One day, some day, in the future we can visit the Maldives.
Over the course of the Winter 2022 anime season, I made it a point to write about the Girls’ Frontline adaptation week by week. I have played the mobile game since the English client launched in 2018, being made aware of it through international fanart tags and whatnot earlier.
If you read my posts, either keeping up as the weeks went on or browsing them after the fact, first of all: Thank you for your time! My quick math says I wrote well over twenty three thousand words about the show these last few months.
After over a solid half decade away from seasonal airing anime episodic write-ups, I made it a point to stretch my arms quite a bit with this series. Put my time with the mobile game to work, as it were. They are the longest episodic posts I have done. As of this writing, anyway. I assume most of what I am about to write will not be surprising for those who kept up with me. I pumped out a decent novella worth of writing sifting through this show. A personal arc with highs and lows, but maybe not in such an order.
For folks more interested in a Girls’ Frontline anime series reflection or review: This post is for you.
I would at least encourage you to check my post about the first episode. It covers some of my history with the source material, setting and mechanics, as well as its monetization strategy.
Girls’ Frontline is, in its canonical form, a free to play mobile game. I feel it is essential to be upfront about the business side, and where I talk about how it makes money.
This anime adaptation, leveraging a mix of the game and an associated comic retelling, is a twelve episode series. It covers the events of Chapter Zero through Chapter Six of the main story. One of the largest questions looming over this show for quite some time was how much material it was going to portray. There are longer term major story events even hinted at in the opening animation.
At the start, the show also moves at what I found to be an alarming speed. You only need to refer back to my thoughts on episode two to see what I was thinking and worrying about in quasi-real time. I mentioned the series covers seven Chapters worth of material, right? Well, three of those Chapters are outright sprinted through in the first three episodes. Two of the clunkiest episodes of the series thus end up in the initial three episode sampler platter.
With the advantage of now being able to look back after the dust has settled, I can understand what the production team were trying to balance. The particular story point the series aims to conclude on, and how we get there. The target seems to have been to buy as much time as possible to be able to linger and breathe down the road within the episode limit. So, those four remaining Chapters get nine episodes of time. The final two adapted Chapters receive five of those episodes.
Hideyuki Kurata was the name most interesting to me in the initial creative team announcement. I made sure to mention as much in my initial post about the show. Having been an anime industry writer for years, he has been attached to a large variety of projects. By extension, not all of them are slam dunks. But he has plenty of critical hits to his name, such as Maria the Virgin Witch, Samurai Flamenco, and Made in Abyss. I wanted to know what he would do with the material in Girls’ Frontline.
Burning through some of the early material as aggressive as this show does makes for a bumpy start. Chapter Zero is an independent mission gone sideways. The player representative protagonist, Gentiane, is not a factor until the next. The show then has to establish her character while also trying to shoehorn in all the relevant initial story events in less than twenty minutes. It digs itself into a hole quite fast.
But by buying this time early on, more significant story moments in the back half did indeed have more time. So it fell down, but also had every intention of clawing its way back up. It delivered on its goal. I suppose on balance a rushed tutorial is a problem, but a rushed finale would be devastating.
The “It gets better over time, promise!” angle is not the most beloved narrative selling point to mention.
But it does beat the alternative as you start watching the episode counts dwindle down.
Returning to the subject of Gentiane: I did have a great appreciation for the decision to have her representing the player character of the original mobile game.
She is, of course, the central Commander of the manga adaptation. However, it would not be unheard of for the animated series to choose a different path. Look at some of the most successful juggernauts of gacha gaming. Fate/Grand Order and Granblue Fantasy both allow for players to choose a boy or girl avatar. Many love the energy of the girl Ritsuka Fujimaru or Djeeta designs. Evenso, the male protagonist design is by far the one used most often in their animated works.
Gentiane is not too different from many of the gacha game self insert protagonists one can find in all manner of series. She has her skills and competencies, which sometimes backfire on her. Sure. But she has her heart and desire to consider her units as individuals with personalities rather than disposable tools. Which, of course, gives her the Protagonist X Factor which might make all the difference in the challenges she faces. As these stories tend to go.
Series Director Shigeru Ueda is in the unenviable position of not having much of a track record for helming action anime.
As Girls’ Frontline is a war story all about androids with guns, this is something the show tests the vision for each and every episode. Television animation is of course a collaborative process at all levels. The individual folks doing the cuts, to the Animation Directors on up. But the series has a real “safe” streak to many of the shootouts. Frequent camera angles of characters firing off-screen. The show does try and find ways to punch this up. There is a larger amount of on-screen android “gore” than I was expecting going into this. Various forms of dismemberment, fluids, the occasional onscreen headshot, and so on.
There are less than a handful of occasions where the waves of cannon fodder enemy android units of the Sangvis Ferri Industrial Manufacturing Company feel any way threatening. The more bespoke boss character units have more attention, but their time and quality varies quite bit from one episode to another. But at least things takes damage well some of the time. In particular for a television anime headed by a studio not known for leading them. Asahi Production has been around for almost fifty years, but has tended to do corporate commercial work or support for other anime studios.
This all being said, I also think it is important to consider the current events of the world as the Girls’ Frontline anime has been in production.
