Posts Tagged School

Game Production is Never a Waste

The title logo for Girls Beyond the Wasteland.

The title logo for Girls Beyond the Wasteland.

My life is like a bad dating simulation game, especially since I always wind up with the break-up ending.

It should come as no surprise to anyone I’m no longer enamored with school-life anime series. The main reason for this is I’m well out of that environment and it’s actually foreign to me. I mean, I don’t know what high school students do for fun anymore, let alone what college students find entertaining—though I suspect it involves a lot of alcohol. However, there are caveats regarding my interest in school-life series, the most prominent being it has to have an interesting premise. School Live! was one such series I enjoyed despite being a school-life series thanks to a mixing and matching of genres. Thus, despite being few and far between, it’s possible for me to find school-life series enjoyable. While not of the same caliber as School Live!, the 2016 series Girls Beyond the Wasteland (少女たちは荒野を目指す Shōjotachi ha Kōya wo Mezasu) was a series that captured my attention, if only momentarily. This wasn’t because the characters were interesting or the story was engrossing, but because the premise was more than I expected. That being said, the series suffered from a cast of bland characters and a narrative that, while interesting and funny at times, failed to keep my attention.

In general, what makes a compelling anime series is the characters or story. If these two aspects aren’t strong, any series will suffer. Yet, there are times when a series premise can overtake other aspects of the story. The difficulty here is making sure the premise is interesting enough to keep a series compelling throughout its run. Sometimes this is as simple as brothers-in-law fighting over their inheritance, as was case with the opening chapters of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, or creating a love triangle between neighbors, such as in Touch. However, the most fascinating series I’ve watched dealt with the inner workings of different professions. This may be because I’m an adult and looking into multiple professions is an eye-opening experience for me. Honestly, though, I just like adults dealing with adult issues rather than children focusing on their trivial problems—and before anyone points out not all children’s problems are trivial, I recognize this.

That being said, school-life series don’t tend to have interesting premises. For the most part they focus on the daily lives of the characters and while that can be appealing to some, it quickly becomes tiring. Yet, school-life series that focus on club or sports activities generally have a better ratio of interesting series to mind-numbing ones. I mean, one of the greatest sports series ever written, Slam Dunk, was based on high school basketball. It’s the school-life series surrounding fine arts clubs that begin to lose me. However, when the idea of a fine arts club is crossed with the idea of creating something to put on the market, it allows the audience to see the process the characters go through to bring the product to fruition. This is what separates a fantastic school-life series from a middling one. Thus, it was the premise of Girls Beyond the Wasteland that made it an intriguing series to watch more so than other aspects of the series.

Buntarō Hōjō being locked in his room in the eighth episode.

Buntarō Hōjō being locked in his room in the eighth episode.

So then, what was the fascinating premise of Girls Beyond the Wasteland? It was no more than a school club developing, producing, and publishing a dating simulation game. This may not seem all that enticing at first, but this idea runs in the same vein as Shirobako, Seiyu’s Life!, and to a degree Bakuman. Yet, the fundamental difference between Girls Beyond the Wasteland and the series listed above is the characters in Girls Beyond the Wasteland were high school students and not professionals. As such, it wasn’t a look into the industry as much as it was an examination of the process of making a dating simulation game. The steps may not be appealing for those inside of the industry or mired in independent game creation, but this was the strength of the series because it detailed the process in simple terms in each episode. Granted, the details were certainly streamlined and fictionalized, but it managed to cover the difficulties of things such as coding, story development, art direction, and schedule management.

For example, the eighth episode of the series focused on the protagonist, Buntarō Hōjō, being behind in the story development for the game his club was making. What’s interesting about this wasn’t the fact Buntarō suffered from writer’s block, but how it affected the games scheduled release date. It was clearly laid out why this was important for the story and through it we understood the pressures levied on content creators working on tight deadlines. While the series handled Buntarō’s writer’s block in a humorous manner by having the other club members lock him in his room with no contact with the outside world, it raised the question how game production companies handle this issue with their creative team. This was one of the problems with Girls Beyond the Wasteland because it could only look at these issues through the lens of students. Even so, by addressing the trials and tribulations of game production, the series was engrossing.

