I used to be an avid defender of sorts for slice of life anime. Now I’m less enamored by most of them but they’re still an easy watch. If Kyoto Animation’s works stand as the peak of the genre then Doga Kobo would be the middle point, generally not hitting the craft or subtlety of a K-ON! but usually being competent at fun character animation and comedic timing. To that end the first season of New Game! is well up to par, a standard slice of life wrapped in a mellow workplace story with a few good laughs and some surprising sincerity.
It helps that I’m already a fan of stories like New Game! about adults working in the creative industries. Not that I expected the next Shirobako, but I did expect a pleasant sorta fuzzy show that was a little more authentic than the ocassionally creepy high school girl obsessesed stories of the genre. And it definitely is pleasant and fuzzy, but only that little bit more authentic than the usual fare. Main character Aoba Suzukaze looks and dresses and talks like any anime high school girl. She’s timid but plucky and good-spirited, as dictated by the archetype. The other characters tend to play up her childish personality, which is occassionally endearing but mostly comes off as vaguely creepy anime bullcrap. Childishness can definitely be cute, but when it’s played out through characters being shy and flustered it mostly comes off as fetishising them for being vulnerable. In general New Game! treads the line between endearing and uncomfortable with how it portrays shy characters, sometimes characterising legitimate anxiety in characters like Hifumi but spending a lot of time just trying to find situations for characters to cower and blush in shame. Now I’m not gonna get super morally judgy if you find that stuff cute, it’s just really not my cup of tea. I can generally tolerate it but I definitely don’t like it.
The second half of New Game! sees more of a shift towards the things I wanted out of the series, building a nice loose story arc around the final stages of development on Fairies’ Story 3 with some surprisingly competent drama. Special mention goes to the subplot of episode 10 where Aoba finds herself struggling to maintain her friendship with Nene under the stress of her job. It’s not especially well told visually and it stops and starts for silly slice of life stuff, but it still manages to be a genuinely felt and authentic workplace conflict. As the series takes a slightly more subtle and serious tone it also manages to be funnier in between the straight stuff, with gags having a tighter flow and focus along with some slicker character animation.
Also, can I say how much I love Nene? Because I really do. I complained before about the specific ways Aoba is portrayed to be childish, but Nene is exactly my kind of childlike character. She’s dorky and a little petty and kind of a screwup but gosh darnit she’s proud of her hobbies and she does her best for others. I like pretty much every other character and how they bounce off one another to varying extents, but I relate to Nene way more than I’m openly willing to admit.
New Game! is nice. I could definitely do without the fanservice (both subtle archetype fanservice and overt sexualisation drawn out through lame gags like Ko always sleeping around the office in her underwear), but I still found New Game! to be an above average slice of life with a solid narrative and a fair share of warm funny moments. If slice of life is your thing then this is an easy sell.
Also I’m Nene and none of you can be Nene.