The Spring 2020 Anime Preview Guide
Princess Connect! Re:Dive
How would you rate episode 1 of
Princess Connect! Re:Dive ?
What is this?
Yuuki has been summoned to a beautiful land where a lovely young elf woman by the name of Kokkoro has been told to wait for him. She says that he has been sent by Lady Ameth and that it is her job to guide him and protect him and…wait, why does Yuuki not seem to remember anything besides his name? Who just tries to eat money? And who is this Pecorine girl who shows up and eats all of their food? At least Yuuki's powers seem to be as advertised and he's able to boost Pecorine and Kokkoro's skills so that they can defeat the flesh-eating mushroom monsters that attack them, but other than that, nothing about this adventure seems to be going as planned.
How was the first episode?
You can't blame me for being anxious about having to watch an anime that is both a mobile game adaptation and an isekai story about a guy named Yuuki who is summoned to a bog-standard fantasy world by a beautiful goddess in order to, I don't know, save the world by amassing the world's largest harem of princesses. Color me surprised, then, that Princess Connect would turn out a surprisingly fun and earnest first episode. It's amazing what can happen when creative teams are allowed to treat their brazen video-game commercial with a little bit of class and playful artistry. I knew Princess Connect wasn't going to languish in the doldrums of isekai mediocrity when Yuuki, freshly awakened by Kokkoro, tries to take out a couple of doofy looking low-level wolves, only to immediately get his ass kicked before being dragged away like a side of beef. Later, having survived the ordeal, Kokkoro goes to buy a couple of delicious crepes, and Yuuki, goddess bless his idiot heart, just tries to eat Kokkoro's money. The guy's total cluelessness is explained away by the amnesia brought about by Lady Ameth summoning him, but I just enjoyed the riff on cliché RPG tutorials. After all, what else should anyone expect from a hero who has to be hand-held through every basic interaction he has with the world.
Pecorine, the other loveable dummy to join the group, is another cliché that is so charmingly animated and directed that it's easy to find the joy in scenes of her obviously chasing after the thieves who stole her sword, or gleefully laying waste to the army of evil mushrooms that attack everyone once she joins up with Kokkoro and Yuuki. The biggest laugh of the whole premiere comes from when she casually snacks on the evil little mushroom monster that got the party into the whole mess.
I don't think I'll ever watch another episode of Princess Connect if I don't have to, since I honestly don't see myself getting very invested in this show's setting, story, or characters. It's a positively delightful work when you look at it as an animation enthusiast, though, and for folks who dig the tropes and premise more than I do, this series seems bound to please. It's a best case scenario for a type of anime that I almost always struggle to enjoy, so even though it isn't my cup of tea, I recommend anyone itching for more comedy and action this season give Princess Connect a shot.
In terms of massively exceeding expectations, this one beats out even Wave, Listen to Me! as the biggest surprise of the new season for me. It was not even close to being on my radar as something that might be watchable, much less good – I was fully expecting just another limp mobile game adaptation – but now I am going to have to reconsider. Its first episode just works that much better than it probably has any right to.
The main reason for that is because, if you don't know exactly what you're getting into, it will catch you off guard with how stupefyingly funny it is. At the outset it plays everything completely straight: a female knight-type is taking a break from a journey and an elf girl is meeting up with the hero she's been assigned to by an Oracle. Then a couple of crazy-eyed wolves start trying to drag Yuki off, and the comedy dam bursts. From that point on the episode gets into somewhat of a pattern of playing things straight for a while and then suddenly slamming in a joke from a blind spot. The writing doesn't rely on cheap jokes like chibified asides or lame silliness either, but goes for the gusto on the humor. The wolves trying to drag the hero off in his sleep becomes a running joke, he sucks at attacking anything until his pump-up-the-party power finally manifests (and thus regularly gets curb-stomped in comical fashion), and the ditzy female knight shockingly turns out to be a melee powerhouse even with her sword stolen – and then unwittingly <i>eats one of the bad guys</i> who was preparing to attack the party. I probably burst out laughing at least as many times during this episode as during any single episode of any anime I've seen in the last year or two.
