I remember that it was at Anime Expo where Square Enix announced that they would have some news regarding The World Ends With You (Subarashiki Kono Sekai). Fans (myself included) waited YEARS to hear news of a sequel and while Square Enix would, eventually, unveil NEO: The World Ends With You, what we received that day was news of a television anime adaptation of the first game. I know I was excited for it but did the show really live up to the original game that many people endeared so much?
The story sees our main protagonist, Neku, dropped into the middle of Shibuya Crossing. Here, he quickly learns that he’s not in just regular old Shibuya anymore. Somehow, he’s phased onto a different plane of reality and gets attacked by animal-like monsters known as Noise. Here, a girl named Shiki finds Neku and, without explaining much, asks him to make a pact with her so that they can fight the Noise together.
After dispatching the immediate threat, Neku learns that he’s stuck in something called the Reaper’s Game. They have seven days to complete missions (usually one per day) and be the last ones standing. Those who survive will have their wishes granted… in this case… to come back to life because in order to play the Reaper’s Game, you have to be dead in the real world.
The problem is that with Neku, his memories were taken as his entry fee into the game so he doesn’t know how or even why he died. Neku begins a journey to uncover those lost memories and win the Reaper’s game, meeting some others along the way who all have their reasons for playing.
The game itself is orchestrated by a person simply known as The Composer. The Composer appoints a Game Master to handle the Reaper’s Game and that Game Master, in-turn, creates the missions and dispatches Reapers… people who kind of act like the authority within the Underground.
For the most part, it was an “okay” adaptation of the game. There are many facets to the game that just weren’t represented in the anime and, honestly, I don’t think they really needed to. Sure, it would have been cool to see Neku use other pins aside from his starter set, or heck… it would have been nice to see how he acquired some of the newer pins that he used later on. The whole fashion system wasn’t in the anime, character depth was glossed over in some areas… but for what it was… it was decent. The main core of the story was there and they did what they could with 12 episodes. Had this been 25, I’m sure we could have seen a lot more but sometimes the episode count really hurts an adaptation.
The cast of characters is relatively moderate in size even though the show focuses on the main cast that was playable in the game.
He’s about as emo as emo can get… at least in the game he was. Here in the anime, he starts off as the loner type that you would expect but he didn’t come around as quickly in the game as he did in the anime. Plus, his attitude was really toned down as I remember him just being downright rude to Shiki and Beat most of the time. His relationship with Beat in the anime wasn’t as harsh which made some of the tension between them really contrived. Again, 12 episodes and all but building Neku as a character felt extremely rushed.
Neku wanted to block out the world around him so he decided to wear headphones. After learning how to trust others and grow as a person, his sole desire went from going back to life and finding out why he died to saving everyone else with who he came in contact along the way. He opened his heart even if his angst was a lot shallower this time around
Shiki was a wannabe fashion designer in the real world who wished she had looked better. After a grim event sends her into the Underground, she just wants to win the game, see her friend again, and erase all of her regrets. Her appearance in the Underground is that of her real-life friend. She ends up becoming Neku’s first partner and fights with a stuffed cat named Mr. Mew that she made herself.
Of all of the secondary characters, Shiki had the most depth to her. There were moments that you felt for her but after the first third of the show, you kind of just forgot she existed. It was like that in the game, too, as you moved between the different story arcs, though. Still, she was everyone’s bae in the game because… well… she was the only girl who really mattered (sorry Rhyme).
Joshua (or Yoshiya if you prefer) is Neku’s second partner during the second story arc of both the game and the anime. Joshua has some otherworldly powers but it is revealed that he broke the rules to play the game. What those rules are, I’ll leave for you to discover.
Joshua has a mysterious component about him, though. He’s a little cocky and arrogant but, at the same time, he seems to want to genuinely help Neku. Still, despite all of this, there is something a bit off about him but Neku can’t really piece it together. We do know; however, that if he physically interacts with Joshua, his memories become jolted and bits and pieces of them begin to return… adding more to the mystery behind this character.
Beat & Rhyme
Also known as Daisukenojo Bito, is a guy who wasn’t good at anything until he discovered skateboarding. When he realized his talents for it, that’s all he wanted to do with his life. He is also very protective of his sister Rhyme. Beat’s attitude is very short-tempered but he isn’t actually a bad guy. He’s just very… simple… in his thinking. He’s the kind of guy who will rush into a fight fueled by testosterone for almost any reason whatsoever.
His bond with Neku is something that grew slowly but you do get to see a change in Beat thanks to interacting with Neku; however, this is after an event happens and Beat ends up becoming something he didn’t want to become in order to get his sister back after she was erased during the game.
Speaking of Rhyme, she’s Beat’s sister… and that’s about the depth of her character. I wish I were joking but here in the anime, that’s it. She’s Beat’s sister.
He is the second Game Master in the, well, second story arc. I’m not going to bother touching upon Yodai Higashizawa, the first Game Master, because that’s all he was… the first Game Master who existed to get beaten in order to advance the plot.