I wish I could say the same about the overarching narrative of the series, though, because there wasn’t much of a foundation for the premise to build on. Again, the focus of the series was a high school club creating a dating simulation game. Yet, for most of the series it was never explained why the club was creating the game. Granted, it was suggested game creation was a cutthroat venture by the heroine, Sayuki Kuroda, and that prompted the main story. However, I’m not sure that plot point was enough to keep the story and characters focused or interesting for twelve episodes. Of course, there were twists and turns in the story and as interesting as they were, they felt forced rather than born from a natural progression of the narrative. The best instance of this came in the tenth and eleventh episodes. The twist in the eleventh episode actually had a small effect on the overall narrative, making it difficult to discuss, however the turn in the tenth episode was frustrating to say the least. This was because a rival game company was introduced into the story.

While there’s nothing wrong with creating a rival for the main characters, at such a late juncture in the series not only was it out of place, but it also felt forced. Hence, when looking over the series to that point it was clear this wasn’t a series about competition, but a group of students overcoming hurdles while working towards a goal. What this ultimately did was make a story that was passable frustrating because the rivalry should have been a plot point introduced early in Girls Beyond the Wasteland. At least then more weight could have been placed on each setback in the game’s production, which would have made the series a bit more engaging.

Buntarō, Sayuki Kuroda, and Hosokawa talking at a restaurant.

Buntarō, Sayuki Kuroda, and Hosokawa talking at a restaurant.

However, the characters needed to be fleshed out to make the series more enjoyable. The issue here wasn’t necessarily all the main characters being devoid of personality, but rather half of them lacked discernable characteristics. We’re not talking about a large cast of characters, so when half of them need more personality it’s actually troubling. For example, Sayuki hardly emoted in the series and this was upsetting because she was the head of the club. As such, we needed to see clear signs of leadership and ever more outbursts from her and not just her quiet demeanor. A similar issue was present with the characters Yūka Kobayakawa and Uguisu Yūki as well. However, with these two characters only a few episodes were dedicated to them, so it’s understandable why they were underdeveloped compared to Buntarō.

That’s not to say every character was tedious to watch as there were in fact two characters who stole almost every scene they were in. The first was Atomu Kai. What made Atomu so fascinating wasn’t his personality per se, but the trauma he suffered in his love life. Thus, when any mention of his past romantic endeavors were mentioned he not only became extremely negative, but also abrasive. It’s rare a character in an anime series would harbor such feelings towards the opposite sex, but in the context of a school-life series it worked rather well. The second character who stole every scene he was in was the minor character Hosokawa. Watching and listening to Hosokawa was like watching and listening to a person who was a character. What I mean by this is he exuded so much personality that ever scene he was in was guaranteed to have interesting dialog. Had it not been for the inclusion of Hosokawa in Girls Beyond the Wasteland there wouldn’t have been much in terms of mesmerizing or at the very least fun characters.

I’m going to be very upfront about this. Girls Beyond the Wasteland is a great background noise series. It offered just enough in each episode to keep the audience curious about the development and creation process of dating simulation games, but lacked the qualities of a truly amazing series. While I feel part of the issue stemmed from the series being a school-life series, it came much more from the lack of a solid narrative and captivating characters. Perhaps the issues also came from how the series was adapted from a dating simulation game, but I can only speculate. Of course, not all the characters and plot points were bland. Rather, they lacked the polish one would expect from a series in this genre. I don’t doubt there are fans of this series and to them I say enjoy it all you want. Even long-time fans of the medium can find enjoyable aspects of the series. But, if you are new to the medium, you may want forgo watching it until you’ve experienced more of what the anime industry has to offer.

Work Info
Girls Beyond the Wasteland (少女たちは荒野を目指す Shōjotachi ha Kōya wo Mezasu)
Under: Project 9
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