New Game! does a good job making me sympathize with Aoba. Her trouble in the beginning of this episode, having fallen back asleep after her alarm woke her up, I’ve definitely been there. And that moment of horror when she looks at the time and sees how late it is… yep. I’ve gone to lengths to try to avoid it by setting two alarms for myself and such, but even that doesn’t always work. And that burst of adrenaline-fueled panic as you realize what happened is one of the most unpleasant feelings in the world.
After the train ride and the failed attempt to dash to the office to make it on time, I just feel sorry for everyone as Aoba, Yun, and Hifumi all turn up late. Because she’s their boss, Ko tries to be stern and reprimand them, but it falls flat as soon as she learns that Aoba tripped out front and the others stopped to help her gather her things. Ko almost visibly deflates, her sternness immediately changing to concern, and then shame at having been trying to reprimand them when something like that had happened, and I just want to give her a hug. She’s just trying to do her job, but finding the balance to both be their boss and still be the relatable senpai they can talk to when they need her is a tough spot for her to be in.
Once we get past those hijinks, we dive into the real body of this episode. Aoba’s working on that NPC villager Ko assigned her in the previous episode. She finishes it up after some work, and brings it over to Ko for evaluation, and I have to say that, speaking as an outsider just looking at the model she had on its own, I would have said it looks fine. Certainly Aoba’s comment that it’s just a villager and people aren’t going to look at it too closely is probably true, for the most part. It’s an NPC, no one of significance, just walking around to make the area look populated. Most companies take shortcuts on that by copy-pasting NPCs around, so you’ll find people with the same face in different locations. But Ko isn’t willing to settle for that, and it appears that doing this kind of detailed character work has been something of a signature for the Fairies Story series, and possibly for all of the products Eagle Jump has put out. Aoba’s character needs work: the shading can be improved, the expression is too stiff, little things to make her more alive. And so Aoba is sent back to work on it some more.
This begins some of the hardest work Aoba has ever done. Before I continue, let me mention that when this series started I had not read the manga for it, but between then and now I have done so. This segment of the episode, with Aoba struggling to fix something, taking it to Ko, having it sent back, struggling with it, taking it to Ko, having it sent back, rinse-repeat, was handled in relatively few strips in the manga, and not really shown in that much detail. Here in the episode I can really feel Aoba’s struggle; seeing her depressed for a few moments with each rejection before pushing it away and throwing herself back into working on it. And the source for her motivation was seeing Ko herself working unceasingly, her gaze never wavering as she drew, even after everyone else had left the office. Aoba knows that Ko isn’t rejecting these versions of the NPC out of pettiness, and that she’s devoting herself more than anyone else to making this project a success. She sets a standard, and Aoba is determined to live up to it.
You can see the development of villager, comparing its earlier state to its later one. Shading is a subtle thing, but once it’s there looking back at a version that lacks it makes you realize how much more depth it gives to the image. Careful adjustments are made to the character’s costume and proportions, a lot of fine details are tweaked to improve the villager. Yet still, despite the improvements, it’s still not quite there. Ko tells Aoba that the character is still a bit stiff: she’s lacking a vital bit of life she needs. Aoba is at a loss. She can still tweak things here and there, try to adjust the costume for cuteness and a bit more shading, but there’s still something missing. She can feel it, but she doesn’t know how to fix it.
It’s here that Aoba has two important conversations that change everything. First is when Rin takes the train partway home with her. After a few questions, and telling her character is really good for her first time, Rin lets her in on a secret: the last version she’d submitted to Ko technically was good enough to pass. Ko rejected it not because of a problem with the character, but because she believed Aoba could to better. A bit of a risky move, but trying to teach the newbie to not just settle for “good enough,” but to instead aim for “as good as possible” is not necessarily a bad goal. And Aoba certainly feels amazed, honored, and motivated upon learning that her hero has such high expectations of her.
The second conversation is something special. It didn’t actually happen in the manga, which makes it all the more impressive to me at just how amazing it felt what I watched it. Because she stayed so late at work, Aoba gets her regular call from Nene while she’s walking home from the train station. She sits on a bench as they talk, and conversation ends up on the villager she’s working on. Nene interprets Aoba’s description of her as a “fluffy, dreaming type” which Aoba objects to, saying she’s the type that’s “devoted to her parents, sensible, and energetic.” Nene complains that there’s practically no difference between the two, but Aoba tells her that no, “fluffy types are all frilly,” while “the ones devoted to their parents are a bit more simple and vigorous.” And realization strikes her at that moment of what she’d been missing. What it is that makes a character a character. I can’t do that moment of realization justice with words. It is one of the best visual representations of an epiphany that I have seen in a long time.
That final bit was what she needed, and the next morning she’s in the office working on the villager before Ko even wakes up. Aoba is ready when that moment comes, and she hands in her latest version, which finally meets Ko’s approval. There’s a lot of delight, relief, and satisfaction here, because we’ve gone through this struggle with Aoba, and we’ve seen her at both her high and low points throughout it. Ko is happy with her as well, although in the time-honored tradition of workplaces everywhere, the reward for successfully completing one task is to be assigned a harder task: now that Aoba has figured out how to do NPC creation, Ko expects her to do the next one in no more than three days. But hey, that’s just life in (insert industry of choice here). That’s how work… well… works. And I have faith that our young character designer can handle what comes her way.
This was probably the strongest episode of New Game! to date. Given that I’ve really liked all of them, I hope it means something when I say that. Starting with the usual hijinks it built up to an actually pretty intense emotional release. So, just for the record: I said I’d do it, so I’m doing it. I’ve made it three episodes and still found that there’s enough material each time to write a post about, so as of this episode I’m officially claiming this show for coverage. See ya’ll next week!
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