This review contains no spoilers and is based on all 12 episodes of High-Rise Invasion season 1.
“I refuse to die. I won’t lose to a world like this.”
There’s nothing quite like a good, heightened mystery, especially if it’s working in tandem with something like the horror genre. Audiences have become increasingly savvy towards and desensitized by even the most extreme examples of each genre, which pushes entertainment to go even further.
This isn’t always the right approach, but it can sometimes be just the right kind of crazy and High-Rise Invasion succeeds in finding that balance. The new Netflix anime initially feels like Rob Zombie’s animated take on The Most Dangerous Game or Battle Royale, but it soon becomes far more than a parade of blood, guts, and lunatics. High-Rise Invasion has a complex message that it wants to convey and the anime cuts much deeper than the simple flesh wounds that cover the cast of characters.
Yuri Honjo is a typical teenager who wakes up in an abstract prison reality that consists purely of the tops of skyscrapers and pits regular humans against deadly individuals in intimidating masks. It’s a lot like if John Wick’s assassins consisted purely from the serial killers in The Strangers. It’s a chilling scenario and Yuri is running for her life too quickly to be able to properly question what’s going on. Yuri learns that her brother, Rika, is also in this strange scenario and her goal becomes to reunite with her sibling and find an escape together.
Aesthetics are a major factor in anime and High-Rise Invasion tries its best to present visuals that are as engaging as central mystery and story. High-Rise Invasion comes from the more recent anime studio, Zero-G, but it’s definitely one of their most polished works. There’s a strong art direction here and the animation style even feels reminiscent of a grungy anime OVA from the ’80s. The anime’s soundtrack beautifully taps into this energy and it’s full of electric guitar rock riffs that honestly feel like they could be Queen tracks. They intensify and become more wild during the anime’s more chaotic moments.
At first it appears as if the objective in High-Rise Invasion is rather cut and dry, but Yuri learns something radically different each time that she digs deeper into her surroundings or the murderous individuals who wear masks. The anime does a good job with how it illustrates that the masked antagonists are victims in their own ways and that there’s an even higher power that’s using everyone as tools to fulfill a twisted game. The complications and layers behind the new “realm” that Yuri is stuck in are what give the anime such life and make it more than some edgy hack-and-slash action series.
The ideas that High-Rise Invasion poses turn the anime into a larger meditation on what humans will do to survive and how far they will sell their values in order to secure their safety. This isn’t exactly an original idea, especially with how some mysterious and shady benefactor is behind the whole operation, but the execution is at least very unique.
It becomes a creative character study that does manage to say something new on these themes. Some of the most entertaining material that’s tackled through this is Yuri’s struggle to find a way to survive, but to not become worse than the monsters that hunt her. It’s a struggle that’s present from the very first episode and High-Rise Invasion explores it in a pseudo-realistic manner that doesn’t feel overly rushed for Yuri’s development.
A major source of tension in the series stems from how Yuri is trusting and wants to see the bests in others, but this makes her a major liability in the process. This is a game where no one should be trusted and allies are collateral damage in the making, but Yuri finds a real sense of purpose and security when she meets another lost soul in this world, Mayuko Nise. Mayuko’s aggressive personality is quite the contrast to Yuri, but there’s immediately a palpable chemistry between them.
Mayuko gets introduced as an ally for Yuri, but Sniper Mask gets brought in just as quickly as a formidable opponent. He’s treated as a parallel figure to Yuri who also wants to figure out the basics of this world, but he comes at it from a different angle than Yuri and Mayuko’s necessity for survival. Sniper Mask ultimately becomes the most fascinating of High-Rise Invasion’s characters since he exists in this fractured state where he has some level of awareness that allows him to question the rules that govern this realm.
High-Rise Invasion unpacks this larger mystery with three separate series of events between Yuri’s party, Rika’s group, and Sniper Mask’s team. These three narratives all cover different aspects of this universe and it’s an effective strategy that builds real excitement once these disparate objectives get to align and come together. It all helps contribute another layer to how the true goal of this situation may not be to escape and that there’s actually something more appealing to those within the universe.
People will likely come into High-Rise Invasion for the murder and trippy concept, but they’ll leave talking about the friendship between Yuri Honjo and Mayuko Nise. Yuri explodes with joy whenever Mayuko shows her appreciation and they form a sisterly bond that’s truly wonderful, as is Mayuko’s embarrassment every time she opens herself up to Yuri a little more. These two have somehow brought out the best in each other in this twisted world and the growing bond between them is one of the highlights of the series. They’re the new reigning Murder Wives.
No one in the cast feels like a waste, but Yuri and Mayuko grow into especially entertaining protagonists who have a surreal sense of humor and empathy that add a lot to each of them. Mayuko’s romantic love towards sharp blades is a good example of High-Rise Invasion’s wild mix of sensibilities. The dynamic between Yuri and Mayuko is a consistent delight, but High-Rise Invasion develops strong character dynamics across the board and there are multiple pairings of unlikely figures that blossom into endearing friendships by the end of the season. Sniper Mask is often played in juxtaposition to Yuri and his bond with Kuon Shinzaki is also genuinely sweet.
The vocal performances in the English version are also exceptional across the board and add a lot to the characters. Suzi Yeung as Yuri and Jonas Scott as Sniper Mask are the best of the lot, but everyone makes a strong impression. The Mask characters are by nature caricatures and all have generalized names that speak to their weapon of choice like Sniper Mask, Axe Mask, or even Masked Rider Mask. Baseball Mask and Chef Mask are some of the most creative of the lot and are also highly terrifying. High-Rise Invasion at least seems to be aware of how absurd and exaggerated all of this is and is in on the “joke.”
It’s common for series with an overarching mystery as dense as High-Rise Invasion to drag things out or for there to not be enough content to sustain the entire season. High-Rise Invasion very carefully parses out details where different characters collect disparate nuggets of what’s going on in this “realm,” while the audience is allowed to piece all of this together and try to get a little ahead of the game. The anime is also a case where it only improves as the season goes on and it doesn’t run out of ammunition after the first few installments. If anything, it uses this time to work out its more awkward impulses and really find its groove with the characters and structure.
Once everything does come together there’s a considerably different story being told than what it initially seemed. The answers that High-Rise Invasion provides are satisfying and still leave plenty to be discovered in subsequent seasons. These episodes do feel like the end of a first chapter and that the anime and its world are about to get considerably bigger in its second season, yet there’s still enough of a full story being told that the ending doesn’t feel incomplete.
High-Rise Invasion is a very satisfying journey that’s thankfully more than the sum of its parts. It’d be easy for this series to coast on some creepy imagery and boatloads of violence, but there’s a more intricate story that’s in play here. It does give in to some of its baser instincts at times, but this first season delicately builds a gripping mythology and solid foundation to fall back on.
This is an anime with dozens of murders across its 12 episodes, heightened brainwashed assassins, and those that want to ascend to a level of deity, but it’s really about finding independence in an oppressive world and how the right friend can change someone’s universe. High-Rise Invasion manages to make its gonzo murder party somehow feel relatable and spill just as much empathy as it does viscera.
All 12 episodes of season one of High-Rise Invasion are now available to stream on Netflix