In 1977, a microscopic rural village (population: 32 and falling fast) is beset by a mysterious dictator. Naming itself The King, this unseen—and perhaps supernatural?—tormentor issues edicts to the townsfolk, demanding that they overcome a series of sadistic trials to keep their friends and family alive.
Though it lacks the breathtaking absurdity of As The Gods Will’s do-or-die hopscotch, King’s Game: Origin is a fast-paced survival game manga that plays well at what the genre does best: giving you basic character sketches and then submitting them to perilous tasks, most of them fatal. King’s Game moves at a breakneck pace compared to many of its contemporaries. Twenty-odd chapters in, and wasting few words, it’s already priming itself for a conclusion, promising a brief, gory tale about survival (or lack thereof).
King’s Game doesn’t strive for any greater significance than shocking entertainment. It can be prurient or scandalous, though rarely in any substantial way. Its slant toward nihilism and futility inspires obvious comparisons to torture porn, though the thankfully-oblique framing on its goriest bits, and its lack of interest in making some grandiose statement on the “human condition,” mutes the hostility and sadism that pervade kill-happy works like MPD Psycho.
If its cast were anything more than cardboard cutouts, King’s Game might be too mean spirited to bear. Instead, it’s just a bit of trashy, maudlin, apoplectic misery. Not something you read to witness the endurance of the human spirit in the face of spectacular adversity, this is popcorn reading: a mystery serviceable enough to keep you turning the next page with a handful of murders sprinkled in so the stakes seem high.
This is the distilled form of the survival game genre, spread out over a few dozen chapters instead of the usual couple hundred. Not recommended for anyone whose primary interest isn’t “how bad will it get next?” King’s Game: Origin moves at a clippy pace, axing its characters without a care, driven solely by the desire to throw out the next twist.
Story: Nobuaki Kanazawa
Art: J-ta Yamada