I don’t think it’s all that controversial to state that New Game!!, the second season of the 2016 Kirara adaptation, is a significant improvement over the first season. That’s not a jab at the first season; I had a great time with it, and it made it on to my 2016 top 10 list. But the second season goes beyond the first in many places. It doesn’t simply settle for being more of the same; it takes everything a step further, in the process becoming a significantly better show, not merely a slight improvement. It’s hard to cover every way in which it’s improved, but I’ll try.
The first season was a pretty typical CGDCT show, though it had a unique setting. Because of that, its main draw was its comedy, and the comedy was great. That said, I think the second season has improved in this area despite a lesser focus on it. Because the comedy is less in-focus it’s even better when we get to it, and it’s still well integrated enough that it never feels out of place. At this point in the story the characters are much more comfortable with one another, so the jokes are less based on how wacky they are and come across as more natural. If the comedy was still the show’s central aspect this might make it worse, but given the shift in the show’s priorities, it’s absolutely a positive development.
Most notable about the second season is the increased focus on narrative and drama. I’m generally hesitant when drama shows up in slice-of-life series, as it’s often shoehorned in, only serving to hurt the show’s tone. Here though, it feels like a natural continuation of what the show was doing in the first season. We did get some focus on Aoba getting used to her job in season one, but she transitioned into working pretty easily, so it didn’t bring that much drama with it. Now that a year has passed she’s getting assigned much heavier tasks and much more work, requiring her to put in a level of effort previously unseen. This is what really causes the narrative to increase in prominence.
Much like many shows of its nature, the first season talked a lot about the characters’ dreams, but it didn’t show much in the way of fulfilling them. That all changes in this season. When Aoba takes on the role of lead character designer on their new game she’s given the opportunity to do something she’s always dreamed of. At the same time, this comes with a lot of pressure, something that has to be dealt with. The relationship between Kou and Aoba gets more complex, as Kou now has a legitimate competitor, while Aoba is forced to see how far she really has to go. Emotions get more intense, both for the characters and for the viewers, as we really get to see the struggle of the characters to achieve their goals. Sure, I was proud of Aoba when she made her first model in season one, but that doesn’t compare to how I felt when she got her initial designs approved.
This is shown best in the season’s sixth episode, where Aoba is confronted with the fact she won’t be doing the key visuals for the game. This is understandably frustrating to both her and Kou. Aoba wants to do the visual of the character she’s so proud of designing, and Kou doesn’t feel comfortable having her art put forward when Aoba is the one doing most of the work. This is a totally natural development that makes sense within the context of what the show’s done so far, but it’s also much more intense and emotional than anything we’ve seen before. It demonstrates the difficulty that can come when you try to reach your goals while also showing that it’s not impossible. Aoba’s visual was great even if Kou’s works better for its purpose, and she’ll eventually be able to draw the key visuals once she gets her name out there.
This increased focus on narrative really helps the characters come into their own. They were all very fun in the first season of course, but they lacked a certain emotional depth at times, and that isn’t the case anymore. Aoba has started taking steps towards her goals, and with it, she’s seen genuine improvement. Kou has been faced with the fact that she can’t keep coasting by as the best in the studio forever, and she’s also had to realize that her attitude has hurt others at times. Hifumi has made serious efforts to improve her social anxiety, getting closer to Aoba in the process. All of this flows directly out of what season one already did. Nene decides to get into game programming because of her experience at Eagle Jump in the first season, as it allowed her to find her own dream to work towards. In this season both Aoba and Nene have their dreams become goals, and the other characters see significant development as well.
Other, smaller aspects of the show are improved as well. One notable improvement that not enough people are paying attention to is the game itself. Fairies Story 3 was a perfectly fine game for the first season; it did a great job at allowing Aoba to get introduced to modeling and the world of game development at large. But for the most part, it was a boring fantasy RPG, not something most people would care about if it were real. This seasons PECO, on the other hand, is innovative and charming at first glance. The idea of fighting kigurumi and taking their forms as a way to progress through a game is legitimately amazing, and it makes me want to play it for real. This is pretty important because it makes it a lot easier to care about the game’s development, and given how much more focus the actual development is getting, that’s a very good thing.
Another area in which the series has improved is the romantic elements. New Game!! is a Kirara adaptation and like all Kirara manga it must have yuri subtext, but even in the first season it was particularly strong. This season has gone even further. Rin’s feelings for Kou are now explicitly romantic, and Hifumi is well aware of them. The other main pairings have seen more material as well, to the point where I’m not comfortable calling any of it subtext. For most of these shows there’s no sense that the romantic content will go anywhere, but with New Game!! I get the sense that there could be actual progression on this front, even if it will be saved until the end of the manga.
Honestly, I can’t really think of an area where the show hasn’t improved, except maybe the visuals. Some unfortunate losses at DogaKobo mean that the animation isn’t quite as expressive this season, but it’s still quite consistent, especially in its environments which remain lovingly done. Anyone who was watching the first season purely for the sakuga might be disappointed, but I can’t imagine that’s too many people. And a quick glance of the OP shows that while a bit more conservative, there’s still some great cuts.
New Game!! honestly reminds me of K-On!!, and it’s not just because they’re adaptations from the same magazine. K-On!! was a massive improvement over its first season in almost every way, and in being so it elevated its first season along with it. New Game!! does the same thing. This increased focus on dreams and goals, the further fleshing out of characters, the better, more frequent, and more emotional drama; all of these things come together to make a fantastic show that elevates its original installment. It’s so incredibly rare to get this kind of sequel, particularly in anime where sequels are often a major disappointment. It might honestly be my favorite second season jump since K-On!!; the only reason I don’t put it on the same level is that I prefer K-On’s first season to New Game’s.
The show isn’t over, so I can’t exactly call it perfect right now. But if the quality keeps steady and it delivers a satisfying conclusion to the season, New Game!! will absolutely end up as my AOTS, and it has a real shot at AOTY. We’re truly lucky to get a sequel that improves this much on its initial season, and I hope it can finish out strong.