Phantasy Star Online 2 - The Animation
Upon enrolling in Seiga Academy, Itsuki Tachibana finds himself at the mercy of the student council, spearheaded by the beacon of feminine perfection (or so the show says) Rina Izumi. There, he's tasked with playing Phantasy Star Online 2 and making reports about the experience for the student council.
"If you were tasked with making an animated series of an RPG game, what would you do?"
That's the question I asked myself when I finished the first episode of the show, and also the question I proceeded to ask some of my friends.
"If you were tasked with making an animated series of an RPG game, what would you do?"
The most sensible thing to do would probably be to make something that followed whatever story the game had. Most JRPGs tend to have a set list of main characters and a story that could easily lend itself to a TV series. However, in the case of an MMORPG like Phantasy Star Online where you basically create your own character and play out the game's story as more of a voluntary participant, you'd have a good deal more artistic freedom to express the story the way you'd want it, not to mention how to develop the characters. But you'd probably still stick to the game's storyline to the best of your ability, right?
Apparently, Phantasy Star Online 2: The Animation didn't think so. And therein lies the rub of this show; it didn't want to be a sci-fi fantasy adventure, at least not at first. It wanted to be a romantic drama based around school, though not high school this time, and so it ended up being a show about a group of students and their student life... while playing Phantasy Star Online 2 in their spare time. And the show isn't exactly subtle about it; Itsuki attends Seiga Academy (which has its own Sonic Team logo-shaped hedge outside, and Itsuki's best bud Kouta Kayano also plays the game inbetween being a student and reminding our main character that everyone is totally playing this game, dude, and you better start too if you want to have... like, any social connections at all. I mean... what are you? An antisocial loser or something? Talking with people face-to-face is so last century, dude. Get with the times already.
Well... unless it happens here. Or at Phantasy Star Online 2 themed conventions.
Understand that I say this as someone who is quite familiar with the Phantasy Star franchise. I've played the original four Phantasy Star games and like them quite a lot (somewhat obnoxious battle engine for 2 and 3 notwithstanding), and I also got the first Phantasy Star Online for the Gamecube, which, while I never really had the pleasure of trying online, was a nice game in its own right. And when it was announced, I actually wanted to try Phantasy Star Online 2, and was a bit disappointed when I learned it would only get a release in Japan.
So while it was a bit confounding that we'd get the show Phantasy Star Online 2, even in Europe, the direction it took was even more stupefying. Did someone out there honestly think a sci-fi fantasy epic needed touches of Tokimeki Memorial ~Only Love~? Because that's exactly what we got. Itsuki Tachibana is the exact kind of "treat" you'd get for a main character in the kind of sterile, dull romances that the Tokimeki Memorial franchise is known for; an almost steretypically bland everyguy who only gains a hobby because the student council expects him to play an MMORPG as a project. He literally has no life outside of what the council tasks him with, and most of it is spent wrapped around the finger of the supposedly perfect and equally bland Rina Izumi. Of course, there's gonna be more girls to get involved with, most notably the rather eccentric Aika Suzuki, a girl whose bizarre behavior phases a weirdly small amount of people, though in all fairness, she's not exactly the first oddball in a show who has gained the interest of several people, both male and female. And of course she takes an immediate interest in Itsuki seeing as he's the main character and all.
Like most shows based around school life, Phantasy Star Online 2 goes through the typical motions; our main lead "works hard", and eventually impresses Miss Perfect President enough that she starts paying him more of her attention, to the point where she becomes mildly jealous when other girls show interest in him. It's almost painfully derivative in addition to being a commercial vessel of such blatant shillery, it's actually downright hilarious. Though the show would soon enough provide hints that it wanted its cake AND eat it too. Not being satisfied with having a story where goddamned everyone played the game everywhere while being so racially, socially and economically diverse, we were only missing a South American person in a wheel chair, the show then proceeded with the subplot where people started disappearing. As it turns out, the Darkers -- that's the name of the enemies in Phantasy Star Online 2, at least according to this show -- started gaining the ability to enter the real world and drag the people who played Phantasy Star Online 2 into the world of Phantasy Star Online 2 for nefarious, universe-conquering purposes, and hoo boy, if there ever was an entry more worthy of the top spot in my book of "who the hell thought THAT was a good idea?", I have yet to find it. Up until that revelation, the show itself had made every effort to sell its viewers on the game that almost bordered on desperation, and I've yet to decide whether I find it cute or just sad.
