When a villain begins their diatribe against the very notion of existence, you know you’ve reached the final act. If, for some reason, said monologue does not convince you, the spontaneous arrival of a hero’s true power should assuage any doubts. Now, as to whether you actually care about any of these events…well, that depends on every moment prior; on how much you’ve come to care for each character through their adventures; on how much the world was built out around them. Without that care, well, even a spectacle can be boring.
So…The God of High School didn’t make me care. Harsh, but, if anyone has been reading my ramblings, not unexpected. I’ll say it again: I don’t like dunking on a series, I really don’t. But man, I just never connected to this series on any decent level. Sure, the fights were cool, but I just didn’t care beyond the visuals. Take this episode for example—because that’s the one we’re talking about—it featured a transcended human fighting a physical god…and it meant nothing. It’s almost impressive how an event of such scale carries so little weight. Taek has been such a hollow villain that there’s no purpose to his descent into omnicidal madness, and Mori is so blank a slate that he may as well be subsumed by the memories of a former godly life. I mean, the episode claims that Mori’s memories are all a jumble, but he didn’t seem any different to his normal self—unless you count his stylish headband/wrist guard combo, manifested by holy might. Even falling into a three month coma does nothing to alter his character. A three month coma. Even Daewi and Mira seem only mildly concerned when he wakes up. Seoul was blown up! God tried to kill millions of people! Every citizen of Seoul was teleported by actual magic, and a handful of teenagers killed an abomination that was literally an affront to the heavens! Why does nobody seem to care? Why does everybody react with the same intensity to all of this as they would to a two-for-one sale? The fact that even one of these is a valid question speaks volumes for the series, and not in a good way…in case that wasn’t clear.
So, after absorbing The Key, Taek sprouts wings and decides that everything needs to die. Was this his plan all along? I don’t know. Was this the influence of the fox that died cursing the gods? Maybe; it certainly would’ve been a cool explanation. Regardless, it’s really of no consequence. Which sucks. Taek has always been a nebulous villain, only appearing to add a little abject evil into a situation. Thus, his ultimate turn into a literal monster does nothing except make him a harder target to punch. All we ever learnt was that Taek has a rough childhood and that Ilpyo beat him up once—as he damn well should have. If anything, Taek’s transformation robbed him of what little personality he had. Not that Mori fared any better. See, it turns out that our protagonist is actually The Monkey King. Yep. Big reveal. Definitely…definitely impactful and…interesting? I mean, it should be interesting. In a series where people borrow their powers from gods, having a character turn out to actually be a god is a clever way to explain a gap in power; to explain why Mori has shown no inkling of a charyeok despite his innate strength. And yet…it barely matters. His awakening even comes right after does some pressure point stuff—which he apparently spent a long time learning—to push past the limits of a human body. Why? Why bother showing how far he was willing to take the strength of a human, only to undermine it with some deus ex machina nonsense? Even Ilpyo is pushed out of the spotlight, and he apparently borrows the power of a being that God is afraid of. Which actually leads me into a realisation I had…
Ilpyo should be the main character of this series. Think about it. He has a personal history with the villain, he has a connection to an inherently powerful force in the universe, and he is the guardian of a relic that can shake apart the very foundations of the heavens…Mori is a guy who likes to fight. Okay, Mori is actually a god himself, but that’s what would make him such a good part of Ilpyo’s crew. Mori’s knowledge should provide insight into the realm of the gods, into how they think, into what drives them. He should teach Ilpyo what he knows, decide where he wants to stand in the inevitable battle between humanity and the divine. He should wrestle with the notion of betraying his kind to side with the fox who was betrayed by a fearful God. Or hell, give Mori a chance to be an actual protagonist; show some signs of his true nature. Best I can recall, Mori ate a magic peach part way through the series and that’s as close as we got to any hints of a mystic nature. Well, that and all of the intro and flashback images that were obviously Mori’s outline. Seriously, The Monkey King, mix up your style a little. Joking aside, Mori’s placement as the central figure in this series just never seemed earnt. His motivations were always weaker than his allies, his personal struggles were either absent or inconsequential, and his grandfather seems to be important to the plot with or without his connection to Mori. Compare that to Ilpyo and…well, it’s not too often you see a side character and think, “That dude’s story would be way more interesting.”
Though my explanation of this episode’s plot has been sparse at best, I feel like I’ve established that it is really not the key element here. Hell, plot isn’t really the key element of the entire series: the action is. So, because my negative thoughts about this series—valid as I may see them—are bumming me out, I’m going to round of my Writings by focusing on what this series does well: show people kicking ass. Even if the combat is hollow, it still looks cool. After Mori acquires Nyoibo (The Monkey King’s extending bo staff), we are treated to a flowing beatdown of Taek and those weird mummy things he can summon. The staff shifting size as needed adds an interesting sense of convenience to Mori’s combat, but not in a bad way. It’s almost an interpretation of what otherworldly fighting could be. Not entirely focused on super-strong punches and kicks, but and elegance born from cleverly applying magic. Sure it’s cool when Nyoibo extends to allow Mori to run into the sky—chasing after Taek, whom he’d punched there—but the more subtle extensions just caught my eye more. Maybe because it reminded me of when this series began, when my hopes were higher. Mori stood out then because of his ingenious use of Renewal Taekwondo, a term that hasn’t even been said in quite some time. He struck when he could and read his opponents. Charyeok muddied the waters a little with its alteration of what a fight was, but there was always a glimmer of that same flowing combat. And, at the very least, I’m glad The God of High School never lost that completely.
So, there you have it: The God of high School. It was…it was a trip. I started out genuinely excited by this series. The first episode showed promise of a frenetic roller coaster that would show us beautifully animated combat and maybe something to do with gods—it wasn’t entirely clear back then. But, as the story blew through plot point after plot point, there was no way for us to keep up. Characters claimed to forge bonds we never felt, organisations began plans we were unclear on, characters we thought were important meant nothing, and even the entire premise of the series seemed to be immaterial. The tournament changed to suit the whims of the plot, the characters followed suit, and everything surrounding both was too convenient. It’s almost as if…as if this series was fashioned to meet a quota. An oblivious protagonist whose defining trait is liking food and fighting, allies forged in the fires of battle, a villain evil enough to justify rivals banding together, elements of a much grander plot lurking in the shadows, a hero’s powers awakened by strife and friendship. Don’t get me wrong, I know any series can be boiled down to its tropes, but not all of them make it so easy. Creativity isn’t necessarily presenting something entirely unique. It can also be the process of taking something that we know, something that we’ve seen before, and making us care all over again. Making us want to see more. And unfortunately, despite my best efforts and intentions, The God of High School made me do neither. Also, it never answered my questions about those masseuses from the first episode.