Keita Amano is a lonely young man who loves video games; Karen Tendō is the beautiful president of the video game club; Chiaki Hoshinomori constantly fights with Keita; and Tasuku Uehara puts on a facade of being satisfied with his life in the real world, but he in truth loves video games. – ANN
Source: Light Novel
Episode 1 Summary: Keita Amano’s high school life is lacking in the things that make fun – he’s got no friends and he doesn’t belong to any clubs. He goes home everyday and spends his evenings playing video games. While perusing new titles in the game shop he’s approached by Karen Tendou, his schools’ most beautiful, smart, and popular student. She invites him to join the newly-reestablished game club she’s put together at their school, and she’s extremely passionate about it. All the current members are experts at the various types of games that they play, and they all seem to have much larger reasons for playing them than “they’re just fun to play.” Keita starts to feel like the odd one out, since he just likes to play video games for his own enjoyment. When Karen asks him to join the club officially, he declines in spite of multiple reasons why he knows the experience will be good for him. Though, to Karen, this feels like the ultimate rejection, it’s likely that this isn’t the last word in the matter.
Impressions: Most people have hobbies, and I think for many, their hobbies are a type of escapism. I don’t sit down and knit a scarf because I need another scarf to wear; I knit the scarf because I like the experience of choosing the right yarn, of feeling it running through my fingers with each stitch, and of watching the rhythmic loops upon loops of fiber expand into a finished project. I can knit while watching television or just enjoying the quiet somewhere, and it helps me relax. If I were to start an Etsy shop to sell my finished projects, suddenly a hobby that I enjoy would morph into an obligation, losing all of its power to take me out of my daily life. It’s the same reason why I don’t really do art commissions or write articles for money; when there’s a transaction involved, it just isn’t that fun anymore. When there’s a hard deadline, it’s much easier to stress about it.
I can understand Keita’s reluctance to join Karen’s video game club, in spite of all the potential positives. He likes to game in his room, alone; it’s a form of relaxation after spending all day at school feeling mediocre and isolated from his classmates. Why would he want to place himself among people who play video games for a broader purpose? It would only invite comparisons in which he comes out looking like an aimless doofus.
These are thoughts I never expected to have while watching yet another anime about some hapless high school kid with a crush on a girl who joins a club full of misfits on some grand time-wasting adventure in slice-of-life territory. There are a lot of pieces in this show that seem to defy expectations, and I find that kind of fascinating. In my defense, the promotional image for the series is misleading – it makes it seem as though the protagonist, through some form of dumb luck (or “protagonist syndrome”), gets thrust into a group of girls, creating the potential for a romantic entanglement while the obnoxious male sidekick cracks jokes and acts as wing man throughout. Just in this episode I think we were introduced to at least four total male characters and roughly an equivalent number of young women, taking the ratio pretty far out of harem territory (two of the characters are even already a couple). The assumed romantic relationship between Keita and Karen is already in a very different place; rather than dancing around an awkward attraction, things are already on the rocks and Keita’s denial of her club invitation is even framed as a romantic rejection. Whether this is a setup to turn things back around in twelve episodes is a mystery, but it definitely went against my own expectations.
There are also several humorous interjections via the on-screen text throughout the episode. They’re kind of self-aware, from the POV of some omniscient narrator, and give some snappy perspective on future developments for the characters. It’s reminiscent of, say, Ouran High School Host Club, with its blinking pointer-finger indicator of the doomed vase in episode 1, or even some live-action films like Scott Pilgrim (which, coincidentally, also deals in video game culture for its aesthetics) that are self-aware and call blatant attention to it via blending of referential special effects. Stuff like this always runs the risk of making media feel too “know-it-all” about its own tropes through overuse, but it’s used sparingly enough here that it doesn’t wear out its welcome.
The episode does fall in line with some expectations, however, especially in regards to the character relationships between boys and girls. There’s still kind of a disappointing lack of sexual awareness that Keita displays towards Karen; there are a few shots of her legs and body from Keita’s point-of-view that follow with him blushing and being unable to get words out of his mouth properly. Attraction turns some of us into disasters, but I have yet to meet a teenage kid who is made into such a mess from seeing an attractive person that their eyes wander around their crush’s body like the cameras in these anime series seem to think they do. Shots like that are one of those tools of the trade that are used as a shortcut, but which could be eliminated with just a minor amount of finesse (and a big dose of respect towards women and their bodies – this is probably the bigger hurdle).
Aside from that, though, I found myself amused by some of the game parodies already featured in the first episode (will there be more? I hope so). Karen’s polite conversation with King Koopa as a result of her delirium from lack of sleep, was surprisingly funny for a show where I didn’t expect there to be a decent comedic element. Video games are part of our shared culture, and as a Gen-X/Millennial cusp baby, I’ve experienced most of the big, important moments as games have grown into their own as an art form. In part, this show (and likely the light novel on which it was based) seems to have some of that same perspective. Even if it never takes on any of that broader cultural analysis (which it definitely doesn’t have to), it’s still fun to see the things that I’m familiar with featured fondly in an entertaining way.
In any case, sometimes hobbies are just distractions, and that’s okay. But even if a beloved hobby never provides the potential for financial compensation and couldn’t necessarily morph into a day job, there could also be a happy medium (like, say, watching anime and having an opinion on it…). Keita might not have a broader purpose to his gaming, and competitiveness might not be something he wants to inject into his hobby. But perhaps there’s a happy medium somewhere, and I’m actually kind of surprised at how interested I am to see how the show handles this proposition.
Pros: The show seems somewhat self-aware about its own tropes, and can be pretty funny about it. The cast is large enough that, while there could be love triangles or whatever, it doesn’t feel like a harem.
Cons: The show is still pessimistic about teenage male sexuality.