But that's not the only thing going for it. The characters are fun, too. Turning Yuki into a cheery space case who communicates more with gestures than words is practically a joke unto itself but also contributes to a lighter tone. Kokkoro is a delight as the cute little elf who's trying to be all responsible, and “Pecorine”. . . well, you can be sure she won't be dull. There are occasional semi-serious aspects here as well, but neither they nor the humor interfere with each other. This is a well-managed series, but I suppose nothing less should be expected from the director of Is This a Zombie? and KONOSUBA. Studio Cygames Pictures proved that they could produce some pretty animation with last year's Mysteria Friends, and while this isn't quite on that same technical level, it does pretty good on the technical front. So yeah, give this one a try, even if you normally would give this type of series a pass. It may surprise you.
I didn't expect much coming into Princess Connect, given it's yet another property originally based on a mobage. Though there are exceptions, these productions generally tend to act as transparent advertisements for a variety of games which all seem to possess roughly the same concept. And indeed, Princess Connect's narrative is all pretty familiar stuff, with an amnesiac protagonist who might as well have “player character” stamped on his forehead, and a narrative that seeks to answer the same “what if you lived in Dragon Quest” question raised by the vast majority of mobage and isekai.
So why does this property earn a reasonable rating, while the structurally similar Shachibato is fiercely panned? Well, it turns out execution is pretty important. Though the larger beats of this narrative are familiar, this episode fills in the moments between those beats with lots of fun gags, visually alluring vistas, and charming exchanges between the main characters. Princess Connect is regularly able to summon the appeal of both spoof comedies and slice of life stories, which makes sense - this show is both composed and directed by Takaomi Kanasaki, and he's able to bring much of the energy that made KONOSUBA a hit to Princess Connect as well.
Kanasaki's influence is also clear in this episode's visual design. Princess Connect shares a great deal of KONOSUBA's exaggerated, energetic character acting, as well its gift for goofy expression work. Gags like the protagonist consistently getting dragged away by wolves are funny enough in the abstract, but greatly enhanced by the show's excellent understanding of pacing, visual comedy, and comic repetition. Meanwhile, the more slice-of-life oriented sequences are often genuinely beautiful, with Princess Connect's distinctive cityscapes fusing naturally with the show's aggressive lighting.
On the whole, I wouldn't expect Princess Connect to stand as a genuine “spiritual successor” to KONOSUBA, but this episode captured much of that show's appeal, while offering a more laid-back and atmospheric experience on the whole. The biggest distinction between the two is that KONOSUBA is about horrible people, whereas Princess Connect's cast are all pretty nice; but personally, I actually enjoyed the more warm-hearted tone that difference created. If the show's humor and visual appeal hold strong, this could turn out to be an unexpected highlight of the season.
I'm not entirely sure what's going on in Princess Connect! Re:Dive, or even how it functions as a sequel to the original Princess Connect game, but I certainly did get a few chuckles out of its first episode. It also says something that it's able to take some very basic, dull fantasy harem tropes and get something fun out of them, with the most specific in this case being the personality of Yuuki, our hero. Yuuki, apparently recently plopped down in the story's world, possibly from the first game (which is me guessing based on a tiny flashback towards the end of the episode), has had his memory almost entirely wiped, along with his skills – all he seems able to recall is his name and the basics of movement. When Kokkoro hands him a coin to pay for food, he assumes the money's his snack and on more than two occasions he gets dragged off by derpy wolves, a gag I really didn't get tired of. Kokkoro, meanwhile, is trying her best not to let all of this freak her out, looking at each instance as an aberration (despite how often they happen) and just generally making the best of the situation she finds herself in.
Naturally that situation keeps evolving, and before the end of the episode Kokkoro and Yuuki have crossed paths with Pecorine (not her real name), a probably princess who isn't going to be outthinking any bricks any time soon. Pecorine's humor relies on her density and isn't quite as effective as Yuuki and those wolves, but the incredible good cheer she has even when she's being robbed or ingesting a sentient mushroom makes her much less offensive than she might otherwise be. That's perhaps the best way to describe this episode: handled with a heavier touch or less awareness of its own silliness, this could have been incredibly annoying. As it is, it's only mildly irritating at times and generally is able to make the most of its own inanity.
Hopefully that humor is part of the scenes over which the ending credits roll, because otherwise we're looking at a truly staggering cast of entirely cute/sexy female characters. It actually does feel like this is the kind of show to keep showing us more and more girls in ending themes and then never actually bring them into the story, so that could end up working. If they are all coming in, however, it might prove to be too much even for a series as lighthearted as this is setting up to be. In the meantime, the art is attractive, the story knows its own genre and plays with that, and there are those wolves. This could turn out to be a lot of fun.
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