I’m mentioning Sho because there is more to this character later on. Plus, he’s obsessed with math and numbers and if you aren’t quick enough to solve his puzzles, you will not only be erased but you’ll be SO ZETTA SLOW!
Sho really was the most memorable of the series’ three game masters and even though he does end up getting beaten, that’s not where his story comes to an end. There’s more to it and his passion and drive for change are what fuels his return!
Throughout all three story acs, Megumi is the game’s Conductor and the one in charge of all of the Reapers. He directly reports to The Composer and is the one charged with the overall handling of the Reaper’s Game. He claims that the game is to save Shibuya but we don’t know exactly who or what he’s saving it from or if it’s just some sort of metaphor to a twisted and evil scheme. (Well, the anime and the game do reveal the reason but, you know, spoilers and all)
Megumi is typically calm, calculated, and collected. In both the game and the anime, he serves as the “final boss.” I say that because there is the reveal of The Composer and the conflict with him afterward but it’s handled a bit differently. Other than a few appearances in the anime and some spotlight at the very end, Megumi felt more like a background character than anything else.
He runs a coffee shop in the Realground that people can access from the Underground. The door to the coffee shop acts as a pseudo gate between the dimensions. He does his best to be that type of character that stays in the shadows while helping both Neku and Joshua with their goals. There is way more than meets the eye with his character which adds a lot of mysterious depth to him.
Also, on a side note… he’s voiced by Kenjiro Tsuda which makes three anime I’ve seen this season alone with his voice in it. The other two being To Your Eternity and Boruto. Kenjiro Tsuda is really becoming the Chow Yun Fat of anime… meaning that he’ll play just about any role as long as you pay him.
Art, Animation, and Sound
This is where it is a mixed bag for me. Shin-Ei Animation as well as domerica produced this show and while everything is done in CG, there are places where it’s done really well and others where you wonder just what happened to the well-done CG. A lot of the still shots and basic movement seemed nice and crisp but some of the battle scenes, including the final battle, looked like horrible stop animation that was just jarring and took you out of the action.
I will say that the CG characters did look sharp, colorful, and vibrant. If they were really trying to nail down the artistic style from the game, I would say that they have succeeded. The game’s character designs were a bit more “sharp” or “jagged” whereas the anime characters looked a bit “smoother” and “rounded” but I felt that the designs were about as close as they could be without making them look odd for an anime adaptation.
Another complaint had to do with the fight scenes themselves. They were WAY too short. Just when you started to get into them, they were over. “boss fights” felt like afterthoughts and even the battles against the game masters felt short and anti-climatic. Again… 12 episodes. Had there been 25 (or more), we could have spanned these fights over a whole episode or even 2 and got more substance and meaning out of them. Plus, the glaring CG stop animation problem I mentioned before also added to the disappointment of some of the fights in the series. I just felt a better job could have been done all around.
The soundtrack should have been a banger and a half, right? I mean… the game’s soundtrack is heralded as a masterpiece and one of the best game soundtracks in history so when that very same composer was announced as lending his talents to the anime, we were sure to be jamming out to brand-new music left and right!
But that didn’t happen… save for an insert song during the final battle which pumped us up. I’m actually sitting here trying to remember anything about this soundtrack and nothing is coming to mind and that’s pretty sad for a series that had such a legendary OST in the game. Perhaps it’s because some of the game’s songs were used in the show instead of new material but… it really just felt flat and I was highly disappointed by it.
This is one of those shows where you have to say “it is what it is.” I said it many times during this review but this show was really hurt by only having 12 episodes. That actually shocked me because for as how popular the game was, with how much buzz was generated by a hungry fanbase when Square Enix teased the announcement for Anime Expo, you would think that they would try to capitalize on all of it and make this a 25-episode or longer series in order to do it justice.
But they didn’t and the show suffered because of it.
If you never played the games then, yes, you get the gist of what happened but you are missing so, so much. If anime serves as nothing more than an advertisement for the source material then I think that it did give us just enough to possibly make people want to play the game. With a sequel coming up in July 2021, it gives people all the more reason to go pick up the original game on one of the multitudes of platforms it is available on. I would recommend the Final Remix version for Nintendo Switch as it contains the original game, the bonus content that only came out in Europe, and some other enhancements found in the iOS port as well.
If you have played the game, I can completely understand why you would be disappointed with this adaptation. Yes, it was decent, but it wasn’t the love letter to the series people were expecting. Sorry to say, that this was just average at best.
The World Ends With You: The Animation
If you haven’t played the game, you will get the gist of the story elements; however, fans of the game will probably be disappointed at the short length of the series which gives way to an adaptation that falls pretty short of expectations.
- Sharp artwork and design
- The story does work for newcomers
- Short fights
- Stuttering CG animation
- Lack of character backstory and depth
- Forgettable soundtrack
- Rushed, not enough time t develop
- Overall Score