This is an excerpt from my upcoming Top 10 New Anime of 2017 list.
I never knew I wanted a death game anime from Monogatari author Nisio Isin, but I’m sure glad I got it. Juni Taisen hits the obvious trappings of a death game series with its schlocky premise and eccentric designs, but from there it takes things in pretty bizarre and wonderful directions.
The most surprising is how character focused it is for a show in its genre space and how little it cares for building action sequences. It’ll take an entire episode to tell us a character’s history and motivations just to build up to them dying in a seconds long battle. Juni Taisen recognises that the anticipation of the bang is far more impactful than the bang itself, and instead of choosing to ground itself in the fighters’ skills or the stakes they’re up against decides to build empathy towards its inevitably tragic cast.
And to that end it does a fine job, gracefully weaving narrative economy between the journeys of twelve different characters across twelve episodes and giving each of them a presence. Not only does this allow you to empathise but you begin to feel genuinely fond of them. Fond enough that you just want to see them hang out and do silly stuff instead of killing each other.
The war of Juni Taisen was always mindless, but in seeing strong righteous individuals destroyed at the hands of immature and unthinking characters we see the blind destructiveness of war first hand. Juni Taisen is story of hopelessness and tragedy, but ultimately it’s about the pain of knowing hopelessness and tragedy in the world. It’s about how many of us are only able to move forward by not knowing or not caring. It’s a bleak story, but it still believes in its righteous characters. It’s a senseless world, so let’s continue senselessly believing in the power of good people.