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Friday, September 29, 2017

Anime Hajime Review: New Game Season 2

***Warning, the following may contain spoilers for New Game season two. Reader discretion is advised.***

Series Synopsis

A year has passed since Aoba Suzukaze (voiced by Yuki Takada) joined the game developer, Eagle Jump. There have been plenty of difficult moments during that time. The stresses of adulthood and working life are not something to make light of. Yet if given the chance to do it again, Aoba would not change a thing.

Despite being its newest member, Aoba is now a fully-fledged employee of the company. People recognize her talents and respect her never-give-up nature. No one more so than Aoba’s own idol Ko Yagami (voiced by Yoko Hikasa).

Though the work may be hard, Aoba is having the time of her life. With each passing day, she becomes even more confident she chose the right path. Along with meeting a never-ending stream of new people, things couldn’t be better.

Yet the world of game creating is demanding. There never seems to be a lull in the workload. If anything, things will become even busier in the days ahead. For Aoba, that’s just fine.

Series Positives

In my review of New Game season one, I said this.

This could be the start of a long-running series. (It) has great characters. A great premise. It’s cute and funny. Why wouldn’t a second season get made?...Until that day comes, New Game is certainly worth a watch.

Well, that day has come and my thoughts have not changed. In fact, they have only gotten stronger. New Game season two was great.

What a fantastic continuation of the series. This was my most anticipated show for the 2017 summer season and it did not disappoint. More than that, this season took the next logical step for New Game. An odd thing to say given the slice-of-life nature of the whole thing. Except not at all.

One of the things against season one was its insistence on giving details. It tried to cram in a bunch. There were many ideas that didn’t go anywhere. Many setups were underutilized. This is not an uncommon problem. You never know if a show is ever going to continue. I get the temptation to stuff a series as much as possible. New Game made this work better than most. Too bad the principle of the problem remains. It’s a dangerous gamble that doesn’t often pay off.

Yet if a second season should come, a series should capitalize on the situation. Something New Game season two did. The pacing was superior. Fewer details felt wasted. More things had a point. The show either progressed forward or we got to know these characters more.

I will not take back what I said about season one. This is not a strategy I want to encourage. Season two is the stronger of the pair. Except its only that way because season one did what it did. 

Working Life

In my last review, I mentioned how the series maintained a high school atmosphere. That did not exist here. The second season removed itself from under that light. A move which made the show all the better. Despite the silliness and laid-back attitude, there was something undeniable.

Everyone at Eagle Jump were professionals. Though they liked to have fun, everyone was serious about their job. I still suspect New Game hasn’t portrayed the true intricacies that go into making a video game. But season two made something clearer than season one did. If you don’t have a passion for this line of work, good luck to you.

Weather toned down or not, the staff of Eagle Jump was always working. Even in a supportive environment, no one got treated like a kid. Everyone had a job to do. Everyone had deadlines to meet. Everyone had their own unique setbacks they needed to deal with.

Aoba, even though she always gave one hundred percent, got away with a lot more last time. In season two, the pressure was a lot more real. Taking on greater responsibilities, Aoba began to see the truth behind the career she chose. While humbling, it wasn’t a deterrent.

I’ll be honest, high schoolers have the luxury of bulking under pressure. There’s time for them to rebound. Once you leave that world, there’s no going back. You either make something happen or you get fired. Even if you do the former, the latter remains a possibility.

There was a great moment after Aoba achieved what she set out to do. When the company decided to go with her work over Ko’s, it was a huge validation for Aoba’s skills as an artist. It meant beating her mentor and this was something that would’ve needed to happen sooner or later.

Aoba had to get serious if she wanted to make a name for herself. Except there was a barrier she could not get passed. Or at least, not at this yet.

A ton of money goes into making a video game. There’s a lot at stake. Like it or not, Eagle Jump must keep that in mind. Unfortunately, that means fairness isn’t always possible. Talent goes a long way. Reputation goes further.

The circumstances of what transpired do suck. But the reasoning behind certain decisions made sense. Also, since this was Eagle Jump, this was not a knock against Aoba’s abilities. Over time, what happened should become less and less likely.

This was a strong moment for the series. Something that could not have happened in season one. New Game season two continued what its predecessor set. Retaining what makes a slice-of-life series fun, this was a nice breath of fresh air.

The Characters

Another recurring element, or rather, elements between the seasons are the characters. As a slice-of-life, this type of series can’t work without people worth caring about.

For starters, Aoba and Ko’s relationship still played a huge role. With enough time now passed, the awe of Aoba meeting her role model had dissipated. The two were now good friends.

Ko remained the embodiment of Aoba’s goal. The master-pupil angel continued to be a thing. But as stated earlier, Aoba could no longer rely on Ko coming in to bail her out.

