Girls’ Frontline, Episode One: The Seed

Neural cloud re-calibration process: Initiated.

Girls Frontline Dolls Frontline

Several years ago, I had something of a habit of writing about a few anime I was watching each season.

This was between any older catalog title reflections, or otherwise trying to pull at some historical thread I found while deep in a Wikipedia hole. Then my schedule became a fair bit more complicated. Then the world turned on its entire head upside down several times over. And I have written one too many Anime Secret Santa review exchanges where I have had little to show for my little hobby website aside from, well, the previous review exchange.

To save you the trouble of looking it up yourself, as I can stare at the dates right in my content management administration pages: my last seasonal anime write-ups left off in Summer 2016, Week Three. On my side, I also have the draft posts for weeks four through eight of the season. They remain unpublished. But, I have never deleted them.

It was always my intention to give the episodic write-up game another go. At least one more round, something to say I tied things up nice and proper regardless of any future season plans. The question then becomes about the time and the place.

Well, time is still a heck of a problem, I can tell you. As for the place however, well, I am in something of a “If not now, when?” situation.

Girls’ Frontline is a turn-based mobile phone strategy game, first released in 2016 and an eventual English client in 2018. I had been aware of it prior to the English localization, both on the strength of the fanart tags and what folks had to say about the story of this little phone game about infantry androids at war. My user number on the English client is below 70,000, so I am marked as someone who gave it a spin quite soon after release. Girls’ Frontline may not have the colossal blockbuster newsmaking status of phone games like Fate Grand/Order, Granblue Fantasy, or Genshin Impact. But it has continued chugging along all these years. Which, in an industry sector where even a company like Sega can pump a literal few billion yen into trying to secure a beachhead for a Sakura Wars mobile game, only to pull the plug within mere months, is something.

A comic adaptation of Girls’ Frontline has also been running in more recent years, which I have not read. But will aim to become more familiar with it over the course of the season. My current understanding is it follows the general plot of the game, with some events changed for differences in pacing and story flow between formats. Also, the need for there to be a human character representing the player Commander. Both of which will of course be critical as part of the anime adaptation.

So, after all these years, I feel I should put my knowledge of the core game and its world to… well, “use” may be too strong of a word.

There are few folks on the internet with my level of experience with:

– The Girls’ Frontline mobile game

– A Master’s degree background in conflict studies, arms control, etc

– Having an anime hobby site for writing reflections

I am almost obligated by internet law to try and work my way through this anime adaptation.

You know, kick the tires and all.

Before going any further however, I believe it is ethical and important to go over how the mobile game monetizes itself. A television show is, in many respects, a deluxe advertisement for the rest of the experience.

 

Girls Frontline Dolls Frontline M16A1 Smiling With Her Eye Closed

 

Like many character collecting mobile games, Girls’ Frontline uses a gacha system of random pulls. Imagine blind box figurines or capsule containers at the supermarket. However, rather than pay money for character rolls, it uses the Construction Bay system popularized in games like Kantai Collection. Players manage a small economy of four major resources (Ammo, Rations, etc). These regenerate over time and can be further acquired by sending teams away on collection missions. The gacha pulls themselves are, in this respect, free. Outside of certain exceptions like limited collaboration events, most characters over a long enough time scale should come home.

With players all but assured to amass a large base of characters, the monetization angle comes on two major fronts: the sale of premium costumes, as well as infrastructure upgrades. The game could never hope to sell you on a fancy costume for a character if you never received the character to begin with, right? With a few hundred characters available, the idea is you will find ones you like most through all those free pulls, get invested, and perhaps “treat yourself” down the line. As for infrastructure upgrades, this is stuff like your maximum inventory size. You can have one hundred characters in your armory by default, which sounds like a lot. However: as you progress you will need to field multiple teams, each containing up to five characters. You can imagine how this speed bump can grow over time. The game values developing a deep bench of characters. You will want several varieties of trained specialists you may not need today, but may want to have ready to call upon to suit the occasion.

