OP: 「not GAME」by (Hatanaka Tasuku)
“Are We Friends”
Naka no Hito Genome begins in a world much like our own and sets off from there. Let’s Players from a variety of genres each recieved a message congratulating them on unlocking hidden content in the game, The Ones Within. After promptly blacking out, they come to in a world where a giant panda is walking around on a stroll, and no one is anywhere as surprised by this as they should be. None of the Let’s Players really behave in a realistic or believable fashion – to wit, one of the Let’s Players was relaxed enough after his kidnapping to fall asleep in the classroom while the guy who kidnapped them was talking – which may actually be for the best, since seeing them quickly solve their captor’s puzzles is much more satisfying than any of the initial screaming and panicking that would traditionally come first. Then again, it’s equally possible that Let’s Players are a special brand of human who fear neither god nor death.
Mr . Paka (Tsuda, Kenjiro), like Koro-sensei from Assasination Classroom or Monokuma from Danganronpa, is meant to evoke a sense of both intimidation and absurdity. Although Mr. Paka is keeping them trapped, he never directly harms the children, threatening them only if they are rude or refuse to follow the rules, leading to my favorite part of the episode where he claims that a child locked up for misbehaving in a previous game died in isolation after his group failed to earn 100,000,000 views and is instantly subdued by three of the Let’s Players. Personally, I think a live stream of Markiplier and Jenna Marbles fighting to survive a death game would earn that many views in about an hour, but it’s an interesting concept, nonetheless. Will the kids have to manufacture tensions to attract more views or will their exploits and interactions be enough? Since no one has died and Mr. Paka, despite his posturing, comes across as more ridiculous than scary, the stakes aren’t very high, which should allow the characters the breathing space they’ll need to get to now each other better and learn to work as a team, as the OP seems to suggest.
The pacing of the episode was a tad disjointed. If more time had been devoted to the Ouijia board scene then the pay-off of seeing Akatsuki Iride (Yamashita, Daiki) promise to join the ghost in death without a moment’s hesitation would have held more impact. Instead, since the tone of the episode was frankly everywhere, the scene came across as rushed, the emotion unearned. Also, MC’s who don’t express the gull gamut of emotion can be tricky, since someone who never gets upset or angry can quickly become boring to watch. The best way to get around that is to have interesting and emotive side characters to serve as contrast, which it looks like Naka no Hito is attempting through scenes such as the stunning Princess Bride-style introduction of Onigasaki Kaikoku (Satou, Takuya) where he saves Akatsuki and the girl he woke up beside from a R.O.U.S (Rodent of Unusual Size) with an umbrella and a ton of style.
The hope is that with a concept like this, the assembled Let’s Players will be able to put whatever abilities and knowledge they have at their disposal to gain views and beat the game. Akatsuki, for example, has experience with escape games, Sarinyashiki Karin (Kito, Akari) with horror, while others who join their group tend to have specialized in the survival, fighting, and agricultural genres. Watching Himiko subvert expectations by utilizing her knowledge of Ouijia boards while simultaneously being terrified of ghosts was a good start, and will hopefully open up the path for others to bring their expertise to the table.
All in all, I’d say it’s a strong start, giving the audience a taste of what’s to come with several jokes that land and at least one I’m going to grudgingly give a pass. With any luck, Naka no Hito will continue making use of its creative shifts in animation to balance humor with horror and expand on its cast of characters, who at this point in time seem like they’ll be sticking around.