Because of his limited means, Yuichi would be better off skipping the school trip, but he refuses to make that choice. He and his friends have promised to go together, and they love each other dearly. But things turn topsy-turvey when the two million yen the class has saved for the excursion goes missing, and two of Yuichi’s friends are the subject of accusations (as is he). After meeting up late the next night, the friends are taken to a “game room,” ruled by Manabu-kun, a bully character from a late night anime, who explains to the five teens that the two million was merely an entrance fee for playing a game in which their debt, amounting to 20 million yen, can be wiped out—or doubled or even lumped onto just one of them. It all depends on how the five best friends play the game.
Based on the manga and already adapted into a drama series and movies, Tomodachi Game is the latest survival game anime and features many of the same tropes for that genre—cute-creepy host, characters who may be quite different internally from who they project themselves to be, operators behind the scenes that have some overarching reason for this “experiment,” and games with winning prizes that are valuable, but not worth the dire consequences—which may not matter, since the contestants are trapped anyway. The only difference here by my eye—though I’ve watched very few survival game shows, so I could be wrong—is that the contestants were all previously friends. Manabu-kun’s initial game, and likely the rest, judging by the show’s title, are meant to destroy their bonds.
These types of anime are by nature compelling. They are tense, suspenseful, and dark. As such, Tomodachi Game has my attention. As I mentioned, I’m not all Futury Dairy or Squid Game‘d out; I’m open to adding this series to the slate of shows I’ll watch this spring. But other than the tropey nature of the first episode, I’m also worried about the animation, which has glimpses of creativity and loveliness, but is mostly substandard. The writing is not much different, with games rules that are overly complicated, making it difficult to “play along” with the characters. Ultimately, if Tomodachi Game is about making clever and suspenseful contests, and revealing character backstories that show several or most of them to be awful people, I’m not sure that it’s worth my time. But for now, I’ll continue to play along and see where this game is headed.
Tomodachi Game is available to stream through Crunchyroll.