Besides the general sense of jank permeating the whole of Battle Game in 5 Seconds, I think a key issue here is how much the show is expending its entertainment energy trying to unravel what's 'really' going on throughout it. Whether it's the broad question of what Mion's goal 'really' is with these superpower battles, or the moment-to-moment drama mostly predicated on the characters figuring out how a given power 'really' works, the series seems primarily interested in holding our attention using those kinds of mystery boxes. And while that can work as one facet of the storytelling, it's feeling like withholding information might be all Battle Game has, as it continues to offer little in the way of social commentary you might expect from a death game show, or even showing off the superpowers themselves in interesting ways aside from victories coming about as a result of learning how they 'really' work.
There are flashes of Battle Game putting a little more effort into the creative spectacle of its core concept this week. The fight between Zokumyoin and Kirisaki wraps up with the latter showing a pretty interesting application of his power: Snapping part of his sword-transformation stick off to turn it into a knife to give him an extra edge. But on the other hand you have Zokumyoin's desperation move being just hucking marbles at Kirisaki with her hands, making you wonder why pelting them out one at a time with a slingshot made sense in the first place besides simply being a neat visual that could give way to this later escalation. I can't complain too hard about this one, since the fight still wraps in an entertaining way, letting Zokumyoin win by giving Kirisaki a massive marble to the nads (if we really came all this way just to watch that doofy edgelord get his potatoes mashed, I'll take it). But it's still a clear example of Battle Game's frustrating half-measures in having any fun with itself.
That becomes exceedingly prevalent as we move into the main event of this episode: Akira using his fight as an opportunity to test out how his power actually works. Functionally, what we're watching here plays out okay, as we see Akira move through different phases of hypotheses he has about the 'Sophist' ability, mostly centering on how it metaphysically defines who 'The Other Person' is in any given instance. It can seem impossibly tedious and clinical at times for what's ostensibly a tournament battle to the death, that pacing only somewhat excused by Akira's opponent being a lackluster wimp who can't even conceive of how to most effectively use his own ability (something the show at least calls out in an instance of it understanding the bare essentials of this kind of story's appeal). But by the end we've observed the same evidence that Akira himself has, coming to an understanding of the technicalities of how the power works thanks to watching that. So then, naturally, the show opts to rewind and review the proceedings for us with Akira narrating his findings, apparently under the impression that that laborious demonstration wasn't enough for us to grasp how the mental PvP-activation between people at the center of the whole exercise works. Again, one step forward, two steps back.
It also highlights another potential issue we could have with the presentation of Akira's power moving forward: That is, the 'Sophist' ability thus far has little to do with Akira creatively putting one over on his opponents to utilize different abilities in interesting ways, and is instead simply an iteration of the Hand Cannon power that he has to fulfill some extra conditions for before he can deploy it. Given that Akira's supposed to be the super-smart one with the potential to get to the bottom of all these mysteries (with multiple characters this episode remarking on that aspect so we're aware of just how painfully perceptive he is) it speaks to a lack of creativity on the part of the writer that this is the most elaborate use of his power we've seen yet outside of meticulously detailing how it works. Battle Game in 5 Seconds is a series (especially given its title) that has demonstrated it knows how quickly it can and should move from setpiece to setpiece, yet this episode has so much to it that feels like flippant time-killing in the middle of what should be an all-out tournament battle arc.
That kind of pacing push-and-pull is constantly present throughout this episode. Yuuri gets to satisfyingly pull a One-Punch Man on Hoshino, the creepy stalker guy who's the reason she found herself in this mess in the first place, but the brevity of that bit is backed up mostly with an overt explanation of how much Yuuri's power compensates for the body strength she must clearly lack on account of what a weak, feminine little girl she is. Then after that it's a 'comic relief' scene spent on watching the losing team's girls serve our main characters food while wearing bunny-suits. We don't get to see the guys in the costumes, of course, proving that the folks behind Battle Game are cowards, though at least there's a momentary indulgence in imagining Kirisaki in the getup. But even that's all in service of making us question the actual reality of the happenings, with Mion specifically jerking around Akira's perceptions of what 'punishment' might befall the losing team, only to ominously declare that they might have some sort of bad ending about to befall them anyway. So much of this show is just like that, though, with things sort of happening with little commentary or especial effort at spectacle, only to turn and wink at the camera so we know that they know that there's something more happening behind all this.
It makes for an odd paradox for me writing about this show. There is, in fact, a lot going on that I could talk about. There are snippets thrown out that seem specifically primed to prompt theory-crafting: things like what Akira's power might ultimately allow him to do, or how his situation at being drafted into this battle game was apparently distinct from all the other characters who seemingly died in simple accidents. But it's so frustratingly locked behind layers of misprioritized pacing, story beats, mediocre presentation, and current creativity that it feels like a wasted effort to attempt to unravel what's here. And when inviting that effort is basically all the show has going on otherwise, it leaves the entire exercise lacking.
Battle Game in 5 Seconds is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Chris is a freelance writer who appreciates anime, action figures, and additional ancillary artistry. He can be found staying up way too late posting screencaps on his Twitter.