'The God Of High School' Review: A Divinely Stylish Martial Arts Anime

The God of High School is the second Crunchyroll original anime to adapt a Korean webtoon, center its premise around a competition to win the reward of getting one's wish granted, and feature the word "God" in its title. But unlike the otherworldly Tower of GodThe God of High School is a much more recognizable twist on the action anime, marrying a mythic Dragon Ball-style story with your classic shounen tournament structure, and featuring some of the most fluid and crisp battle sequences you've ever seen.

Based on a webtoon manwha written by Yongje ParkThe God of High School is like if you took Dragon Ball and condensed it into a Yu-Gi-Oh! style competition (or really, if you just made an entire anime out of the tournament arcs in Dragon Ball and set it in contemporary Seoul). That comparison is built into the DNA of this series, which draws much inspiration from the Chinese novel Journey to the West, the very same fable which Dragon Ball loosely adapted. Even The God of High School's protagonist, Jin Mo-Ri, could have been ripped straight from the iconic '90s anime — like Goku, he has the signature spiky hair of an action anime protagonist, and his preternaturally gifted fighting skills stem from his true identity as the mythical Jaechondaesong, the Monkey King of Journey to the West.

But we don't learn all that right away in the first episode of The God of High School, which is the only episode I received to review of Crunchyroll's new series. The episode opens with a group of sleazy businessmen who scheme over how they can bring down a stubborn politician before a strange tornado interrupts their beachside massage and the hand of God appears to wipe them from the face of the Earth, complete with giant fingerprints and a crucible that makes its mark upon the sand. A shadowy figure, who stands in front of a mural of terrifying mythical creatures, smiles.

It's an intriguing start to the new series, but The God of High School isn't interested in diving into the mystery just yet. We stay the rest of the episode instead with Jin Mo-Ri, a relentlessly cheery and energetic high school teenager who — like every anime protagonist at the beginning of their series — wakes up late...for something. As he races to get to his destination on a bike that careens through the streets and alleyways of Seoul, he runs into a thief who has stolen a grandma's purse, and this goodhearted hero has to stop and save the day.

In an elastic, breathlessly animated chase sequence, The God of High School shows us everything we need to know: Mo-Ri's incorruptible heart of gold, his fast friendship with our two other leads — the stoic strongman Han Dae-wi, who we meet diligently working at a convenience store, and the flighty and cute high school girl Yu Mi-Ra, who wields wooden sword — that team up with him to stop the thief. Most importantly, we get a taste of the spectacular action animation that The God of High School has in store for us. Fluid, clean, with nary a dropped key frame in sight, The God of High School smoothly ping pongs between tone, throwing in chibi imagery reminiscent of Isao Takahata, into its fast-paced action sequences, which move like a wacky, intensely cool dream. It's a crisp, creative animation style provided by MAPPA, the animation studio behind hits like Yuri on Ice, Dororo, and Dorohedoro. And though the animation quality could easily drop in later episodes, MAPPA is firing on all cylinders for the first episode of The God of High School, which ends with an equally incredible-looking fight (which, in classic combat anime fashion, ends in a cliffhanger that will be continued in the next episode).

MAPP is putting as much thought into the background animation too, which feels distinctly like it's set in Seoul, as opposed to the Tokyo settings in which we usually see these animes. The alleyways that snake through the city, as well as the dirty bars and the iconic Han River that make up the South Korean city, distinguish it from the usual Japanese setting, and keep the series true to its Korean manwha roots.

We only get a taste of the tournament around which The God of High School centers — a martial arts competition that promises the winner the prize of their wish being granted. But the shadowy corporation that holds the competition has supernatural connections, and demons and gods will clash with the humans fighting in the tournament. It's a plot that will likely be unearthed by our plucky protagonist Mo-Ri, whose backstory hints at a tragic past and a determination to defeat one of the "recruiters" of the tournament.

But while The God of High School's premise sounds oh-so-serious, the series is incredibly watchable because of its bonkers comedic tone. It never takes itself too seriously. The God of High School is not breaking any new ground after all, so the least it can do is throw in a hilarious street musician who records a rap with the grandma whose purse was stolen, and a few exaggerated "anime" expressions. The tone is fun and a little silly, but the series never fails to take its fights and animation quality seriously. For that, The God of High School is a definite series to watch this summer season.


The God of High School premieres on Crunchyroll today, July 6, 2020.