It's probably for the best that Battle Game in 5 Seconds wraps for the season next week. After flirting with minor upswings in presentational quality, things nosedive hard this episode. That terrifying (and I don't think in the way he's supposed to be) CGI Oogami in the screencap is the way the character's placed on screen for the majority of his time this episode, sloppily composited with the 2D characters in ways that I presume that sepia flashback filter was deployed to mask. Or maybe they just didn't care this close to the end. There's some other customarily-rough CGI used for some characters' attacks in this episode along with all the now-expected rough character modeling and limited animation, and at this point I just have to re-affirm how I mostly feel bad for the crews at the studios struggling to get this thing out the door. Given how much of the plot of this episode revolves around characters bluffing and hoping others don't notice key points in their plans, it's only thematically appropriate that we avert our eyes and pay little more mind to Battle Game's well-worn visual shortcomings.
That's fairly easy to do, since the anime has far more fundamental problems with what's left of the story it's presenting this week. The majority of the plot we get here is centered around the confrontation between Akira and Kuroiwa, the 'brains' of their respective teams, as all their gambits finally pile up against each other to mostly resolve the more complex parts of their plans in this episode. The main issue comes in how they pace out the delivery of these payoffs. For most of the confrontation, we in the audience are sitting there pondering the same driving question that Kuroiwa has: Whether Akira is simply killing time or if he actually has a plan to win. There's some clever use of character viewpoint mixed in there, in that Kuroiwa's setup for success against Akira specifically hinges on him granting some spare time to the kid in order to build an advantage against him, predicated on us getting the full picture of the proportionate way his 'Loanshark' power functions, which is admittedly interesting.
However, the connected bits that make those layers of supposedly dense mind-games work are aggravatingly buried between some of the worst deployment of in-universe exposition I have seen in an anime in a while. You'd think that Kuroiwa's actual plan for taking down Akira was to talk him to death, the way he carries on and on about the double-bluffs and counter-strategies he set up to win this fight. He spends ages painstakingly explaining the process he used to narrow down what Akira's power was (we already know what Akira's power is) before concluding that fully calculating that doesn't even matter. He gabs on for four-and-a-half minutes in the cold open before the show's theme song manages to cut him off with a word in edgewise, and after that we are over eight minutes into the episode and Kuroiwa is still exhaustingly explaining his over-meticulous plan to stab a teenager. It makes even Akira's overt gamer-brain planning seem restrained and tolerable by comparison, which I suppose is one way to get us firmly on the side of the show's supposed hero.
Of course, that means that once Akira does counter Kuroiwa's plans, he has to take his own time telling his enemy that he planned to plan around his planning with his own plan and oh lord this episode already has me exhausted. As with so many other elements of Battle Game, this is something these kinds of stories can thrive on if done right, but surprise surprise, they can't do it right. A few seconds of dramatic counters followed by multiple minutes of flashing back to the seeds of Akira's plan he laid out days in advance, in excruciating detail, culminating in flashbacks to parts of the fight we just watched absolutely ain't it, chief. The key part of Akira's scheme here was simply to make a knife-proof jacket by lining it with books and steaks. I'm not sure how much explanation we actually needed for how he came up with that, but I feel like the amount we did get wasn't really giving me enough credit as an audience member. The sole amusing detail is the point that Akira was able to figure out Kuroiwa's psychological weakness by realizing that they were both the same level of arrogant gamer dorkuses.
That detail is here to dovetail in what could charitably called the 'theme' of this episode, and presumably this whole arc. By the end, it's clear that we're meant to see Kuroiwa and Oogami as parallels to Akira and Yuuri. Now obviously we hadn't gotten enough background on the two Team Red leaders to properly explore that comparison, so you know what that means: last-minute pathos-ridden backstory flashback time! This at least properly explains what the deal with the two bad bosses being Momoko's 'kids' was, along with their hilariously tragic tortured-orphan origin story allotting an explanation for Oogami's late-game additional ability to make his own animation worse. Though I also must admit to finding some dark humor in the writing trying to mine some late-game sympathy for Oogami's suddenly-revealed despair in his own questioning of his humanity. Yeah, someone just needed to give you a hug dude, but you were ultimately simply an abused kid with anger management issues. It ain't that deep.
Chief among the many problems with this storytelling's deployment is that the pair's desire to create a 'kingdom' where they and peers like them in their cruel orphanage could be 'free' has clearly not played out, as we've only seen them set up basically the same kind of system predicated on shows of strength and appeals to debts owed. If this is supposed to impart any degree of sympathy for these characters themselves, it fails because they haven't demonstrated in-situ motivations apart from "be jerks". And if it's supposed to set up the possibility of parallels for our 'heroic' pair of Akira and Yuuri, it fails because it spends so much time on the explanation on the specifics of the villainous duo that any comparison feels needlessly roundabout. Like Akira and Kuoriwa's dueling plans, it's something the story definitely feels like it could have arrived at without so much time-killing.
On the other hand, my dark-horse fave Zokumyoin turns back up in this episode and she seems to be doing okay by the end, so maybe this one wasn't all bad!
Battle Game in 5 Seconds is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Chris is a freelance writer who appreciates anime, action figures, and additional ancillary artistry. He can be found staying up way too late posting screencaps on his Twitter.