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NieR:Automata Ver 1.1a
Episodes 1-3

by James Beckett,

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

How would you rate episode 2 of
NieR:Automata Ver 1.1a ?
Community score: 4.3

How would you rate episode 3 of
NieR:Automata Ver 1.1a ?
Community score: 4.4

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©SQUARE ENIX/Council of Humanity

NieR:Automata Ver1.1a is one of the most interesting adaptations I've encountered in a long time, and I'm still not sure if that is a good or a bad thing.

For one, on most given days of the week, if someone were to ask me what my favorite video game of all time is, NieR:Automata would be my answer. You'd think that this would make me a prime mark for a shiny new anime version of my favorite video game story, but my love for NieR runs so deep that I am skeptical that its stories even could be adapted to a non-interactive medium. Everything that makes it a masterpiece is intrinsically linked to what it can accomplish as an interactive work of fiction. While this means that there is no possible way for me to approach this anime from a newcomer's perspective, I will be doing everything in my power to keep things as “objective" as possible. I'll be writing spoiler-free reviews for newcomers to the franchise…at least, so long as that remains possible.

You see, the other thing that makes this show so interesting is a key fact that people who don't obsessively follow every move that franchise creator Yokō Tarō makes might not know, which is that the “Ver1.1a" affixed to this show's title is meant to indicate that it will not simply be a straightforward adaptation of the game. Sure, that first episode may have provided a nearly 1:1 translation of the game's kick-ass opening level, but a whole lot is going on in the episodes that follow that seems to indicate that even die-hard fans like me might not know what to expect. As such, I will occasionally have to bring up the amazing video game that absolutely everyone should play because I won't be able to analyze and assess what the show is doing without that context.

Take Episode 2, “city e[S]cape". Whereas the premiere was so slavish to the opening of the game (even going so far as to recreate the game's 3D models for some of the aerial combat sequences, which is a bad call, in my opinion), the second chapter of the story deviates wildly from the source material. Instead of picking right back up with 9s and 2B in their new android bodies on that orbital space station that YorHa occupies, we are instead treated to a lovely and sad montage of some of the robot enemies on Earth, who are slowly learning to find their own value in life via mimicking old human behaviors such as gardening. It lasts nearly 10 minutes and is set to Keiichi Okabe's masterful “City Ruins" theme, providing a poignant tone setter and introduction to the ruined world that humanity has left behind.

Then we're introduced to Lily, who technically isn't a new character for the franchise since she plays a big role in the “Pearl Harbor Descent" prequel event that has previously existed in the form of several different stage plays, short stories, and manga (check out my review of that last oneright here). The thing is, Lily is never featured in the narrative of the game itself, and the fact that this anime is placing so much emphasis on her brand new role as the leader of the Earth-bound Android Resistance is simply the most obvious of many notable deviations from the game. It is one that I appreciate. You don't have to know about Lily's grim backstory to appreciate her role as a foil to the somewhat aloof and elusive YorHa soldiers, and all of the scenes we get with her and the delightful Resistance scavenger Jackass! give NieR:Automata's world a slightly more expansive scope.

Enough about the differences from the game, for now; what does NieR:Automata Ver1.1a have to offer viewers that don't have an extensive knowledge of the franchise's side-characters, prequel plays, weapon stories, and so on? As of now, I think there's quite a bit for newcomers to chew on, and I imagine that by Episode 3, things have gotten just enough context to get the uninitiated interested. 2B and 9S remain enigmatic, but they've got a fun rapport and enough slick fighting moves to keep the slowly unfurling plot moving apace. Yokō Tarō's tragically beautiful and sparse post-apocalyptic Earth remains as intriguing a setting as ever, and all of the bonkers developments concerning the erratic behavior of the Machine enemies is surely enough to whet folks' appetites for more. I bet lots of y'all weren't expecting to encounter a psychotic robot orgy and a bloody showdown with beautiful and very naked android supermodel men when you sat down to watch “break ti[m]e,” eh?

There's more that I'll talk about in the spoiler-heavy notes below, but it's looking like we're all going to have some time to ponder what's next for our android pals, as A-1 Pictures just announced a major scheduling delay that will likely last for multiple weeks. The company is officially blaming COVID, though given some of the rumors I've seen about how chaotic the show's production has been behind the scenes, it's likely that the crew would have needed the additional time regardless. That's a real shame, though I'll gladly wait an extra few weeks for a new episode if it means that the artists responsible for making the show get the time they need to do their jobs (and we can only hope against hope that they're being properly compensated). I don't know when we'll see each other again, but whenever the next episode of NieR does arrive, make sure to check back here for all of my thoughts and theories! In the meantime, you should just go ahead and play the game. Right now. Do it. If you like what this anime is doing even a little bit, I promise you will not be disappointed.

Rating:

Extraneous Code
•I would be remiss if I didn't mention the puppet skits that close out each episode by answering some android trivia and alluding to the funny alternate “endings” from the game (special shout-out to 2B's head getting turned into a literal bowling pin in Episode 3). Even if the rest of Ver 1.1a was a shit-tier adaptation, I'd be tuning into it each week for more puppet-y goodness.

Grimoire of Lore
Assuming there continues to be extra stuff to note, this is where you'll find my more spoilery observations, so maybe avoid these bits unless you're not worried about knowing where things might be going. Without further ado…
•To the surprise of nobody, Yokō Tarō and Co. have hidden a bunch of hidden messages throughout these episodes, which some intrepid fans and translators have been kind enough to pass along. The lines referring to the androids' cycles of life and death are especially intriguing considering the true ending of the original game, and it has me wondering if this isn't going to end up being a similar situation to Final Fantasy VII Remake…
•In addition to a blink-and-you'll miss it Drakengard reference, the biggest fanboy moment I had across these episodes had to be 9S' extended hacking visit to Façade, a key setting from the original NieR: Replicant. Not only that, but the memory 9S hacks into is from the King of Façade's wedding, which is one of the game's most important (and tragic) scenes. Is this just a fun and self-indulgent allusion to a story almost completely disconnected from NieR:Automata, or is Taro setting up future cross-franchise hijinks to come? I'm sure the question will keep me up for weeks.
•So, with Lily in command of the Resistance, where the heck is Anenome?

NieR:Automata Ver 1.1a is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

James is a writer with many thoughts and feelings about anime and other pop-culture, which can also be found on Twitter, his blog, and his podcast.


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