Aoba Suzukaze is a recent high school graduate who, instead of heading off to university with her friends, has opted to jump straight into the workplace, having landed a job on the character team at Eagle Jump, the developers of her favourite video game series, “Fairies Story”. While she is thrilled to have achieved her dream job, it’s definitely not going to be easy ride for her, with plenty of new things to learn and challenges ahead, as she gets stuck into character design and 3D modelling. There’s also her eccentric bunch of co-workers to contend with, which just happens to include the legendary character designer and her idol and inspiration, Ko Yagami. As the team gets into making the long-awaited third game in the “Fairies Story” series, the show follows Aoba as she tries to make it as a character designer in this highly competitive industry.
New Game! follows in the footsteps of other “cute girls do cute things” slice-of-life shows, with each season in this set following the cute cast of characters and their developing relationships as they create two different games, with the first season focusing on “Fairies Story 3” and the second season focusing on a cute fantasy game called “Peco”. While it is based in a workplace and does play out the general day-to-day happenings of game development, this is definitely not a serious show and is more akin to something like Servant x Service than Shirobako. While the latter offered a critical and realistic take on an industry, New Game! is a lot more idealistic, and is more concerned about the character relationships rather than criticising the working practices of the games industry.
It is a shame that it doesn’t really explore those, as there certainly are events in the series where it could have said “actually, that’s not a very good way to do things”, but they are either accepted as-is, or end up inconsequential. Crunch (the practice of working long, unpaid overtime) is treated as part and parcel of the job, with the cast often working overnight, and issues such as gender inequality are given a quick wave of the hand. It does, however, present challenges from the publisher well, in a moment in the second season where they are trying to push Ko Yagami’s name to market the game, instead of looking at promising young talent like Aoba, who should be getting the credit for her work.
On the face of it though, New Game! is a very funny and heart-warming show with a fun and interesting cast of characters that show a wealth of development and personal growth over the two seasons. Aoba starts off very green and inexperienced, but is quickly recognised as someone with a lot of potential, as she gets to design one of “Fairies Story 3″’s side characters. While this isn’t an easy task for her, it’s very rewarding to see her persevere and put the time and effort into her job and eventually move forward in her career. You see something similar with Aoba’s best friend Nene, who is a bit of a drifter in life and is unsure of what she wants to do, but in her pursuit of her best friend’s attention she ends up having a huge moment of inspiration in wanting to make a game and just goes for it. Despite being a bit of a troublemaker, Nene is down to Earth and honest, and her efforts in starting out in game development reminded me of my own experiences back in my university days.
Aoba’s co-workers, meanwhile, are certainly an eclectic bunch, but are easy to warm up to. Hajime is a motion designer and is a huge tokusatsu and sentai nerd who can often be found playing with various toys scattered around her desk; Yun is a 3D modeller with a flair for monster design, and also has a liking for Lolita fashion and snacks; and while Hifumi is rather shy around others and prefers to communicate via instant messaging, Aoba soon becomes friends with her over her pet hedgehog and she slowly opens up to the point at which she’s being offered the chance to lead the team.
It’s really these strong relationships between all of the different characters that make this show what it is, giving it its fun and heart-warming vibe as you see them all coming together. There are also some yuri elements in here too, with the relationship between Ko and art director Rin clearly being more than friends, even if Ko is too dense to realise it. Certainly, despite her legendary status, she fulfils the saying “never meet your heroes”, as while she is super talented, she is nothing like Aoba expected her to be, and can be often found sleeping in the office in her underwear (which is a joke that does get old pretty quickly).
They try to replicate this relationship in some ways with the two characters added in the second season: programmer Tsubame Narumi and character designer Momiji Mochizuki, but they don’t feel quite as effective and in general aren’t pushed as well as they could have been. Momiji is put forward as Aoba’s rival, and while the initial conflict really works, once it is resolved and both Momiji and Tsubame start to fall in with the team, it feels like the point behind them is lost.
The plot in the second season is weaker too, in comparison to the first, which had the benefit of taking place over a shorter timescale towards the end of the project, allowing it to showcase Aoba’s development and give a nice reward to the viewer with the completion of the game in the season’s 12 episodes. In order to achieve the same thing, the second season feels a lot more rushed, and some of the repeated scenarios don’t have the same impact the second time around. I will say though that the games they make are ones I would have legitimately been interested in buying, and “Peco” in particular feels like it has had some real thought put into it.
Visually, the series is cute, bright and colourful and really brings out the strong character designs. There’s a lot of nice details in both the setting and backgrounds, where actual programmers and modellers will be able to spot what programs are being used, while things like errors and bugs are accurately represented. If you’ve ever been to Japan, or have general knowledge of Tokyo itself, you’ll surely recognise some locations like Akihabara as well as the Makuhari Messe (where Tokyo Game Show is held), while I also found joy in revisiting one of my favourite Tokyo cinemas, the Wald 9 in Shinjuku. Doga Koba’s animation isn’t anything spectacular, but it does the job for this kind of show and is generally consistent.
The same can be said of the music, composed by Hajime Hyakkoku, which is full of light and fluffy tunes that fit the themes of the series well. Meanwhile, the opening and ending themes of both seasons, sung by the cast credited as fourfolium, are very catchy and hyperactive J-Pop numbers.
Speaking of the cast, the Japanese voice actors all fit their roles really well and give the characters a lot of expressiveness that suits their personalities. Yuuki Takada (Rin in Aikatsu! and Yuu in Bloom into You) gives Aoba a good sense of freshness and youthful energy, while Youko Hikasa’s more mature voice lends itself well to Ko, and I loved Chitose Morinaga’s very boorish tone for the uptight and tsundere-feeling Umiko Ahagon. Unfortunately, this isn’t replicated in the English dub, which feels rather flat in comparison. The voices don’t do much for the characters as they lose all of that expressiveness, and the vast majority sound the same, making it difficult to identify which character is speaking.
Manga Entertainment’s release of the series contains all 12 episodes of Season 1 and all 12 episodes of Season 2 over 4 discs, with the textless opening and ending songs and trailers being included as extras. While it is missing the OVA, bundling the two seasons together is still great value for money, as taking the price into account (which is slightly more than a standard 12/13-episode release) you’re getting around half a season for free. You also get a digital copy code with this series, however while I was able to register the code, the videos don’t seem to work, whether that is due to a technical or licensing issue on Funimation’s side (noting that Crunchyroll has the streaming license for the series in the UK).
Overall, while New Game! could have potentially done a lot more (particularly with its second season) and might not be the critical assessment of the games industry that some might have hoped for, this “cute girls do cute things” series has clear strengths in the design and development of its characters and their relationships that make you quickly fall in love them and want to cheer them on. It’s just a very fun and heart-warming series about a group of young women who make video games, and I’m sure that anyone who likes this type of show will thoroughly enjoy it.