The game does sprinkle out some premium currency for various achievements (S-Ranking maps, for instance) as well as login awards. It can keep a player treading water on some game-play infrastructure upkeep, like the inventory space. But this feeds back into the loop of allowing you to collect even more characters. A character may not have an appealing enough costume for you to be convinced to buy a new outfit for them today. But, so long as they are in your collection… who knows what the future holds?

As a general rule: while you may be able to maintain a free-to-play existence for expanding core game functions, you will never save enough premium currency to buy a deluxe costume. Not without literal years of work, at any rate. Or, you know, what is being fished for: the player spending actual money.

In my case, this kind of tactic does not work on my brain. The default art for most characters is strong enough. Plus, with the kind of deep bench you need to have, your personal favorites may not be suited to every mission. It is almost a guarantee. So, I have never spent money on a costume.

For other folks however, this may not be true. They may be drawn to wanting to collect every costume for a certain special character. Perhaps they might target all of a particular costume series, such as a line of marching band outfits. So while the game may not be charging for direct character pulls, there is still plenty of mobile phone game danger for those who could be swept away in a spending spree.

I can walk the bridge across this particular potential bottomless pit. But I also recognize this does not mean everyone else is just as safe to cross.

As something of an interesting side note to transition us back to the actual storyline of this game and anime adaptation: Girls’ Frontline was inspired by Kantai Collection in more than just its construction system. KanColle based its characters around historical World War II naval ships. So in wanting a marketing theme for the android war story of this game, what was once the three person MICA Team decided to use firearms. So, within the lore, each character is codenamed after the gun they hold. These are civilian model androids meant for, say, working in customer service or other professional roles, picked up by a private military company.

One Weird Quirk About Modern Guns: They have actual multinational arms manufacturers, legal teams, intellectual property and image rights, and more backing them up!

This has presented something of a thorny ongoing problem with this series. Popular characters with quite a suspicious lack of merchandise, characters needing different names in alternate regions,  and so on.

To make a long story short: it should not be surprising how future projects in the series have smashed the eject button on the gun names ever being a good idea. A new mobile game focusing on things like cyberwarfare, Project Neural Cloud, as well as the in-development Girls’ Frontline 2, have made a big deal of giving new and returning characters different naming schemes. Compare the smug two-star catgirl known as “IDW” to the new “Betty.”

Also: it is the future, and there are collectible dude androids (in PNC see: Gin, Aki, and Python)!

The anime for Girls’ Frontline may be introducing this world to a lot of folks. But it is also coming at a time where we are kind of moving towards closing the book on a certain era of the franchise.

Anime and related media in this sphere has plenty of Girls With Guns genre entertainment. Android war stories about the meaning of the human condition also have an audience. The gun names were never needed. I will be glad to leave them behind. Plus, even on a most basic practical level: the gun name gimmick does not scale well with remembering an ever expanding character roster. You end up with several hundred characters of alphabet soup.

I suppose we should begin to talk about some of them.

 

Girls Frontline Dolls Frontline SOPMOD II M4A1 ST AR-15 Breaching A Church Door And Pews

 

For this first episode, we begin under the same conditions as the game:

The Anti-Rain Team, otherwise known as the AR Team, are a unit of elite combat androids. They can operate without direct human command, with field decisions handled by the one known as M4A1. We meet in the middle of a mission deep within territory held by the Sangvis Ferri Industrial Manufacturing Company.

In the aftermath of a future World War III, this former international heavy industry corporation has been commandeered by independent artificial intelligence leadership. With later control of automatic production, Sangvis Ferri has since fielded a torrent of armored robotic weapons platforms and waves of android infantry in several varieties. It also has something of an interest for continuing artificial intelligence development, with unique android models acting as field commanders. While they are all clad in black and white, their individual attire and personalities cover the entire rainbow.

