It’s easy to get the misconception that New Game! is a mindless, moe-blob of cute girls and their cute character quirks in a setting more associated with the male demographic for the sake of escapism. I certainly thought so, which played a part in my not picking it up when it aired last year. As the dust settled, the overall rating on MyAnimeList gave me a little optimism that the series would be worth my time. Sure enough, New Game! isn’t all that I had assumed it would be by my initial impressions; in fact, it’s a lot more. A lot more good, though not completely escaping the moe atmosphere that made me hesitate watching it in the first place.
Indeed, New Game! is very cutesy at its core. The characters have a lot of embarrassing and/or exaggerated personality traits that are exploited for the sake of appeasing moe enthusiasts. This includes an entirely female cast who are young and attractive, differentiated by their (surprisingly creative) designs and ways of expressing themselves. Unrealistically shy? Check. Unrealistically peppy and spirited? Check. Unrealistically childish with the squeakiest voice in existence? Check my god damn ears. Though not entirely one-dimensional, a lot of the humor and interactions between characters directly involve exploiting one’s single characteristic. Sometimes it can be charming, while other times it feels too intentional to be effective. To its credit, the anime could’ve been far more obvious with its desire to make the cast so enticing to the crowd, but instead it chooses to prioritize one other central theme that makes it more than just slice-of-life fluff: achieving a long-standing goal.
In this respect, it feels almost like Shirobako. The understanding that a project as large as making a playable game takes time, dedication, and sacrifice is poignant in both titles. And while Shirobako plays with this concept masterfully by showing the characters struggle through all the setbacks, New Game! almost gingerly sets it out on display, then yanks it back when it feels the point has been established. Especially early on, this concept is paced well enough to set a course for some longstanding development for the main character via the first real project of her dream career. Unfortunately, this impression gets lost along the trail of silly situations and glossy animations—though not entirely.
A bait and switch is not on the radar, for those concerned. New Game! will not tempt you with the prospect of a serious tone and throw it aside the moment you get comfortable. It does a decent job of peppering the more dramatic elements throughout, though it still gets noticeably less time than the goofy antics. As it goes on, one might make a game out of what kind of situation could arise with each passing scene. Sometimes it appears comical, others appear substantial, and sometimes, very rarely, there’s a mix of in-between. The silly, occasionally sexy quirks of scenes almost do well to establish characters as people rather than characters. Only thing is, of course, they’re all naked in a tub, so one may not be entirely paying close attention.
There is a small bit of fan service present in this anime, aside from the obvious “The game industry has plenty of young, super sexy women who love working on and playing games!” mindset. I was disappointed to see how prevalent random shots of girls’ rears and/or chest areas appear without warning. A couple bath scenes, I can tolerate. New Game! has more than a few bath scenes, random angles of sensitive areas, a subtle sexual harasser of a director (also female, so it’s funny instead of creepy), and a character who often sleeps over in the office in her underwear. It’s one of the more “liberating” shows I’ve seen in a while, but nowhere near the extreme of something like High School DxD.
For a slice-of-life show, the artistic direction is incredibly detailed. While this isn’t the typical slice-of-life setting, it still exudes a lot of what makes the genre so persistently popular. Nothing short of “eye candy” can accurately describe the sparkly nature of New Game!. The characters are diversely-coated in different assortments of colors and still manage to look trite to the reality of their setting. The main character has light purple hair and eyes. A lovely balance takes place of both cutesy and realistic integrity behind the choice in design for each character. Not only this, but animation is typically very smooth and expressive. Still, that doesn’t stop the anime from taking shortcuts such as non-moving background characters. In a rare twist, sound also played some part in the quality, as the characters (aside from one) had very enjoyable voices and did an outstanding job of flexing their vocal muscles to acclimate to every situation.
Are they people or are they characters? This is an integral question concerned with one’s genuine enjoyment of the show. With as serious and non-serious as New Game! can be, the characters have an important job of making the show all the more immersive and endearing. For the most part, I think they do this job well, as while they aren’t entirely developed, they have enough motivation between them to give them some spunk. Clearly some characters are more there for comic reliefs than others, with the ratio between genuine and “genuine” characters being about 50-50. The female lead is probably the most realistic of the bunch, if not for her superior and idol, though this also makes her the least entertaining on her own, as she behaves the most vanilla of all characters. Almost like a male lead. The surrounding cast gets the most points for group work, as the chemistry between characters is probably the most enjoyable part of New Game!. There are one-dimensional characters, and then there are one-dimensional characters who work well with others of a similar role. Slice-of-life’s are famous for this set-up of character interaction, and this anime is little exception. An extravagant mix of kooky and occasionally endearing conversation, the characters develop one another along with themselves as time goes by.
A lot of benefit could’ve been had with a little more focus. While slightly spoiler-ish, I really don’t like that they managed to finish the game by series’ end. It doesn’t help that the beginning of the series had the game about 50% complete already, but while I understand from the perspective of the main character there isn’t much going on outside of her focus, it feels as though the game consists of very few steps, with plenty more thrown under the table for convenience sake. It feels rushed at the least, lazy to the more cynical-minded. One might not appreciate this anime for being as quick-footed as it is with trying to emphasize the power of human emotions influencing one’s work. One could also argue that the anime isn’t all that serious and they’re being too harsh. Whatever the case, New Game! is anything but slow.
The way I see it, there’s a lot to like here, with a few serious issues that keep it from being timeless. Character interaction and overall charm of the art design and atmosphere make New Game! a very easy show to watch, though not entirely memorable. It lacks that human touch that, despite its best efforts, falls short of the mark compared to other series that do it far better. Even so, slice-of-life enthusiasts will likely gobble up this light attempt at human growth in the form of moe fodder. Even the more jaded viewers may have some fun with this, I’m no exception. It at least attempts to be more than just another face in the crowd, and for that alone, I can respect it. Good job, New Game!.
The rating for this title and all others can be found on MyAnimeList.