To make matters even worse, the show itself doesn't make the game come across as very appealing. The character designs are flat and dull, and Itsuki and Rena look like the most generic love interests ever. The animation isn't exactly terrible, but the show's dullness counters much of the goodwill I would otherwise be willing to grant it. Phantasy Star Online 2: The Animation also switches over to 3D CG whenever our characters are "in the world", and it simply doesn't look very good, or much of anything like a game at all for that matter. When creating his character, Itsuki chose "randomize everything" and STILL ended up with a character that looked more or less exactly like him, and we later learn that the same thing happened to Rina with her first character. (She ended up making a new character -- a huge, bulky CAST -- which the show "revealed" was actually Rina all along, to the surprise of probably absolutely nobody.) It's both an inversion and a straight presentation of one of the many morals and lessons the show imparts on you, like "most people tend to want to play someone who isn't them", so to speak. Phantasy Star Online 2 joins the club in a rather long list of shows directly or indirectly based on MMORPGs that feels the need to go over the basics of playing online, or playing games, or simply online courtesy and behavior, probably because it optimistically thinks it is the first show of its kind you have ever watched.
But really, Phantasy Star Online 2: The Animation?! This is what you do? You have the show take place in an academical building (mostly), and then you feature this subplot where the players are taken into the game by the antagonists FROM the game. And by extent, you have the main character be given the ability to call upon his ingame form OUTSIDE, because the game in the world is really real, and they must all defeat Dark Falz, or both universes will be destroyed. How does that even work? Was this evil created when the game was created, or did it need the game as a medium to cross worlds, and Sega just happened to build just the kind of game it needed? Did PSO2 want a piece of that "stuck in a game" pie without having its characters be stuck in the game? I seriously want to know, because nothing in this show makes any goddamned sense. If it's a commercial for the game, why would you feature a story where player characters are kidnapped by the Darkers? For that matter, why would you make an anime about a group of people playing the game normally to begin with? Why would you recycle the same tired lessons Log Horizon brought to the forefront, and maybe also Sword Art Online? (Not to mention it was also featured in the most tedious and obnoxious episode of Chobits.)
And yes, the show ended properly too. This might not sound like a bad thing at first -- lord knows it's irritating enough that one's collection contains too many shows that went on for a season or two and then just stopped without actually concluding anything, but Phantasy Star Online 2 just kind of goes through the motion. It sticks to its weirdass "everyone plays PSO2 because it's the hottest new thing, yo" plot for around half the show, and then commences with the revelation that people are being kidnapped for some purpose INTO the game, and then Dark Falz makes an appearance and they defeat it. The end. Yeah, that wasn't anticlimactic at all. But before it really ends, Itsuki does get his chance to profess his love under the magic treePAAHAHAH, just kidding. She basically hands the "student council president" torch to Itsuki before graduating, and that's it.
Sorry for spoiling that, but seriously; why would anyone want to watch a show that's less exciting and more insipid than Girl Friend BETA, and with more blatant product placement than I, Robot (except with nothing but Sega products, and mostly Phantasy Star Online 2 products at that?) I know that anime based on videogames, and JRPGs in particular, have a habit of turning into huge disappointments, but Phantasy Star Online 2: The Animation even takes two concepts -- the failed attempt at portraying a game desperately bandaged with dreadful high school romance... well, academy romance in this case -- and makes them both more boring than the sum of its parts. Granted, I had me a good laugh from the sheer, dumbheaded insanity that rounded off this show, but somehow, I doubt that was what it intended. I even doubt this show will be all that much help for people who want to play the actual game. But hey, look on the bright side: now that all those ET carts have been dug up from that landfill in Mexico, there should be plenty of room for whatever physical media Phantasy Star Online 2: The Animation franchise farts out.
I think we've set some new standards here at 'things you should never ever do when making a videogame franchise anime'. Only watch this if you want to look and sound like The Joker for around 280 minutes. — Stig Høgset
Recommended Audience: The violence is mild, the fanservice is mild, and the show is so astoundingly inoffensive, it's clear that Telecom Animation Film wanted to cast its net as wide as humanly possible.
Version(s) Viewed: Digital stream on Crunchyroll, Japanese with English subs.
Review Status: Full (12/12)
Phantasy Star Online 2 - The Animation © 2016 Telecom Animation Film, Phantasy Star Partners.
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