After Otaku Lounge’s previous article on live-action films based on anime and manga, I thought it might be fun to take a different approach and discuss some anime based on video games. As I’m sure even the more casual anime fans out there are well aware, game-based anime has a fairly horrendous track record. This is putting it mildly – said record is such that even quite average shows like Persona 4: The Animation are lauded as being some the best game-based anime of all time. Any listing of particularly bad shows would be extremely long and probably rather tedious – although I will say that I can’t un-see Devil May Cry, no matter how often I bash my head against the wall in the hopes of developing memory loss.
So rather than adding to that list by making my own version of terrible game-based anime, what I’d like to do instead is list the top 5 game-based anime which, despite all expectations due to that fact alone, are not only watchable but actually good. (Note that I’ll only be picking anime which have been adapted into television shows as opposed to films and OVAs. I should probably also point out that while I have the greatest respect for the medium, I am not a gamer. As in my last article, I’m primarily interested in choosing anime titles that can be fully understood and appreciated by those that aren’t familiar with the source material.)
Without further ado, the top 5 countdown.
5. Kimi ga Nozomu Eien/Rumbling Hearts
For obvious reasons, it’s exceedingly rare for an anime based on an adult romance visual novel to be anything but appalling. When this 2001 Windows game was adapted into 14-episode anime in2003, I wasn’t exactly chomping at the bit to watch it, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that the series has a lot more depth than I’d have given it credit for. Kimi ga Nozomu Eien (Kiminozo for short, and released in North America as Rumbling Hearts) certainly has a couple of problems. The slow pacing style works for some sections but not for others, and the artwork and animation, while not by any means ugly, just doesn’t meet the standards of other titles that were released around the same time (e.g. Fullmetal Alchemist, Read or Die, Last Exile, Wolf’s Rain). That said, the complexity of some of Kiminozo’s characters goes far beyond what my initial expectations were, and it genuinely makes good use of its more melodramatic or clichéd story elements like Haruka’s amnesia and Takayuki’s PTSD. I also have to give props to the show for the way in which it approaches its sex scenes – again, in a manner much more sophisticated than I think most would assume at first glance.
Let it be known that I’m talking specifically about the first two televised seasons of Digimon (Digimon Adventure and Digimon Adventure 02), since everything else in the media franchise is mostly crap. Digimon started out as a virtual pet in 1997, similar in concept and design to the Tamagotchi, and was then adapted into a PlayStation game called Digimon World in January 1999. The first anime series began airing in Japan two months later and has since become a franchise of six anime seasons, nine anime films, and a truly disproportionate number of other video games. While the anime could be and frequently is casually dismissed as just another Pokémon rip-off, the truth is that those first two seasons of Digimon are more mature and sophisticated than Pokémon ever was. Still a children’s show? Of course, and the writing and action and copious amounts of filler often reflect that. Nonetheless, I’d hate for an anime to be disdained for no other reason than its age rating, and on an emotional and even psychological level, Digimon actually has plenty to offer. With some of the best characterisation I’ve seen in any children’s anime and some surprisingly dark themes (particularly as far as the second season is concerned), there’s far more to this show than meets the eye.
Technically the 2002 .hack//Sign anime series isn’t based on any single video game per se, given that it came out a couple of months prior to the first PlayStaton 2 game .hack//Infection. However, the .hack franchise is a whole multimedia project designed by video game development studio CyberConnect2 and published by toy and video game company Bandai – of which .hack//Sign is but one part. I therefore don’t think it goes against the spirit of this article to include it, particularly when you take the anime’s premise into account. Unlike other anime shows that utilize game-based storylines as settings for sword-and-sorcery style action or adventure, .hack//Sign is almost completely character-driven and characterized mostly by its use of dark psychological and sociological elements. Anxiety, isolation, and escapism, among several other complex themes of this nature, make up the core of the story. Everything else is mostly background. The large amounts of dialogue can get drawn out at times and there’s some unnecessary filler to slog through, but with an extremely intricate cast, some lovely artwork and one of the best anime soundtracks to date (goddess Kajiura Yuki strikes again), .hack//Sign should rightfully be considered a classic.
2. Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom
Based on the Phantom of Inferno interactive visual novel first released for PC in 2000, this 26-episode anime series came out nearly a decade later in 2009. Granted, the plot is hardly stunningly original and made me think immediately of other hired killer stories like Léon: The Professionaland La Femme Nikita: a young man is kidnapped by the underground organisation Infero after witnessing the murder of a reporter, and all memories of his past life are erased. He is given two choices – either join Inferno as one of its assassins or die. While the story isn’t terribly innovative or subtle, what makes Phantom a cut above your average mafia-style action anime is the execution. Staff writer Urobuchi Gen has become well known for his sinister narrative style and sometimes surprisingly macarbe storylines (e.g. Black Lagoon, Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica and Psycho-Pass), and Phantom is no exception. On top of its well-crafted atmosphere, the series doesn’t suffer from any pretentious or convoluted plot twists, and thankfully keeps its fanservice relatively minimal. In all, it’s a satisfying solid series with a nice tension that’s kept up from start to finish.
Another visual novel originally released for Xbox 360 in 2009, Steins;Gate was then adapted into a manga before airing as a 24-episode anime series in 2011. I admit that on first watch, I believed there to be a major problem with the pacing of this show during its first half – the set-up just seemed way too long and not worth the payoff. Having watched the second half however, I’m forced to concede that said set-up was undeniably worth it. I don’t want to spoil anything by talking much about the story, but I do wholeheartedly recommend the show for anyone who’s a fan of time travel, cause and effect philosophy, or simply a decent sci-fi mystery/thriller. The plot twists make sense but aren’t predictable, the writing is spot on, and you can’t help but care for nearly every single one of the characters once the story starts getting into full swing. Add to this some great voice acting, an excellent soundtrack, and absolutely stunning visuals (seriously, I can’t praise the fluidity of the animation or the gorgeously rendered artwork enough), and we have ourselves a clear winner.
Question of the post: Would you add any other anime titles to the list of good game-based anime? How about the very worst game-based anime you’ve ever seen?