Girls Beyond the Wasteland
by Paul Jensen, James Beckett,
I'm watching Tsukigakirei this season, and I have to admit that it's a cute little show. I do, however, find myself constantly wanting to bonk the characters on the head and shout at them to be proactive about expressing their feelings. Clearly, I'm getting older and crankier every day. Welcome to Shelf Life, you darn kids.
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Girls Beyond the Wasteland
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Shelf Life Reviews
If you thought Saekano was the only show in town for harem heroines making visual novels, think again. James checks out another adventure in game development with his review of Girls Beyond the Wasteland.
I'd only heard of GBtW in passing when it came out last year. Its production house, Project No. 9 Studio, is relatively new to the scene, perhaps best known for shows like “Recently, my sister is unusual” and “And you thought there is never a girl online?”. However, I was excited to learn that the series was directed by Tayuka Sato, who spearheaded my favorite visual novel adaptation of all time, Steins;Gate (among other well known projects). GBtW doesn't have any of the science-fiction trappings of that juggernaut, but it does take on another sub-genre of anime I've grown increasingly fond of, which is following a team of artists as they work on some kind of industry mainstay, from visual novels to TV anime and beyond. Shirobako is the gold standard for shows like this, but game development can be just as fascinating as television production, so by the time GBtW arrived on my desk to watch, I was reasonably excited to dig into it.
Having watched all twelve episodes on Sentai's two-disc Blu-Ray set, I can say that the results were decidedly mixed. Girls Beyond the Wasteland is by no means a bad show, but from the first episode to the last, I was constantly bothered by the nagging feeling that this series could be so much more. It might be naïve to expect another series as good as Shirobako to just fall into my lap out of the blue, but neither the visual novel angle nor the game dev behind-the-scenes angle ever gelled with me. I came in expecting a breezy romance that might also offer insight into an industry I love, and I walked away with something sort of like that, but lacking in the energy and heart needed to make it truly engaging.
A lot of the problem has to do with the characters. Buntarou is your average visual novel protagonist, charming enough to justify all the girls flocking around him while also being milquetoast enough to work as a reasonable self-insert for anyone who wishes they could be dating these nerdy yet attractive young ladies. Every character fits their stock type to a T. You have the tomboyish friend with secret feelings for the protagonist, the aloof leading lady with social interaction issues, the goofy and shy comedic relief, the aggressive fujoshi with a taste for yaoi, and so on. All of these characters are fine, and they have an easy and naturalistic sort of chemistry, but none of them ever rises above the tropes that make up their personality traits.
While I can understand this reliance on stock characterization for the supporting cast, I also found Buntarou and Sayuki to be fairly flat. Their character arcs were predictable, and the relationships that develop between each other and the rest of the team are functional without ever being satisfying. So in the long run, I never really got invested in the stakes of the plot, since it was clear that everything would more or less work out in the end. Some might be okay with this lackadaisical approach to the writing, but I need my narratives to have a little more meat on their bones, even if they're supposed to be breezy fare.
Outside of the writing, the other production values of the series are equally serviceable while also failing to leave a lasting impression. The visuals are probably the show's weakest point, with flat animation and generic character designs that make it harder to become invested in the already underwritten cast, but I don't know that I'd call GBtW ugly; it's just forgettable. The music, the character designs, and the series' direction all do just enough to get you to the next episode, but it's impossible to recall specifics once the end credits have rolled on the finale.
Sentai's Blu-Ray set is similarly functional, offering the twelve TV episodes with only the original Japanese dub, and nothing much beyond that. Notably, the set is missing the series' OVA; while it doesn't seem essential from what I've read, its absence will surely disappoint anyone hoping to own the complete series. The set's technical specs are fine, though I did catch that the colors in the more brightly lit scenes looked noticeably washed out. That could be a symptom of the series' lackluster visuals rather than a transfer issue, but I'm not sure. The only other thing of interest was the discs' weird tendency to lag on the subtitles whenever I rewound or fast-forwarded, with a couple of occasions taking almost thirty seconds for the subtitles to return. I don't know if this is an encoding issue or just a quirk of my hardware, but I bring it up because it occurred on both my PS4 and my PC.
Girls Beyond the Wasteland is the poster child for a Rental quality series. It's functional without ever being too much fun, checking all the requisite boxes but lacking any special something to make it truly memorable. It isn't bad, it isn't good, it just is, another visual novel adaptation in a sea of similarly forgettable titles, and even its meta-commentary on game development and bishoujo tropes isn't enough to save it from the doldrums of mediocrity. If you absolutely love visual novels, or if you're interested in giving the Girls Beyond the Wasteland game a try, you might get more out of this than me. Everyone else would be better off finding a different wasteland to scavenge.
That wraps up the review section for this week. Thanks for reading!
This week's shelves are from Tsukasa:
"pardon the dust; I'm still in the process of cleaning them lol"
Holy moly, that's a lot of figures and plushes. You're a brave soul for even attempting to dust that many of 'em. Thanks for sharing, and bonus points for the cats!
More shelves, please! If you have an anime/manga collection that you'd like to show off, send me your photos at [email protected]!
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