Gamers!

Keita is a teenage boy with a one track mind – games, games and more games! He overlooks socialising and hobbies in favour of pursuing his hobby so is taken aback when pretty, popular academic Karen Tendou asks him to join her Gaming Club. To her shock he turns down her offer as he prefers to play games for fun and not in a competitive way.

“I’m just a girl…standing in front of a boy…asking him to play video games with her.”

I had expected Gamers! to play out with Keita joining the club, getting to know the other members and attempting to win Karen’s affection, so I was happy when everything was turned on its head so spectacularly. Keita is nonplussed by turning down Karen’s invitation and is socially inept enough that he doesn’t realise he’s done something radically against social norms by rejecting a girl much higher than him in the school social hierarchy. He also doesn’t realise how much he has embarrassed Karen with the rejection. Things get hilarious pretty quickly when another popular kid, Tasuku confronts him about his behaviour in what turns into an over the top melodramatic slanging match on a bridge.

Gamers! continues to play with expectations as we see Karen completely fall apart over Keita. She falls for him hard, and is completely reduced to cartoon ashes, a sparkly eyed gooey mess or a jealous monster over Keita’s interactions with other girls and his utter obliviousness to her feelings. In fact, the show sets up such clear roles and types for each character with the sole purpose of destroying these setups. I really enjoyed this ‘in your face’ method of letting the audience know that comedic chaos is about to unfold in the very first episode.

All’s fair in love and games

Although gaming is continually mentioned and referenced throughout the anime as you’d expect, there’s a smaller focus on it than I had thought, and really I’d define Gamers! as a romantic comedy. The show sets up increasingly more elaborate and wacky misunderstandings between characters, who think X is dating Y when actually Z is dating Y and X wants someone else altogether. Although it seems over the top, it works really well a lot of the time as each character has their own foibles – Karen’s pride, Keita’s inferiority complex – and these form the heart of misunderstandings and miscommunications just as you’d see in real life.

Gamers! is a sweet anime packed full of laugh out loud moments, and romances you’ll want to root for, even if only for more humourous moments.

Gamers! is now streaming on Crunchyroll.

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New Game!

Aoba is fresh out of high school and greener than green when she starts her first job at the game developer Eagle Jump. Inspired by a game she loved as a child she is thrilled to find out she’ll be working on the sequel. But with such zany colleagues she’s in for a heap of wacky misadventures along the way…

As someone who is a few years into the working world, I immediately recalled and related to the feelings that New Game! immediately conjures up as we see Aoba meeting her team and adjusting to their quirks, trying to work out when to ask for help and how to do it, and feeling excited about her first paycheck. Each episode focuses on a different topic with titles such as “What Happens if I’m Late to Work?” and “That’s How Many Nights We Have to Stay Over?”. You can dip in and out of them if you just want some light office-based humour but you’re likely to enjoy it more if you watch them chronologically as the series also charts Aoba’s adjustments to adult and working life and it’s enjoyable watching her learn and grow as she takes advice from her teammates.

I enjoyed how realistically the office environment is rendered, admittedly with some otaku feeling touches to the environment. There are multiple shots of Aoba looking at her computer clock across the episodes, a really simple but effective way that I found made me feel more immersed in her working life and routine. I think this is the first anime I’ve ever seen that features an office environment for most of the scenes and the little touches are really nice and really help give the impression of a creative company’s working space.

New Game! renders a colourful but realistic office environment

The relationships in New Game! also feel natural, with Aoba quickly finding her place amongst her female colleagues in spite of a few newbie mistakes like locking herself out of the office every time she goes to the bathroom because she forgot her key card. The humour flows nicely, with some one-off gag moments that remind you that the anime is based on a four panel manga, as well as some more cleverly built up jokes – there is a great one in particular where Aoba walks in on her colleagues in a compromising situation, but it’s too good to spoil here!

New Game! also makes a few nods to yuri relationships in a way that repeatedly threatens to cross the line into something explicit, but then always wimps out at the last minute. It’s perhaps unsurprising that an anime so exclusively about female friendships and relationships would hint at this to try and widen its audience but also bewildering at times when moments are created then not built on any further. There are also light fanservice-y moments in general with the odd butt close-up but it’s so infrequent and brief that it never feels like you’re watching a fanservice anime.

“What do you mean our romantic relationship can only be implied?!”

I’m really enjoying this anime and definitely recommend it. New Game! offers a sweet and happy story about a young woman’s first foray into the working world, and as she pursues her dream it’s impossible not to remember being the newbie and find yourself rooting for her every step of the way. With a great assortment of characters and genuine laughs I’d recommend this to anyone looking for a funny anime set in the working world that offers up lots of great office humour.

Hanayamata 

Naru is a self-labelled “average teen” who wants to shine but feels inadequate next to her gorgeous, popular, in-a-band friend, Yaya. A chance encounter with a mysterious blonde girl called Hana at a shrine leads her into the world of yosakoi, a traditional Japanese dance.

In spite of its cutesy graphics, Hanayamata adds some emotional depth from the first episode which I was pleasantly surprised by, and we see the main characters struggle with their insecurities and fears in an understated way. Naru, for example, agrees to join Hana’s Yosakoi group but only as an assistant at first, betraying her anxiety that she isn’t a good enough dancer to “dazzle” and be worthy of the group. Tami is a well-behaved daddy’s girl who chooses to break away expectations from of her to join the group, and Yaya in turn battles with her own jealousy as she sees Naru step out of her insecurities and start to believe in herself again.

