These kids aren’t going down without a fight
What a hidden gem this series turned out to be!
At first glance, the plot Naka no Hito seems like your run-of-the-mill death game, but once the initial set-up and stakes were firmly established, it became clear that the focus wasn’t on violence, competition, or even the games, really. Rather, it’s about the relationships between the unwillingly participating Let’s Players. Each one of them beat a computer game that led to them being abducted and forced to participate in a series of challenges arranged by Paka (Tsuda Kenjiro), an enigmatic figure with a perverted streak who is not an alpaca but likes to dress like one. Much like Koro-sensei, he’s rather silly in appearance, yet there’s always an undercurrent of menace about him, and unlike Koro-sensei, his intentions are unclear. The players never really warm to him, either, treating him like an annoyance at the best of times and a threat at the worst, which is understandable since he kidnapped them and none of the players are likely to forget that anytime soon. Only the main character, Akatsuki Iride (Yamashita Daiki), can find it in his heart to attempt to befriend their captor and he’s unfailingly friendly to everyone. Also, he can be a bit of an airhead, resulting in some great comedy at times since Iride is always bouncing off characters who take the games more seriously since they often get swept up in his pace.
While there are moments of tension, for the most part the show revolves around the players getting accustomed to working together as a team. The goal of them isn’t for any one of them to win, after all. It’s actually for them to reach 100 million viewers. Besides completing their trials, though, the players don’t do much to attract an audience and rely mostly on Paka putting them into situations that force them to be entertaining, whether that means fighting oni, winning a dating sim, or confessing their deepest secrets. From the start, Sengoku-period gamer Kaikoku Onigasaki was more interested in finding a way to escape than winning the games, which actually put the group at a distinct disadvantage for a time. It’s not until each of them had taken the time to learn each other’s strengths and commits to playing together that they truly start to make progress.
Watching this show was like eating ice cream before going to bed. It’s genuinely funny without ever being mean-spirited, and you come to care for the players, fearing for them when they’re in danger – Paka may not be out to harm the players personally but he’s definitely not sticking his neck out for them – and rooting for them to complete each challenge. Usually, the trials require that the players face some kind of tragedy or truth they’ve been avoiding, giving them so much more weight than your average puzzle. And, of course, the acting is top-notch. Each of the actors give their characters a distinct voice, and while the prickly fighter gamer Anya Kudo (Hatanaka Tasuku) and stealth gamer Zakuro Oshigiri (Uchiyama Kouki) delivered some of my favorite performances during their regular bouts of bickering, Paka deserves praise for being genuinely intimidating while also wearing the silliest costume imaginable. He switches from affable to threatening at the drop of a hat, with the strength and power to back it up.
There’s still a mystery to be solved by the end of it all, and there’s no telling what will happen when the players reach 100 million viewers. Ostensibly, they’ll be freed, but Paka also implied early on that a child from a losing group died in the White Room which, given later developments, doesn’t seem to have been the case. It’s clearly setting itself up for a second season and while popularity-wise that doesn’t seem likely, there’s no denying that this was a quality series and a delight to watch from beginning to end.