by Paul Jensen,
How would you rate episode 8 of
New Game! ?
Nothing says “summer vacation” quite like joining a company in the midst of a desperate scramble to get a product ready for launch. Nene joins Eagle Jump as a part-time tester during her summer break, helping the team debug the game before its beta version goes out to publishers. Her dreams of having fun at the office with Aoba crash and burn in a hurry, as she's placed under the watchful and terrifying eye of Umiko. Just as she starts to settle into the company's odd social dynamics, Nene accidentally commits the grave sin of stealing Yagami's pudding from the break room fridge. Things escalate quickly as Toyama sends out a company-wide email in search of the culprit, and Nene struggles to decide if she should turn herself in or destroy the evidence.
The Eagle Jump office is busier than we've ever seen before, so it's a little surprising that this episode sticks with the usual mild-mannered tone. Umiko terrifies the part-timers on their first day, and Yagami bemoans the loss of her dessert, but we just don't get the sort of increased tension you'd expect from a last-minute deadline crunch. Instead of creating an atmosphere of dramatic urgency, this episode gives off the impression that it has more screen time than it needs. As long as New Game! putters merrily along at the usual slice-of-life pace, it's unlikely that we'll see the cast face significant challenges any time soon.
The one benefit of having the characters work at full tilt is that it brings out some of the industry insights that New Game! has been missing in past weeks. The most obvious theme here is that debugging is a lot more exhausting and tedious than the “get paid to play video games” description makes it sound. Nene's game-testing odyssey does lead to an interesting scene where she finds a way to keep Aoba's redshirt character alive indefinitely. It's a fun little moment that lets the show's subject matter and style of humor work in harmony, and New Game! would do well to find other opportunities to put the game itself in the spotlight. Even Nene's debugging notes are somewhat intriguing, with Umiko pointing out that she's finding flaws in the game design along with the usual technical glitches.
As a character, Nene makes a fairly smooth transition from being Aoba's “friend on the outside” to being part of the office crew, but most of her first day at the office feels suspiciously familiar. There are a lot of similarities between this episode and the beginning of the series, with an eager new employee making silly mistakes and apologizing to company veterans at every turn. Nene is essentially acting as “Aoba 2.0,” and the writing doesn't do enough to distinguish their experiences from one another. At least Nene gives the other characters a chance to do their thing, with Umiko continuing to be the merciless voice of discipline and Toyama serving as the office's overworked mother figure. Even if a new character doesn't make a big impression, she can at least act as a point of reference for developing the rest of the cast.
If nothing else, New Game! seems adept at maintaining a consistent level of quality. This episode balances out its duller scenes with a few intriguing ones, and a character who is forgettable on her own helps to bring out the personalities of others. As frustrating as that “one step forward, one step back” process can be from a critical perspective, it means that the audience can go into each new episode with a pretty good idea of what to expect. For a series that functions as the animated equivalent of comfort food, that's a useful trait to have. If, on the other hand, you're hanging onto the hope that those occasional flashes of potential will eventually produce something more memorable, it may be time to dial those expectations back a notch.
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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