This recap contains spoilers for the The God of High School episode “lay/key.”
In some sense, most action shonen anime are vehicles for cool fights. Bundle that together with well-defined character archetypes and broad, simple messages about the power of human connection and you really can’t go wrong. The God of High School has thus certainly not “gone wrong.” But as the series nears its finale it’s becoming very apparent just how close it cuts to genre standards. That, combined with another trait common to the current era of anime production– clipped, speedy pacing– has got the cracks showing somewhat. None of this is to say that “lay/key” is a bad episode. It’s a solid chapter in a solid series. But it is enough to make you consider, if “solid” is all we’re getting out of The God of High School, why that might be.
Take Jin and Ilpyo’s rivalry. “lay/key,” as with the past two episodes, presents it in fairly epic (in the old sense of the word) terms. “lay/key” even opens with a dramatic spiel about the spirit that dwells within Ilpyo, the Nine-Tailed Fox. It’s a little deflating then, that Jin’s wonderfully tense on-the-ropes situation at the start of the episode lasts just a couple of minutes. At some point his charyeok simply “comes up” to Ilpyo’s level. (If it actually is charyeok is a point of speculation in-universe here, but largely beside the point.)
He is able to handily defeat Ilpyo without much further effort, and the show ticks on. The fight itself is as strongly-composed as any in the series, but it’s brief enough that you don’t really get the chance to revel in it. I would in fact say that some of this episode’s strongest moments come just after this, with Jin and Ilpyo having a bit of post-battle friendly banter that feels more fleshed-out and full than any of the more serious aspects of their “rivalry.”
“lay/key’s” second half is more intense, but also more fraught. It kicks off with a… mutant? Rogue, unwitting charyeok user? It’s not entirely clear, rampaging through the same hospital that Ilpyo is staying at. It isn’t Ilpyo– or Jin, for that matter– who takes them out. It’s Jegal, perhaps in an attempt to solidify his bad-guy-bona-fides, he makes no attempt to avoid collateral damage, and maims Ilpyo’s friends in the process of taking the whatever-it-is down. The God of High School‘s commitment to making sure no one mistakes Jegal for a misguided innocent is, on some level, admirable, but gore and grody violence against women aren’t great. It’s a pitfall the series has fallen into once or twice before, and to see it rear its head here so close to the finale is disappointing.
Finally, there’s the element of “The Key.” The God of High School has really not been great about explaining why all this is happening. (And, honestly, that’s fine. Over-explanation is much worse.) But the colorful monsters that invade Seoul at the end of “lay/key” point to, if nothing else, an explosive finale. Even as President Park declares The God of High School tournament itself to be “over.” The key hope (pardon the pun) here is to hope that The God of High School leans on its strengths. When it tries to conjure new ones out of thin air, it tends to expose its flaws all too much. Thus, “lay/key” is an episode with a fair amount of high points tempered by some unfortunately obvious weaknesses. For all my complaints, the episode is, in fact, solid. But The God of High School can be, and has been, better than this. It’s not unreasonable to expect the finale to be a significant improvement.
Until next time, The God of High School fans.