When New Game! first aired in the summer 2016 season, I enjoyed it a lot. It was comfort food to me. Imagine my surprise when I began watching season 2, New Game!!, and found a show that had greatly matured in its storytelling. Much of this is due to New Game!!’s mastery of shifting tones.
New Game!!’s real conflicts
New Game!! follows the employees of Eagle Jump, a game development studio. Following the events of season one, the crew begins working on a new game (heh) and the amount of serious business rises dramatically. A contest is held to pick the lead character designer, but why? The usual character designer, Yagami, being picked is the foregone conclusion some might think. Nonetheless, Aoba decides to pursue her character designer dreams. She submits work and actually gets the job (albeit shared with Yagami)!
This causes conflicting emotions within Yagami. It draws a clear parallel, one made VERY explicit at the beginning of episode 2, where Aoba is now in the position she was once in. A mixture of happiness for Aoba but also a frustration at herself rises within Yagami. This causes a tension within their relationship, which makes Aoba feel awful. She’s happy she’s gotten closer to her dream but is it at the cost of her friendship with one of her idols? This is a very real conflict, and this is only the first few episodes!
This is shown perfectly in the visuals. Aboa’s happiness is contrasted with Yagami’s blocked face (and covered eyes in the previous cut). Yagami’s movements fill the air with awkward energy. Aoba’s hesitance to talk is shown in her hand movements. Yagami acts like nothing is wrong. Her subtle movements have keyed both Aoba and the viewer into what’s happening deep in her head. In this scene and much more, New Game!! is a triumph of visual storytelling.
The Differing Tone is Key
Over and over again New Game!! shows that it can deal with serious concepts maturely. Realities like losing work to bigger names because it’s more financially sound, or hiding your otaku side, or the concept of hiring people you know. Time and time again New Game!! comments on serious issues, and time and time again it does it with extreme grace. It’s honestly surprising, it’s not what I expect from a Manga Time Kirara adaptation. The amount of nuance that is poured into the story and the character animation, all sell New Game!!’s messages well. Scenes like Aoba’s struggle to say something useful and constructive display really skilled directorial work, with the colours shifting to display Aoba’s mindset. You don’t get this level of detail in every cute girl show!
New Games are fun as well!
It’s not simply that the show is able to discuss aspects of art creation in such a way (which is, of course, impressive) but that it can do that while still being a cute, fun and calming show. A show about struggles with only struggles might be tiring, but one that is optimistic, that shows that making new games with your friends can be fun. That is a better show. A more thematically interesting show to watch. It’s a show that stays true to what made the first season enjoyable in the first place. In fact, the way it displays and utilizes these two separate aspects of the real world reflect well of the show’s production.
The mixing of happy and sad in New Game!!
The tone and pacing of New Game!! creates a harmony, a show that without as subtle shifts wouldn’t have as much impact. The pain is not allowed to break the characters, as there’s a brighter tomorrow in the future, and they know it. Aoba is able to power through a task she knows is hopeless in episode 6 because she knows there’s happiness waiting in the next episode. Some might see this as the show “reverting to the status quo” after intense events, but that is simply not the case.
“A couple of bitter experiences are nothing I can’t handle!” – Aoba says in the face of failure.
This is very important. If Aoba gave up, if the show were only about the struggle, it wouldn’t be New Game!! anymore. At its core, New Game!! is telling its viewers not to give up, to work hard in the face of roadblocks and make your art. The character development, even if not always on the surface, stays with the characters, as it does the viewers. While the scenarios shown on the screen might be similar, they are not performed by the same Aoba, Hifumi, Hajime and Yun. These are characters who have grown and changed through their experiences, albeit in subtle ways sometimes.
What makes New Game!! real
The character development is a key part of the strength here, as the fantastic narrative wouldn’t work without the characters. A lot of the character relationships are utilized very well in the drama as well as the good moments of the show, making them more powerful as the viewer is invested in the relationships. When looking at New Game!! it becomes so clear how much it took to make a show as good as this, and just how lucky we are to be able to watch it.
A key factor into how well realized New Game!! is, I think, Shoutarou Tokunou. He is the author of the original manga and has experience from the games industry himself. While all the experiences that are explored in New Game!! might not be his own, he has personal experience with the environment. On top of that, as an artist, he understands the struggles that go into creating art. Aoba’s struggles feel so real because of who they come from, a source who truly understands.
This is what goes into shows like New Game!!, what gives the show its heart and soul. Moe anime has this power, and this is the motivation behind it. Not a cynical “cute girls sell” motive that so many seem to believe. New Game!! is a fantastic story and one that Tokunou-sensei clearly has a reason to tell. And I’m so glad it’s been able to reach so many people.
All of New Game!! comes together to form an absolutely fantastic show. A show about hardships, triumphs and working on art we love with our friends. It’s a firm contender for my pick for anime of the year and I’m absolutely devastated to see it go.