As The Gods Will: The Second Series
神さまの言うとおり弐 (Kami-sama no Iu Toori Ni)
KANESHIRO Muneyuki (story), FUJIMURA Akeji (art)
Shounen – Horror, mature, supernatural
15 Volumes of 21 Volumes (complete)
Third year of high school. It’s a time most students prepare to either go on to college or enter the workforce. But two best friends end up in an argument over whether to chase after their childhood dreams of becoming soccer pros. Their mutual friends urge them to make up, but the day where they can hang out together again may never come, as they soon find themselves in another type of fight: a game to the death!
This was one series I didn’t know how well I’d take to it. First, it was a horror series, one of my least liked genres. Second, I didn’t know how big of a role its predecessor — which I know nothing about besides the fact it’s unavailable in English — would have in the story. I assumed that it must be able to at least somewhat stand alone, as otherwise the original As the Gods Will would likely have been licensed. Still, several other manga aren’t released in full or complete order (Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure), so it was possible that the manga does have some entry barriers.
Well, either this is a spin-off or a remake, since these characters have definitely not been through a death game before.
Also, I will refer to most characters by how they’re addressed in the series, which is mostly by their family names.
Death game manga, like most action stories, often end up falling into the usual pattern of the protagonist and their team always managing to eke out a victory. Even when they lose, there’s always a reason why it isn’t over yet. So the challenge for the author is to create scenarios where winning doesn’t involve deus ex machinas and that the strength of the characters can carry the story.
In this case, As the Gods Will: The Second Series has a rather interesting setup. Akashi and Aoyama were aiming for the soccer championships, but a bad penalty kick led them to a loss. While Aoyama plans on continuing in college with Akashi by his side, he is stunned when Akashi says he’s quitting. The two get into a heated argument, and Akashi ends up skipping school the next day as he struggles with his feelings. What he doesn’t know is that Aoyama and all their classmates are suddenly being blasted by a Japanese doll figure. Get hit with a beam, and you die. It isn’t often we see the protagonist completely out of the loop and miss the first death game of the series. Aoyama is set up as the deuteragonist as he tries to figure out what the heck is going on in the classroom.
Both are completely unaware of the fact that this is happening throughout the school and around the globe. When he learns the truth, Akashi disobeys his dad in order to try to find Aoyama, and he ends up in his own death game with other students from Japan. There, at this school hidden away from prying eyes, the players are told that the winner(s) will receive the power of a god.
While the people outside try to figure out what’s going on in the world, these high school students must play games at this school to live or die. Some games are childhood favorites with a twist while others are more sophisticated, multi-day adventures. Some students, like Akashi, just want to live. Others just want a flashy death. Some people will get corrupted by the promise of power while still others will lose their mind. All that is certain is that more and more people will die in each round, and readers know that the winners of this school will end up facing the winners from other locales.
Akashi and his fellow players do meet the one behind the games, but the reason behind these challenges is full of twists and turns. It’s a bloody battlefield, and while certain characters are promoted to main or recurring characters, there are an awful lot of people rotating in and out. Games can involve hundreds, even thousands of players. Even though Akashi would like to team up and repeatedly take down these puzzles with the same group of friends, he often can’t. The beginning volumes are more focused on a core cast, but by the time they reach the next level, there are quite a few new characters being introduced, both as allies and antagonists. As such, As the Gods Will: The Second Series tends to be one of those manga where it’s better not to get heavily invested in anyone, as there’s a very high chance they’ll be KO’d.
Still, there are some important characters besides Akashi, who is one of those leads who wants others to believe in the power of friendship and working together. That kind of lead can be irritating, but I like how much of his personality is influenced by Aoyama. The two had a inside joke about who was beef (brave) versus chicken (coward), and this becomes Akashi’s personal credo as he plays through the games. This makes his dedication to working together more meaningful than just being a naive optimist. And because of that (and Main Character Syndrome), he ends up gaining quite a few followers and romantic admirers. So far, for the latter, I have to say the romance is weak.