It is no secret the anime industry has a terrible personnel crunch. More and more shows are being greenlit. Schedules are tighter than ever, and the most minor bump in the road can throw projects into turmoil. In addition to all the other problems the industry has regarding staffing and pay, there are also the ongoing workflow problems caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. One disruption leads to another. Numerous shows the last few years have needed to announce delays for certain weeks. Some have been gut-wrenching to read the news about. I remember the production of Wonder Egg Priority sending folks to the hospital, and the show outright imploding before the end of its original scheduled run. It needed another three months to air its conclusion.
I have no idea what the day-to-day work on the Girls’ Frontline anime was like. But, for what it is worth, no such worrying stories reached the news I could find over the months. The episodes came out each week. The show never had to deploy an emergency recap episode. It never relied on a wave of suspicious overlong flashbacks for padding. If anything, the last five episode stretch has a noticeable bump up in overall production quality. This dovetails well with, again, the apparent focus to bulk up the amount of time the series would have towards the later Chapters it was aiming to cover.
So the action may feel a bit more like a stage play at times. But from a production management angle? If the series had enough ducks in a row to apply its resources in what might be a more sustainable manner? I could respect such a move.
A personal bugbear for me comes on the musical front.
Girls’ Frontline, in its strategy mobile game form, has quite a surprising soundtrack to many folks. Songs like “What am I Fighting for?” and “Barbarous Funera” have even popped up with music videos in places like DJMAX Respect, for rhythm game players to enjoy.
Granted, it does not take a lawyer to know in passing how music rights and handling are an absolute nightmare. Between companies, countries, and everything else. But, I consider myself pretty flexible. If we can not have the exact music from the game, well, business is business. The anime for Girls’ Frontline has the backing of Warner Brothers Japan. They have artists and singles to promote. And to this end: I think the ending credits and in particular the opening animation do their jobs rather well.
So my hangup is on, well, just about everything else on the soundtrack.
The lead music credit on the series goes to Takashi Watanabe. He has done quite a bit of composing for live action films. Such as the the 2013 version of The Great Passage (Fune wo Amu) directed by Yuya Ishii. But not so much on the anime front. Indeed, not even the 2016 animated adaptation of The Great Passage. His credits on Mysteria Friends is the main project which jumps out on this side of things.
I imagine the intention was to lend the war series something of a more cinematic flair. But, well… I feel there is a disconnect in my brain for what he delivered. The instrumental episodic music often feels lacking. Not outright terrible, mind you. More indistinct or not building much of a connection with me. Any action scene can be elevated with a great song. Weaker scenes still become stronger, and stronger ones can reach escape velocity. But I have trouble remembering much of the episodic music from the series and tying the songs to a moment. Which is a shame. The music is one of the most direct possible comparisons you can make between the mobile game and the anime.
When I consider some of the more instrumental songs from the game, I think of things such as “Made in Heaven” or “Machines are Talking.” By comparison, I feel the music trying to set the mood in the television series has a distinct lack of bass or atmosphere. But perhaps my head is just too wired to the styles I have become so used to hearing out of my phone. A fresh anime-only viewer may not have my particular hangups here.
Even so, perhaps Warner Brothers Japan could have deployed an extra pop album b-side or two.
As the internet boxes up the Winter 2022 anime season and shoves all of it on the shelves, where does this leave the Girls’ Frontline adaptation?
We did not make it out unscathed, this much is certain.
There are anime folks who will hear the series features “Android Ladies Code Named After Real Guns!” They might rush over and hope the series is, say, the second coming of Gunsmith Cats or something. The wish for lots of attention to the detail and sound of actual firearms. Combine this false dream with the rocky start, and they will see their hopes crash against the shoreline.
Characters in Girls’ Frontline do not read out a product catalog and call it dialog.
But as a science fiction war title for one to have in their streaming queue for a rainy Saturday?
Well, all those points about the series giving breathing time to things in the back half may pay some dividends. The cramped start is going to feel quite different when one can binge watch the entire season in an afternoon. It will seem like a blip when you are not spending the better part of a month paddling around in it.
To this end, the series more often than not has effective moments for end of episode cliffhangers. As well as no previews for the next episode. Which I prefer in an action series, to not see it spoil its own best shots ahead of time. This one-two punch will lend the series something of a potato chip or pretzel snacking quality, when taken as a whole.
As I lean back in my chair and consider how various video games have fared in the world of anime adaptations, there is a real short list of enduring high end classic titles.
Even some of the biggest franchises in the world, such as Final Fantasy, have struggled in this space. Multiple times, even.
Overall, the Girls’ Frontline anime did alright, at the end of the day. Better than a number of its bigger game peers manage, at the very least.
It is clear to me the production team had developed quite a specific strategy plan. It was seen as more important to make time for things on the back end than the beginning. There are critical story hinges on the way there for any future adaptation work, like the events of episode six. This is also identified and executed well, to set up and establish the portrayal of necessary core characters. If the day ever comes for, say, a small movie special based around a major game story event such as Operation Cube.
It may not have become a runaway seasonal sensation, owing to its compressed start among other things. This is by no means a Fate/Zero popular vindication situation. It would be neat if it was. I will continue to play the Girls’ Frontline mobile game and enjoy the story events. As I have.
Being a decent seasonal anime romp, with some knocks against it but a solid enough dismount streak, is not a terrible deal.
I have paid full price for some video games where I have fewer fond memories. Watched and reviewed certain anime, even week by week, without a single good episode to show for my time.
Girls’ Frontline is reasonable. Fair. All right.
Sometimes, getting home safe is enough.