First Look: NieR:Automata Ver1.1a

Video Game Adaptation by A-1 Pictures
Streaming on Crunchyroll

Premise

In the far future, the remnants of humanity have been driven to the brink by the rise of machine lifeforms. The YoRHa model androids, including battler-model 2B and scanner-model 9S, are their last hope to battle the machines and retake Earth.

Iro’s verdict: To what end?

As has been noted, NieR: Automata is a weird subject of an anime adaptation, not simply because it’s a video game and those don’t tend to make the jump well, but because parts of its narrative hinge completely around the fact that it is a video game. What we have here is a fairly competent and usually good-looking (barring some rough CG models with the flight units), but it’s also basically just all the scenes from the game but with the game stuff ripped out. It’s hard for me to see this as anything other than Square trying to make a cash grab with a property they know is popular, and I guess it’s probably working, seeing as I did tune in to the first episode.

All that said, the goofy puppet show at the end is the kind of shit I’d actually want out of a Nier anime. I could see myself skipping the actual show and checking that out every week.

Gee’s verdict: Do you think games are silly little things?

If you ask me, Nier Automata is an odd choice to adapt into anime. Yes it’s very “anime” (however you decide to interpret that pejorative) but it’s also very “video game” too. Much of Automata’s immutable poignance and memorability is in how it presented its story and characters to you through the act of play. It’s a story about sad robots, but there’s so much to these sad robots you only learn over the course of spending dozens of hours with them. A TV adaptation by its very nature, must excise much of the texture associated with video games. But when the story in question is directly tied to how it was played, what are you left with? The first episode NieR:Automata Ver1.1a seems to be a competent adaptation of the game’s opening sequence, largely capturing the major plot beats of that section. But it loses some of the impact when the fights go so quickly. Engels is a memorable fight because of how much of a damn spectacle it is. You probably spend at least 10-20 minutes fighting that single encounter alone. In the anime, it’s understandably reduced to a 2-3 minute sequence. It’s immensely less memorable in such a form. Throw in some really off-putting CG models and you’re left asking yourself, “why even bother?” There are some legitimately fantastic looking establishing shots that really capture the melancholic atmosphere of Nier Automata, but also I could just play the video game.

The only saving grace of the anime so far is the inclusion of a kooky puppet show at the end that acts as a self aware primer on the video game the anime is based on. Puppet 2B and 9S acknowledge that the original work has multiple endings, many quite comical and most optional. And yet for many people, these would be fundamental to the Nier Automata experience. So how can we present them in a non interactive medium? A ridiculous puppet show is honestly one of the better solutions I’ve seen. If I bother to stick with the anime, it’ll be to see how those end credit sequences play out.

Artemis’ verdict: Thighs: The Anime

Full disclosure: fittingly given the character designs, I went into this anime blind – I’ve heard the name NieR:Automata before and that’s the full extent of my knowledge. I’m not a gamer and I don’t care how good an adaptation this (or really anime for that matter) is per se; all I care about is whether it’s a good show in its own right, regardless of one’s prior knowledge of the franchise (or in my case, complete lack thereof).

So, in that context, how did it fare? Not well, to be frank. I both entered and left this premiere feeling mostly confused because I truly had very little idea of what the heck was going on the entire time. Who are these non-humans, what is their goal, and why should I care? I’m not asking anyone to comment with an explanation by the way, merely presenting these as rhetorical questions, just as the anime seems to do. Clearly, this one was made almost entirely for the fans, just like many other video game-based anime are, so anyone else going in for the very first time will likely be shit out of luck. Exactly two things stood out to me by the time the end credits rolled:

1. The show has excellent music. For a hot second there, I thought I’d somehow found myself listening to the 1995 Ghost in the Shell OST. I don’t know if it’s the same or similar to the game in this regard but either way, I would absolutely buy the soundtrack.

2. This anime (or the game, or both, whatever) is obsessed with thighs. If you yourself enjoy thigh shots to a compulsive degree (specifically, the whole zettai ryouiki thing), you will deeply appreciate this series even if you hate every single other thing about it.

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