I have mentioned the Bechdel test a few times on this blog, a measure of the representation of female characters in fiction, film or television. There does of course exist the concept of the Reverse Bechdel test, which asks whether two male characters interact at any point, and have a conversation about something other than the female characters in the story. It is perhaps an example of how far we still have to come in Western societies that Bechdel test fails are still happening, whereas Reverse Bechdel test fails are extraordinarily rare, although this is a picture that is obviously improving over time. One interesting thing about watching anime is that the opposite is true. Reverse Bechdel test fails are commonplace. New Game! is a good example. Despite taking place in a workplace that is not gender specific, every character is female (this will eventually be explained in the second season), and apart from unnamed people in the background of outdoor shots, and some men in the background of a launch party in the penultimate episode, there is not a male character to be seen for the entire series. For anyone who has watched a lot of anime, this doesn’t actually seem like a bad thing at all. In fact, when there is one or maybe two token male characters, they are often stereotypes or simply boring. New Game! shows the value of an all-female series, and gets away from all the will-they-won’t-they romance stuff that so often leads to nothing, apart from the very occasional hint of yuri attraction, and there’s very little of that. If you think this sounds like a wholesome series you would be right, by and large, although there are occasional moments of fanservice, which seem tonally out of place with the rest of the series, but are generally fleeting and often justified by the comedy. A good example is Ko Yagami’s tendency to sleep in the office in her undies.
Our focus character is Aoba Suzukaze, who starts work at a game development company at the start of the series. It is a lovely exploration of somebody fulfilling her childhood dream, and her immediate boss is a hero of hers, the character designer for a game that inspired Aoba to work on games herself. Much to Aoba’s delight, she finds herself working on a sequel to that same game. It’s a feel-good story, and the main focus of the series is the learning curve Aoba has to follow, and the challenges she has to overcome on the way. She has to be resilient, in order to face up to the many failures that inevitably lie on the path to victory, to achieve the skills that she needs. It also provides a fascinating insight into how hard a job this is, and the ridiculously long hours the Japanese work by Western standards. It is hard to see how any of these co-workers could possibly maintain a social life, and indeed we tend to see their social interactions within the office setting, or when they do occasionally socialise it is with their colleagues. Aoba is only able to maintain a relationship with her childhood friend by telephone (their conversations provide a lovely coda to each episode), and eventually the friend Nene Sakura gets herself a summer job as a game tester at the same company, just so she can make sure her friend is OK with the long hours she is working. It’s also the only way they can spend their summer together. With Nene at university, and still getting long holidays, it’s an interesting contrast between those who go into the workplace and those who remain in education, and the very different lives they lead. That seems to be reflected in their levels of maturity as well.
As always with these ensemble casts of characters, the others are a mixed bunch in terms of how watchable they are. Aoba forms a small group of four friends with the most junior members of the team, the girls who are older than her but closest to her age. They are Hajime Shinoda, who is quite a fun, lively character (I suppose we would call her tomboyish, with her obsession with prop weapons), Yun Iijima, who is by far the least interesting in the group, and Hifumi Shinoda, who is by far the most interesting. Hifumi is painfully shy, initially unable to communicate with any of her co-workers other than by email, even though she sits right next to them. Aoba helps to bring her out of her shell, and her gradual transformation throughout the series, although still a work in progress by the end, is a joy to watch. Then we have the more senior characters. The aforementioned character designer Ko is helped as much on a personal level by Aoba as Aoba is helped on a professional level by Ko, so that’s another key relationship in this series. Ko’s best friend is Rin Toyama, who cares deeply for Ko and provides the series with the closest thing to a yuri relationship. Umiko Ahagon is great fun, a fiery-tempered military-obsessive, who has a lovely little character arc with an interesting dynamic in her working relationship with Nene, when she turns up for her summer job. In charge of the department is game director Shizuku Hazuki, who is a bit of a stereotypical cougar (well, whatever the lesbian equivalent of a cougar might be), although there is more to her than that, and her shenanigans did make me laugh out loud a few times, especially when she captures a cute expression with a quick snap of the camera on her phone, only for the phone to be lowered to reveal the angry expression that has immediately replaced it.
When I wrote about My Love Story!! I mentioned that it was the perfect, feel-good series to help us through our lockdown here in the UK. New Game! definitely falls into the same category, despite being a very different genre of anime. If you do what I did, and end each day with one episode, that’ll give you 20 minutes of pure, gentle, wholesome, feel-good joy, to put a smile on your face. We need series like this at the moment. There is a second season, which I bought as part of the same recently-released Blu-ray set. A review of that will follow very soon. RP
Read next in the Junkyard… New Game!!