Girls Beyond the Wasteland
by Gabriella Ekens,
How would you rate episode 10 of
Girls Beyond the Wasteland ?
Until I reached the very end of this episode, I thought that I was going to have to pan it hard. At first, it seemed to contain the most ludicrous attempt at stakes-raising I had ever seen in anime. Under pretty much no obligation, our heroes agree to participate in an absurd sales challenge with another studio. If they win, they gain nothing, and if they lose, they basically become work slaves to that studio. It was so bad that I'm genuinely shocked the end of this episode managed to turn that around into something that sort of makes sense. I underestimated Girls Beyond the Wasteland's ability to invest me in its characters. While I can't in good conscience call this a good show, a spark of talent continues to glimmer underneath the surface. This ties into the show's content in an interesting way – this episode is about an established VN writer becoming intrigued by hints of Bunty's potential within an otherwise boilerplate product.
As the episode opens, the team has finished and released a demo to some success. While they revel in comments, some news comes in – another demo, made by a company called Typhoon, has been released on the same day! They play it and are shocked. It's fantastic – unique, challenging, and arty. Everyone is intimidated, but Sayuki remains nonplussed. She explains that, because of how different this game is from their own, it won't compete with their sales. It's also difficult to compare the quality of their game and this other one because they're so different in intent. The team calms down and continues to work on the game. However, they also receive an email from the writer of this competing demo. It turns out that he's a fan of their game and wants to meet up with Buntarou! He does so, meeting Mitsutero Ohgi, a friendly older guy. They hit it off, so Mitsutero proposes a bigger meeting between Bunty's team and his. They agree. A few days later, the entire team meets up with Mitsutero and the CEO of his company, Taeko Ooiso. While friendly at first, this gathering quickly turns sour when it becomes apparent that Taeko is only interested in getting these junior developers to work for her. Mitsutero, meanwhile, only wants to hit on the team's girls. It rapidly gets nasty, and the two teams get into a confrontation.
What the show doesn't seem to acknowledge is that Taeko is terrible at scouting. Her strategy to recruit these kids is to gather them all together under false pretenses and basically bully them into becoming her employees. She provides them no incentives for working for her and is not even slightly nice. I'm sorry lady, but you don't tempt people by talking about how you're going to “work them to the bone.” If I were put in the same situation, I'd just conclude that this woman has issues and likely holds little real power in the industry. If she unleashes this on people she's just met, I can't imagine how she treats people she sees on the regular. Our heroes, however, just sit there and take it. When Bunty (understandably, considering Taeko's histrionics are becoming rather frightening) throws water at her, she threatens to “tell their school” as blackmail. This, for some reason, cows the team, who agree to her dumb sales competition. This sets the stakes for the conclusion.
So basically, upon approaching the end of the show, the writers realized that their story had no conflict and chose to invent one out of thin air. It wasn't even really necessary – I was fine with Girls Beyond the Wasteland as a lackadaisical depiction of a group of friends making a game. Sure, it's been a rocky road, but this series has been at its best when the conflicts were low-stakes and interpersonal.
But then the twist happens. After some competition-fueled hard work, Sayuki's mysterious brother, Isao Kuroda, finally shows up to pay the team a visit. Sayuki's on a trip for this, so she didn't know that he'd be popping in. When he arrives, he thanks them all for helping to “pay his debts.” The team reacts with stunned silence. So Sayuki's bro isn't a big name visual novel developer at all. She's been lying to everyone so that they'll produce a game to get him out of debt. This explains a lot about Sayuki's personality – producing a game that will sell really is a life-or-death issue for her. This revelation, tragically, also comes at the peak of her happiness. Making a game with friends has helped her open up emotionally, something that she hadn't anticipated. Now she's a happier person, even bringing back souvenirs from her trip. What she returns to may shatter her emotional growth.
This all hit me surprisingly hard. I guess I've built up some investment in this motley crew of boring teens. I think it's because they feel like a real group of teenaged friends working on something that they love. Sayuki had mostly seemed inhuman to me, but I now understand her as a repressed, determined avenger. It also kind of makes sense why she would agree to Taeko's ridiculous challenge – her brother's influence was a bluff and Taeko could actually hurt her.
It's interesting to me that the rival visual novel company is called Typhoon. Are they supposed to be a stand-in for Type-Moon, the publishers of Fate/stay night and Tshukihime? Typhoon is an established company that makes critically acclaimed artsy visual novels, like Type-Moon. So is Ohgi supposed to be Kinoko Nasu? That also might explain why Taeko's threats to badmouth our heroes throughout the industry hold some sway. But if this were a Type-Moon equivalent, it's shocking that our heroes haven't heard of them. Oh well. This episode had a somewhat redemptive ending, but that doesn't erase the largely nonsensical middle section.
Gabriella Ekens studies film and literature at a US university. Follow her on twitter.
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