Directed by Ryouji Masuyama
Produced by A1 Pictures
Streaming on Crunchyroll
Anime adaptations of video games have not gotten nearly as bad a rep as their live action film and television counterparts, and that’s for good reason. While it took us until Detective Pikachu and Sonic the Hedgehog to get satisfactory silver screen portrayals of iconic video game characters, animation has been doing it for years.
Castlevania, Princess Connect! Re:Dive, and Ufotable’s adaptations of the routes of Fate stay/night have proven that anime comes just a bit closer to capturing the magic of our favorite games, even if they can still miss the mark. Yeah, I haven’t forgotten about Persona 5 The Animation either, but I still have hope for the Genshin Impact anime. When translating a video game into an anime, writers and directors still have to overcome the same obstacles of taking an interactive experience and creating a passive one, but the precedent has been established.
Now, trying to turn a game like NieR:Automata into an anime, that’s a tall task. The game has dozens of endings, and requires multiple playthroughs just to complete the story. Trying to convert that into a linear narrative should be impossible…should be.
So, if you’re too lazy to play the game and want to watch A-1 Pictures animate a Let’s Play for you, let’s check out NieR:Automata Ver1.1a, and see how it manages that herculean task.
Starting out, NieR:Automata is neither exceedingly ambitious, nor is it playing things safe. The first episode is essentially the game’s prologue, only slightly abridged since it normally takes about 25 minutes anyway.
The anime doesn’t expect you to have played the game, but it also doesn’t hold your hand through a lot of clunky exposition. Honestly, this is probably the best route to take. An anime adaptation is ostensibly intended to advertise the game to people who haven’t played it by getting fans excited and talking about it, so transplanting the story with as few changes as possible is smart.
Nier:Automata takes place in the future, in the midst of a proxy war fought between mankind and aliens, by androids. Humanity was driven off of earth by the invaders, and now relies on many classifications of robots to surveil and attack alien strongholds. We follow 2B, a combat android, as she seeks out a dangerous weapon in a factory manned by robots, and befriends a scanner android, 9S. Sorry, actually, 2B doesn’t befriend anybody, because emotions are forbidden, unless those emotions include snarky witticisms.
The series also uses a short sequence at the end of the episode to explain certain concepts, like the different endings of the game, or the black box that each android is equipped with.
Normally, I would hate something so ham-fisted as exposition being slapped onto the end of an episode, but 2B and 9S are presenting this information as puppets and in-character, so it’s really charming, actually. It was clear from the beginning that this anime would have to make some unorthodox storytelling choices in order to adapt this game, so it’s acceptable that they might flout convention from time to time.
If nothing else, NieR:Automata’s biggest selling point is that it is being produced by A1 Pictures. The studio has been consistently putting out high-quality projects for years, and that has never been more apparent.
In the last year alone, they flexed their considerable comedic and romantic chops with the third season of Kaguya-sama, some of the best action choreography and gunplay in anime in Lycoris Recoil, and their CG compositing in 86 and now NieR:Automata. They might not be able to match Bones in traditional animation, Orange in CG, or Ufotable in blending the two, but A1 has solidified its position as the Swiss army knife of anime studios. They do everything, and they do it well.
While I pointed out you don’t need to play the game to appreciate the anime, I’d like to highlight how well the animators did in recreating the giant robots of the original. The CG might be a little jarring if you’re only holding it up against the 2D animation, but it’s a dead ringer for the game, and I have to believe that it was a conscious choice.
I also appreciate that NieR:Automata has its own art style. A1 Pictures has a habit of breaking down their source material’s art style and reducing it to the most generic anime aesthetic. That works to the benefit of shows like Sword Art Online or Kaguya, but the cohesive look of the characters and world is vital to this story.
Normally, I like to talk about the writing as well as the presentation before wrapping up, but that doesn’t seem appropriate here. I feel I’ve done my job of explaining whether or not this anime is for you, and if it makes you interested enough to watch the show or play the game, then I’m satisfied.
I’d rather not delve into spoilers, and frankly, the first episode is almost entirely action and discreet world building. Go ahead and watch that, and if you vibe with this kind of world and these kinds of characters, that speaks for itself.
Unfortunately, the lack of anything to talk about means that while I like the NieR:Automata anime, I don’t love it. We’re going to call it Neutral Pleasing. There were stronger first episodes to consider, but this was solid and does more than a good enough job of advertising for its source material. Consider me firmly on board for the rest of the season.
And if you want to read about the anime that wowed me just a bit more in their debut episode, why not go ahead and follow the Otaku Exhibition, either on WordPress or Twitter @ExhibitionOtaku, for notification of when those reviews go live? Until next time, thanks for reading.