by Paul Jensen,
How would you rate episode 10 of
New Game! ?
Even if you work on A-list video games for a living, you still have to get up every day and go to work. As the long hours of her job start to become a routine, Aoba finds herself running low on enthusiasm during her morning commute. She runs into Yagami at the station, and the two of them decide to buy donuts for the character design team. It turns out that just about everyone in the office had the same idea, as person after person shows up with a box of pastries from the same half-off sale. The surplus of sugar is eventually dealt with, but more serious problems are on the horizon for Aoba. When Nene criticizes the company's unrelenting schedule, the two childhood friends spend the rest of the day fighting with one another.
As the donut storyline plays out, New Game settles into an often-elusive sweet spot for slice of life shows. A mix of ordinary but pleasant interactions and good-natured character humor allows the sequence to float along effortlessly, as it captures the warm, fuzzy feeling that this genre relies on. It's something that the series has had some trouble with in the past, with similar scenes falling just short of the mark and landing in underwhelming or downright boring territory. There's no single key element that allows this particular storyline to succeed; it's more a matter of many small things working together. Hifumi's mental image of Aoba's dark side is certainly amusing, and the slow-burn humor of each character arriving with the same box of donuts plays out nicely, but the mild-mannered comedy only works because it's backed up by dialogue that sounds and feels natural. The audience is made to feel like we're wandering around the office with the characters, and that's a more difficult feat to pull off than it might seem.
In playing around with the idea of Aoba getting worn out by her job, this episode captures a second element that has sometimes eluded the series: insight into the creative process. None of the Eagle Jump girls have faced any big creative struggles since Aoba's first attempt at designing a game character, so this storyline is a welcome addition. By challenging Aoba's ability to stay motivated, the series gives us a reason to worry about whether or not she'll succeed, and we become more emotionally invested in her journey as a result. It's also an interesting comment on the problems that come from working in a creative field. As Aoba points out, even a fun and exciting job can still suck from time to time. It's not the deepest observation in anime history, but it's the kind of thoughtful moment that New Game needs in order to make the best use of its premise.
Aoba's case of the nine-to-five blues also influences her argument with Nene, which is one of the first genuine conflicts between characters we've seen from New Game. The fight is ultimately more bark than bite, and even its bark is pretty mild-mannered. Still, it brings out some interesting aspects of a few characters' personalities; Aoba has a stubborn streak when it comes to her career ambitions, and Umiko seems to be more aware of other people's emotions than the show often gives her credit for. Nene and Aoba's path to reconciliation gets a little sappy by the end, but the script keeps things from getting too corny with a well-timed slow-motion faceplant. By genre standards, it's a solid little story arc that helps to affirm the protagonist's goals.
New Game showed signs of getting its act together last week, and this episode continues that trend of improved execution. Rather than going through the motions and banking on the appeal of its cast, the series is putting in the work to tell entertaining stories and offer the occasional snippet of insight. Last impressions tend to linger the longest in viewers' minds, so this recent uptick in quality may have arrived at just the right time as the season approaches its final stretch.
New Game! is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Paul Jensen is a freelance writer and editor. You can follow more of his anime-related ramblings on Twitter.
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