‘The World Ends with You’ Review: Video Game Gets a Faithful Anime Adaptation

Funimation's anime adaptation of "The World Ends with You" is an affectionate retelling of the classic video game.
"The World Ends with You The Animation"
"The World Ends with You The Animation"

The World Ends with You” was one of the best video games on the Nintendo DS and boasted a stellar cast of characters that helps the title retain a large fan base nearly 14 years after its release. Now, with a sequel on the PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch set for release in July, Funimation’s “The World Ends with You The Animation” is here to get newcomers up to speed and tickle the nostalgia buttons of the original game’s fans.

Interested parties will be pleased to know that the Funimation’s series adaptation is far more than a soulless tie-in. “The World Ends with You The Animation” is shaping up to be an affectionate and faithful retelling of the original game that could also appeal to those unfamiliar with the original Nintendo DS title.

Like the game its based on, Funimation’s “The World Ends with You” centers on Neku Sakuraba, a teenage loner who is somehow transported to a strange version of Shibuya, Japan, one of the country’s most well-known cultural and commercial centers. Neku and a handful of other people have been selected to participate in a life-or-death contest known as the Reaper’s Game. Players in the Reapers’ Game must team up with one another to survive, which typically involves defeating Noise (monsters that usually resemble slightly fantastical versions of ordinary animals) and completing other missions laid out by the Reapers’ Game’s nefarious organizers. The original game’s fight-for-your-life story was elevated by its urban fantasy elements and wide cast of memorable characters. many of whom appear early in Funimation’s adaptation.

The Japanese-language Funimation series, at least in the premiere episode provided to critics, follows the original game’s plot faithfully and does an admirable job of outlining the peculiarities of the Reapers’ Game while still dedicating time to fleshing out its key characters. Neku is an introverted jerk; Shiki, his partner in the Reapers’ Game, is the polar opposite. Beat is a meathead with a heart of gold, particularly when it comes to his partner and friend, Rhyme. The protagonists are forced to quickly come to terms with one another due to their precarious situation and though the show’s premiere episode dedicates much of its time to outlining the rules of the Reapers’ Game (which is understandable), there’s enough characterization to make viewers care about the heroes’ fates.

There’s also a sense that the teams at domerica and Shin-Ei Animation, which animated the series, had genuine enthusiasm for this project. Key dialogue lines and plot beats are ripped straight from the game and the show only diverges from the original game’s scenes and character interactions when it makes sense to do so for a television adaptation. Characters pose in blink-and-you-miss-it frames of animation that are faithful to the source material and a handful of the original game’s songs — “The World Ends with You” had a stellar and diverse soundtrack — are also featured at pivotal moments to great effect. Eagle-eyed fans the original game will be rewarded for watching, but the references never come off as pandering or gratuitous for the uninitiated.

That said, the series’ premiere doesn’t shy away from introducing all sorts of plot-critical terms and mechanics from the original game, and the quantity of buzzwords could confuse viewers who aren’t familiar with the original game. “Player pacts.” “Erasure.” “Pins.” “Psychs.” “Scanning.” They’re all here, and though the show does a commendable job of explaining or showing what all of these things mean without coming off as just dumping exposition everywhere, it can still be a lot to take in. The episode isn’t preoccupied with the original game’s lingo to the point where it feels like you’re just watching a long video game cutscene, but viewers unfamiliar with the original title should approach the Funimation series with a healthy sense of “just go with it.”

All signs suggest that doing so will be well worth the effort. The series’ premiere episode is busy introducing a lot of people and concepts, but the characters’ colorful and conflicting personalities are already a joy to play out and the original “The World Ends with You” plot only got better as players advanced deeper into the game. There’s a genuine emotional payoff to “The World Ends with You” story and though it will take more episodes to determine if the Funimation show can hit all of the original game’s high points, the premiere episode starts things off on a high note.

Grade: B

“The World Ends with You The Animation” is streaming on Funimation.

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