Girls Beyond the Wasteland
Episodes 1-2

by Gabriella Ekens,

How would you rate episode 1 of
Girls Beyond the Wasteland ?

How would you rate episode 2 of
Girls Beyond the Wasteland ?

Stop me if you've heard this one before. Hardworking teenager Buntarou Houjou enjoys a normal high school life alongside his best friends. One day, however, he notices someone following him. It's Sayuki Kuroda, his beautiful yet standoffish classmate. She asks him out, and Buntarou assumes that it's for a date. When the day arrives, they proceed to normal date activities. But at the end, Sayuki reveals that it was all a test – Buntarou's competent social skills have won him the role of lead writer in her bishoujo game! You see, Sayuki dislikes the prospect of getting a day job in the future. She doesn't want to relegate her nerdy proclivities to a side thing, instead striving to go "beyond the wasteland" of menial drudgery. So she'll make a hit bishoujo game, thus launching an exciting career in the otaku industry. Buntarou is just the first recruit in what Sayuki intends to be a superstar team of game-making high-schoolers. Ultimately, the baffled Buntarou agrees, and so he is ushered into a world of nerdery beyond his wildest dreams.

Girls Beyond the Wasteland is based on an upcoming bishoujo game (a dating sim where the male protagonist pursues attractive women). There don't appear to be any current plans to translate it into English. As such, this anime may be our only exposure to this story. In anime form, it immediately provokes comparison to last year's Saekano: How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend, another metatextual harem romcom about high-schoolers making a bishoujo game. They both have the same general appeal – they're escapist fantasy about a crew of cool otaku friends working towards a cool otaku ambition, while the male lead also maybe falls in love with a cute girl. The main difference is that while Saekano immediately declares itself a self-aware farce with no fourth wall when it comes to mocking (and indulging in) bishoujo tropes, Girls Beyond the Wasteland mostly seems to be playing it straight. Sure, there's some self-awareness when Buntarou acknowledges the more melodramatic possibilities that could result from his “date” with Sayuki, but otherwise this looks like a straightforward story about kids trying to make it in game development. Personally, I was more into Saekano's over-the-top comedy, but the general appeal of both remains the same.

As of the second episode, secondary club members include Yuka Kobayashi, Kai Atomu, Yuki Uguisu, and Teruha Ando. Yuka is Buntarou's energetic childhood friend, the school's star actress, and the team's seiyuu. Kai is Buntarou's other childhood friend. Despite his gentle demeanor, he secretly hates women due to having once been dumped. Sayuki treats this like an asset, claiming that it will (somehow) help them with game design. Ando is a brash, punky girl who secretly works at a maid café, while Yuki is a shy freshman and superstar “Pixi” (Pixiv) artist. Besides recruiting the rest of the gang, this second episode also serves as our necessary trip to the otaku mecca of Akihabara.

Apart from Sayuki, the characters are fairly realistic as teenagers. Buntarou is likable enough for a milquetoast anime lead. It's good that he has friends and something resembling a spine. Kai's woman-hating tic is also more bizarre than misogynistic. It doesn't seem to interfere with his friendships with several women. This main threesome act like real friends, chatting at night over beers colas. Teruha, a brash young woman, is my favorite so far. Sayuki only ever speaks in faux-deep platitudes, but I find them more amusing than annoying. (“Moe is a part of our culture. It's an idea that has surpassed 2D and entered a new dimension, "was the best so far.) Her backstory also turns out to be more complicated than it seems at first – her brother is a game designer, which bears some tragic significance for her. That's why she's so well versed in the history and terminology of bishoujo game development, and I'm sure the full story will come to light later on. Of course, since Buntarou is the main character, she instantly hands over most of the project's actual reins to him, retreating to the more creatively distant role of “producer.” The fantasy surrounding her seems to be that a beautiful, desirable woman is extremely into the same niche media as the viewer. I'm not the person to judge whether or not this is effective or transparent, but so far I find her neither irritating nor enchanting. We'll see how she develops over time.

I get the idea behind this show's aesthetic. The colors are bright and full of stark highlights, resulting in a look both reminiscent of vector illustrations and the type of design work often employed by software companies. For this premise, it's a good artistic choice. The problem is that it's coupled with some of the most uninspired character designs I've seen in an anime. They're a bit old school, with harsher edges than I'm used to seeing in modern shows, closer to the rough and unpolished character art I'd see in old bishoujo games. Everyone looks more like a background extra than a main character. Main girl Sayuki Kuroda is somewhat more memorable, if only because of her uncanny resemblance to My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU's Yukino Yukinoshita. Another character, the secret café maid Teruha Ando, looks like Black Butler's Grell as a Rosario + Vampire character. But all the rest could be ripped straight from a How to Draw Manga Book. The poor animation doesn't help. While they try for motion often, it's frequently jerky and off-model. Girls Beyond the Wasteland's visuals are unimpressive so far.

This series is an escapist fantasy about living out your visual-novel designer dreams with a crew of equally nerdy friends, and it's alright for what it's trying to be. Beyond the visuals, the biggest problem so far is the pacing – the first episode could've easily been compressed into five minutes. It lingers for far too long on the dull specifics of Buntarou hanging out with his friends and Sayuki. The second episode improves on this by drawing the rest of our main cast into the club inside of 20 minutes. This isn't the type of show that I normally enjoy, but if it keeps moving along steadily, this could result in pleasant but unassuming entertainment. It's gotten off to a slow start, but that doesn't mean Girls Beyond the Wasteland will be a waste of time.

Grade: C+

Girls Beyond the Wasteland is currently streaming on The Anime Network and Hulu.

Gabriella Ekens studies film and literature at a US university. Follow her on twitter.

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