Review: The God of High School Episde 4 – Marriage/Bonds – Should You Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace?
Overall, this episode of God of High School stands as the most mediocre of the season thus far, especially when aired as a follow-up to last week’s impressive display of animation and direction.
With Han and Yoo’s victories last week and Jin’s successful reinstatement, four contestants remain in the God of High School tournament’s Seoul regional.
This week begins with the announcement of the next round of matchups, as Han, Yoo, Jin, and Brazilian Jujitsu practitioner Byun-Jae-Hee vie for a spot in the preliminary tournament’s final round. It is soon revealed that the next round will see Han and Yoo’s friendship put to the test of competition, while Jin will face off against the purple-haired Byun.
As Jin, Han, and Yoo head home from the arena, with an excited Jin finding himself torn between which of his friends to root for and eventually fight against in the final round, a man in a luxury car drifts in front of the group, blocking their path.
Emerging from the car is Oh Seongjin, a celebrity renowned for his athletic abilities and good looks, who quickly falls to one knee in front of Yoo. Seongjin immediately proposes to Yoo on the spot, much to the shock and surprise of Yoo and her friends.
After Yoo bafflingly accepts Seongjin’s proposal, audiences are taken back in time for a reflection upon Yoo’s childhood. After her father’s death, a young Yoo was left as the sole practitioner of her father’s legacy, the Moon Light Sword style.
Her uncle, Yu Deuk-Chun, would take it upon himself to both raise her as his own and continue to teach his brother’s sword style. However, Deuk-Chun proves to be much weaker and less skilled than his brother, becoming a laughing stock among his students, and it is this mockery of her uncle and transitively the Moon Light Sword style that drove Yoo to dedicate her life to the preservation of the fighting style.
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In the present day, Seongjin approaches Deuk-Chun, and asks Yoo’s uncle for his blessing to marry the young swordswoman. Deuk-Chun is skeptical of this proposal, questioning why Seongjin is interested in someone who is still in high school. The charismatic fighter explains that he sees within her, and the Moon Light Sword, a marvelous level of untapped potential.
As Seongjin promises to use his resources to ensure the Moon Light Sword becomes as popular as karate or judo, a hesitant Deuk-Chun agrees to the marriage.
Discovering that she has dropped out of the tournament in favor of getting married, Jin rushes to Yoo’s house and questions her motives, resulting in the driving of a wedge between the two. Jin then rushes to find Han, hoping to enlist his help in saving their friend from a seemingly sham marriage.
Jin is then met with advice from the mild-mannered man telling him to stay out of her personal business and respect her choices. Left with no other recourse, Jin decides to take matters into his own hands.
On the day of the big event, tensions and feelings begin to boil over throughout the crowd. Deuk-Chun unsuccessfully begs Seongjin to call off the ceremony after seeing how unhappy Yoo truly is.
Yoo’s cousin Yu Su-Mi begins to feel guilty for becoming obsessed with the fairy tale narrative of Seongjin’s proposal and failing to see Yoo’s true distress. Yoo herself sadly resigns herself to her fate.
And an uninvited Jin arrives determined to save his friend from a lifetime of unhappiness. Though he is unable to break through a crowd of guards, Jin is soon joined by Han, and the two tear through Seongjin’s defenses and confront the celebrity at the altar.
In a moment of dramatic irony, it is revealed that Seongjin’s true reason for proposing to Yoo was to retrieve her sword and the “hand that can draw out that power,” otherwise known as Yoo herself, at the behest of a mysterious, robed organization.
Drawing his own sword and summoning a Samurai phantom similar to the Joker summoned by Judge Q, Seongjin attempts to deliver a fatal blow to Jin and Han.
At the last second, Yoo steps between the blade and her friends, taking a deep wound to her stomach before utilizing a swordless Moon Light Sword technique. Pushing away Seongjin and knock him out in a single blow.
As scared patrons run from the crumbling scene of his defeat, Seongjin takes advantage of the crowd’s confusion and successfully steals his former bride-to-be’s sword, taunting her with his ill-gotten gains as he flees the scene.
