It's time for a new project at Eagle Jump! Aoba and the others are back at work, this time with Aoba having a lot more responsibility: she's the main character designer! Plus, she finally sees her dream of having kohai at work come true, but maybe she's also not sure of how good a senpai she is for them, just yet....
I didn't make any secret of the fact that I was a pretty big fan of the original New Game! anime, and that this wasn't solely because it was a motherlode of possible yuri ships. Sure, you could throw out the argument people make against shows like K-On! that it's just cute fluff that uses female characters to grab fans, and maybe that's true to some extent, but I would never, ever agree that it's just fluff: it's a series that, I feel, does a really good job of capturing what it's like to be a female otaku. If the sequel were just more of the same, I'd be totally content, and in a lot of ways it feels like a simple continuation, especially at first: Eagle Jump is onto their next project, and the whole gang is back at work, with all the late-night cramming, crazy deadlines, and cute shenanigans we got from the original, and the same degree of cute character art you'd expect to boot. But while adding more punctuation onto the title when you're naming the sequel seems pretty standard, by now (witness: Working!!, Working'!! and Working!!!), it (unintentionally) does a really good job of summing up how excited I ended up feeling about this show: New Game!! builds on its predecessor's strengths and ends up becoming an even better show in the process.
So let's lay out the aspects that feel like holdovers from season one. The art and animation quality are about the same, and the opening theme is an equally spunky and catchy song, but one thing I noticed this time that I hadn't appreciated so much before is that somebody involved in this show invested the time into making the game graphics look really, really good. In fact, the game they're working on this time, Peco, is actually a pretty cute and quirky little game about a girl who, trapped in a strange fantasyland of homicidal bears, disguises herself as one; a major point of this season is that Aoba's character designs actually end up getting used, and it's this upgrade that makes it clear how much Aoba's matured. Her designs are actually pretty cute, but they're unusual and they represent new territory for Eagle Jump, enough that when we meet another new employee who joins out of a bit of a big-sister crush on Kou (who I'll get to in a minute), and she notices the difference, she says "Kou's drawings have gotten weird", not realizing that there's a new character designer in the house. While in my last review I said that New Game! wasn't quite the Shirobako of video games, I feel like I might have to retract that statement. In that show, the first half brought us into the studio midway through production, with Aoi working at a pretty low level of management, whereas the second half had the staff working on a new project from scratch, with her having many, many more responsibilities. Here, the first season has Aoba joining when the studio's working on a sequel to their cash-cow, Fairy Stories, but after she spends the time learning over the course of that experience, this season has her in a much more prominent role as the lead designer for a more ambitious new project.
As the cast goes, we're also in familiar territory, but the character growth becomes a lot more evident as we enter the second half, especially with the new characters and some previous bit players becoming more prominent, and this is one place where New Game!! really shines. The promo art and opening animation for both seasons of this show make it seem like much more of an ensemble main cast than it actually is; Aoba is undoubtably the main character, much more so than either Hajime, Hifumi, or Yun, and I'd even argue that Kou is more of the secondary main character than any of those three, just because of how much more attention she and her role in the company get. Still, some of the secondary characters get more screentime this season, and I did really appreciate that. I'm actually guilty of mentioning neither Hajime nor Yun in my other review, which seems to unfortunately happen a lot when I cover shows with large casts, but they get a lot more screentime here: Hajime, a loudmouthed tomboy and an even more massive otaku than the rest (which is saying something), was always close to Yun, who's much more of a "proper"-seeming girly girl, but they bond even more this season when Hajime spends time with her younger brother and sister, who like the same magical girl anime and sentai shows she does (Yun gently chides Hajime that her tastes are childish but gets caught enjoying the stuff about as much). Not to mention, there's a funny bit where they learn some amusing bits about each others' high school life: Yun, while still a massive otaku, actually fit the stereotype of how one supposedly "looks", back in high school, long before she started dressing fashionably, whereas Hajime actually hid being an otaku for a long time and presented much more girlishly. There's a bit of an "otaku of all types are otaku" takeaway from this, I think; not to mention, when Yun convinces Hajime to tell one of her old high school friends that she's a huge geek, her friend texts her back to say "oh, I knew all along!" Considering that there's a lot of pressure not to be a "geek girl" (especially in Japan), I continue to really appreciate how much this show celebrates being an otaku while being a girl, not "in spite of" being one (looking at you, Genshiken). Hifumi doesn't have as much of a role this time, but in the scenes she does have, it's clear that she's becoming a lot more confident and growing into her role as a project manager, without having a coronary every time she has to make announcements.
But it's really with Aoba that the biggest difference is noticable. For one thing, she isn't a brand-new employee anymore, nor does she act like one, and when she finally does get severalkohais, something she'd lamented not getting last season, we see just what has changed. At another point, politics rear their head when Christina, a quarter-French company executive (who showed up briefly last season but is basically also a new addition), decides that the company will have Kou draw the promotional art because of her name recognition, even though the designs themselves are Aoba's. It's the first time that the show really deals with an uncomfortable political situation like this directly, and it's pretty unpleasant for everybody, at first. Christina knows that she has a reputation as an outsider and that her shy personality comes across as aloofness and coldness, and while the situation sucks for Aoba, if you're going to look at what makes sense for the company to stay afloat, it makes sense that they'd use the name recognition boost, especially since they're still not quite a household name, and Aoba herself it still totally anomymous. Actually, I came to really like Christina later on; Shizuku intentionally pulls a very weird but very funny stunt that gets her in an embarrassing situation but also finally gets her to open up to some of the staff; the whole exchange (which I'll let you witness for yourself) makes them realize that she's not some cold, uncaring person but that she's got tough decisions to make and cares about the company surviving, and if anything I appreciated having a "competent corporate lady" in the cast who wasn't portrayed as either aloof or ridiculously controlling (even if we still get jokes about her being unable to hold her booze).
