The Summer 2017 Anime Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
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How was the first episode?
And here I'd though the summer had run out of surprises! Gamer is one of the many shows I went into this season knowing almost nothing about it, and am I happy to report that we finally have another genuinely great show to follow for the next few months. I've never even heard of Pine Jam Studios before, but this one episode of GAMERS! has already made them a talented group to be on the watch for. For such a fresh team of producers and animators (not to mention the fact that I'm pretty sure this is director Manabu Okamoto's debut) this is as confidently put together and consistently entertaining a comedy as we've gotten all summer. I was worried that Made in Abyss was going to be the only real must watch show of the season for me, but while GAMERS! might be significantly less ambitious than Made in Abyss, it was still an absolute blast to watch.
Really, this is just the kind of show that seems to know exactly what it wants to do, and then sets about to excel in every possible category. The animation is fluid, bright, and all-around pleasing to look at, the script is tightly written and features a number of legitimately laugh-out-loud gags, and most every character we get to meet makes an impression one way or another. It's admittedly a bit tired to have Karen be the stereotypical (gorgeous and popular girl that's secretly a nerd”, but the show isn't too obnoxious a stereotype, and she gets enough to do that she ends up feeling like a fleshed-out character in her own right. Her turn towards the pathetically mean-spirited in light of Keita's rejection was one of my favorite gags in the episode, and managed to give our female lead a bit more depth than I was expecting out of just one episode.
Speaking of Amano, I think he's an excellent protagonist for this kind of comedy. His lack of social graces and general nebbishness are painfully realistic qualities, while also not being pushed far enough as to make him hard to relate too. I was honestly surprised with some of the choices made with his character, such as his decision to outright reject Karen's invitation to the club. I have no illusions that this is going to be permanent, otherwise there would be no more show, but it would have been so easy for GAMERS! to take the Girls Beyond the Wasteland route and just have the gaming club be an idealized collection of cute misfits. To have Keita simply be intimidated by the intensity of the other club members is a much more interesting path for the plot to take. Plus, the jokes involving every other club members' increasingly absurd backstories and “reasons for gaming” might be my single favorite joke of any anime so far this season.
If I had any complaints about this premiere, it would be that the soundtrack and actual character designs are just a bit too generic for my tastes, and the frequent interruption of fourth-wall breaking notes on screen got a bit tired. None of these quibbles are enough to bog down GAMERS! overall appeal though. If you've been looking for a cute, goodwill, and genuinely funny comedy to fill up the rest of these warm summer days, look no further. This season might overall have a case of the “Generally Forgettable” blues, but GAMERS! is just the cure that the doctor ordered.
Previous to this episode, D-Frag was the only game club show to really catch my interest. I wasn't expecting much out of Gamers either – it looked very much like more of the same old thing: hot girl who is unexpectedly a gamer, nerdy, socially inept protagonist, girl who doesn't know how to wear clothes…you know, a standard club setup. But then all of these little signs about what is to come started literally flashing on the screen, and I found myself getting pulled in…only to be pleasantly flabbergasted when the dull, nerdy, socially inept hero rejects the hot gaming girl not just once, but twice.
What's even more amazing is that I really respect his reason for doing so – he's a casual gamer. He doesn't have any deep meaning for playing games, he just really enjoys them. He's got one online buddy he plays a cellphone game with, and that's enough for him. As a casual gamer and generally non-competitive person myself, I both understand how competition can ruin something you love and also just isn't particularly appealing – and if you look at the game he's playing with the mysterious Mono-chan, you can see that he's helping her, not competing against her, which says a lot about his playstyle even before he turns down the club. The part where he keeps trying to opt out of the group FPS game is also very telling: while the other three players are totally into it, Amano's turning gray.
It's clear that there are misunderstandings ahead for at least Amano, hot girl Karen, and Amano's whole class – her fleeing the room in tears after asking him a question has to look incredibly suspicious, especially to his self-confident classmate Tasuku. What that means precisely for Amano isn't yet clear, because he's socially isolated already. There's a good chance that things will escalate to a point of ridiculous no return, hopefully with more game references and/or shots of Amano's character in the FPS hopping up and down like a ninny. This stands to be a lot of fun and if nothing else to explore the idea that everyone's got a different reason for doing something – what's important is that you have fun doing it.
GAMERS! first half is pretty much everything my most cynical self expected from the premise. Introducing us to game-loving everyman Keita Amano, it started off with Karen Tendou, the “cutest girl in his school,” walking up to him in a game shop and immediately being charmed by his every action. Tendou eventually revealed that she was the founder of his high school's gaming club, which she wanted him to join as a “true gamer.” The show's unvarnished wish fulfillment made it hard for me to take pretty much anything it did seriously, and its style of comedy made things even worse. Filling the screen with smug written asides and making jabs at its characters that just made me like it less, GAMERS!' first half did basically everything it could to turn me off.
