologizing, instead of in the game where he does drop the formalities and seriously apologizes for it. They really were the epitome of “Those Two Bad Guys,” and that made them lovable in their own way, whereas this version of them feels hollow.
But despair not, as they did put some oomph into another aspect, and that is our lovely heroine Shiki. Despite neutering Neku’s edgy angst-lord status, he still was able to put in great dialogue with Shiki that, while sparse, really helped shine the spotlight on how inferior she felt to Eri and how she needed to believe in herself, not how she was compared to Eri. The music they played when Shiki apologized to Eri and the scene they showed where Eri bought flowers for Shiki just hammered in the feels we’d been missing out on that the game never had any issue dishing out from time to time. It really reminded me of how powerful the characters are in the storytelling, emphasizing that good ol’ development and arc resolution. Even people first seeing this series likely felt the tug of a heartstring or two during that, and that’s a strength I won’t hesitate giving to this adaptation. The same sort of sense with Neku’s interactions with Beat, giving him back that uplifting spirit when they were having a helluva time trying to find Konishi. It was a “bro moment,” plain and simple, and Neku’s personality played well into Beat’s for making that interaction work. Hell, even his interactions with Joshua felt pretty ‘lax and reasonable, or, as close to those words as you can get when dealing with the smug pretty boy of the group. It’s a bit ironic. Out of the entire main cast, the only one that doesn’t seem to fit their character is Neku himself.
Lastly, I’ll visit some audio stuff before this essay gets any longer. The intro and ending both have the most fitting tunes you can get for this series. Twister gets a jammin’ remix for the opening and still fits that style like a glove. Those word salad lyrics never find a way to sound off or wrong, flowing with an up-tempo bassline and trumpet hits that really know how to get you going and ready for action. The ending song, Carpe Diem, while not as catchy as Twister, still proves to be a solid J-rock hit from ASCA that radiates a ’00s edgy rock style, brooding but driving, and while the ending animation isn’t anything special at all, it’s worth watching just to hear this hit.
Sadly though, those are the main two pieces you get. While the rest of the soundtrack is custom-made by Takeharu Ishimoto, his former jewels like Calling or Hybrid don’t show up at all. Actually, I couldn’t recall any music from the game making a return besides Twister, and that is a right damn shame. That music was half the game’s style, and to dismiss it from the anime when this is where it’d shine best is a sin in and of itself. The lo-fi hip-hop of Game Over, the chugging dark riffs of Emptiness And, the snap and clap of Three Minutes Clapping, all of those tunes helped encompass the diversity of tastes that made up Shibuya and arguably one of the key elements of the plot setting. They didn’t even put Lullaby For You at the ending. That song was a key impact for the end that drove in the feelings of love and support Neku had earned by the end. I could understand if they lost the licensing rights for that song, but the payoff would’ve been worth either getting that song back or using one of Jyongri’s other tunes that could’ve done just fine as a replacement.
As for the voice actors, they did the smartest thing they could do by bringing back the original Japanese VAs to voice the characters. Why shuffle the casting when the originals are around, after all? They did solid jobs as expected, conveying the needed emotions when they needed to without missing a beat. I think the only one that was changed was Rhyme’s, but I hardly noticed. Now I’m curious if the English dub will be the same, assuming we even get one.
So can I recommend The World Ends With You as an anime? Ultimately, I think I’d feel comfortable saying if you’ve ever been interested in the series, or are now interested, give the first few episodes a whirl and see if you like it. If so, and you haven’t experienced the game at all, check out the game if you can. If not, this is a semi-decent substitute that, while not ground-breaking, will get you your fix of Square Enix. It saddens me to say that, yeah, this is more or less just a hype piece for the sequel. People that have played the game through to its entirety should approach with caution and lowered expectations. While the game still reigns supreme as the best way to experience the format, there’s enough to like here still that if you’ve got nothing else to watch, try it out for a few episodes. If anything, try it for that sweet, sweet art style. We waited fourteen years for anything at all to show up, so even approaching with caution, long-time fans should at least get a smile or two out seeing that Square Enix is finally giving us our rewards for waiting. That’ll wrap up this review for the anime adaptation of The World Ends With You! Let us know down in the comments below what you thought of the show, and be sure to check it out on Funimation’s website to catch up on the series!
Final Verdict: 3/5