The Spring season has finally given me something I can really sink my teeth into with The King’s Avatar.
Non-Japanese “anime” series, particularly those from the rest of Asia, have seen a noticeable rise in the past year or so.
In particular, Chinese animated series are much more prolific than in the past. However, I had yet to find one that interested me, especially with Haoliners Animation’s exceptionally low production values.
In the world of Glory, a popular online multiplayer game, Ye Xiu has been dubbed the “Battle God” by both his peers and adoring fans for his contributions to the competitive Glory circuit. However, due to his team’s lack of performance over the past few years, his team’s manager forces him into retirement and has him hand over the character he’s been using for the past nine years.
After finding work at an internet cafe, he decides that he’s not done with Glory yet. He creates a new character on the recently opened 10th server, where he begins to smash records and wreak havoc under the name Lord Grim.
I’m honestly surprised that it’s taken this long for us to see a competitive gaming anime.
It’s massive popularity in East Asia meant it was only a matter of time. The King’s Avatar is a great start to exploring this topic. While I’m not proficient at MMOs myself, I’ve still grown up with games all my life, and I’m shocked at how accurate this series is to real-life gaming. From the terminology to the complex strategies, everything about this series breathes gamer culture. Even the atmosphere created by other players feels so real and yet also so perfect for how the plot of the series progresses.
Much of this is due to the fantastic character personalities and interactions. Ye Xiu is set up excellently as a veteran Glory player forced to rise back to the top, while also keeping his personality fresh and unique. This makes his return all the more exciting. This guy really feels like a pro gamer. The fact that he’s a pro, and also an adult, makes his insane skill level all the more believable, unlike other power fantasies related to this genre (cough cough Kirito).
The rest of the cast support and antagonize Ye’s quest in manners that seem to go out of their way to be more interesting than the standard fair. Be it Shaotian’s extreme extroversion or Su Mucheng’s adoration for Ye, the supporting cast of this series has a ton to offer in personality. The antagonists are just as strong and are given interesting motivations that amplify the “beat Lord Grim” mentality that echoes throughout the second half of the series, especially in regards to Ye Xiu’s former teammates.
Animation is where we start to hit some snags, but not for the reasons you’d think.
Chinese animation productions look very different from Japanese anime. The King’s Avatar is no exception. Some areas offer some strong presentation, such as the overall lighting and shot composition. Others, especially the choreography of the fight scenes, are a bit more hit and miss.
And then there’s the CG. Most likely a result of cultural differences on how its use is treated, this series is absolutely flooded with CG. This is something I would normally hate. What makes it weird though is that there are almost no attempts to hide it or any suggestions that they didn’t have the talent to animate everything in 2D. For this series, CG flourishes are a stylistic point, and while I don’t agree with all of its presentation, it felt more bearable in this kind of context where the CG is presented with such confidence.
The soundtrack, while good as filling in the background and has a strong intensity to it, doesn’t really do much to stand out. With A-tier composers like Sawano, Hayashi, and Oshima all putting out some of their best work, it’s pretty easy for other soundtracks to get overshadowed this season. I’m still gonna hold out hope for a sleeper hit though.
The King’s Avatar is a surprise success on almost all fronts. An exciting premise executed properly and with lots of small details to make it stand out create a definite must-watch series for this season, though the CG might still be a bit annoying to some. If this is what China plans to offer in the future, then I eagerly await the next Chinese cartoon, as well as the recently announced sequel, to go live.
Final Score: 8/10