Fortunately, the second half was actually a lot better. Once Amano finally got introduced to Tendou's club, it became clear that he wasn't the actual center of this universe. Amano's experience with games was limited to mostly phone RPGs and dating sims, low-stress games you play more for the art and story than the thrill of victory. In contrast, Tendou's clubmates were all serious competitive players, and the inherent friction of someone like Amano trying to spend time with someone who wins FPS tournaments felt natural and well-observed. I also appreciated how this episode understood that sharing “gaming” as a hobby doesn't really mean you'll actually make for a natural friend with someone else. “Gaming” encompasses a vast variety of different activities with wholly different appeals, and personal chemistry requires a lot more than one shared interest, anyway.
That one sequence did a lot to salvage my impression of this episode, but on the balance, I'm still not particularly interested in continuing. GAMERS! comedy left a lot to be desired, with its issues spanning from general simplicity of concept to an underlying cruelty towards its cast. Even though its vision of gaming as a hobby possessed some welcome nuance, its actual characters still weren't particularly interesting (Genshiken this is not). The show also wasn't very impressive in terms of animation or art design, though I did appreciate the faithfulness of its not-BlazBlue and not-Counterstrike game designs. Overall, while this episode certainly ended better than it started, it's still not funny or engaging enough to keep my interest.
Maybe it's just me, but it feels like this premise has been done to death. Whether they're playing them or making them, the idea of having characters form a gaming club pops up on a regular basis in the anime world. It's kind of impressive, then, that the first episode of Gamers manages to be entertaining despite treading such a familiar path. Chalk this one up as an example of good execution being just as important, if not more so, than a unique premise.
While some of the jokes here are pretty tired (it must be an unwritten rule that all main characters have to suck at FPS games), there's also some genuinely amusing content in here. It's fun to hear Keita's potential clubmates rattle off their absurdly dramatic reasons for getting into gaming after he admits to just playing for his own entertainment. His panicked inner monologues in general are delivered well, although I'm worried that the show might be leaning on this one trick a little too much. Still, I can't deny that this episode kept me laughing throughout its running time, and that's a good first step for a comedy.
The one thing that took me by surprise was Keita's refusal to join the club. The moment initially seemed like a comedic play on the usual genre formula, but there might actually be a little more to it. Keita's explanation for turning Karen down is an intriguing one, and it speaks to the divide between playing games to win and playing them for entertainment. This is a theme that similar titles rarely dig deeply into, and Gamers could find a niche for itself it if decides to examine the mindsets of casual and competitive players more closely. I doubt we'll see any serious character drama out of this show, but it could certainly toss a few insightful moments in with all the clubroom antics.
I give Gamers a fair amount of credit for feeling fresher than I expected. As common as its premise may be, it takes that basic idea in a fun direction and displays a decent grasp of the comedic fundamentals. Anime and games have a fair amount of fandom crossover, so it's nice to see a series put some real effort into blending the two. As long as it doesn't run out of ideas or do anything too crazy, this could be a reliably entertaining show.
This series is helmed by a first-time director who leads an animation production team from a studio doing its first series of full-length episodes, but boy, you can't tell that based on the first episode. The product of their efforts is a funny, inviting, and impressively sharp first episode, one which shows a keen sense for comic timing while also still making some credible, slightly more serious points about gaming.
The basic premise here is an alternate form of male wish fulfillment that has periodically popped up in anime over the last decade: that of the gorgeous girl who also secretly happens to be invested in geeky hobbies similar to those of the male protagonist. As a lifelong tabletop RPG gamer, I can attest from personal observation that this scenario can actually happen in real life, so I don't find that to be too much of a stretch. As might be expected, the idol approaching the nondescript boy over joining the club catches the flabbergasted attention of other class members (who don't know that it's all about joining a club, naturally) and the protagonist doesn't instantly fit in with the other club members, who all have their quirks.
What I found interesting, though, was the angle that the story takes on that: it's not working for Keita because even though everyone's into games, the other club members favor a more competitive gaming style while he prefers a casual one. This isn't the first time we've seen that be the issue in anime, but I very much like the way that this series handles it, especially Keita's frank honesty with Karen about it and the way he doesn't let even being dazzled by her get in the way of that honesty. He's not in the wrong to make it the main issue, either, as this kind of sharp contrast in expectations can also be a problem in sports as well. Clearly he's going to eventually join the club, but I like the idea of the club having to modify its approach a bit to be more inclusive. I'm also a little curious to see more on why Karen is so intent on approaching him specifically; does the club need another member for solvency? Is he just more approachable? Surely the school has other candidates, but there's a vibe of something more being involved here than just storytelling convenience. The episode also briefly features another boy who has a hot (if also airheaded) girlfriend but doesn't seem quite as content with the situation as he claims; he will apparently be a regular and eventual club member, too, as will the girl who appears to be “Mono-san.”
What also can't be lost in all of this is how effectively funny this episode is. It does some wonderful work with characters' facial expressions and has some truly great jokes, such as the one where Keita's FPS character gets shot in the head while jumping up and down on a vehicle to see over a wall so he can “see the scenery” or Eiichi's jaw-dropping revelation about why he games. The comments in the on-screen early in the episode are also worth paying attention to even if you have to pause, as they provide humorous foreshadowing. Technical merits aren't anything special but are solid enough.
I almost forgot to mention that the first scene of the episode is an enticing one, one which the first episode doesn't quite reach an explanation for but which is plenty interesting-looking enough to warrant wanting to find out how it comes to be. Even without that, though, this looks like a show worth following.
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