OP: 「Alive」by ReoNa
Have you ever worked at one of those places, with one of those managers, in one of those positions, where you’re not sure what they’re actually for? And they don’t so much work as watch other people do work? Where every other member of the team is perfectly competent and doing their jobs but someone has decided that there needs to be another separate person to tell them to do what they were already doing? And if they completely disappeared from the organisation nobody would notice until someone pointed out the empty seat at the Christmas lunch?
It’s not exactly Arknights‘ fault that the Doctor is nothing more than a glorified piece of luggage. They are a vestigal organ of the game. Smartphone Arknights is a strategy game and in a strategy game the player is, naturally, the strategist. It is not an uncommon thing to want the player to feel more involved in the story and so the strategist is made into a separate character in their own right. This is the opposite of what an anime usually wants to do; with their very limited runtime, the last thing an anime (or a TV series, or a movie) wants to do is to use that time on a character who just plans and coordinates and doesn’t otherwise contribute to the action. Who wants to watch people sit around planning stuff, anyway? At the very least, the character calling the shots is usually multi-purpose and has some action role as well. And talking about what they’re going to do is jettisoned in favour of actual doing; there’s a reason it’s a running trope that the only reason a plan is discussed in movies is because it’s going to fail.
Unfortunately, all this means that when a character that just talks is dropped into an action scene they become something of a burden, on both their fellow and the plot. Besides being the designated Person to Whom Things Are Explained, the Doctor plays a deliberate black box, just there as an overt can of mystery until the story is good and ready to crack it open. It’s not a great gig, though, to be stuck as a walking plot device. At least in the first episode the doctor got to flex an apparent innate tactical acumen (though of course all the actual planning occured offscreen) but here they’re just the sod stuck holding onto the fire alarm.
Perhaps it’s just because it’s episode 2? In anime, episode 2 is conventionally a workhorse episode where, after the opening in media res in episode 1, they now have to double back and do all the introductory Act I stuff. And so it seemed for Arknights; Reunion turns out to be more than a band of faceless mooks so each of these antagonists need an introduction, basically by taking turns accosting our protagonists (who are in turned bailed out by a new introduction of their own). It’s certainly efficient but it also makes our protagonist feel rather hapless. Even Amiya, the character with actual protagonist energy, is relegated to being a distraught maiden. Fun game: every time Amiya says “doctor”, drink.
I’m happy to be patient with any anime just two episodes and let it lay out what it wants but we need to keep in mind that Arknights is not a contentional anime series in that it only has eight episodes. So we’re alrady a quarter of the way through. Though, it’s sticking to the ‘three episode rule”, next episode, number three, is supposed to be a banger to close out Act I. Just in time, we have promise in Talulah, who gets the Big Bad Entrance and looks to have firepower in every sense. It’s a tried and true method to escalate a plot, to set it all on fire, and I’m looking forward to it.
ED: 「BE ME」 by Doul