As for the larger geopolitical situation? Or what the head A.I. at Sangvis Ferri is doing, or even wants? Well, this is something for a later day. We are knee deep in a mission in progress after all. To add more flavor to how AR-15 questions it herself: they are looking for an otherwise unknown database file in an abandoned building which houses an old forgotten computer Sangvis Ferri itself has no idea they even have.

…except they did, and just needed needed to leave an opening for someone to come by with the password. Cue all hell breaking loose.

What follows for most of the episode is a series of gunfights, tactical considerations, and a whole lot of androids on each side getting smashed. In the mobile phone game, these are opening tutorial maps. The point, for better or worse, is to establish the AR Team working together as a unit. The player gets dumped into some action in progress, before these characters split off at the end of the chapter. It will be some time before we see them all again. The power curve is set up in such a way to ensure everything will play out as intended, as you come to grips with the interface.

On the subject of getting the hang of things, there is one particular Moment for this episode which had anticipation.

Agent, the first Ringleader of Sangvis Ferri new players meet, getting her hands on the AR-Team’s leader.

This will get screenshot heavy for a moment, but to give a spot comparison between the original game and the anime adaptation:

Girls Frontline Dolls Frontline Mobile Phone Game Cutscene Version Agent Choking M4A1 By The Neck And Holding Her In The Air In An Office on Fire Point of View From M4A1 Perspective
Girls’ Frontline The Game: Agent Choking M4A1 And Holding Her In The Air, Point of View From M4A1’s Perspective

 

Girls Frontline Dolls Frontline Agent Choking M4A1 By The Neck And Holding Her In The Air In A Dark Office Point of View From Agents Perspective
Girls’ Frontline The Anime: Agent Choking M4A1 By The Neck And Holding Her In The Air, Point of View From Agent’s Perspective

 

Girls Frontline Dolls Frontline Mobile Phone Game Cutscene Version Of Agent Choking M4A1 By The Neck And Holding Her In The Air In A Office On Fire
Girls’ Frontline The Game: Agent Choking M4A1 By The Neck And Holding Her In The Air In An Open Office On Fire

 

Girls Frontline Dolls Frontline Agent Choking M4A1 By The Neck And Holding Her In The Air In A Dark Office
Girls’ Frontline The Anime: Agent Choking M4A1 By The Neck And Holding Her In The Air In A Dark Office

 

Girls Frontline Dolls Frontline Mobile Phone Game Cutscene Version M16A1 Recovers To Shoot Agent And Free M4A1 From Her Grasp
Girls’ Frontline The Game: M16A1 Recovers To Shoot Agent And Free M4A1 From Her Grasp

 

Girls Frontline Dolls Frontline Agents Face Turning to M16A1 In Disgust Before Being Shot
Girls’ Frontline The Anime: Agent Turns To Recognize M16A1 In Disgust Before Being Shot

Agent’s debut in the opening tutorial stages is a memorable moment for every player of Girls’ Frontline.

Compared to the usual “character portraits talking over the background image” you had seen up to this point, for this you get several custom pieces of story artwork in succession. The point of view shot from M4A1’s perspective staring back at Agent is of particular note. A mobile phone game is often played, well, at most within arms length. But often far closer. It is a more intimate distance, and the game can flex some storyboarding muscles. Remember, this is a mobile phone game launched in 2016. So, this made quite a splash, and the sequence still holds up well in execution. The scene is paced in such a way it also dodges being a jump scare. The explosion which knocks M4A1 down does black out the screen. But story text plays in the lower part establishing Agent’s presence in the room. The black screen has a series of “blinking eye” transitional fades to bring the point of view scene into focus.

Adapting this specific scene is mandatory, so it is mandatory to consider how it went.

