To be upfront – The World Ends With You is a game that I had no familiarity with going in. I never got around to picking up the DS version of the game, and I’d held off of picking up the Switch version mainly because I’d heard disappointing things about that particular port. So, when I learned that the game was getting an anime adaptation (just in time for a new game in the series to come out), I decided to give the show a watch.
The premise of The World Ends With You follows Neku, a teenager who hangs out in Shibuya. Neku is socially distant from others, but likes to engage with the general cultural vibe of Shibuya, particularly street art. However, after dying in mysterious circumstances (the circumstances in question are expanded on over the course of the series), Neku wakes up as part of the “Reaper Game” – a game that Neku has to play with a partner over the course of 1 week, where they have to complete a variety of tasks and defeat enemies on the behalf of some Shinigami (translated as “Reapers”), in order to earn the opportunity to either come back to life, or to transcend to higher existence. The series takes place over 3 different weeks, as after Neku completes each of the first two games, for various reasons he ends up having to re-enter the game an additional time to accomplish a further goal.
In the series and game, the characters are in the “UnderGround” (UG) which is basically an astral-plane-esque extension of reality where the characters can see people but cannot physically interact with them – though they are able to interact with their thoughts. Now, in the game this ends up forming a core mechanic, where by interacting with people to get them to do certain things (whether wearing certain pins, shopping at certain shops, or what have you) would cause various mechanical effects that could help the player – lowering prices for items, improving the strength of certain special attacks, as well as reducing or increasing the spawn rate for monsters. This is also, mechanically, meant to represent one of the game’s core themes (based on the discussion I’ve read on the game) – of Neku’s need to open up and connect with people. Outside of a couple episodes, this doesn’t come up in the show.
Instead, in the show this particular them is mainly done through Neku just interacting with his various partners over the course of those three weeks, along with several other players. It works out well enough, but it does come across like the narrative of the game was dependent on the “Communicate with the thoughts of general people” mechanic to get the themes across.
Also, there’s a visual character design beat that frustrates me. Neku wears headphones to symbolize his being cut off from the rest of the world. I am on the Autism Spectrum, and when I’m in public, especially for extended periods of time, and especially if I’m doing something alone, I also wear headphones, but that’s generally to manager external auditory stimulus and avoid sensory overload. I don’t wear noise-cancelling headphones, mainly because I’m paranoid of them blocking out road noise and causing me to get hit. Having Neku’s headphones be depicted as a negative trait is frustrating to me.
The fight scenes in the show are… basic. It feels like the animators just straight adapted how some of the fighting styles for some of the characters based on how they fight in the very graphically limited visual presentation of the game, or at least the DS version of the game. So, there’s lots of dodging, throwing fireballs, and occasionally throwing up a shield – all of which is unfortunately shown in a very tight closeup, so there rarely a sense of geography or any form of large picture view of the fights. It ultimately makes the action sequences some of the least interesting parts of the show.
In all, I came into this show with very light expectations, and I generally wasn’t disappointed. However, that also means I never quite got invested enough in the show to hit a point where it became a solid recommendation.
The World Ends With You is available for streaming on Funimation.
If you enjoyed this blog post and would like to help to support the site, please consider backing my Patreon. Patreon backers get to access my reviews and Let’s Plays up to a week in advance.
If you want to support the site, but can’t afford to pledge monthly, please consider tossing a few bucks into my Ko-Fi instead.