Charm is one of the most integral features in entertainment. Especially when presenting a character driven story where the focus of the plot relies on a feeling of connection with those characters. New Game!, encapsulates a feeling of wonder other shows of the season could only dream of and is done so through its colourful cast members, easygoing yet engaging narrative and clean animation. Video games are an art form which must be moulded into the final product through hard work and determination. When the staff working on a project care deeply for what they’re working on, the end result is one of passion and will always garner success.
A HEARTWARMING STORY WITH CUTE GIRLS IN A GAME DEV SETTING
12 EPISODES | SLICE OF LIFE, COMEDY | ANIMATED BY Doga Kobo | DIR: Fujiwara, Yoshiyuki
Many people have claimed that New Game! suffers from the “Cute Girls Doing Cute Things” syndrome. Put simply, the term was coined for mindless shows (often aimed at a male audience) where the appeal of every episode boiled down to a cast of cutesy characters undertaking cutesy tasks. Shows that fall under this category that you may recognise are: Anne Happy♪, Kiniro Mosaic and Lucky☆Star. While I agree that the trope is present and is a heavy factor in the anime as a whole, to say that the show “suffers” as a result is simply an incorrect statement.
The Premise of the Show
Aoba Suzukaze is a high school graduate who decides to immediately go into work, pursuing her dream of becoming a renowned character designer. Having received a job as a new recruit under the Video Game Development team EagleJump, she introduced to all of her seniors and members of her team. It is in this moment that Aoba is met with the leader of the Art Team and her mentor while working as a recruit – Yagami Kou. Wait, Yagami Kou? As in, THE, Yagami Kou of the Faeries Story franchise? Yes it turns out that Aoba’s greatest idol and inspiration will be her new mentor, this should be interesting.
The Characters of New Game!
As with the majority of the Slice of Life genre, the true appeal of the show is through its lovable characters. Undertaking such a large project requires a hefty work force and who better to build your video game than a bunch of cute girls. For whatever reason you may wish to come up with, there are no male characters present in this show. Call it an artistic vision if you like. Most of the narrative focus is on the characters within Aoba’s block. This block consists of two other members of the character team, a member of the motion team and their seniors: their Art Director and Team Leader.
Aoba’s personality is one that never seems to get old, she is extremely cute and engaging to watch. Her optimistic mindset and bubbly character makes her the perfect main character to set up conversations with her peers, which is the majority of this show. While she may not always be the centre of attention, her role as protagonist is one that is well deserved and meshes effortlessly with the side characters.
Speaking of which, the three other girls in her sector are written just as well and receive an equal amount of screen time. That my be one of my favourite things about New Game! is that no character feels left out. When slice of life shows introduce as many characters as this show does, by the end of the last episode there is often a moment where the viewer wishes they had seen more of certain characters. (I know I did when I finished Lucky Star). Credit to the staff for balancing out each character so that there was enough of a connection that the end product felt like a team effort that the audience could really relate to.
A fresh environment for the genre
In the current surge of high school settings, New Game!‘s more adult themed environment really does wonders for the show. The show creates this dichotomy where most of the characters look and act like middle schoolers while they’re out at a drinking party being served alcohol. Just look at Aoba’s costume, as a recent graduate she doesn’t feel comfortable wearing regular clothes and chooses to wear a suit every day despite her mentor wearing a baggy top and jeans for the most part. It’s just so refreshing to have such a lighthearted bit of fun that takes place outside of the generic high school scenario.
In addition, this contextual setting allows for some out of the box antics that would otherwise be impossible to present. As a spoiler free example, there is one moment where the pen to Yagami Kou’s drawing tablet malfunctions so a new one has to be bought. Aoba and Hajime are sent into the town to buy a new one. Due to the cutesy nature of Aoba, she is seen as much younger than she actually is and Hajime feels the pressure of being a respectable role model (despite only being 21 herself). Despite trying her best to take control of the task, she ends up losing her wallet slowing the whole errand to a halt as they try their best to retrace their steps. While the baseline of the plot can be outlined in a couple of sentences, both character’s reactions amplify the weight of the situation and present a hilariously clumsy scene. It may not be one of the most integral scenes to the plot or the most over animated one, but it’s one of my favourites as it brilliantly develops the relationship between these two characters.
A focus on subtlety and the finer details
I’d like to clarify my closing sentence prior, if New Game! has taught me anything, it’s that a scene does not have to be over animated for it to have an incredible impact on the viewer. This show has a sense of polish to its art style that I absolutely adore. While airing in the same season as Mob Psycho 100, New Game! presents its story in a much less visually active format but does so in a way that is perfect for its genre. Everything in this show seems to shimmer and shine, giving an almost dreamlike state to the frame which is exactly how it is seen through Aoba’s eyes. Since playing video games as a child she’s wanted to become part of that development process and she’s finally got her foot in the door. She is, for lack of a better term, living her dream. Working with friendly people she enjoys being around, as an apprentice to her number one idol and designing characters for her favourite game franchise in the world. If that doesn’t seem like a dream come true I don’t know what is.
On the same note, as a viewer, we have to recognise that Aoba hasn’t even been working on the game for a year by the end of the season. Her fellow developers have seen the game from the conceptualisation stage and built it from the ground up. There’s an interesting sense of accomplishment and satisfaction in watching a group of people who truly care about a project see it grow. Nearing the end of the season Aoba, Hajime, Hifumi and Yun go to a video game festival so that they can both observe the competition and see their game on “the big screen”. After the long process of developing, the four of them are so close to relishing in the fruits of their labour. One scene I’d like to pick out is where three of them come across a giant screen that is playing the Faeries Story 3 trailer with big promotional banners on the side. Not only does the game look incredible but as the trailer goes on you can hear Hajime and Yun muttering lines akin to “There’s the model I made” and “Oh they used that animation”. It’s such a subtle detail to show how much work and soul these girls have put into their game and the animation on their eyes is absolutely perfect.
Weaving a story through scenes of fluff
There is a lot more to this show’s narrative than I think people give credit for. In the collection of irrelevant scenes poking fun at the quirks of each character and the multitude of fan-service shots that never seem to end, there truly is a story to the show. A story of drive, will and faith that their game will not only sell but creating a vision for the game and being able to make the players believe in that vision too. Sure, we need the trip to the doctors for some antics and the occasional hot spring episode because we’re a cute girl anime in 2016. However, what this show remembers and many shows seem to forget is that these scenes are funny because the viewer has to have already connected with the character. It’s funny in the medical checkup sequence that Yun is sucking in her gut because for the past three episodes she’s been mentioning how she want to lose weight. The show isn’t just strung together at the last minute, slotting in tasteless fan service where they see fit. New Game! finds an acceptable balance between the more touching and heartfelt moments and the more wacky/out there ones.
Finally, the art and animation is top notch as you would expect. The animators really stayed true to the style of the manga and the fluidity of each character movement is stunning. With such active characters, it’s a true testament to the staff that such crazy poses can be so cute (albeit if most of the focus seemed to be in their breasts but to each their own I guess). Joking aside, I really cannot recommend this show enough, New Game! feels like an unsung hero of the year that was dwarfed in the hype of other shows. It’s been a year of tough competition but definitely for any fans of video games or frequent viewers of the slice of life genre, New Game! is a show that you just cannot pass up.