Park Young-jie’s 2011 manwha and Naver webtoon finally saw life last year as one of the most explosive animated shows going into a new decade, launching just in time as millions were forced into quarantine as a pandemic spread across the world. Thus, folks lucky enough to have Crunchyroll access got to dive into the insane, fight-filled world that is director Park Sung-hoo’s treatment, The God Of High School.
Set in South Korea where teenagers gather from around the world to test their skills in a spectacular no-holds-barred martial arts tournament, The God Of High School culminates around teenagers Jin Mori, and friends Han Daewi and Yoo Mira, who find themselves at a precipice of an epic, historical mystery within the tournament’s backdrop – one that will embolden them to not only discover the bond they share as budding friends, but the very keys to unlocking their fighting prowess as a fiercesome death cult emerges, with mankind hanging in the balance.
There are small bits and pieces to the backstories of just a few of the characters that are spread throughout the series, so there’s a sense that you might need to be familiar with the webtoon or the manhwa to get a good, cohesive understanding. However, these excerpts aren’t too major and don’t take away much from the main aim of the story, which ultimately encompasses our headlining trio of characters, from their rip-roaring chase after a purse snatcher, to learning about each other’s abilities, why they’re in the tournament, and ultimately the very essence of Charyeok that boosts their skills what it all means down the line.
The story even takes a curious turn into “Journey Of The West” territory with a mix of elements from Asian folklore that center mostly on Mori Jin as he discovers his own past little by little, in the episodes leading up to the final battles with Jegal Taek, a member of one of the opposing teams following the preliminary matches of the tournament.
The intrigue of show goes even further to tease a bit of the mystique at times, introducing members “The Six”, a sextet of the highest-ranking masters of their own styles. The scenes here aren’t hugely noticeable at times as these characters appear just briefly at certain moments, so it feels a little bit confusing if you’re not already familiar with the IP.
Aside from the supernatural and fantasy elements of the show is the more impressive display of martial arts action, with series director Park Sunghoo ultimately employing the same stunt team he worked with on 2017’s Garo: Vanishing Line. The fight choreography is largely intricate between each showcasing of kicks and punches, and though the action never wanes on spectacle, it doesn’t much muddy the delivery of the attacks at certain key moments, allowing the action to invoke a number of visible styles such as Karate, Taekkyeon, Tae Kwon Do, Capoeira and even wrestling, to help characterize the more fantastical elements of some of the action.
The God Of High School is certainly not without its share of drama and comedic high-jinks. It doesn’t really hold a candle to trinities of previous anime favorites, but the characters are fun, quirky, complex and palpability written enough that you’re not disuaded from understanding them, even at their darkest, most discerning moments – particularly in a fight between Han and Yoo, and Jin’s response in the aftermath. It’s how the story plays out that matters most, and it isn’t trivialized in the least.
At best, The God Of High School follows a suitable formula that colors within the lines and still manages to raise the standard just a little more for what one enjoys most out of an action anime, especially one that’s as keen on martial arts choreography and cinematography as this. If it weren’t for the director’s driven focus on the action, The God Of High School might certainly measure about as average as those of its kind – maybe even less depending on what your own tastes are. Rest assured, The God Of High School is a martial arts anime for the average action fan, and I’m personally sold on what a second season could offer – and even a live-action rendition, if that.