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The Winter 2023 Anime Preview Guide
NieR:Automata Ver 1.1a

How would you rate episode 1 of
NieR:Automata Ver 1.1a ?
Community score: 4.0

What is this?

In the distant future, 5012. The sudden aerial invasion of Earth by Aliens and their creations, Machine Lifeforms, led mankind to the brink of extinction. The surviving number of humans took refuge on the moon to organize a counterattack using android soldiers to recapture Earth. However, the war reaches a stalemate as the Machine Lifeforms multiply infinitely. In turn, humanity deploys a new unit of android soldiers as an ultimate weapon: YoRHa. Newly dispatched to Earth 2B joins 9S, the analyst currently stationed there, where they encounter a myriad of mysterious phenomena amid their mission.

NieR:Automata Ver 1.1a is based on the popular NieR:Automata video game by Platinum Games and freelance developer Yokō Tarō and published by Square Enix. The anime series streams on Crunchyroll on Saturdays.

How was the first episode?

Richard Eisenbeis

This first episode of NieR:Automata Ver 1.1a is the most faithful game-to-anime adaptation I have ever seen. So many scenes of this episode are taken frame for frame from the game itself. The main exception to this are the fight scenes, some of which are controlled by the player in the game version. However, even 2B's various attack combos that we see animated are taken right out of the game.

As a person who has played through the game more than a few times and has done all there is to do in it, I was looking forward to seeing how Ver 1.1a would handle the game's unique narrative structure. You see, we actually see the events of this episode twice in the game, once from 2B's perspective and once from 9S'. This episode is a merging of both of these (and I expect that the rest of the first half of the story will be told in a similar way). This does, in a way, spoil some of the revelations that 9S' route provides about the nature of the robots and their ongoing evolution—but I look forward to seeing how and if they incorporate his hacking of future bosses as 2B fights them in the real world.

My favorite thing about this episode, however, is the metric ton of foreshadowing on display. As a person who knows all the twists and turns of the story to come, this episode is full of easter eggs. I particularly love the visual storytelling here—how 2Bs gestures appear to mean one thing in the absence of context but have different and/or additional meanings once you know the ins and outs of the entire story. It's fantastic.

And while the thing I care most about is how Ver 1.1a will attempt to adapt the true ending—given that it's interactive in nature and therefore seems like it can only properly be told in game format—it's good to know I'll be plenty entertained the whole way there.

Rebecca Silverman

Would I have rated this higher if I was familiar with the games upon which it is based? If I have to ask myself that question, that's usually a good sign an adaptation might be missing something. It's not a foolproof test, but this episode barely conveyed enough about the story's world to make me feel invested in it or its characters. I will grant that the seeing just before 2B and 9S tap black boxes and blow themselves up is pretty effective, but I can't help thinking it would have been more effective had I cared about the characters.

This certainly isn't hurting for style, however. Even as I wondered who on earth decided 2B should have a slit-skirted mini-dress with a boob window and spike heels while 9S got shorts and comfy flat-soled boots, it was hard not to admire the way 2B moved. And even though we saw up her skirt a few times when she was doing spinning kicks, it didn't feel unnecessarily fanservicey; cleavage shots felt more exploitative, mainly because she was standing still at those moments as opposed to actively fighting off enemies who wanted to kill her. The juxtaposition between her personality at the start of the episode and the very end when she reunites with 9S only to learn that he has no memories of their time together is also nicely done; in the slight twitch of her hand towards his as he walks past her, it is possible to read a world of yearning.

Had the entire episode carried the nuance of that one scene, it would have worked better. That also means that now that we have a grasp of the characters, subsequent episodes may be much more emotionally engaging as we watch 2B attempt to reconnect with 9S when both of them lose their memories seems pretty high. Learning more about the scenario that has led to automatons instructed not to have emotions while they fight for the humans who created them is an intriguing idea, if only because it opens the door to themes we most commonly see in Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein. I am not sure, however, that I wouldn't be better served playing the games, which is ultimately the problem with this episode.

Nicholas Dupree

I feel like I should know more about NieR:Automata than I do. I have friends who have been in love with the game for years, but the only concrete things I could tell you are that it involves robots, has a banging soundtrack, and people are really preoccupied with 2B's ass. And much like when I finally saw that fabled butt, watching this anime adaptation(?) has left me wondering what the big deal is.