As I mentioned earlier, these games are very deadly. Lots of violent smashes and slashes, and it can happen to good people. The manga also gets its age rating due to sexual content. One girl reports to the school missing underwear, several guys find excuses to grope girls, and one guy gets excited when he’s close to death.
The games are more straightforward than in some similar stories, and the challenges get bigger and more fantastical as the story goes on. Japanese influences can be strong in them as well. The thing that gets me is that with such a large number of players, and even taking into account flight-or-fight response and freezing in situations, some of these puzzles are obvious. Maybe not always to a Western audience, but we’re not talking about huge leaps in making some connections. It’d be like spotting a young girl in a red cloak hanging around a beast in old lady pjs that she calls Nana and not having at least one person out of 10-20 people comment on Little Red Riding Hood. There are also a couple of times where they celebrate too early or just don’t follow through with their thinking. I know these are young kids facing a potential violent end, and sometimes self-doubt is crippling. The players do face some games of chance or more difficult challenges, but sometimes, they really set themselves up for disaster. The last game I saw in particular. So in that way, it’s not as exciting as some other options despite the gratuitous violence.
So you will see a lot of blood and fanservice in the series. Outside of that, the art is good and gets better. Akashi’s hair looks like some cheap anime wig in the early chapters, but he looks a lot better once the artist starts adding some spikes and tufts to it. Despite the large amount of people in the story, designs are pretty wide-ranging and individualized to each character. A few girls may look alike, and some supporting characters don’t get a lot of time spent on them, but man, it’s so nice not looking at a page and seeing clones in different outfits. And it’s more than just skinny beauties versus fat slobs too, which is also important. (Of course, it makes sense that more physically fit characters make it further in these challenges.)
A lot of the games are based on Japanese mythology, so the designs aren’t unique. But they certainly would give you a fright if you were stuck in this death game, and even some readers may find themselves feeling ill or frightened at times. Unfortunately, the manga can be a bit jumpy at points, most notably whenever it decides to suddenly narrate a new ability or change of events. The manga switches to what is happening on Earth at points, so I can understand reintroducing those characters, but the way it suddenly presents Akashi’s special talent as some sort of newly-awakened superpower is strange. Characters do have opportunities to rest or change clothes at points, so at least there’s an explanation for why they aren’t walking around filthy throughout the whole manga. So, outside of Akashi’s cheap wig hair that gets touched up later on and the bad narrated portions, the manga looks good and flows well.
The game they first play is called “Daruma-san has Fallen”, a translation from its original name. A footnote says it’s similar to red light/green light, which is what some adaptations call this game. But I guess the Daruma-san has Fallen name was used considering an actual daruma-san is seen playing. A good amount of footnotes are used explaining puns and references — and there are a lot of both. A footnote is added to explain why the word “you” is italicized for a certain character: because he uses “you” in English. Names are in Western order, even though one girl’s nickname is based on Japanese name order (Natsu-Megu, from NATSUKAWA Megu). Kids are called “God’s Children” (Kami no Ko), which sounds better than the “God Children” seen on signs in the art. At the same time, a single one is called “God Child” as seen on a sign, so the adaptation calls one “God’s Child”. One puzzle in particular relies on the Japanese language, so that’s likely to be one that a lot of English readers won’t get.
As The Gods Will: The Second Series is a pretty good manga in the death game category, but maybe it should have upped the puzzles a bit.
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I like the idea of the death game format so that’s pretty intense. It sounds like the fanservice is rather unnecessary the whole time but beyond that it would make for an interesting read. The beginning makes me think it would be fun to follow a main character who is completely out of the loop for a while. Every chapter his friends act weird or vanish and then we find out like 10 volumes in that they’re fighting to save the planet or trapped in another dimension.
I think you could pull off a whole series with the main character actually being a side character to someone else’s adventure. I get the feeling no author could resist getting him into the mix at some point but it would definitely work well.
It is pretty cool to start off on a different note for a death game series. Gotta give props to anyone who actually runs to these dangerous situations instead of kissing the ground they’re not involved in a deadly battle!