The “wasteland” in the title of this anime series is a metaphor for the adult world, which Sayuki Kuroda sees as a place where people often have to do work that doesn’t interest them in order to make a living. There’s obviously some truth in that, but it is also possible to find work in an area that you find interesting. The challenge is finding a way to break into a coveted field of work, and in this series that’s game development.
Sayuki’s motives are kept deliberately unclear, and that’s because the series builds up to a dramatic twist towards the end. We know her brother is a game developer, but we are left guessing as to whether she is trying to emulate his success, whether some tragedy has befallen her family, or if something else is going on altogether. Whichever the case may be, she wants to put a team together to make a game as part of her school club, and she is ambitious as well. Once the game is complete, she wants to sell it, and then use the revenue to make a bigger and better game. That might sound absurd, but firstly there is apparently a market for cheap, amateur games, where the fanbase is more interested in the story and the art than the sophistication of the game development, and secondly Sayuki obviously has contacts within the games industry.
Our main viewpoint character is not actually Sayuki, who remains something of an enigma throughout most of the series, but the writer she ropes in to the club, Buntaro. He already writes for a drama club, but this is a challenge on an unprecedented scale for him, as he needs to write the equivalent of several novels of dialogue, to script all possible paths the player can take through the game. The series explores some issues that might affect a rookie writer, such as writer’s block, dealing with a heavy workload and a looming schedule, exhaustion and the problem of writing about romance when he has never experienced it himself.
A couple of Sayuki’s long-term friends also become part of the team. Yuka is their voice actor, and she also has a crush on Sayuki, as do pretty much all of the girls, although there is little more than hints at romantic feelings so it never gets in the way of the main thrust of the series, which is the problems faced by a group of individuals trying to achieve an ambitious project. Atomu is the only other male character in the group, and he is the production assistant. Naturally, if there is another male character in a harem anime (a genre this leans into, while eschewing its excesses), he cannot be a threat to the alpha male, so he has a fierce resentment of girls, having been dumped by his girlfriend for being too nice. It’s a bit silly, and largely forgotten throughout the series, once he has been introduced. His interactions with the girls on the team are generally normal, apart from very rare occasions when a bad memory is triggered.
Making up the rest of the team are Uguisu (a first year girl who is a very talented artist; she is also very shy but comes out of her shell a bit as the series progresses), and Teruha, the programmer. She is probably the most memorable character because she has the strongest personality, but I found her impossible to warm to. Her very vocal obsession with boys’ love games is a cliché of a character trait that has been done so many times that it comes across as a very lazy choice, and her regular clashes with Sayuki and threats to quit the team will not exactly endear her to the viewers.
There are endless anime series to choose from with a group of teenagers trying to achieve fame and/or success via a school club, whether that be a band, an idol group or a game. This one is on the weaker end of the scale, and the animation occasionally overstretches the abilities of the animators, but I was very impressed by the tight focus on what this group of teens is trying to achieve, without too many of the usual harem, fanservice or love-triangle distractions. Instead, we see them work through various problems that an ambitious group endeavour is bound to face, with personality clashes, crises of confidence, and an overarching theme of the importance of perseverance. Beyond Sayuki’s industry contacts, nothing comes easy, and anyone who has ever worked hard on perfecting something creative will recognise familiar hurdles, such as the agony of being told something is “quite good”, when you have been striving for much more than that. It’s a series that shows us that little can be achieved without hard work, and that sometimes a looming deadline means that perfection is impossible and you just have to do the best you can. Ironically, the frequent mediocrity of this series would tend to suggest that the animators themselves had to live with their own advice. RP