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Why Can’t We Be Friends? Tomodachi Game First Impressions

This article is a part of AniTAY’s Spring 2022 Early Impressions series, where our authors offer their initial thoughts on the new, prominent, and exciting anime from this season!

Winter 2022 had some great anime, and I went into this season of anime hoping there would be a few shows worth keeping up with. Fortunately, the season delivered. However, one of the shows I thought would be a contender stumbled out of the gate.

Tomodachi Game follows five friends who are roped into a deadly game together. Teamwork makes the dream work, and we all know that the power of friendship is a frequent plot device in anime. However, there’s something about the way Tomodachi Game handles this common theme that just doesn’t work.

The protagonist, Yuichi, seems to be the center of the five friends, the true north of the group. He’s poor, non-judgemental and charismatic. He might also be a super shady guy, but more on that later.

How could you ever doubt a smile like that?

Tomodachi Game’s titular game begins after someone steals the 2 million yen the class has gathered for a class trip (these kids really care about their trips, don’t they?), which is used to pay the entry fee of the game. The point of the game is to be able to pay off the 20 million yen debt one of the five has accumulated, and in order to have the debt forgiven, the games must be cleared.

It doesn’t take long for things to hit the fan, as Yuichi quickly starts doubting his friends. I’ll be honest, if I was in this friend circle, I’d be doubting people from the get-go, but that could just be my pessimism talking. Who has the debt? Why did they force their friends into a game like this in order to clear that debt, instead of just talking about it like a normal person? Why is communication such a herculean task for some people?

I’m a big fan of stories that center dishonest characters, so it’s fun to watch as someone deliberately tries to fracture the bonds of trust between the cast . The most fun part for me with stories like this is trying to figure out who the traitor is from subtle hints and the unexpected plot twists. However, Tomodachi Game undermines this tension when it prematurely tips its hand by revealing who was sabotaging things in the third episode, though there were hints even earlier than that.

That takes all the fun out of the mystery! I suppose watching to see how bad things get can be a different way to experience the show, but I much prefer playing armchair detective instead of watching the anime equivalent of reality TV. I can’t help but feel I’m wasting my time because everything about the stakes feels superficial and overblown.

Everything is this dramatic when it’s revealed…for reasons

People rarely care if someone had plastic surgery or if they dated people for money. Honestly, I knew people like that as a kid, and none of it meant anything to our friend group. Though I suppose more importance is placed on things in Japan that don’t mean much in the States. Nope, can’t even use that as an excuse. Even still, nearly every negative thing that’s revealed about the characters is done with such fanfare that you’d think they were all serial killers or something.

Yuichi is definitely the most interesting part of the show. Whatever he’s hiding has piqued not only my interest, but that of those behind the scenes as well. You get peeks at his possible psychopathy, but I guess the same can be said about some of the other characters, too. I just have a soft spot for calculating characters that aren’t selfish or self-important, unlike the one who’s trying to sabotage the friendship they all share.

Oh no, whosoever could the culprit be?

Honestly, I can’t for the life of me understand why five people who say they’re all close friends would even care so much about some of the things we learn about them, but I guess friendship-destroying has got to happen in an anime centered on destroying friendships, no matter how outlandish it seems at times. Though, to play devil’s advocate, events in high school do seem much more significant and life-altering than they usually turn out to be in the grand scheme of things. Also, the fact that the game is being funded and watched by others, complete with know-it-all commentators, kind of makes the stakes seem that much less severe.

I guess I can see where all the Squid Game comparisons come from, even if Squid Game was a marginally better show. I suppose time will tell whether all the melodrama will amount to anything worthwhile, or if Tomodachi Game will fizzle out and end up as a forgettable entry in the Spring 2022 season. My bet is on the latter.

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