Tenkuu Shinpan Review

Title: Tenkuu Shinpan / High Rise Invasion
Length: 12 x 24 minute episodes
Genre: Action, ecchi
Year of release: 2021

Tenkuu Shinpan’s a Netflix exclusive anime – which means it released all in one fell swoop. For some shows, this is a curse: the first episode not need only hook you to try it next week, but to try it immediately! But for Tenkuu Shinpan, this is a blessing: it’s frantic pace and barrage of cliffhangers means that, when the next episode begins to load immediately, you’re tagging in with Yuri Honjou’s ride on a wild binge. It’s bloody brilliant, and it’s also a bloody mess, but super enjoyable.

The setup is simple, but the show’s many twists shifts its gears into different action subgenres quite quickly. What starts out as Yuri Honjou and many other normal Japanese people waking up in a weird world of high rise tower blocks and Masked assailants trying to convince you to jump becomes a battle royale (a la Fate), and a battle shounen not long after. It’s ridiculous.

Keeping up is pretty simple. Yuri Honjou is a simple protagonist, who has an important bond with her brother Rika (who is also trapped in this world, and the only person who can answer her phone calls), and she glides through the script with her bro’s love of combat and her own good natured principals. When she discovers the chance to escape is more of a bottle-neck, she seeks to take control of the escape route, and ultimately crush the world’s evil. Leading action with surprising resourcefulness and tact, leading much of the comedy with OTT reactions and social obliviousness, Tenkuu Shinpan’s off to a great start as it puts its protagonist through an exhausting opening episode.

She winds up facing off against Mayuko Nise, an All For Herself type, and befriending her in the best way possible – and Nise crushes on her Yuri hard. The cold blooded murderer turns into a real sweetheart. I think something may have been lost in translation from manga-to-anime in this instance, justifying the opening episode’s brutal kill she deals to an apparent nobody… but Nise quickly becomes a showstealer. Her determination to follow Yuri’s ideals is a great character beat that results in some really pure-hearted comedy, and some of the series best cliffhangers when she finds herself putting on a Mask.

The Masked assailants, by the way, have superhuman abilities but are not programmed to kill humans that are willing to kill themselves, but when they do kill people, it’s frightening how bloody it gets quick. Elsewhere in the world, Rika leads a band of survivors and is surprisingly adept at fighting the Masks. Yuri and Nise scoured a few guns and do their best, and the series is really at its best when finding creative ways for humans to go against Masks – such as Yuri dangling upside-down down a tower block’s outside and firing her dual pistols rapid fire. It’s really badass seeing these scenes, but when the series changes gears, it has different kinds of stakes.

At its best, the sudden introduction of a Mask to a scene is terrifying. Even with stilted animation, the bloody, gory action can be exciting. You really get the ‘this is nothing special’ vibe, sure, but you also feel how fully it embraces itself, and how, despite all the shifting ideas, it doesn’t get sidetracked with the ecchi (which just happens to exist). Maybe I’m making a lot of concessions or comparing to garbage like Highscool of the Dead, but this stuff is fun!

That’s because, it turns out, Masks can be controlled. A Battle Royale gradually takes place, between the people that can control Masks, and Yuri, Nise and Rika’s group are caught in the crossfire. Well, more-or-less just Rika’s group, because Yuri and Nise wind up as major Chess Pieces.

The philosophy of the series is lurking around the corner, but not dwelled upon too much. The different Mask Controllers have different ideologies of how to rule the world, which is what they presume they’re fighting for, but the major part of the series is still the constantly entangling scrap that Yuri (and Nise) find themselves in, and the ridiculous (inventive) shenanigans the action devolves to and it’s absolutely brilliant. High-brow hat on: this Battle Royale phase features a lot of planning and strategising, which is always the best parts of Battle Royale stories, and the various skirmishes and offbeat strategies are Tenkuu Shinpan’s bread and butter – and only moreso when the battles get sillier and the enemies get more ridiculous.

Though, excuse me when I found Yuri’s lategame powerups… a bit of a cockblock. Not everybody needs to be a superhuman, and I usually find the ‘creative’ protagonists much more enjoyable. No biggie. This show is just kinda addictive fun – not like love is lost over the couple of missteps it makes. It’s not smart in anyway, and I respect it for that for the most part.

And, despite earning an ecchi tag… I’m oddly enough unoffended by it. Normally when I see anime, particularly action anime, try to titillate, I cringe for the hills. Most detract from the viewing experience to shove T&A where it’s not needed. In a way, Tenkuu Shinpan’s attempt is a pleasant surprise. It’s still there. Just, rarely zoomed-in upon. You’ll see panties now-and-again, sure, but the cinematography doesn’t lose its cool and leer at those instances. Stuff like Yuri cartwheeling away from danger you might see her skirt fly up, but these kinda moments make me feel bad for noticing – I feel like a pervert for looking, since there’s only one-or-two scenes where you’re guided towards it.

Maybe that’s because the direction is, overall, pretty okay. No creative genius that I spotted, though there’s a handful of clever transitions and framings. The animation was pretty stiff or unnatural at times, but for the most part was acceptable. And it’s really weird for me to say it – me, who is used to badly animated anime – but the art was actually pretty consistent, and the colouring was always consistent. With a bit of stronger lighting, some of the lower-movement scenes could have actually looked pretty good, but sadly the dull luminance (despite the majority of scenes taking place in daylight at high altitude) makes the show generally a visual bore.

The music front is a mixed bag, though. Some of the electro-metal tracks were pretty badass, and in a few moments in the earlier episodes, edited really well to create some fun choreographed sequences. THAT SAID, a certain character who is blessed with a character song… really shouldn’t have been, because it grates with the scenes horribly. It sounds like a comic track and… it really shouldn’t be funny. It was like bad stock music chucked in. Yikes.

Still, though, a couple of blemishes doesn’t hurt because I never found myself craving for Tenkuu Shinpan to be the next big thing. It was thoroughly enjoyable, and I actually got a bit excited to see the Season 2 teaser at the end. I’d love to keep the binge going, because the constantly shifting stakes were a real pleasure to breeze through, but none of this is going to be sticking around in the recesses of my memory. Despite all that, though, I’ve used the word ‘fun’ four times in this review already – so that surely spells it out enough. Pure popcorn stuff, backed by a really fitting release schedule. Nom nom, I’m ready for round two, nom nom.

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