But back to the situation at hand: Kou's clearly made uncomfortable by this, and Aoba isn't happy either. Back in season one, Aoba might've either thrown a tantrum over this or just grumbled about it silently. Here, though, she asserts herself in an interesting way: she proposes a contest between her designs and Kou's, shocking everybody. Even though Christina warns her that she has almost no chance of passing, she and Shizuku allow this to go forward, and we spend some time showing the two of them working on their respective entries late at night. Aoba continues to have self-doubt, but these scenes make it more and more obvious that if there's anybody who's starting to feel like she isn't growing or that she's not entirely sure what she's doing at Eagle Jump, it's Kou: even though her designs are accepted, she's blown away by how much Aoba strives to grow and improve, and it's clear that she's starting to feel like she's in a rut and working way too complacently. I won't spoil anything, but this leads us into the show's rather controversial ending; I was worried about how it would pan out, when I caught whiff of some spoilers myself (from a yuri-themed page on Facebook, of all things), but when put into context with Kou and what she actually feels like she can still do, it completely makes sense. In a way, Kou and Aoba, the former mentee and mentor, have fit into a new role: Aoba's "amateur" enthusiasm has nurtured a desire to grow and learn, and Kou, who's majorly at risk for becoming too comfortable with her fame and success, is the one who learns from that. Indeed, one of the new characters, Momiji or "Momo," who I previously alluded to as another hero-worshipper of Kou, has a funny moment with Aoba when they turn to each other and giggle "Kou-chan's really, really irresponsible, isn't she?" Momo, for the record, is a lot like a younger version of Kou, especially when you consider Rin and Shizuku's accounts of her being so uptight, early on: she's a massive perfectionist, kind of hard to talk to, and if she doesn't have her roommate, Naru-chan, around to cook for her and help her out, she'll come to work wearing a wrinkled skirt and pajama top, and with her hair totally frazzled and uncombed....basically, Kou walking around in her underwear, all over again. Considering that Aoba does become a bit more of a mentor figure to her near the end, when she opens up a bit, it sort of completes the analogy of her and Kou switching roles.
Naru-chan, for that matter, is a new programmer, and I liked that this season gave the programming department more of a focus. Naru, who goes to a vocational school along with Momo (they moved to Tokyo together), joins the company on a provisional basis at the same time as Nene, Aoba's high school friend who (briefly) did some contract debugging work for Eagle Jump before. Naru's bubbly and friendly to almost everybody, but she's not so nice to Nene; for one thing, she doesn't appreciate Nene's outwardly goofy, laid-back attitude, and it doesn't exactly help when she finds out that she knew Umiko before and infers that she was hired because of special treatment. Umiko, for the record, later makes a dry joke that she has both an overenthusiastic doggy (Nene) and a cat who can be randomly vindictive (Naru) in her department and has to wrangle an impossible situation; luckily, I was pretty happy with how the show did eventually wrap things up with the two of them. It's also fun to see more of the programming work than Umiko yelling at Shizuku for changing the specs (again), since a lot of Naru and Nene's story arc involves working on minigames for Peco (another nice detail). And Umiko's a very different sort of "senpai" than Kou, since she's not exactly somebody who you'd want to have find you playing solitaire on the clock, but her "tough love" works in its own way: when she hires Nene (also on a provisional basis), she outright says to her "I won't ever tell you this again, so listen up: I believe you can do this". As an aside, an odd detail of this season it that, apparently, Umiko wasn't the only programmer at the start, since we see four dark-haired girls working at their computers in a handful of scenes, but we (weirdly) never see them speak or socialize with the other workers. Considering how tight-knit the rest of the cast are, and how this show takes pains to have us get to know even company execs like Christina, this struck me as....odd.
Sure, New Game!! still has some of the problems of the first season, but they seem less consequential to me, perhaps because everything I've mentioned, I think, makes it far, far harder to dismiss this series as just "cute fluff." This might not be for every gamer or otaku girl out there, but it worked amazingly well for me, and I really was struck by how much fun I had, this time around.
I didn't expect to give this five stars, but if I didn't admit just how much I loved this season, I'd be lying to myself. — Nicoletta Christina Browne
Recommended Audience: Shizuku is as gropey as ever, but she doesn't get as many scenes this season, and there's not as much of Kou walking around pantsless, either, but the fanservice isn't totally gone, either. Not to mention that since we're dealing with a cast of working adult women, there's plenty of drinking and drunkenness, although nobody does anything dangerous or ridiculous.
Version(s) Viewed: Streaming on crunchyroll (Japanese with English subtitles)
Review Status: Full (12/12)
New Game!! © 2017 Shin Taoji / Yoshifusashi / NEW GAME! Production Committee
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