That had little with Ko having an unwillingness to do so. With Aoba and the rest of the design team as her support, Ko accepted a much larger role in the company. An opportunity she once thought would turn her into a person she didn’t want to be.

While it was noticeable how Ko never reverted to the behavior she despised, there was a good reason for that. Through her current team, you can infer what things were like earlier in Ko’s career. The main being, she didn’t feel comfortable unless she did the work.

This is where Hifumi Takimoto (voiced by Megumi Yamaguchi) stepped in. She was as big a sweetheart as she was in season one. Much like the design team did with Ko, they helped Hifumi become more open. Her skills as a designer were among the best in the company.

Thus, it was only natural Hifumi would be Ko’s replacement as head of the team. Something that would’ve been impossible for her at the start of the series. Hifumi’s growth throughout New Game is one of the stronger highlights of the show. Even though it wasn’t as prominent as other story arcs.

Along with improving the leads, season two also gave more attention to more people. Especially those who weren’t given much of chance in the first run.

I was happy to see Umiko Ahagon (voiced by Chitose Morinaga) get more screen time. One of Eagle Jump’s top programmers, her reputation made her a leading figure around the office. Calm and methodical, it was hard for her to get worked up. This did make her quite frightening to those around her. But even though she was intimidating, there wasn’t a single person who didn’t respect her opinion.

Umiko’s professionalism provided her great insight into a person’s potential. Among those people included Aoba’s best friend, Nene Sakura (voiced by Madoka Asahina).

It turned out I didn't remember Umiko and Nene forming a close relationship. But it would seem the two have stayed in contact since the end of season one. In fact, similar to how Aoba sees Ko, Nene started looking up to Umiko. Yet these two had a more mother-daughter connection. It was charming to no end. Made only more so considering Umiko’s form of tough love.

The other character who saw an upgrade was Shizuku Hazuki (voiced by Eri Kitamura). In season one, she was more the eccentric director and constant background filler. We never got to know much about her. Season two rectified this. Her role in the series not only increased, it became clear how necessary she was. Before I wouldn’t have blamed you for thinking Shizuku was a bit of a buffoon. Now I would be quick to remind you. This was the person who built Eagle Jump’s reputation as a high-profile games studio.

With these improvements, you’d think that would’ve been the end of it. Well, season two went even further and introduce several new characters to the series.

The two more notable ones were Momiji Mochizuki (voiced by Arisa Suzuki) and Tsubame Narumi (voiced by Hitomi Ohwada). Joining the design and programming teams respectively, these two could’ve been the leads. The only thing was, Aoba came first.

Momiji and Tsubame had high aspirations. Both had put in years of effort to get to this point in their lives. They had a lot on the line. For most of their lives, they had only known the top positions. To their surprise, particularly for Momiji, there was now someone who was their equal. Or even worse, someone who might be better than them.

Aoba didn’t have that experience. When she joined Eagle Jump, the current staff had been there for a while. Only a year had passed since then. Aoba and Momiji shared many of the same aspirations. But where Aoba jumped into a world of support, Momiji entered a world of competition. It was fascinating how this panned out.

Series Negatives

In the last review, I was stretching. That’s even truer this time around. I enjoyed season two quite a bit. Yet, if there was something I noticed, it was this. The second season of New Game can be split into two phases.

The first involved the creation of Eagle Jump's newest game. Aoba was around for most of the development of the last production. Here she saw the whole thing. From conception to final product. This could’ve been the whole season.

Never did this idea get old. The number of complications that could’ve come up would’ve been limitless.

The second phase involved the introduction of the series' newest characters. As you’d expect, we had to get to know them. They had to build a rapport amongst the teams. They had to become a part of Eagle Jump. It would’ve been a huge shame if Momiji and Tsubame got treated like an afterthought.

Both of these phases were great. By themselves, there isn’t much I have to say against them. By the end of the series, the two did start to become one. Too bad that wasn’t what happened initially.

As phase one moved along, there was a sudden halt to that. This signaled the inclusion of phase two. The focus on the game development process shifted to developing the new characters.

That’s why I said this show came in phases.

Instead of having a smooth integration, there was a divide. It also didn’t help this divide came late into the season. Well past the point where I thought we were going to get more characters. It was surprising this happened near the end.

Mitigating this was, again, the quality of both phases. That and they did join to become one. 

For problems to have, I’m okay with accepting this. If it means keeping the rest of the show as is, I wouldn’t change a thing.

Final Thoughts

To alter what I said once before, a season three would be appreciated. Even though this series grew so much, I can’t imagine this being the definitive end.

The atmosphere was better. The characters were stronger. This is what people expect from a continuation. Progression and improvement

Please keep in mind, though. Season one is a must. Yes, this is the superior, but you’d be missing something if you jumped straight to this. Absolutely New Game season two is a recommendation. So, if you haven’t seen the first, you best get caught up real quick.

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