Currently watching: NieR:Automata Ver1.1a

Hey, the new season of anime is here, and so is NieR:Automata Ver1.1a, an anime adaptation of the game NieR:Automata released several years ago. Automata (not to be confused with Replicant, Reincarnation, or other NieR-related titles) is currently only three episodes in, but I already have some thoughts about it, and apparently the production is being put on hold for a while at this point because of COVID. That’s based on comments I’ve seen online, and though I’m not sure how much credence I should give those, either way I may as well highlight this series now. I should note that I’ve played the game this anime adapts, but I’ll avoid spoilers in this post beyond what’s contained in these first three episodes.

No, this isn’t a spoiler: it’s the first scene of the show

If you’re new to it, the basic story: Earth was long ago attacked by aliens who created machines to fight for them, and in the resulting war, humanity fled to the Moon. The only force remaining to fight for human civilization are an army of androids with various combat and analysis functions. While androids have been fighting on Earth for centuries at this point, our central characters at the outset are two top-of-the-line models from the elite combat team YoRHa, the battle unit 2B and scanning unit 9S, who are ordered to work as a team and make contact with the ongoing anti-machine/alien resistance in an unnamed ruined city.

This seems like a fairly straightforward operation at first. However, the machines may turn out to be more than mindless automated killers. What challenges will 2B and 9S face on Earth, and just who can they trust?

Well okay, 2B doesn’t need any introduction, does she? And in case you were wondering, yeah, she’s been done justice in anime form.

If you’ve played Automata the game, there’s a lot you’ll immediately recognize. Nearly all of the first episode runs alongside the prologue of the first route of the game exactly, mostly following 2B’s perspective as she joins an assault team flying from their base to a large ruined city on Earth, making it into the city as the team’s only survivor, and meeting up with 9S to take care of a major machine threat (in this case a bunch of walking, talking oil rigs that shoot lasers.) However, by episode two we start to get some new material and a couple of new perspectives, joining the non-YoRHa, less advanced androids fighting against the machines in the city as a part of the Resistance that 2B and 9S later link up with.

The other, more interesting, perspective featured in episode two is that of the machines themselves. Most of them act like and are treated as mindless killers, but a few have begun to ignore the androids completely, living their machine lives in seeming peace and even starting a flower garden in the middle of the city’s ruins.

It didn’t take long for them to get to the “machines aren’t what they seem at first” stuff.

The proxy human vs. alien war between the androids and machines overtakes these attempts at peaceful living, however. When 2B and 9S arrive at the makeshift city camp of the Resistance, they agree to help get rid of a looming machine threat out in the nearby desert, but what they find there is shocking: another group of machines doing their best to imitate a human society, only not a pacifistic one this time. Upon the androids’ arrival, the machines panic and join together to generate an entirely new machine, one in the shape of a man with the new ability to shield against and dodge attacks. 2B and 9S finally manage to “kill” this new machine at close range with their swords, but strangely enough it bleeds, and out of its wound comes another identical man-shaped machine with even more formidable power than the first. The androids flee at this point, sending word back to headquarters about this evolving machine threat.

This third episode also follows the events of the game pretty closely, though with some differences (for example, the unhinged android Jackass taking more of a role in bringing 2B and 9S to the desert and acting as effective comic relief with her obsessive behavior.) I’m looking forward to seeing more out of some of the game’s more interesting secondary characters and events from perspectives we didn’t get in the game.

Part of the city’s android resistance team headed by Lily, right. Expecting to see quite a bit more of them as the story continues.

I’d go into more details here, but you know, spoilers. And not just for Automata: there’s already been a reference back to Replicant that you wouldn’t know unless you’d played that game, but that’s one I don’t even remember seeing when I played Automata. But even if you haven’t played either game, you might have guessed from these first three episodes that Automata is not a typical sci-fi war drama, if there’s such a thing as a typical one of those. Knowing Yoko Taro, even those of us who have played at least Automata and think we’re familiar with its story will probably end up being surprised. There’s no relaxing when he’s involved, and that’s a good thing — I’d much prefer surprise twists, assuming they work, to a straightforward adaptation of a story I already know.

As for the presentation, I don’t have any serious complaints. The anime is using the game’s soundtrack, a massive plus considering that the Nier games have some of the best BGM ever created. It would have been out of the question not to use the original backing tracks anyway, since the series’ music is so closely tied to its stories. The visuals are fine too — I’m not the biggest fan of A-1’s style, and I would have loved to see what a studio like ufotable could have done with this story instead. But though the game has plenty of spectacle, the story and its characters are more than strong enough to make up for any shortcomings in presentation, and aside from a bit of not great-looking CGI in the first episode, I’m okay with the anime on that front so far.

I couldn’t get any screenshots from the third episode because fuck Crunchyroll as usual, so here’s another from the first. The relationship between the stoic, silent 2B and the chatty, upbeat 9S is a central part of the story and can be pretty amusing at times. I’m looking forward to their amusement park scenes myself, assuming the anime is headed there.

There’s not much else I can say at this point without actually spoiling parts of the story, so I’ll shut up. I’m interested to see what newcomers to this series think of the story so far, though. Is it just a confusing clusterfuck at this point? If so, don’t worry — that’s purposeful. I’m not sure how long this series is supposed to run, but the game kept key parts of its story hidden for a long while, and I expect the anime will do the same.

Enjoy the ride in the meantime, though we sadly won’t be getting past the third episode for at least a few weeks. I’ll be keeping an eye out for the return of Automata to its regular schedule whenever that happens. Until then, here’s a special sign off: Glory to mankind! (And be sure to watch each episode all the way to the end! You won’t want to miss the post-credits sequences, believe me.)

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4 thoughts on “Currently watching: NieR:Automata Ver1.1a

  1. You know, until now I thought the screenshots I was seeing of the Nier anime were fan made. Feel like a bit of dingus for not realizing it was part of an anime adaptation, but then I’m on the fringe of the anime world.

    Looks neat. Not sure if it’ll be something I want to invest time into though as I didn’t get on with Automata great when I played it. Though, being in this format would remove one of the biggest problems I had with the whole thing, so it’s not totally out of the question.

    • I get that — I guess I’m fairly up on anime but I didn’t know about it until recently. I think it may have been announced a short time before it started airing? But then I’m not the most connected in the world to newly airing anime either.

      If the gameplay didn’t work for you, I hope the anime can at least if you decide to take that plunge. I really like Yoko Taro’s style, and I hope it comes through in this adaptation, though I guess it’s impossible to say right now, just three episodes in. Hoping A-1 doesn’t need to take too long of a break and that their COVID situation isn’t too bad, if that’s the problem.

  2. Thanks for the review. I started to watch the first episode and found it coming a bit short in pulling me in. I thought the art wasn’t up to what I had hoped it should be for this game. The characters didn’t intrigue me enough. I just… felt something was missing.

    After reading your review, I might give it another chance. I loved the game and so, I should maybe give this a bit more of a chance. 🙂

    • I think I know what you mean. The style felt a little underwhelming to me too. For some reason, this studio just doesn’t do it for me most of the time. But I’m hoping we get some new surprises that make it all worth it! This is making me want to play the game again, actually (if only I had time.)

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