The Summer 2018 Anime Preview Guide
Seven Senses of the Re'Union
How would you rate episode 1 of
Seven Senses of the Reunion ?
What is this?
How was the first episode?
Given that this is yet another light novel adaptation taking place in a virtual MMORPG, I wasn't expecting much out of this first episode. Indeed, the first half or so met my expectations, as it detailed an elite adventuring group played all by grade-schoolers and explored the most generic fantasy game world imaginable. Sure, there are some brewing potential relationship conflicts born of young love, but there's nothing extraordinary about that either. Then the defining twist (which anyone who's read advertising for the series would know about) happens, and the episode becomes much less ordinary.
Of course, it probably helps that I'm a sucker for these kinds of stories, where remembrance of someone who's been tragically lost figures can be strong enough to even lead to supernatural events. That gimmick alone isn't enough, however, so thankfully this show is surprisingly well-executed. The pain of the children over their loss, the implied long-term impact on the protagonist, and the way the budding romance figures into things is handled convincingly, and the yet-to-be-realized premise of bringing the whole gang back together again to figure out the mystery behind how and why Asahi – or her ghost – has reappeared in their game's successor is a potent hook. Is someone pulling a stunt? Did her consciousness get pulled into the game framework somehow? (And for that matter, is there any functional difference between a ghost of someone's mind in VR and the more supernatural kind, given the circumstances?) Take away the game aspect of all this and you basically get anohana, and I think that's a pretty favorable comparison. The idea that you only get one shot with a character is also interesting, as is the concept that the game is basically an audition for a job at the company that created it.
A potent gimmick isn't the only thing this first episode has going for it. The character, monster, and setting designs may be utterly generic, but the execution of those designs is above par. Characters are crisply, cleanly, and consistently illustrated, and animation is above-average despite reliance on still shots. Honestly, the concept is enough that I would probably follow this one even if it looked like crap, so having it look good is a pleasant bonus.
So this premiere is slow to start, but once it hits its stride with the defining plot twist, it covers enough ground to draw you in.
Is it just me, or does Seven Senses of the Re'Union seem like it's trying really hard to be Anohana in a video game setting? The basic premise is almost uncannily similar: a group of grade school friends go their separate ways after the cute girl dies, and then the group's former leader has to get the band back together after running into her ghost several years later. Slap some VR headsets on Memna and company, and you'd end up with something that looks an awful lot like this show. That similarity works both for and against Seven Senses: its first episode comes up short in terms of storytelling, but the core premise carries enough dramatic weight to hold the audience's attention anyway.
This premiere gets off to a slow start, and I wouldn't blame someone for getting bored and giving up before the big twist happens. Info-dumps are not only frequent in this episode, they're repetitive. The script constantly reminds us that dying in the game means that a player's account gets deleted, which is important the first time but isn't complex enough to require a second or third explanation. By the same token, the opening scenes spend too much time building the “Subaru” party members up as invincible world-beaters. It's necessary to show their strength before pulling the rug out from under them, but this episode could've cut out at least two minutes of minor characters singing the praises of our heroes' exploits and still gotten the point across. This series is covering familiar ground for anime fans with its MMO setting, so its tendency to overexplain everything really drags the pacing down.
As morbid as it may sound, things start to improve once Asahi gets killed off. The story goes from “boring kids win at everything” to “young people struggle to deal with loss,” and that makes for a much more compelling premise. Haruto's in-game reunion with Asahi also gives the show a chance to shift its focus away from in-game mechanics and towards character development. The goal now is no longer being the best at the game, but rather figuring out what's going on and finding a way to help Asahi (something tells me it will involve the rest of the party confronting their past trauma and lingering regrets). If that means the cast can spend more time being human and less time clearing dungeons full of dopey CG dragons, then I'm all for it.
At the moment, I can see Seven Senses of the Re'Union going in two possible directions. On one hand, it could try to shoehorn its premise into a standard game-themed story, in which case I doubt I'd stick with it for more than a week or two. On the other hand, it could use the familiar trappings of an online game to explore some serious themes and deliver strong character drama, in which case it has the potential to be something worthwhile. Only time will tell which way it goes, but for now the possibilities are at least intriguing, and that's more than I can say for some of this season's new titles.
This looks like a series that isn't entirely sure how to balance out its light and dark elements. It swings between them with little-to-no fanfare, and in some ways that's something that I really like – from the happy silliness of seven friends playing a game together to the sudden shift of Asahi's death and the collective guilt and blame, back to the perkiness of Asahi being the treasure in the chest, Seven Senses of Re'Union doesn't want us to forget that the characters are participating in a game people play for fun. Given how self-serious VRMMORPG stories can get, that feels like a good sign.
On the downside, it does make things feel a little off-kilter, particularly towards the end of the episode when we get to the real meat of the overarching plot – that Asahi is alive within the game world. Presumably there will be more fanfare next time, but it feels anti-climatic as it stands this week. Of course, Asahi is unlikely to be aware of what's been going on and may not even realize that any time has passed – after all, everyone's avatars were aged up, so she can't tell that Haruto's apparent age in-game now matches his age in real life. It leaves room for things to develop, and even if I'm not keen on it now, I do appreciate how it is setting up for the story to come.
