Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
The Silver Guardian
BD+DVD - The Complete Series
Suigin Riku is a hard-working young man who nonetheless finds time to spend playing his favorite MMORPG, often at the cost of getting any sleep. But that's okay with him, because it's the only way for him to interact with his crush Rei, the hottest, nicest girl in school. The two form a close friendship online, but before they're able to take it into the real world, Rei's father, head of a popular game development company, is murdered just as his new game is launching. When his killers kidnap Rei, Suigin receives a strange gift from the dead man – one that gives him a powerful in-game tool to try and get Rei back!
Is The Silver Guardian about a Chosen One playing an MMORPG or a VRMMORPG? That's something that at first seems pretty clear – the game Suigin and Rei meet in originally is a plain-old MMO – but becomes increasingly more confusing as Suigin moves over to the Grave Buster, the game that replaces his favorite. While in some ways this really doesn't matter, it's also a very good way to examine the general confusion caused by this show's plot: it starts out making at least a little sense and then devolves into something much more convoluted.
Given that the show is an adaptation of a Chinese web manhua, that may mean that the animated series left out some key details or plot points. This feels much more likely in the second season, which is included with the first on this two-disc (for each blu-ray and DVD) set. This is the point when Suigin begins playing Grave Buster in earnest, after Rei has been kidnapped, and it becomes more necessary to the plot to know whether or not she's being held virtually in-game (which might imply that she's unconscious somewhere in the real world) or the victim of a more traditional kidnapping. In part the confusion is due to the fact that, while in the previous game Rei and Suigin played, their characters looked like game avatars, in this one Suigin looks exactly the same as in his regular life, albeit with a more fantastic scarf. Since which world Rei is being held in is important for the series' endgame, spending time worrying about it is natural, albeit a distraction when you ought to be focusing on the action on the screen.
That the game itself doesn't help matters is perhaps less of an issue. Grave Buster is designed to be an immersive experience, whether or not that's meant literally, and the way that characters act does show that. There's an element of the show that feels very reminiscent of 2011 series [C]-Control in that many players are driven by the lure of cash. While it isn't entirely clear at first that the money earned in-game can at times be used in the real world (and this is deliberate, based on Suigin's own learning rather than a plot hole), people are nevertheless egged on by their own avariciousness and lure of becoming a legendary “Billion Player,” i.e. a player with that much money to their name. That the game is based around robbing ancient graves is perhaps a little on the unpleasant side (or at least the archaeologically unsavory side), it is a mechanic that works with the money-grubbing set up, as well as being a nod to the fact that Suigin is economically inferior to Rei, which makes people (Suigin included) feel that they don't belong together.
Essentially The Silver Guardian has a decent set up, even if it's a familiar one: random guy becomes Chosen One in a game-based world (or actual game) in order to save that world and its people (players) in some way while also getting the love interest. That it doesn't work is less a testament to the fact that it's a Chinese co-production or based on a web comic than it is to the fact that the series runs in half-length episodes with little time for world-building and an odd sense of fanservice, to say nothing of some awkward pacing. That Grave Buster doesn't even enter into the primary plot until halfway through season one is a problem, especially because the show then begins to fly through its story as if it suddenly decided that spending five episodes building Suigin and Rei's relationship was a bad idea, but too late now, so they're just going to go forward double-time. This means that new characters are introduced without much time to get to know them, which is a disservice in a few cases, while aspects of the game's culture are sort of glossed over, like the varieties of special “Buster Items” (unique weapons), monsters, and the fact that there are what appear to be a couple of full-on cults currently playing the game under the guise of guilds. That the woman who killed Rei's father is a member of one of them makes the lack of clear explanation on this front particularly difficult, because when the show ends, it basically looks like she's evil because reasons. It doesn't make her a compelling or fearsome bad guy, despite the fact that we watched her gun someone down in cold blood.
That's pretty much where The Silver Guardian leaves us. Although it has interesting concepts and deserves praise for really leaning in to Suigin as Young Mr. Angst himself, and although it uses bright colors in good ways and is creative with some of its in-game aspects, it simply isn't developed enough for us to care about it in anything but the most superficial of ways. While not every show needs to be a masterpiece that makes us really think, they also shouldn't make your mind go blank while you're watching to the point where you suddenly realize that an episode or two have gone by and you're not sure what's going on. Both English and Japanese voice casts do their best to remedy this, but at the end of the day, it feels like whatever treasure's being guarded just isn't worth the effort to find.
Overall (dub) : C-
Overall (sub) : C-
Story : C-
Animation : C+
Art : B-
Music : B-
+ Some interesting aspects of both game-world and characters, good use of color and variety of character designs
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