Maybe that's unfair – after all, this episode is essentially one long cold open establishing the basics of our world and characters. In that regard, it does its job perfectly fine, and by the end, I knew the basic, tragic dynamic of our main characters and the vague status quo of this dystopian world. I didn't have much reason to care since nearly the entire episode was a series of escalating action sequences that left little room to build a rapport between those characters or even give us a good idea of who they are. I know 9S is talkative for an android and willing to sacrifice himself for others and the mission. I know 2B is attached to 9S, presumably because she's teamed up with him on missions he doesn't remember. That may be enough for fans who have the whole game in mind watching these early beats, but as a neophyte, I just couldn't get attached to either of these sexy goth robots.

The animation is, on the whole, a mess. Each element is absurdly polished – 2B and 9S look as striking in 2D animation as they did in their original incarnation. All of their fight scenes are frenetic and dynamic in scope. The problem is that they clash terribly with CG environments, robot enemies, and even their own mech suits. The characters never quite look like they're in the same dimension as the rest of the world, and it's jarring to watch whenever 2B are on screen with the big, flatly lit robotic enemies they're fighting. The CG on its own is OK, and the character art is great, but they're never in concert, which is bad news when 80% of this premiere is fights.

There's a good chance this isn't for me. Translating game stories into linear television is a thankless task most of the time. What I've garnered about Automata is that its nature as interactive media is critical to its overall themes. So it's possible this was just made as some eye candy for existing fans to relive their favorite moments and see these characters again. If that's you, and it works for you, more power to you. But I'm not interested in seeing any more of this show.

James Beckett

NieR:Automata is, on almost any given day, the title I'd pick for my favorite video game of all time. I love it dearly, and I could go on for many, many hours about everything that makes it (and the rest of the Drakengard/Nier franchise) so special. NieR:Automata Ver 1.1a is, so far, a nearly 1:1 adaptation of the very beginning of the game's story, with a couple of extra bits that people who've played the game will recognize from other parts of the campaign. The crew at A-1 Pictures have put a lot of time and work into making this show look positively stellar, too, with the only visual blemish that I can think of being the awkward integration of heroine 2B's CGI model into some of the shots of her fighting in the Flight Unit. Keiichi Okabe's score is also intact, which is good since it's one of the all-time greats, and we've got the prominent members of the voice-over cast from the games back, too, meaning that the core elements of the story and world have all been preserved and represented more-or-less flawlessly.

Why, then, do I still have reservations? Don't get me wrong, the premiere of Ver1.1a is quite good indeed, and it will likely dazzle any newcomers to the franchise, not to mention the many fans that need more Nier in their lives. The thing is, so much of what makes games produced by Yokō Tarō so good is how they blend their gameplay, world-building, narratives, and meta-textual elements together to tell stories that cannot be fully replicated in other mediums. I won't spoil anything from any of the DrakeNier games, but the Nier games specifically have some of the most potent climaxes I've ever experienced in any story. They're inextricably linked to how the player interacts with the software, which is a feat that even the prettiest anime cannot replicate.

The character interactions between 2B and 9S offer another example of an area that cannot be easily transmuted into animated form. A lot of the charm and pathos of their relationship comes from the constant back-and-forth that they share across dozens of hours. Most of that occurs while the player interacts with the game in other ways (fighting, fishing, dying in the most comical ways imaginable, etc.). In a show like this, which will only have a few hours to do its thing, we have to stop the action so our leads can react to one another, or we have to take focus away from the action to prioritize the mid-combat banter for the viewer. It's a slight shift in priorities that likely won't matter too much so long as A-1 can keep up with this top-notch scale of production. Still, it's another thing that has me wondering if it is genuinely possible to tell this story in a different medium without losing what makes it great in the first place.

Then again, I've read repeatedly that the crew behind Ver1.1a has not been afraid to make some significant changes to the story to fit the medium of serialized animation—hence the “1.1a” in the title—so I am looking forward to watching more of the show to see how (and if) they can make NieR:Automata into their own unique version of one of my all-time favorite works of fiction. If nothing else, this series will hopefully convince even more people to play the Nier games, which I will definitely count as a win.

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