The freshly finished first season of Crunchyroll’s new original series The God of High School firmly establishes the streaming platform’s slate of original programming as a force to be reckoned with. Based on the webtoon of the same name, The God of High School boasts a distinct visual language that makes it one of 2020’s most compelling new anime series, following in the footsteps of Demon Slayer’s innovative visuals and ascendance as Crunchyroll’s Anime of the Year. But the series also suffers from some of the same problems that plagued Hunter x Hunter, as an excess of ideas make The God of High School’s first season feel overstuffed at just 13 episodes, with the driving thrust of the plot shifting too dramatically for the finale to feel totally satisfying.
Through its first several episodes, The God of High School set up a simple, compelling premise. A tournament known as God of High School pits South Korea’s high schoolers against each other in a martial-arts tournament, with the winners receiving the chance to have a wish granted. Entrants are allowed to use any style of martial art they want, and some even tap into “charyeok,” borrowing powers from gods and supernatural beings to make themselves more powerful.
The fights are gorgeous. Like Demon Slayer, the series finds a new way to make action visually striking. Where Demon Slayer gave its protagonists’ swordwork an ukiyo-e-esque quality, with exaggeratedly drawn water following each movement of his blade, The God of High School goes all-in on brush strokes. The characters look incredibly polished, but their movements as they get into the thick of fights are followed by bold, thick brush strokes, and particularly intense moments devolve entirely into that style.
The distinctive art isn’t enough to distract from how wild the last few episodes of the season become in scope and in story, however. The tournament is abandoned in favor of saving the world from kaiju-sized gods and other evil forces, and the end of the season further abandons the initial plot, instead prepping the protagonists to go on a Dragon Ball-like quest to collect the shattered parts of an item that would allow a human to kill a god. Hunter x Hunter suffered from similarly abrupt changes during its run, with the primary idea introduced in the first season — that licensed “Hunters” pursue rare creatures, find treasure, and take on high-risk jobs — fraying into a 61-episode arc about giant mutant ants, with time so dramatically slowed that throwing a single punch seemed to take an entire episode.
In The God of High School, the story escalates and changes so quickly that much of the back half of the season feels underbaked, particularly the motivation of the villain, Jegal Taek. Many new characters are introduced for one or two big fight scenes without much explanation as to why they’re there. The only element of the season that feels appropriately paced is the reveal of the three main protagonists’ supernatural powers — the main character, Jin Mori, only taps into his full potential in the season finale.
That kind of shifting might make more sense in webtoon format, where the constraints of episodes and seasons don’t exist in the same way. (The webtoon series is, notably, still ongoing.) But the inconsistency puts a damper on The God of High School’s finale. The 13-episode first season feels like at least two seasons’ worth of material stuffed into one, and mostly maintains momentum through how well the main characters are established in the first few episodes of the season, as, besides the two friends Jin makes in the tournament (Han Daewi and Yoo Mira), the rest of the cast is relatively flimsily sketched out.
Though The God of High School hasn’t yet been renewed for a second season, the first season’s finale clearly sets up what will come if the series is renewed. And in spite of how quickly the first season wrapped up, the show’s art style still sets it apart from other series, and gives viewers a reason to tune in as the show (hopefully) adjusts to its new scope. Now that the show has proven it’s a property to watch, and one of Crunchyroll’s flashiest series, it’s worth hoping it can leave its growing pains behind, and follow more in Demon Slayer’s footsteps than those of Hunter x Hunter’s later seasons.
The God of High School is streaming on Crunchyroll.