OP: 「Gamers!」 by Kanemoto Hisako, Iwami Manaka, Ookubo Rumi
「上原祐と強くてニューゲーム」 (Uehara Tasuku to Tsuyokute Nyuu Geemu)
“Tasuku Uehara and New Game +”
It’s best when you don’t expect it.
Oftentimes, the best stories are riffs on familiar formulas. Building something entirely new and revolutionary is difficult, because you’re liable to include a lot of elements that don’t work along with the new good stuff (which someone else will steal, combine with elements that work, and profit from your risk—that’s how creative work goes). But when you take familiar elements and twist them just so, it can feel fresh and alive even if it’s mostly familiar. That’s what Gamers! does—they put a twist on the ‘ol loser romcom genre, and hit you from an angle you don’t expect.
The biggest unexpected element is Karen falling head over heels in love with Amano. The popular girl falling for the nerdy boy is a well-worn trope, but here Karen falls so far in love with Amano as to start looking silly and uncool in her own right. Which makes it funny, because Amano might still get with the cute girl, but by then we know her cultural cachet will have fallen. She looks silly, which makes her more approachable, which makes her less cookie-cutter, and above all else, makes for more comedy. Rule of Funny reigns supreme! Turns out taking the old trope just a little farther can make it feel fresh.
The big star this episode, for me, is Uehara Tasuku (Toyonaga Toshiyuki). Midway through the episode it felt like he was the male lead and Amano was his heroine as he was chasing after! I don’t really have a follow up to that, I just thought it was a fun dynamic. Still, Tasuku’s transformation over a single episode was compelling and surprisingly complete, from sullen indifference to easy contentment. It helps that they led with him being good at the crane game last episode, and hints that he wasn’t scoffing at Amano for the same reason the others were. He didn’t come off as an asshole to anyone but his girlfriend Aguri (Ookubo Rumi), though even then he was more indifferent.
It also suuuuper helps that Tasuku’s struggles were probably pretty easy to relate to when your audience is a bunch of anime-watching nerds, and toss in middle school bullying? Done and done. But his frustration with Amano, which was more frustration with himself, led down two interesting paths.
First, he accurately called out how Amano didn’t accept Karen’s invitation because he was running away. Amano didn’t want to do the work to fit in with others and have friends, work that Tasuku was well-suited to call him out on because he’d done it himself. What I most appreciated during that scene was the mixing of serious and silly. Interspersing the two not only keeps the mood in the right place for the comedy this is trying to be, the comedy serves to slip past our defenses so the drama can deal a heavier blow. All the things they’re saying to one another are correct, and something that some audience members likely need to hear, either now or in the past—including, I’d hazard to guess, the author at some time in the past. This kind of insight is usually born of experience, either their own or of someone close. It hits home because it’s true, and it’s silly laced with humor. Bravo.
The other thing I really loved was the swift change in Tasuku & Aguri’s relationship between indifference and doki doki love. Their relationship was the one thing that was bothering me, but the discomfort was worth the payoff. And yes, learning that Aguri thought he was awesome back in middle school, when he was in his dark ages, is total pandering (because she likes the real him, not the cool handsome him)—but it’s good pandering because (A) it tastes so good, we all deserve a reward once in a while lay off, and (B) it came at us from the unexpected angle of them already being dating, so I didn’t see it coming. That unexpected twist enhances the whole package. Plus I’m a total fan of the B-couple most of the time, so I was rooting for them almost instantly.
Next episode, the plot thickens vis a vis Amano and Karen, as Amano’s gaming buddy enters the fray proper. I’m still not going to claim that Karen will lose the Amano Bowl, she’s still the front-runner, but competition that will likely lead (in part) to her breakdown is liable to make her even more sympathetic, which is wonderful. It feels like, instead of Karen being Amano’s love interest, the situation is reversed, so the more trouble Karen has getting close to Amano—the harder to get he plays, even if that’s not his intention—the more rewarding it’ll be if she wins in the end. Unless the other girl is a Megumi, in which case BACK OF BLONDIE, BEST GIRL INCOMING! We’ll find out next episode.
Oh yeah, and I’m totally blogging this series.
- Love love LOVE the OP. The ED is fine too, but dat OP. The Super Smash stage was my favorite, and I’ll stop there because if I listed out all the scenes I liked we’d BE HERE ALL DAY.
- Amano is so into all the stuff about games, not just the playing. He’s the type who would read all the quest text in an MMO.
- It’s like watching me play a fighting game. Too real ;_;
- “You won plushies for someone else, didn’t you?” This girl.
My SECOND novel, Freelance Heroics, is available now! (Now in print!) (Also available: Firesign #1 Wage Slave Rebellion.) Sign up for my email list for exclusive content. At stephenwgee.com, the last four posts: I get it now!; Guardians of the Galaxy, Glee, & Firesign; That’s not supposed to go there . . .; and The Carcer Principle.
ED: 「Fight on!」 by Luce Twinkle Wink☆