To the surprise of her friends, Yoo finds herself unphased, noting that she is confident that her father’s spirit now lives on within her, rather than in the blade. Watching her leave with Jin and Han, Deuk-Chun and Yu Su-Mi recognize that being with her friends and competing in the tournament has led to Yoo “finally smiling.”
However, this moment of serenity and happiness is soon shattered by the events of the following night. Arriving at the hospital to visit his sickly friend, Han is met with the horrific sight of a crash team attempting to resuscitate the dying man, his condition clearly worsening.
As he later sits in shock and silence at his night job, Han finds himself taunted once again by the rude customers from last episode. Snapping at their mockery, Han unleashes his full rage upon the men, quickly taking the group out in the blink of an eye.
The next morning, Jin rushes to the stadium, exasperated at himself for having overslept through the start of Yoo and Han’s match. Instead of arriving to the scene of an exciting competition between his two friends, he is instead stunned to witness Han brutally beating Yoo, continually striking her recently-received sword wound until she begins to openly bleed on the mat.
Declared the winner in an act of mercy, a silent Han marches past Jin on the way to the locker room, telling the shocked fighter five simple words, “See you in the finals.”
Last week’s combat heavy episode received a rave review due to the focus placed on the production of the two featured tournament matches. Similarly, as marriage/bonds takes a major detour from the tournament plot itself, so too does the overall quality of the episode deviate strongly from its predecessors.
Instead of the competition itself, the primary focus of this episode is Yu’s backstory and her sham marriage to Seongjin. The exploration of Yu’s past, which sees the young woman constantly torn between her feelings of responsibility, her desire to have friends, and the constant feelings of fear that her uncle would be unable to preserve the family fighting style, is a highlight of the episode.
As with Han’s flashbacks last episode, these moments of exposition reveal a sympathetic and believable motivation behind Yu’s entrance into the tournament.
In contrast, the majority of the scenes involving Seongjin or the wedding itself grind the momentum of the series to a halt. Though these moments inform the plot of this singular episode, they appear to have very little to do with the overarching plot.
While viewers are told that Seongjin wishes to steal Yu’s sword to hand it over to a hooded ‘master’, no connection or foreshadowing between this mission, the sword, and the tournament are made.
Even Yoo’s acceptance of the theft signals to viewers that Seongjin and the sword may never come back into play. While Seongjin’s mission does relate to the larger story later on, as readers of the original webtoon may be privy to, the the lack of a clear direction for his character and plot arc make the entire episode feel like an unrelated filler story.
Sadly, the few moments of fighting featured in the episode are drastically underwhelming, as exciting setups such as Jin and Han vs a crowd of armed guards or Han snapping on his bullies, are robbed of proper screen time and hidden behind shadows or sudden cuts to bloody, post-fight aftermaths.
After seeing similar ‘time-saving’ techniques in episodes of Crunchyroll’s previous series, Tower of God, this appears to be becoming a habit for the company’s new production endeavors. Given the high bar of quality set by themselves, these moments when Crunchyroll dodges a chance to show an exciting fight are glaringly obvious and thoroughly disappointing to fans.
But that is not to say the episode is without its highlights. Once again, the art direction provided by Crunchyroll and its production teams stands out as a highlight of this episode, especially in moments that explore different art styles as a narrative technique, such as the loud, color heavy broadcast made by the two buxom nurses at the beginning of the episode or the morose and stiff animations seen as Yoo looks upon her uncles failing attempts to teach his students.
Furthermore, the final fight scene between Han and Yu felt heavy and deliberate, as both the fictional attendees and real-world audiences witness a moment of bizarre brutality and are left with an uncomfortable feeling after that will surely hang in the air throughout the rest of the tournament.
Overall, this episode stands as the most mediocre of the season thus far, especially when aired as a follow-up to last week’s impressive display of animation and direction. While somewhat disappointing, disconnected, and arguably uneventful, the continued exploration of different visual styles throughout the episode and the reaching of Han’s breaking point should prove enticing enough for viewers to continue following the remaining rounds. Hopefully next week sees a return to form for both Jin and Crunchyroll.