The Spring 2021 Preview Guide
by The Anime News Network Editorial Team,
How would you rate episode 1 of
Full Dive ?
What is this?
Dull high school student Hiro Yūki is tricked into joining a fully immersive VR role-playing game. The game, Kiwame Quest is promoted as "more real than reality" with mind-blowing graphics, impressive NPC behavior, and even the scent of foliage and the sensation of wind blowing against your skin. Unfortunately, the game is already a virtual ghost town after being flooded with player complaints that the game is little too realistic for its own good. Its quests are nearly impossible to clear, since players have to be as physically fit to complete them as they would in real life. Players feel actual pain when they get hit, and puncture wounds takes days to heal. The only reward is the mere sense of accomplishment. It is the complete opposite of a casual pick-up-and-play game, but Hiro vows to beat this most realistic and most stressful game ever.
How was the first episode?
It's funny how “realism” is such a selling point for games. Realistic graphics and in-game physics are constantly touted in games marketing but when it comes down to it, no one really wants their games to be realistic in all aspects. Just imagine an entirely realistic RPG where a stray arrow or well-placed magic spell leaves you starting the game from scratch and it's not hard to see how frustrating realism could truly be in games.
That's basically what Full Dive is all about. It's a thought experiment about what the player experience would be like in a game that is truly "realistic" in the most extreme sense. In full-dive VR game Kiwame Questz, you can feel the wind in your hair, taste the food with your tongue, and smell the clean air. However, you can also feel the pain of a punch to the face and are no stronger in the game world than you would be in real life—which makes violence of any sort lose much of its luster.
But more than this, the world of Kiwame Questz is filled with AI NPCs that are indistinguishable from real people—and they most certainly don't think that their lives are part of a game. Break character and act like you would in the real world, they'll think you're crazy. Wrong them or otherwise treat them like they're not human and they will hold grudges and seek revenge. (Honestly, seeing this in action in the anime makes me wonder if this will be a horror-comedy going forward.)
When it comes down to it, this episode has a clear message: What people really want from games is for things to be realistic—except in regards to their own limitations. They want to be unstoppable heroes freed from the annoyances of their own body and able to explore worlds unlike our own safely. Should the fantasy and reality become too intertwined, it becomes annoying at best and utterly terrifying at worst. And unfortunately for our main character, this is the hell he has entered. Now to see if he can get out.
It was bound to happen someday, and it looks like that day is today: The trapped-in-an-RPG anime with the obnoxiously long light novel title actually ended up being pretty good! It turns out that all I've needed to get more into the subgenre is a gory, jet-black-comedy satire that isn't afraid to beat the ever-loving shit out of its milquetoast protagonist to get a few laughs. Full Dive – and no, I'm not typing out that entire title every time, sweet Jesus – isn't going to win any awards for being exceptionally ambitious or stylish. There is nothing novel about the premise of a main character getting into a fully immersive MMORPG that turns out to be More Than He Ever Imagined™, and the show maybe spends a bit too much time playing up Hiro's underwhelming everyday existence. He's not charming or interesting enough to make the expository scenes compelling on their own, and it's difficult to pin down what exactly Full Dive is trying to do with its tone and story. Outside of appreciating the expressive animation and voice-acting of Renoa the game store clerk, Full Dive didn't have my full attention until Hiro entered the world of the decade-old immersive VR game, Kiwame.
I was aware of what the twist was going to be even before the opening narration spelled it out, that Kiwame was the almost mythically off-putting immersive RPG that forces its players to explore a world still bound by realistic rules and the limitations of their real-world bodies. The joy of what happens to Hiro in the oddly-named starting village of Ted isn't in discovering this turn of events, but in the show's willingness to escalate its skewering of RPG tropes to hilariously grim heights. Hiro is shocked to discover how realistic and immersive the 10-year-old game is at first, and even more shocked to discover that the two childhood-friend NPCs react so violently to his simple attempt to leave the village and start the main quest. He doesn't just end up pissing them off – he accidentally skewers his buddy through the skull with a knife, which seems to permanently drive the guy's sister into a bloodthirsty rage. One can only hope that thread is followed up on soon enough.
I hesitate to rate Full Dive any higher because, given that I enjoyed it in spite of its lack of interesting characters or narrative drive, I'm not sure how long the show will be able to keep its shtick going before things start to wear thin. I'm assuming that a bevy of sexy anime ladies will soon enter Hiro's life, and maybe something about a Demon Lord or an ancient prophecy. I'm all on board if Full Dive can keep finding creative new ways to torture its hero with the burden of everyday (fantasy) living, but I won't hold out any hope of the series becoming a secret masterpiece or anything. Still, fun is fun, even when it's kind of dumb, so I think I can spare another episode or two to see if Full Dive is worth sticking around for.
Y'know, I really wasn't expecting much from Full Dive; I mean, the overlong full title spoils the whole premise for you right away, after all. And in case you skipped the headline, this first episode makes certain to catch you up by a lengthy and frankly unnecessary explanation that yes, this will center around a full-dive RPG that is indeed shittier than real life. In fact, knowing that punchline makes the next 15-odd minutes kind of a chore to sit through, as we see our caustic weenie of a protagonist go through the motions that will eventually lead to him logging into the titular game.
Typically, Yuki would not at all be the kind of protagonist I enjoy following. While there are hints at something potentially compelling in his past, his brand of misanthropic gamer is one I have little patience for. But that actually works to the show's advantage, as he strikes just the right balance of pathetic and irritating that it's actually kind of funny to watch him trip over his own dick and wind up playing a game he hates. By the time he's accidentally killing his player character's best friend and angrily yelling about the NPCs being too human, the switch to absurd black comedy has firmly flipped and I found myself laughing despite myself quite a few times.
