ACMA:GAME – J-drama Episode 1 Recap, Review & First Impression

Like many Japanese live-action dramas, the budget is light in the effects department yet this one manages to keep the story going


Plot Summary

Based on a manga of the same name, the 10-episode ACMA:GAME (Prime, NTV), or ‘devil game,’ is a Japanese drama about a young man who inherits a key that changes his luck and his life. When his father is murdered in front of him, he gives up his inheritance and ducks into hiding. During his time under the radar, he researches information about the strange key, discovering it brings luck to the holder but that other key holders are frantically trying to collect the world’s 99 keys to gain ultimate power. The way one wins a new key is by winning a game hosted by the devil’s agents.

Episode 1 Recap

ACMA:GAME Episode 1 drops us somewhere in Southeast Asia where Teruasa Oda is held captive by locals who’ve caught him wandering in their territory. The community is having trouble finding a well and the self-named ‘lucky man’ successfully suggests where they should drill. As they celebrate, Teruasa is granted a request, but he only wishes to speak to the village head about an ancient key. But unfortunately, it’s not the right one, so he continues on his way.

He changes tack once catching a story about a series of suicides by Japanese business leaders. With that, he’s off to Japan, thinking about how humans have historically chased their desires. He notes 99 keys that have tempted people through history as they promise ultimate power to one who holds them all. To date, no one has managed to collect all 99.

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On the plane home, Teruasa recalls the legend as his father told it to him, describing his increased luck by having one key in his possession.

Meanwhile in Tokyo, a key holder, Mr Honda, forfeits his key and repays a debt by jumping from an office window. Maruko, who now holds two keys won’t be satisfied without getting more, even though he’s now gained wealth.

Landed at Narita, Teruasa meets his father’s secretary, Ryukan, and finds out more about the recent deaths. Ryukan notes that each person says ‘devil’ as a last word before expiring. Teruasa immediately links the strange circumstances to the rise of the keys in Japan. In fact, he’s been quietly researching over the years to redeem himself for the mistake he made resulting in his father’s death. By flashback, they recall that day.

At a meeting of potential investors, Ui Saito presents his company’s AI tool, OROCHI. Later reporting a successful meeting to his colleague and school-friend, Yuki. But OROCHI freely comments that based on reading investors’ faces, the cash seems less than locked. Changing the subject, Yuki shares a social post by their old middle-school friend, Teruasa.

Yuki arranges a meet up with Teruasa and Ui, but it’s on the awkward side, Ui not saying much. Whereas Teruasa is more than happy to hear they’ve both fulfilled childhood dreams with their AI company. As they chat, Yuki explains that she’s training the AI by leaving it open to take in information. When Ui stomps away to take a call, Yuki explains how he’s always looked up to Teruasa. She later tries to convince Ui to hire him but he isn’t ready to bring in more people.

In his office, Teruasa researches his father’s death with Ryukan as Yuki drops by to visit. Before they get far, Maruko enters, asking about the key. OROCHI quickly divulges his background. And as Teruasa seems unaware of ACMA:GAME, Maruko gets things started so the demon Gado can explain. Playing a game of strategy, the face-off begins with the winner able to ask for anything, including an opponent’s life. The winner also gains the other’s keys.

After several rounds of bluffing with true/false questions, Teruasa figures out Maruko’s devil’s power – an individual power that comes with each key – and uses that information to win the game. He rethinks his request for Maruko’s life, noting he’ll claim it in 200 years.

As Gado ends the game and departs, Ui is finally able to the open the door. Maruko reveals that he acquired the key when it fell from the sky. And since then, his luck has soared. One day a man called him with information about the key, setting him on his way to compete for more keys, more riches.

As they round out the story, a man calls asking about the winner and divulging more about the keys. If Teruasa wants more information, he’ll have to fight more keyholders. As he hangs up, Maruko disappears leaving all his keys behind.

The Episode Review

Episode 1 lays out the main cast and their relationships, Teruasa and his middle school friends Ui and Yuki who are reunited as young adults all working on their goals. But Teruasa’s – looking into his father’s murder – leads them to a dangerous game that starts from the go.

As much as the game is about outsmarting your opponent, there’s a rub in the way winnings are worded, awarding exactly as it’s stated. In short, a little sarcasm or flippancy could kill you, which seems to be what happens to Maruko. We may also discover that demons have a bigger stake than they’re letting on at this stage, rather than merely hosting the game. Someone will have to pay them a service fee, no?


ACMA:GAME stars Shotaro Mamiya (Cinderallas of Midsummer, Pending Train), as lead character Teruasa Oda, Juri Tanaka of J-pop group SixTONES (Tanshin Hanazakari, Aratana Kagi) is Oda’s friend Ui Saito and Kotone Furukawa (Yu Yu Hakusho, Pending Train) plays friend Yuki Manabe. The cast is rounded out by a wealth of key-holding competitors and devilish game masters.

The Devil’s team is brought to life by a team of anime voice actors:

Will It Do Well?

As a successful manga with 22 volumes written between 2013 and 2017 and this its first TV adaptation, it has the potential to do well, especially with manga and anime fans who already love the material. The ACMA:GAME (アクマゲーム) manga is written by Mebu (メーブ) and illustrated by Megumi Koji (恵広史).

Currently dropping weekly on Prime for another two weeks, it’s already been signed for a a spin-off drama, Aratana Kagi, to appear in international markets later this year potentially on Hulu. It continues the story and brings back the main cast including Mamiya, Tanaka and Furukawa.

Should You Continue Watching?

Although the devil’s team, particularly Gado, aren’t overly believable – frankly, we expect more from the special effects team in 2024 – the story, focused on human greed, becomes more interesting as the series progresses. Friends and allies are turned against each other with the teams continuously mixing, needing to win to advance.  With each a consecutive chapter, sections of each competitor’s backstory are revealed, explaining their relationships and choices. The game is different with each play, so there’s enough change to be curious about what happens next. If you can ignore the low-grade demons, you may find the ever-evolving game selection and strategic focus a fun watch. If you’re a fan of the manga, I’m sure they had you at hello.


This is a first impression of the 2024 J-drama ACMA:GAME. If you’d like to see episode by episode reviews, let us know in the comments below. We’ll need a few positive responses to get us going, so don’t hesitate if you’re keen.

If you’re a fan of manga or J-pop group, SixTONES, keep your eyes peeled for an upcoming interview with ACMA:GAMES’s Ui Saito played by Juri Tanaka.

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