I want to like The God of High School, I really do. But if I’m real honest with myself, I think I’ve just fallen victim to the jangling keys dilemma; in that the show looks so pretty at face value that I kind of want to ignore all of the other issues it has. Issues it has in excess when it comes to pretty much everything else about it.
The God of High School was a series that started off with its dial cranked all the way up to 11, and then had nowhere to go from there. Its only recourse seemed to be to keep barrelling forward without slowing down, hoping that those shiny keys being rattled in our faces would be enough to distract us from the fact that nothing else going on seems to be all that interesting.
At face value, the concept of GOH is a great one on paper; a never-ending tournament arc in which the next big battle is always round the corner. In practice though, this concept sacrifices too many of the integral components of what makes a good piece of storytelling, replacing character development, stakes and drama for hype, hype and more hype.
But hype is meaningless without context.
GOH’s biggest problem is one of excess, with so much going on so often, it doesn’t make the time we need to really get to know and learn to care about the characters. While it has made efforts to develop the supporting characters of Dawei and Mira, the efforts have felt clumsy and are constantly falling over one another, jumping into the next plot point before the dust can properly settle from the last one.
See my “review” of episode 4 for context. The entire episode dealt with Mira going through a little personal discovery, before ending by having Dawei beat her half to death. Which makes that the thing we walk away from the episode thinking about, not whatever personal revelation Mira was supposed to have had from her story. If anything, the ending was so extreme that it blew the the entirety of Mira’s story into last season.
And I haven’t even started talking about the protagonist Mori yet… and that’s mostly because there’s nothing to actually say about him. He’s about as uninteresting a main character as I’ve seen, only falling short to Anos Voldigoed, who I’ve already spoken about recently. Mori is a happy go lucky airhead MC, one who seems more capable than most of the other characters in the series right from the first episode.
When you’re already banging your head against the ceiling, there isn’t really anywhere for you to go but to continue banging your head against that ceiling, because your only other option is to fall down. It’s a tough one, because of the premise of this series being one big tournament, it’d be difficult for make Mori anything but a badass right from the start, or else it’d be a pretty short tournament.
But, the problem writing it this way makes it so that every victory he gains doesn’t feel earned. For the sake of comparison, let’s look at another series’s first few episodes and how it does it far more effectively.
My Hero Academia has one of the best opening few episodes to any shonen I’ve ever seen. Within those first three episodes, we’re introduced to Midoriya, we learn of his powerful desire to be a hero, then we learn that he lacks a quirk, thus won’t ever be able to realise his dream. When we see him again in the present, we discover he still has every intention of becoming a hero, despite his staggering disadvantage.
from there he meets All Might, and goes through the months of blood, sweat and tears necessary to even inherent One for All from him. All before throwing him into an exam that he needs to pass or else everything we’ve been through with him will have been for nothing, all while him being totally untested and unfamiliar with his own new abilities.
And that’s just three episodes. In which we learn of this character’s powerful drive for success, while also seeing the rock bottom place he started from. We know exactly how far Midoriya has come and exactly how much he has to lose. Absolutely none of that is present in GOH. The first season of My Hero assigned ridiculous stakes to just about everything that Midoriya did. What’s the worst thing that happens if Mori loses? He’s out of the tournament? So what?
Not only because the series has failed to assign a suitable emotional stake into the whole thing for the audience, but it’s also made the mistake of constantly cutting away to show us this other, far grander in scale, for more important seeming story line in which hooded figures battle suited supermen using massive Jojo stands. Why should I care about some tournament when there is a giant God trying to plunge a sword into a city?
It’s too much too soon. Even when the series is making the most of its most impressive feature; it’s amazing fight animation, it constantly undercuts it by cutting away to the other story, or to show us the backstory of the antagonist. Who is eventually beaten and will most likely never show up again. It’s not a good use of my time nor is it doing anything but making the fight worse by breaking up its flow and storytelling.
Even the fight in episode 10 of Mori vs. Park, there was no indication before the fight that Mori would struggle. Yet he does, then overcomes the challenge anyway in pretty underwhelming fashion. There’s no measuring bar, no buildup, no point of comparison for strength even in basic terms.
Like I said at the top, I want to like The God of High School. But in its determination to start loud, hard and fast it ends up running out of stamina before the finish line. I used to bemoan shonen anime for dragging themselves out for far too long, an issue that might not even apply to GOH seeing as how it sticks pretty closely to the source material I hear. But you need to build a story with a little more patience. I’ll finish out this series at this point, but I don’t see myself writing anything else about it that doesn’t just make all the same complaints I’ve made here today.