That said, I'm probably not sticking around for this. The original creator's previous work, Cautious Hero, had a similarly silly kind of introduction, but the single central joke of that show wore itself thin very quickly, and no amount of wacky faces could make it worth keeping up with. There's not yet been enough time for Full Dive to wear out its welcome, but there are already signs that this will be equally one-note in its humor. The player character's requisite childhood friend turning homicidal after Yuki kills her brother is funny for a bit, but judging by the ED animation, that's going to be her only joke for the foreseeable future. Likewise, there's only so much humor to be mined from “yes, this game is simultaneously so ambitious and such a bad idea it had to have been made by Yu Suzuki” before that premise runs thin.
Also that ED is some real shameless stuff, huh? Three separate animated shots of the various girls' butts swaying right at the camera, including one character wearing a pair of cutoff shorts so cut off you can see her thong through them. Plus, Yuki's sister(?) fawning over him to remind you of the awkward and unnecessary scene where he walked in on her naked. Combined with every shot of Reona emphasizing her Xbox Series X-sized bazooms and you've got a level of fanservice so literally in your face and out of place that it's kind of funny.
Still, whatever problems Full Dive may have as an ongoing show, that's Future Nick's problem to deal with. For now, this premiere was able to make me laugh a few times and generally went along at a solid pace. Considering how interminable bad anime comedies can be, I'll consider that a win.
I'm genuinely unsure of how seriously I'm supposed to take Full Dive. There's an inherent absurdity to the concept of a VRMMO that was so advanced and immersive that it turned out to be a miserable slog to play. It feels like it should be a satire, taking well-deserved aim at a genre that's been oversaturated for over a decade. And there are satirical elements at play here, but overall, the episode seems to be playing the concept deathly straight.
Perhaps the problem lies in the lack of jokes that invite us to see the humor of the situation. The first ten minutes is devoted to setting up the main character, Hero Protagonist Hiro Yuuki, and his situation. He's at the end of his second year of high school and can't even decide whether he plans to go to college or go straight into the working world. He apparently suffered a humiliating defeat at a track meet in his first year, and has lacked a sense of purpose since. His friends and teachers are worried about him, since all he does is play games, and even then it's mostly out of a sense of inertia.
It's fully halfway through the episode before Hiro logs into the game, mostly because the girl at the game store with super-sized milkies told him she'd play with him. I know I complained about the too-fast pacing in The Saint's Magic Power is Omnipotent yesterday, but this is on the opposite end of the spectrum. We get it, Hiro is depressed and listless, let's move on.
There's some humor to be found in the latter half once Hiro logs in, as he's completely unprepared for just how “realistic” the game is, but even then it's mostly played straight as he ends up stabbing his best friend through the back of the mouth. Maybe this is meant to be a horror series? Or a thriller? But then, the direction doesn't really mesh with that either. It's just kind of grim, at times ludicrously so, but not in a way that's emotionally effective.
Despite the complete lack of any real atmosphere, the episode's technical merits are pretty strong. The animation is fluid and glossy, and the characters have a great range of facial expressions, especially Hiro. Daiki Yamashita's performance as the hero also merits calling out – some of the noises Hiro makes as he's punched in the face or fleeing in horror are organically crunchy and really sell the moment.
It's a shame Full Dive lacks a strong sense of identity, because it does have a fairly unique take on the concept, rather than a pallet-swap or some silly gimmick. However, the experience of watching the episode was much like Hiro's life: joyless.
There is, I think, a fine line between humor and cruelty. Or at least between humor that I find funny and humor that I find mean. Full Dive is kind of straddling that line, with our poor put upon protagonist Hiro looking for a little escapism via VRMMORPG and ending up following the wrong pair of boobs into a decade-old game that takes itself too seriously.
It's actually a pretty good premise. In the show's world, when VRMMOs became viable, initial developers were so excited by the idea that they went overboard in terms of realism. NPCs didn't know they were NPCs, getting hurt in-game is painful, and overall the game functioned like the real world, but with fantasy or science fiction elements. Since this was in no way actually fun or relaxing for players, things changed. Unfortunately for Hiro, those old games still work on VR hardware, and when a busty lady basically seduces him into buying one, he discovers that not only is he really, really bad at following the hints given to him in the game, but he's also managed to murder his in- game best friend. Oops.
Where the episode really lost me was when Hiro killed Martin, in part because it felt very mean to all characters involved, but also because that's when I would have logged the hell out as a player, which we know is possible since Hiro checked just moments before; instead, Hiro runs away screaming, which felt unrealistic. Yes, I know, it's anime, but still, why make it a point to show that he can log out of the game if he's not going to? Possibly to make a point about how realistic it is, but it still felt off. I'm also leery of the harem angle, not because I dislike harems, but because it seems clear that little sister is going to be a part of it, if the ending theme and Hiro walking in on her changing clothes are any indication.
On the other hand, there are clear signs that this is meant to be an SAO parody, and on that front, it's doing a good job. Reona showing up in Sexy Yui cosplay is pretty great, and the world feels like its functioning like the Alicization arc. That Hiro's data is all recorded on his necklace, which frankly looks like a label, probably means that even if he logs out he can't reset the game, which could also be a nod to the life-or-death circumstances of the original SAO and that franchise's VR system. Little sister Kaoru could be part of that as well, representing Kirito's little sister. Seeing if it develops into a full-on parody may be worth giving this another episode or two, and the same goes for if you're looking for a harem fantasy rom-com for the season. Or rather, another one, and I would take this over Combatants Will be Dispatched, if only because Hiro's not a turd – he's just in way over his head. That'll teach him to judge a lady by her chest!
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