Aoba Suzukaze is just out of high school when she lands what should be her dream job....working for a video game developer! She's been a huge gamer ever since she was little so she's excited to get to make games, now. If only she'd realized how much work game development can actually be....
I used to pretend that I wasn't an otaku ("I'm a connoisseur!), but that was wishful thinking, and I think the fact that I enjoyed a certain show about what it's like to be an animator so much is a giveaway. I'm not as much of a gamer, and I might honestly be one of the only anime fans I know of who hasn't played many video games, but I still liked New Game! for a lot of the same reasons. It's a sweet show about the shock of realizing how much work actually goes into your favorite games (and how hard it can be to actually find time to play) and what drives people to make games in the first place.
So Aoba is pretty green when she first comes to Eagle Jump, the same company that made her favorite childhood game, Fairies Story. For one thing, she comes to work in a suit that's way more formal than anything anybody else wears, and which makes her clearly look like her brain is still stuck in a highschool mentality. Not that anybody gives her anything more than light ribbing over this (she's lucky to not be hazed, I'd say), but while I've never worked in a video game company, I got a similar vibe from my experience of coming to grad school out of college. Hell, the offices here, while decorated with far more video game posters and figurines than rocks and geology diagrams, gives off a similar vibe to a graduate office: the people spend a lot of time nit-picking difficult work, they spend a lot of time at their computers, and lots of them stay overnight, which Aoba, at first, is nervous about doing. Plus, graduate students don't dress especially formally or with much of a "dress to impress" vibe, I'd say, because once they're settled in to do their work, they're settled in and they try to dress comfortably, and this goes along with the other characters trying to rib Aoba a bit to be less formal and lighten up a bit. In Japan, high school is where the "liberal arts" education ends, just as it does with college in the US, and Aoba has to deal with the same pressure to focus and recognize that she's now going to be doing one thing, designing characters, for a (very) good chunk of her time. Luckily for her sake, Aoba does take character designing seriously; throughout the show, though, she struggles with balancing the pressure of putting out a strong product, which I can compare to the pressure to publish research, in science, and the need to not let her anxiety or the need to prove herself get out of control, which I get, since I've been that girl who couldn't stop fretting about her work.
Aoba's lucky to have such a supportive staff, and you could potentially argue that this show is unrealistic because there's so little personal drama....and because the staff are all women. I actually really liked that New Game! is all about otaku women and their passions, but the reason that Eagle Jump's staff is all-female has to do with the game director, Shizuku Hazuki, who's.....interested in cute girls. She's a bit too overbearing towards Aoba, though she's mostly pretty harmless, and I for one actually totally approve of a successful game company being run by a total lesbian and cat lady. Given that I'm a lesbian who mostly has other female friends, I definitely wouldn't mind working in a place like this. It does, however, mean that the show doesn't really look at the realistic dynamics of sexism in the industry, or the fact that published game developers are still mostly overwhelmingly male. Shirobako, which focused on female staff but featured male staff, delved more into what it's like to be "a woman in the industry", with a few scenes focused on older female staff griping about the difficulty in balancing their work with being moms, and one asshole who accused Aoi of "using her cuteness to get a job". So Eagle Jump is a very specific environment, in that way.
That doesn't detract from the characters by any means. Aoba herself is adorable, and I really liked Kou, the lead character designer and something of an older sister figure for Aoba; honestly, the balance of relaxedness and professionalism she pulls off is amazing, and I'd absolutely love to be her. Though I think I won't take up her habit of not wearing pants around the office sometimes, which is one kinda cringy bit of fanservice that comes up a few times (luckily, even though it's in the OP, it doesn't happen all that much in the actual show). The show de facto ships her with art director Rin Toyama, who's the total opposite of her in some ways; outside of her professional life, Kou doesn't really keep herself organized and her house isn't super clean, and Rin is basically her more-than-best friend who makes sure that she eats, doesn't try to work through colds, and showers (and the two of them are pretty damned adorable). Aoba's coworkers in the character design department are a lot of fun, and I really liked Hifumi, who's her closest confidante; she, of course, is painfully socially awkward (relatable) and has a far easier time socializing and giving tips to Aoba over chat (also relatable for somebody with social anxiety). The closest thing to a "grumpy coworker" is programmer Umigo Ahagon, who can be scary when people make programming mistake but whose obsession with weapons really is just that....she's a gun otaku and enjoys sharing that with other people in the moments when she lets her guard down.