Part of that story is going to have to deal with the creepier elements of the game they're playing. Despite the fact that the company is absolved of any blame in Asahi's heart failure, that they shut down immediately following is more than a bit suspicious – as is the fact that the game scans potential players' brains in order to ascertain if they've got a special “sense” in order to play. This suggests to me that the developer is not just looking to make a buck on a fancy game; they're looking for specific people for some probably nefarious reason – and the bonuses they offer to strong players when the game reboots just furthers that supposition. Asahi presumably really is alive inside the game's code, and while that may be good for her friends, I can't think it's a good sign for what the developers are up to.
I can't say that I was expecting much beyond a rehash of .hack//sign from this show, so color me pleasantly surprised. It does give me .hack flashbacks, but I feel like this has potential. I like the designs and the use of color in the art and animation, and the plot is intriguing enough that I'll be giving this a few more episodes to see where it goes.
Seven Senses of the Re'Union spends an awful lot of time setting up a fairly basic premise that, so far, only has one real wrinkle to add to its already established formula. In the premiere's first half we meet Haruto, Asahi, and the other members of the team known as “Subaru”, who all excel in the virtual-reality based MMO world of Union, despite all of them being elementary schoolers. The seven party members all occupy one of this game's version of classes, called Senses, with Asahi possessing the coveted gift of future sight. Tragedy strikes, though, when a foolhardy move by Haruto gets Asahi killed in the game; not only does this activate Union's permadeath feature and delete her character, but in the real-world Asahi's heart gives out and dies. Union is shut down, Subaru is disbanded, and Haruto spends six years wallowing in loneliness and guilt.
Then, Union comes back as Re'Union, Haruto is convinced to log back in to help out some noob acquaintances with a low-level quest, and at the end of a suspiciously easy dungeon Haruto opens a chest to find Asahi, who is alive and remembers him, despite having been dead for half-a-decade in the real world. After all of the time Seven Senses spends setting up its world and characters and plot, though, not much of it makes an impact. The members of Subaru feel too much like stock characters, and though I'm sure they'll be more nuanced and interesting in their older incarnations, this premiere doesn't do enough to get me to care about them initially. The whole game setup of Union is also far too generic feeling, essentially coming off as a poor-man's SAO; for me, these “trapped in an MMO” stories need a game that has an identity and flavor that sets it apart from all of the other basic fantasy settings that have been crowding up the market recently.
The only saving grace I can cite for this first episode, aside from some generally decent art and animation, is the core mystery behind Asahi's reappearance. While the overly dramatic funeral scene that marked her death was just a bit too much for me to take seriously, I will admit that I'm a little curious to see how Haruto's unexpected reunion with his dead childhood crush pans out, and how their other friends will react to this scenario. Inciting a modicum of curiosity is a low bar for a premiere to pass, but given how subdued this summer season has felt so far, I'll take what I can get.
Alright, that's a relief. After the first few days of preview week, pretty much all my reviews were clustering in either “great” or “bad,” with no perfectly middling shows to fill in the balance. With Seven Sense of Re'Union, it looks like the season is finally starting to address that issue, and offer some reasonable mid-level productions. Seven Senses' premiere is pretty darn alright, and I may actually be intrigued enough to give it a second try.
If you've seen Anohana, describing Seven Senses' premise is easy: this is Anohana, but all the characters are playing an MMORPG. The first half of the episode introduces us to our protagonists, the supergroup Subaru known as the best players in the permadeath online game Union. This half of the episode is easily its weaker half, as its illustration of the relationships between these leads feels pretty basic, and their battle scenes are not the most compelling. However, things take a dramatic turn after one of their players, Ahiru, dies in battle, which is followed by her also suffering a deadly heart failure in real life. From there we get a time skip, and the show ends on its true hook: six years after Ahiru's death, her friend Haruto logs on to Union's sequel Re'Union, and finds his dead friend somehow alive in the digital world.
Seven Senses' central hook is a relatively compelling one, but the show is also bolstered by a variety of other strengths. For one thing, its production values are reasonably sharp - the monsters that Subaru fights are underwhelming CG golems, but the actual character art is quite pleasant (the soft pastels remind me of Grimgar), and dramatic sequences like Ahiru's funeral are elevated through stark, effective lighting and compositions. Additionally, that central “why is Ahiru alive” mystery is buttressed by a variety of smaller but seemingly related hooks, like the nature of the “Sense” that allows only certain people to play Union, or the strange promise that those who triumph in Re'Union can actually join its parent company. Seven Senses' character writing isn't quite there yet, but its world conveys a sense of solidity and mystery that draws me in regardless, and Haruto's conversations after the time skip feel far more true-to-life.
On the whole, while the dragged out and not terribly satisfying first half of this episode gives me pause, its second half contains enough compelling intrigue and clever details to more or less make up for that. This episode banks heavily on the appeal of its mysteries, but those mysteries actually are pretty appealing, and I ultimately respect this episode's choice to introduce so much of its world and characters before getting to the real conceit. If Seven Senses' premise falls within your wheelhouse, I'd definitely give it a shot.
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