Can you believe it’s only been one season since my last Animefinder? The decade continues to impress, and this season of anime has plenty of inspiration for our games. But instead of looking at codifying specific examples from each show, I want to see what each show can offer us in terms of being a better player. I’m going to keep my reviews short and spoiler-free, and I’ll use the first opening theme song of each series, even if it’s a sequel. This season, my out-of-review shout-out is going to Magia Record: Puella Magi Madoka Magica Side Story. If you haven’t seen the original Madoka Magica anime, I highly recommend it. I’ve decided to wait to binge this spin-off, so I can’t comment on the quality…but it’s studio Shaft, right?
Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken!
Remember how much I hyped Vinland Saga last season? Hands Off Eizouken was my anime of this season, and it came out of absolutely nowhere. From the same studio and creator that did Devilman Crybaby and Ping Pong the Animation, the series is a loving dedication to the production of anime itself. The series follows a trio of friends who are desperate to produce their own anime, bending reality with their overactive imaginations as they enthusiastically display their passions for art and animation. The series really reminds you what makes the medium itself so awe-inspiring, especially those classic cel-drawn anime of yore. Give the series a try. Or at least give the opening a try, because it’s been stuck in my head all season.
Lesson: Follow Your Passion and Create! Around this time last year I learned the most important lesson of my RPG writing career: write! That book you want to write? Those minis you want to paint? That game you’ve wanted to develop? Stop reading this blog post and go do it. Get it out there, share your work with people in your field, and be prepared to grow. There is no replacement for experience, and waiting another year to “feel out the industry” is just hurting yourself. You don’t have to believe in yourself. You just have to believe that practice and criticism are key to becoming better.
Somali and the Forest Spirit
In a world where humans have been persecuted to the very point of extinction, a lone human girl meets a golem in an enchanted forest and they travel together to find another human before the golem shuts down forever. Somali and the Forest Spirit is a heartwarming and gut-wrenching fantasy adventure with substance to spare. The series uses a fascinating setting to explore the father-daughter relationship amidst an ever-present undercurrent of prejudice that bubbles beneath the surface of an otherwise pristine and peaceful world. The protagonists are very well written for a child and an almost emotionless construct. The art style and character designs are eye-popping and memorable. And the story will stick with you long after this season ends.
Lesson: Subtle Flavors Hit Hard! Whether you’re creating a setting as a GM or trying to roleplay your own character, give your friends time to process your themes. Don’t introduce your characters by describing their primary motivations out of character, but instead let it come out in how you play them and how the game evolves. Stopping the flow of the game to explain your motivations can oftentimes have an adverse effect, and sometimes you’ll find things you didn’t see when you first developed your character!
ID: Invaded is a sci-fi detective series about a group of detectives and researchers using an unknown technology to dive into a criminal’s subconscious mind to try to track them down before they kill again! The dives into these “wells” are an inspiring head trip that takes full advantage of the anime medium. The characters have a fascinating chemistry that makes you flip between psychologist and detective as you watch them slowly uncover the conspiracy behind the force inspiring all these crazy serial killers!
Lesson: Don’t be Afraid to Break Things (Especially Dreams)! This series gives us a great glimpse into using mindscapes as a tool. These kinds of “mini-games” that operate on another plane with different rules can let you flex your design chops or even try a new system without endangering an ongoing campaign. I once ran an esoteric “one-shot” using homebrew rules that only ended when my players figured out they were playing their own characters in an amnesiac dreamworld: It was literally their characters from our Dungeons & Dragons game trapped in an illusion spell, using a few personality traits, Int, Wis, and Cha to generate characters sheets. You can’t do things like this too often, but it will give your players a memorable session and let them explore another side of their characters, especially if you are returning to a campaign after an extended hiatus, or playing online temporarily!
A Certain Scientific Railgun T
I will always recommend a RailDex series, and A Certain Scientific Railgun T continues to be one of the best. Gigguk has a better review of the Railgun/Index franchise than I could write, but for Pathfinder fans it’s best explained as “Occult Adventures versus Gods & Magic”. You’re going to watch for the insane powers, find a character you love, and wish they got more screen time. It’s a wonderful sci-fi from a light novel author who definitely does his homework when it comes to chemistry, physics, mythology, and world religion.