I think the considerations here were smart. The original scene is in a large open floor plan office, with everything around Agent and M4A1 on fire. It has a presence as a series of static illustrations on a phone screen. But animating so much fire would be a huge task, and bad fire would cheapen the scene. The adaptation has placed events in a far smaller upper floor office. The lights are shot out, and the grenade explosion kicking up debris to cloud things even more. Agent being able to close distance from a side door and get her hands on M4A1 still works well in the tight, dark environment.

I also find it interesting how the characters who were the focus in the game illustrations were flip-flopped here. I have nothing to read too much beyond this, aside from noticing the consistency of those choices for this scene. It does mean seeing Agent get shot in the head was in full focus rather than off screen or implied, which I did raise an eyebrow at.

The amount of android “gore” was a surprise. I was wondering how the anime would portray damage.

Like KanColle before it, every character and costume in Girls’ Frontline has two pieces of art. A character who has sustained heavy damage will have their art swap to another appearance. The tone of these can run a huge gamut. Some characters have a more pissed off or serious tone to their damaged art, such as EM-2 or AK12. Others, well… take a look back at the opening credits. There is a pose where SOPMOD II is slumped on the ground with her jacket blasted off. So, anything and everything between those points qualifies as damaged art in the original game.

Given the number of headshots, flying limbs, and torn torsos, the production at least on some level wants to make sure it does more than just eat cute cheesecake all day. After all: any devices I could play anime on can just as well take me to Pixiv.

Agent’s weapon system is the most ostentatious in all of Sangvis Ferri, of course. Multiple chainguns stowed away under a maid dress to turn her into a turret.

I do wonder if folks coming into the anime with fresh eyes will, for good reason, think future “boss” characters will have an escalating series of even more provocative armaments. Well, not in particular. So folks hoping for that will also be disappointed going forwards. Even the ones with unorthodox weapons are tame by comparison. Scarecrow should be the next Ringleader we meet, and she conducts flying funnels like you might see in Mobile Suit Gundam.

Anime is in the end made by people of course. Anything could happen depending on where a crew wants to put a camera.

On the production side, there are some points I want to mention before wrapping up.

Asahi Production was selected to lead this show, which was interesting to me. They have been around since the 1970’s. But they often do either corporate promotional videos, or act as a support outfit to other anime studios. While I have no idea what deals and contracts are at play, I would imagine if Girls’ Frontline does well, signing Asahi up for another season or a movie would be easier to fit into their schedule than, say, a Studio Bones or Madhouse. Given how jam packed every anime studio and season is these days, securing Asahi may not make headlines. But it would seem to offer the advantage of being able to capitalize faster if the project does solid numbers.

Which brings me to one other tidbit: Series Composition and Script duties are being handled by Hideyuki Kurata. He has been around for a few decades, with anime writing credits ranging from Hellsing Ultimate, Whispered Words, Samurai Flamenco, Maria the Virgin Witch, to Made in Abyss. He has landed some blockbuster hits, as well as plenty of smaller shows your favorite anime bloggers beg anyone in earshot to watch. And a few of those, like Samurai Flamenco and Maria the Virgin Witch, only earned such status well into their runs.

Being in the industry so long does mean not everything has landed with this level of success. I feel it is fair to say the adaptation of Drifters did not reach the levels of Hellsing Ultimate, for instance. Heck, to circle back to when I was doing episodic anime writeups years ago: Kurata was responsible for writing Tokyo ESP. I remember… little about it, without cheating and looking at my quite old and I assure you can not be good material. I recall penguins and fish, for the most part. And the crucial general feeling of being underwhelmed by something I put time into writing about.

Girls’ Frontline could meet the same fate.

To be frank, from a statistical point of view, most shows can not be better than average at best.

But Kurata makes too interesting an inclusion to ignore. There are those times where he pays off. Plus I know the source material too well. And this is as good a chance as any to write about a seasonal show again.

Gambling on if an anime will turn out to be good by the end or not is its own kind of gacha roll too, I suppose.

 

Girls Frontline Dolls Frontline Agents Face Close Up Torn Apart By Grenade

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