Apparently an alternate English name for this one (at least according to MAL) is Sky-High Survival. I can’t help thinking how much more appropriate that title would have been.
I have a long history of enjoying horror films that are by all objective measures pretty terrible and that enjoyment has most definitely carried over into some of my anime preferences. It is one of those things where even knowing that the Resident Evil movies are full of poorly realised characters, terrible dialogue, and ultimately plots that make no sense cannot, for whatever reason, stop me from enjoying just how cool some of those action scenes are and the general atmosphere associated with a schlock horror. And certainly there are plenty worse movies than the Resident Evil franchise that I’ve utterly fell in love with over the years and have collected in a collection on a shelf that I reach to whenever I’m feeling too tired for anything but a few cheap laughs, a couple of gasps, and things that are either cool for the sake of being cool or are too stupid for words just because they can be.
So after reading Jon Spencer’s write up of High-Rise Invasion, I moved this from my “I’ll get around to it” list of Netflix released anime that usually ends up being watched months after it is actually available because I just keep forgetting that Netflix actually occasionally does release anime and when it is an ONA (like this one is) there isn’t actually three months of delay because they still haven’t figured out seasonal viewing. I did enjoy my watch of High-Rise Invasion enough but to be honest, unlike so many other horror anime that have become favourite go-to series for rewatching, I’m pretty sure once is enough for this one and there’s a number of reasons why, despite it being very watchable and having some good moments, it just hasn’t left me wanting to dive in again (though I’ll probably watch a sequel should we ever get one given they did do some solid sequel baiting in the end credits).
The premise is pretty simple initially in this anime. There’s a city full of sky-scrapers that are connected by simple suspension bridges where access to the ground is cut off and various people just kind of appear in the city having been somehow transported from the normal world into this one. Some of those people end up either putting on a mask or have one forced upon them and then proceed to run around trying to force non-masked humans to commit suicide, and failing that they kill them. It is kind of a bleak premise but suitable for the kind of brainless bloodfest this seemed to be setting up in its early episodes. I actually think I’d have been happy if the story hadn’t tried to be any more ambitious than this because we actually fairly quickly move away from any real fear of the masked guys causing main characters to commit suicide and that becomes an almost non-plot point by the mid-season.
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The first episode is actually pretty brutal as we open with a dark scene and a masked man finishing off one of many humans and a fountain of blood spurts in the darkness. While this visual will put some people off it seemed to be setting up a particular kind of story. Yet, darkness plays only a minor role in one or two sequences throughout the rest of the story and the characters rarely confine themselves in the more claustrophobic interior settings largely remaining on rooftops, near large windows, or on the bridges. It kind of doesn’t make the most of what could be quite a tense and atmospheric situation allowed by the setting. I understand why though given they really wanted this to be an action/horror hybrid and the rooftops and bridges allow for significantly more impressive action set-pieces to play out (even if the animation isn’t quite up to the challenge).
That first episode also has the main character, Yuri, a 16 year-old school-girl because anime, being attacked by a masked character, rescued by one cop, then witnessing his brutal murder at the hands of another cop, before being attacked by second cop and nearly sexually assaulted, before second cop gets taken out by sniper mask guy (and we’ll discuss these names later) and then she sets the cops corpse on fire. You’ve got to give them credit for really trying to push the horror aspect hard in episode one before they dial it all right back and we go more into an adventure/mystery tone with occasional shock deaths and blood splatter just to kind of remind us we’re actually in a horror.
When I think of anime like Shiki and Another that really stuck to their tone and atmosphere all the way throughout their run and I kind of feel that those ultimately appeal more to. If I go back to the Resident Evil comparison at the start, the first movie put you in the dark and maze like underground facility. Dark, closed spaces, plenty of atmosphere and making the action fit within that setting. High-Rise Invasion certainly has gore and horror elements, but doesn’t consistently try to be horrific and the end result is that what you are actually watching is a pretty average action movie with occasional horror nods and a bit of fan-service.
Another problem is that the basis of most solid horror stories is simplicity. Kill the monster or escape the island, etc. Btoom! got this 100% and gave the characters a really simple goal of survival or escape. While there was some character drama and backstory as to how individuals ended up in the game, the anime at least just kind of acknowledged that the characters couldn’t do anything about that until later and moved on. Even something like High-School of the Dead kept it to simple survival against zombies and other survivors. High-Rise Invasion also wanted to be a bit of a mystery and that means the simple set-up very quickly becomes more complex and to be honest, a little messy.
The initial set-up as I said is simple and works. We learn early on that Yuri’s brother is also in this world and we start running into other survivors who may or may not also want to kill our main character. If they’d kept it at masks bad, humans good (mostly) and just had the survivors running about and trying to find an escape, they could have made an enjoyable romp that would have been a pretty fun ride. However we soon learn that some humans are ‘close to god’ and the masks don’t attack them. We also learn that a damaged mask allows masked characters some degree of free will but removing the mask entirely results in an order to suicide. Yuri’s brother, Rika, joins up with a number of other survivors before getting kidnapped by one of the many ‘close to god’ characters who is controlling a whole bunch of masks and is trying to in fact become god. Meanwhile Yuri has teamed up with another group of survivors and while her stated goal is to bring an end to this world, there’s a lot of distractions such as her friend putting on and then removing a defective mask and Yuri herself becoming one of the ‘close to god’.
The problem is, the plot ends up a little bit convoluted, motives are confusing, and you need to take the plot more seriously than the characters really allow you to take it. Because the characters want to be in that cheap horror movie and yet they keep getting forced into this more serious and complex narrative that really seems to make little sense. Everything from Yuri becoming a virtual super-woman after powering up and Kuon, another young girl, being able to fire a giant rail-gun just screams standard action-horror story. As do the names for the masked characters with them essentially being named after what they are wearing or their weapon. You can’t take ‘Sniper Mask’ seriously as a villain, or as another protagonist because he seems to be having his own narrative line for most of the story, because of his ridiculous name, and yet all of his actions, his voice acting, and even his emotional dives to find his memory are all asking me to take him seriously.
Basically, this could have been a good silly horror. It could have been an average action or adventure story. Depending on where they take their revelations, it could end up being a ridiculous mystery story. However I’m not sure these elements came together in these 12 episodes. They all seemed to be competing for screen time and trying to overwrite the tone of the other aspects and while I didn’t particularly dislike any one of these genres, it left me feeling less than satisfied with the whole package.
I’ve been pretty negative so far so let me be clear, there’s definitely fun to be had while watching this and bingeing it is a good waste of a morning. While the animation for action scenes isn’t as polished as it might have been, there’s a good array of weapons and tactics and the characters keep things interesting. Also, pretty much everyone outside the main characters is fair game for insta-death so there’s some moments that will catch you off-guard. I’m actually even interested in what is at the tower in the centre of all of this, though this season certainly didn’t answer it. However ultimately I think this is a case of trying to reach too far and trying to appeal to too many audiences and the end result is that they haven’t really nailed any one of their genres.
But that’s just me and I know from reading other reviews some people have really enjoyed this. So maybe seek a second opinion or just give it a watch yourself.
Images used for review from: High-Rise Invasion, Dir. M Takata. Zero-G. 2021
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