High-Rise Invasion didn’t click with me at first. It’s an anime adaptation of a manga about people being violently hunted by superhuman mask-wearers atop an alternate world’s connected high-rise buildings, so I certainly didn’t watch the show with the hope of getting a thought-provoking experience out of it.
However, I also didn’t expect its first three episodes to constantly make me go, “Why?” in bafflement. Why does main heroine Yuri Honjou turn from a damsel in distress to a badass warrior, from a badass warrior to a PTSD-suffering survivor, and from a PTSD-suffering survivor back to a determined fighter in the span of one episode? Why does Yuri so easily warm up to deuteragonist Nise Mayuko despite the latter coldly killing an innocent and unarmed man when they first meet? Why is there an attempted sexual assault scene that doubles as a fanservice scene? Why do some of the lines sound so dumb?
Even after these first three episodes, the show continued to stupefy me with its execution (although it thankfully doesn’t feature any sexual assault attempts again). But at some point, the show clicked with me — or maybe my brain just gave up and turned itself off — and I found myself enjoying the wildly-paced, violent, and ludicrous experience that High-Rise Invasion threw at me.
What the hell’s going on?
As mentioned earlier, the premise is that people are being hunted by superhuman mask-wearers (referred to as Masks), but that’s only strictly true for a short while. Before long, the show evolves from survival horror to straight-up action fest. As it turns out, the hunted have the choice of escaping or choosing to compete to become the God of this world instead. To accomplish the latter, they have to first put on a special type of Mask that turns them into a God Candidate, a role that comes with powers like controlling Masks or having superhuman physicality. One of these God Candidates, Mamoru Aikawa, wishes to create a world where only the strong live, making him and his small army of Masks the main threat for Yuri, Nise, and other heroes to focus their efforts on during the second half of the series.
There’s a part of me that wished that High-Rise Invasion didn’t shed its intriguing survival horror premise to turn into an over-the-top action show, but I ultimately had enough fun with the violence and assortment of Masks (there’s a Maid Mask, a Chef Mask, a Mask that pitches cannon balls, and many more) that I didn’t really care. It did take me some time before I actually started to properly enjoy the show, however. Part of this is due to the various reasons outlined in the intro, but it’s also largely thanks to the show’s haphazard pacing, especially in the early episodes. Learning more about High-Rise Invasion‘s mysteries is less like gradually peeling back the layers of an onion and more like having extra servings eagerly heaped onto your plate whether you want them or not, and I was surprised at how many revelations the show served up in just a few episodes. The show gives off the impression that it just wants to quickly get the early central mysteries and key plot developments out of the way so that it can bring in its God Candidate conflicts. Adding to the rushed feeling, some side characters are added to the proceedings very abruptly, giving the sense that their introductions weren’t adapted because there wasn’t enough runtime to fit them in.
Outside of the pacing, another major source of my initial consternation is High-Rise Invasion‘s inconsistency with its characterization of Yuri. While Yuri doesn’t go through multiple personality changes in the span of fifteen minutes after the first episode, there are a few moments where I wondered what sort of person she was supposed to be. She’s generally determined, straight-faced, and capable (and prone to making on-the-nose lines about making allies), but there are also a fair few moments where she does a 180-degree turn and acts in a very silly manner, sometimes as a result of her brocon-like behaviour towards her brother, Rika, one of the show’s other main characters.
Admittedly, it’s not unusual for action anime characters to have silly comedic sides to them (like Jujutsu Kaisen‘s Yuji Itadori and Nobara Kugisaki, for instance). However, the timing of Yuri’s comedic behaviour and the fact no one else acts as oddly or has similarly wild behavioural swings (despite some other characters being quirky themselves) makes Yuri feel less like a person with multiple facets and more of a character who suddenly and inexplicably acts like a weird goof at times. Conversely, there is also a scene where Yuri becomes deathly serious due to being overcome by emotion, although the suddenness and the exaggerated nature of the change makes it no less jarring or amusing as her silly moments.
A high-rise invasion!
I found those aspects to be damning at first, but I eventually grew to accept the show as a B-movie experience where the silliness and the jank are part of the charm. Even if the pacing and Yuri’s characterization weren’t issues, that wouldn’t change the fact that this is a show that’s not meant to be taken seriously — for instance, it’s never explained why Yuri, Nise, and Rika are such capable fighters despite being high-school students. The main selling points here are copious amounts of bloodshed, over-the-top elements like a railgun building, and various panty shots. There are also hilariously absurd aspects like a dramatic moment that involves Nise recognizing Yuri by the sight of the latter’s panties and a scene in which Mamoru soliloquizes while nonchalantly burying his face between a pair of breasts. The show undoubtedly has problems and doesn’t fix them, but it manages to overcome them by being dumb fun, although some might find the fanservice itself to be an issue.
It helps that the characters are rather likable. Yuri’s characterization may be a sore point for me, but looked at separately, both her badass scenes and her dumb comedic moments are certainly fun to watch. Nise’s quick transformation from cold-blooded killer to ally is not something I can wholeheartedly buy into (and I don’t fully understand how her backstory turned her into a killer to begin with), but I can overlook it when she’s a cool female fighter who has an obsession with knives and becomes adorably in love with Yuri. Rika and the initially antagonistic Sniper Mask, whose mysterious connection to each other is one of the few mysteries that the show doesn’t rush to reveal, also gain my approval for being cool. While the gentle God Candidate Kuon Shinzaki is the most “boring” of the gang, the silly manifestations of her attraction to Sniper Mask make her the equally entertaining straight counterpart to Nise’s disaster lesbian.
Simply put, High-Rise Invasion isn’t a high-quality show, and that also applies to its production values. The visuals aren’t terrible, but the show does look like something from the early 2010s instead of this decade. While the action is fun, the show is carried by the bloodshed and over-the-top moments rather than any stunning animation that shows like Wonder Egg Priority possess. Still, the show succeeds in being entertaining, even if it’s not the kind of entertainment that will appeal to everyone. The final episode seems to tease a second season, and while I may have thought about dropping the show early on, I now have no qualms about getting more of High-Rise Invasion. It’s bad, but it’s the good kind of bad.