Game Designer girls who are just very good friends! Really!
The first time I heard about New Game! was reading our very own Anthony “Big Boss of Bad Anime” Spivey’s scathing review of the first episode. Reading his punishingly withering review, I couldn’t help but check this show out for myself to see if it really was as painful as an unanesthetized root canal. To my surprise, I found a down-to-earth series with a an interesting thematic focus. New Game! is about a group of girl game designers and their work creating the latest instalment of a blockbuster RPG franchise: Fairies’ Story 3.
Our protagonist is the purple-haired, ditzy Aoba, who’s been assigned to the art team of Eagle Jump studios. Fresh out of high school, Aoba is nervous and desperate to impress her new colleagues. Naturally though, they all turn out to be a coterie of oddballs. There’s the tomboyish but dedicated Yagami, the lead character designer who headed up the original Fairies’ Story. Yagami also dutifully fills much of the fanservice quotient for the show, as her tireless work ethic means she frequently sleeps under her desk in just her underwear. Shameless! The programming lead, Umiko, is just as calculating as her profession, chastising anyone who breaks protocol with a dour expression – though she lets off steam with her airsoft gun hobby (periodically shooting her companions with rubber bullets when they get on her nerves).
We get the first hinting that these gals may be crossing the boundary from “good friends” to “very good friends” when Aoba first meets Yagami – the character designer she has always idolized from playing her past games – and hearts pop up around her head. Likewise, there are other little teases, such as when Yagami jokes about dating her long-time friend Rin – often encouraging her shy, blushing counterpart to join in with the pantsless sleepovers. There’s one particularly swoon-inducing moment when Yagami grabs an obviously sick Rin by the wrist and drags her back home to “nurse her back to health”.
New game! reminds me of Marimite in how it strongly hints at yuri, but never really follows through. The series really is just about very intense female friendships. In the end, things never get much more serious than some intense hand-holding. The closeness and intimacy of the characters can be pretty gosh-darn heartwarming – but if you’re expecting steamy romance then I’m afraid your hot n’ heavy yuri is in another castle (at least until series 2, we can only hope).
These intense friendships are the basis for most of the storylines (and I use the term loosely because New Game! is a plot-lite show). Nene is Aoba’s glommy best friend from school, and is easily the most cloyingly cute character of the series – her voice high enough to shatter bulletproof glass. Nene is off to college while Aoba is punching the clock with Eagle Jump, and Nene misses Aoba so much, she sneakily gets a summer job at Eagle Jump as a tester, causing no end of awkwardness as she tries to use her temp work to sustain her high-school friendship. There’s also the cripplingly shy Hifumi’s combined fear and infatuation with Aoba, wanting to be friends but being terrified Aoba’s every compliment is a backhanded one.
Above all, the most important relationship in the series feels like the one between Yagami and Aoba – of the mentor and student. Aoba sees her successful, but jaded and workaholic future in Yagami; Yagami sees her fresh-faced, hopeful younger self in Aoba. The way this mirror-image friendship is subtly alluded to is quite skillful, and it’s hammered home well in the last episode. It felt like a subtle metaphor for innocence and experience about working in the fickle, demanding gaming industry – and though I’m just filthy journo, not a dev myself, this theme rang very true with me. The romantic subtext of all these relationships would be a lot weightier as text (which is my pretentious way of saying I want to see more yuri), but there’s still just enough complex relationships here to see us through.
New Game! gives a satisfyingly in-depth look into the greasy cogs of game design. Little charts and diagrams pop up occasionally with chibi-fied versions of the various characters to show where everyone is in the hierarchy and how they all work together to make a game. It’s also surprisingly good fodder for gags such as when Nene is working as a bug tester and manages to rotate the camera around a female model so it gets that perfect panty shot (and they’re forced to add “panty shot” to the design specs). The energetic, “Sporty Spice” of the group is Shinoda, who aptly handles motion capture. She frequently swings around a toy lightsaber, occasionally smacking people as she tries to visualize her next animation. New Game! does make the work of Project Director Shizuka Hazuki look pretty fun as she swishes around the office in her elegant shawl, peering down over her glasses to tease the staff (carrying around the increasingly portly office cat). She even gives direction once in a while!
By the time Fairies’ Story 3 is ready for release in the last episode, and the girls see a beautifully animated trailer showcasing their hard work – I realised what a fun insight into the game-making process the show had been.
What’s a little disappointing about New Game! is the lack of genuine drama. It says a lot for a show’s lack of intensity when one of the most powerful emotional conflicts is whether Nene can overcome her guilty conscience about having stolen Yagami’s pudding from the fridge. Developing a game can be an incredibly frought process, especially during crunch time where everyone’s working obscene hours – tempers getting frayed and differing creative visions at loggerheads. In true Japanese style though, the earnest women of New Game! just push through the punishing work schedule, sticking together and getting the job done. Though the low-drama proceedings don’t muddy the feel-good comic waters too much, it feels like a wasted opportunity compared to classic “meta” animes like Otaku no Video, which convey the full emotional sweep of creating games/anime a lot better.
New Game! typifies the increasingly insular direction anime has taken for the last decade or so. Not only is it focused on the people in “the industry” – taking a look under the lid of the machinery that produces the brightly-coloured, wide-eyed pablum we can’t help but consume – there’s also a sugary-sweet moe aftertaste with how its all-female cast fit into cutesy archetypes. It’s not a mould-breaking series, but there’s some joy to be found in it.
So, if the chokingly oppressive nature of reality is getting you down, and you want a light-hearted look at game design with glittery gloss of shojo-ai – then New Game! might just be the bugfix for your blues!
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Studio: Dogo Kobo ; Directed By: Yoshiyuki Fujiwara