Hana’s motto – life’s too short not to be happy!
Although I was impressed with Hanayamata’s commitment to clear-cut character motivation and insecurity from the beginning, it did then move back to comfortable and cutesy territory once this had been established. Some of the scenes are excessively sentimental – Naru gives more than one emotional speech about how much yosakoi means to her, and how much her friends mean to her, which might be more powerful if it was more than five episodes in, but luckily a lot of the more sugary emoting is usually balanced with some light comedy. Perhaps because of the solid character establishing at the beginning, even the simpler scenes in Hanayamata feel weighted enough to avoid slipping into pure fluff territory.

It’s tough being the only glass half full member of the group sometimes
For me, Hanayamata is a nice “middle of the road” sort of anime. It offers enough character depth and drama to avoid floating away on its own fluffiness, and Naru’s stage fright and insecurities will be easily understandable and relatable to many. But it is still a fairly lightweight cutesy anime about five girls embracing friendship and a new passion. If you’re looking for something with pretty shoujo style animation, silly comedy and engaging main characters it’s definitely one to put on your ‘to watch’ list.

Minami Kamakura High School Girls Cycling Club

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Hiromi has moved to the beautiful coastal town of Kamakura, a city just south of Tokyo that is filled with temples and hiking trails. She plans to ride her bike to school but is a little rusty on the basics, and fortunately bumps into a fellow classmate Tomoe who offers to help her relearn.

As Hiromi meets more of her classmates they discover that they all have an interest in cycling, and decide to form a club. Their cycling journeys and quest to secure a budget for the club (they have to prove themselves worthy first) form the basis of this anime.

If you haven’t already guessed, this is a light and fluffy anime through and through. I have never watched a sport anime before, it was the clean art style and soft bright colour palette that drew me to this show. It’s easy for anyone that isn’t a sporty person or expert on cycling to get into this show as it makes it very accessible for the viewer. Hiromi and her friends are newbs to the cycling world and much about the best bicycles for them to use and the correct cycling technique is covered both within the anime, and within a real life featurette at the end which provides extra hints and tips for any budding cyclists.

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Hiromi and her friends have fun riding around Kamakura
This anime is cute and enjoyable – for me the highlights are seeing the sights of Kamakura gorgeously rendered with lush greenery and stunning blue skies and learning about cycling. But there’s nothing to make it a stand out anime – I’ll openly admit that couldn’t tell you the names of all of Hiromi’s friends and the anime doesn’t do much to create any in-depth personalities for them. Nonetheless this is a fun and cheery anime so if you’re looking for a fluffy sport anime it’s a definite contender.

Amanchu!

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Ooki is a shy girl still preoccupied with her old life and friends on moving to a new town. When she meets Hikari, a bubbly and eccentric girl who embraces everything in life from her new desk seat to that fresh textbook smell with equal enthusiasm, things look like they might be set to change for the better. Hikari is an experienced diver, and Ooki is persuaded to join the school’s diving club.

Hikari is initially the main draw to this anime. If you don’t like characters who are positive to the point of eccentricity you might find her peppiness grating, but her excitement for everything in life sets Amanchu! up as a positive and sweet anime. Hikari’s outlook is juxtaposed with Ooki’s sadness about trying to adjust to a whole new life – we see her apathy about joining any high school clubs and excitement for getting texts from her old friends. Hikari is the catalyst for change and when Ooki joins the diving club she gradually begins to re-emerge from her shell.

Ooki feels sad and lonely to begin with
Ooki feels sad and lonely to begin with

Ooki’s thoughts and behaviour indicate someone who struggles with anxiety and low self esteem that has been made worse by having to try and process the changes in her life, and the sensitive way her peers respond to this adds deeper emotion to what would otherwise be a simple fluffy story. The anime focuses closely on Ooki and her immediate peers – Hikari, and two other friends who are part of the diving club. The fact that scenes often include no more than four or five people really cements Amanchu! as an intimate anime and allows Ooki and Hikari’s characters in particular to be focused on to a stronger emotional effect.

Hikari is endearingly in love with life
Hikari is endearingly in love with life

Yuri fans will also delight in the ongoing subtext of Hikari and Ooki’s chemistry. Ooki’s tendency to get flustered and blush around Hikari can easily be explained away as part of her introverted and bashful nature…but there’s enough there to suggest an underlying attraction too. Their relationship forms the heart of the show and Hikari’s unquestioning support of Ooki in diving and beyond often tugs at the heartstrings. Although their scenes together are moving, they have strong moments alone too. One moment that really warmed my heart was when Hikari takes a train journey just to catch a brief but stunning glimpse of some blooming hydrangeas on its route, (she plans to get off at the next stop and then head back). She frequently embodies this “live in the now/enjoy all of life’s little wonders” attitude that slowly rubs off on Ooki. Hikari’s carefree attitude also works well alongside the anime’s aesthetic of light pastels, sparkling oceans and a relaxing soundtrack which make this a perfect summer watch.

You won't have to dive too deep for lesbian subtext here...
You won’t have to dive too deep for romantic subtext here…

Amanchu! disguises itself pretty convincingly under a veneer of fluffiness and light comedy, but from the get go it grounds itself in emotional honesty with a strong character arc as we see Ooki opening up to others and learning to embrace a new life that resonates across even the goofiest of scenes. The parallels of learning to dive underwater with learning to dive into a new life are a beautiful metaphor as we see Ooki overcome her sadness and anxiety step by step.

Check out this warm gem of an anime, Amanchu! is now available on Crunchyroll.