There's some fluff in New Game!, like fanservice (Hazuki-sempai can sure get a bit gropey), but it mostly does a great job of being a slice-of-life about game designers as opposed to slice-of-life in general. Aoba spends a large chunk of the first few episodes trying to work on her first model, a non-player character, only to realize that even the "background" elements of a game take a ridiculous amount of work and that as many video games as she's played, she's not going to pick up on all the little mistakes she makes right away. Indeed, if you're just watching the show, you might not instantly spot what's "wrong" with her models, but when she does actually get it right several episodes later, you see "oh, now I see why Kou harangued her about this!" Kou, of course, is trying to push her protege; she says "it was good enough the first time, but I don't want you to get used to being okay with 'good enough!'" The characters butt heads about the temperature in the offices, bond while trying to find a comfortable way to sleep, enjoy seeing a movie on their one weekend off.....then find out that they're behind schedule and are going to have to work overtime for several days (relatable). Actually, if there's anything that New Game drives home for me, it's how important it is for one's mental health to have supportive co-workers In grad school. I'm not necessarily sure whether friendships make the late nights more bearable or if the late nights just foster friendships in general, but the vibe I get here is that "these are the people you will be doing your life's work with, and you really should thank your lucky stars if you get people who actually look out for you...." Your friends often end up being your coworkers, and if it's the case that you all really do want to make this game work, together, then having a life of cram sessions punctuated by late-evening visits to a bathhouse or occasional drinking sprees. Maybe the work environment of New Game! is wish-fulfillment, but I won't lie that I'd love to work in a place like that, late-night programming sessions aside, especially because a poignant scene near the end makes it clear that Kou's come to understand the importance of creating a pleasant work environment after realizing how badly her demeanor was driving people away, back when she projected her workaholism out inappropriately.
And New Game! does delve into what the gritty, boring work of making a game actually function entails: outside of Aoba spending hours making an NPC look good, the show also brings in Aoba's college friend Nene, who comes on part-time as a debugging programmer and basically gets paid to spend a few hours playing the game, then about six times as many hours debugging that one faulty character of code that's allowing characters to walk through other characters....or six times as many hours as that when the crew stumbles upon a game-breaking bug right before the deadline. Some of the characters have a panic when they think they've accidentally caused spoilers to slip (also a problem), too. New Game! isn't as exhaustive as Shirobako in listing every last little measly task that has to go right for a single episode to even make it on the air, but it still gives you a frontlines look, and it was interesting to me (and again, weirdly evocative of my experience doing research) in that way.
I won't lie, also, that New Game is just a really cute show and a lot of fun to watch. The character design is cute all-around, and the music is bubbly; I really, really liked the extremely ear-wormy opening song especially (it's actually stuck in my head as I'm writing this). And there's a nice balance of comedy, fluff, and lightness and intensity, with my only real complaint, again, being that some of the jokes fall on the "that didn't really need to be in this show" side of things, like Kou walking around without her pants on after-hours or one cringey visit to a company checkup. There's not enough of this for it to really hurt my opinion of the show that much, though.
I really, really liked New Game! and I'm happy it's getting another season. It's not quite the Shirobako of video games, but it's still worth a watch for any otaku, even if you're not a huge gaming person in particular.
Overall a really cute show about what it's like to work in a video game company. — Nicoletta Christina Browne
Recommended Audience: Older kids and up, mainly because of some fanservice and drunkenness.
Version(s) Viewed: Streaming on crunchyroll
Review Status: Full (12/12)
New Game! © 2016 Shin Taoji / Yoshifusashi / NEW GAME! Production Committee
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