Lesson: All Knowledge is Applicable. If you are motivated to learn more about any topic, dive as deep as you are able and learn as much of it as you can. Almost any knowledge can be useful knowledge, and you’ll never know when you will be able to apply your knowledge of the Popul Vuh to your next Pathfinder game!
BOFURI: I Don’t Want to Get Hurt, so I’ll Max Out My Defense.
BOFURI is a light-hearted VRMMO light novel and anime about a first-time gamer who decides to put all her points in Defense…and accidentally breaks the game by acquiring a suite of strange and untested skills doing things no one else would even think of trying. The series fills me with wholesome memories of my first time playing EverQuest, spending my time exploring and leveling up skills like Drink Resistance and Know Direction instead of actually going on quests. There’s a number of neat skills on display, and it’s refreshing to see a VRMMO anime where the players are just playing a no-stakes game!
Lesson: If You Must Min-Max, Play a Support Role! It’s much easier for a GM to adjust if everyone in the party is super powerful. They don’t risk the rest of the party being unable to contribute against more difficult threats, and don’t have to custom-tailor the threats just to counter one specific character. Of course, you should still discuss it with your party and GM if you suspect you are doing something out of the norm!
Bonus Lesson: Play the Game However You Want! As long as everyone at the table is having fun, you’re doing it right. Don’t let trolls on Discord or strangers at conventions talk you into adjusting how you play if you honestly know the rest of your home group loves it!
It’s hard for me to recommend “yet another battle royale anime”, but I’ve been a sucker for them since Future Diary. Darwin’s Game is about a cellphone app that gives you a superpower, but makes you fight for your life against other people with the app. It’s not great, but we had lots of time this last season thanks to the quarantine. I had fun with it, but I wouldn’t fault anyone for passing on it. Think of it as Accel World meets Future Diary, but not as good as either.
Lesson: Tropes are Tropes for a Reason! If your group likes something, go ahead and use it. There’s no shame in just wanting to play a bunch of knights in shining armor saving a princess from a dragon. Romantic fantasy is about appealing to that which appeals to us, so don’t be ashamed of admitting what that is!
Re:Zero Director’s Cut
James Ballod recommended this series, and the remake of Re:Zero is an easier-to-digest and slightly improved cut of my favorite isekai deconstruction. Think of it as a level 1 human being whisked to Golarion…without any special powers. The series is among the most gritty isekai out there, while still being definitely an anime. I honestly wish I could say more without spoiling, but the dry run is so fun that if you haven’t seen it all I can do is recommend giving it a watch now. Season 2 is on its way, after all!
Lesson: Editing is Everything! Writing down your ideas is important, but whether it’s your next session or an entire adventure, expect to spend twice as long editing as you do writing. “I edit while I write” is a trap. Learning from your experiences and knowing what to cut after everything is written is important. That extra hour rereading and rewriting that boss encounter is going to make all the difference, and your players will notice!
Isekai Quartet 2
Isekai Quartet is a comedy series smooshing together the primary casts of fou-err five different isekai anime and enjoying the chemistry between the diverse sets of characters. If you liked Konosuba, Re:Zero, Overlord, Tanya the Evil, or Rise of the Shield Hero, you should give it a watch. It’s just a light-hearted comedy and each episode is only a few minutes long, but it’s quite fun and shows that the production companies know how to poke fun at themselves!
Lesson: Relax and Have Fun! Some of the most memorable sessions I’ve had in Pathfinder were just our characters goofing off and having fun. Not every session needs to net the party gold and glory! There is nothing wrong with going out for a beer. And if the sorcerer wants to use a cantrip to get back at your dwarf for stealing their chicken leg, go ahead and let the sorcerer have their fun. There’s no need to actually track the damage, and if you’re the GM, don’t punish your players for flavorful fun. You could even use a different system and throw your players into a dream world with unexpected twists! It’s not going to spoil the rest of the game.