Girls Beyond The Wasteland (Cert 12)
3 Discs DVD / 2 Discs Blu-ray (Distributor: MVM) Running time: 293 minutes approx.
The phrase “Based on a visual novel” or permutations thereof have featured in a few anime reviews of late on this site. This is another one to add to the collection but it has the honour being a visual novel that is ABOUT a visual novel – well the making of one anyway.
Having written a successful school play, average student Buntaro Hojo is approached by aloof classmate Sayuki Kuroda to write the story for a bishoujo visual novel she wants to make. Buntaro is unsure but Sayuki is insistent and Buntaro caves in. Together they begin recruiting others for the project, starting with Buntaro’s oldest friends, actress Yuka Kobayakawa and otaku Atomu Kai.
Expanding the artistic side of the group are timorous first year artist Uguisu “Tori” Yuki and ebullient but reckless programmer Teruha Ando. Despite everyone being novices, Sayuki is able to galvanise the group towards making a game and with a deadline already set, they have to fast and hard to achieve this goal. But what exactly is Sayuki’s true motivation behind this?
Regular readers of this site will already know I have no experience with visual novels yet the correlation between them and their anime spin-off is easily recognisable since they usually involve romantic storylines. With Girls Beyond The Wasteland bucking this trend by featuring a plot not driven by romance makes the original even more of a curiosity, if indeed it does share the same premise of game making.
But it makes a welcome change from the norm, which is a good enough selling point for some viewers but maybe not for die hards expecting more romantic fluff. Certainly the scope for providing the audience with a glimpse behind the scenes of making a visual novel is quite wealthy, and to that end, comparisons to Bakuman, about two high school boys creating their own manga, come to mind.
The major difference there is that Bakuman ran for 75 episodes across three seasons, whereas Wasteland only gets 12, therefore only offers a brief glimpse behind the creative process betwixt the usual comedy shenanigans conducted in the name of research. And there is drama too, but sadly left a little too late and robbing the show of actually having a far deeper impact than it does.
In that respect it is easy, and frankly justified, to lament the opportunities director Takuya Sato and writers Yuniko Ayana and Takayuki Noguchi let slip through their fingers in chasing the easy mark. But, and here is the kicker, there is something here that keeps us from being completely dismissive of this show; it’s not really tangible since the characters are stock archetypes and the situations are equally hackneyed but we do become invested in their plight.
Sayuki is not your normal quiet girl, indulging in lighter moments more often than not but does crack the whip pretty hard when she has to. She also puts in the effort unlike those who just give orders so her work ethic can’t be impugned; it is her driving force and apparent insider knowledge of the gaming industry that makes her so enigmatic, down to having a brother in the business.
Aside from ultra meek Toru, who, as you might expect grows a backbone by the end, the others will stand their ground and contest a suggestion if necessary, but Sayuki tends have the final say. Most of the burden falls on Buntaro as writer (he ends up on lockdown in one episode) and Tori as the artist, whilst Teruha spends her time idling about and gets upset when she sacks herself when pulled up for not doing her job.
Indicative of the rushed nature beholden to the single cour run, conflicts are resolved quickly although personality clashes still arise every now and then. It is therefore a shame when a major bombshell in episode 10 threatens to derail the whole project is also cleared up inside ten minutes, followed by what should have been a nail-biting race against time that is also overcome in quick fashion.
Perhaps if less time was spent on the trip to the beach (for research purposes, natch) in an chapter cheekily entitled This is the So-Called Fanservice Episode, and similar less inspiring frippery then the story would have more room to breathe. Again though, these distractions do serve in bringing the group closer together and in a rare occurrence for a short show, everyone does get to show their personalities.
For many the biggest surprise is the lack of romance for what superficially looks like your average harem set-up. Being childhood friends there is an implied frisson between Buntaro and Yuka on Yuka’s part, with ambiguous teases from Sayuki and Teruha but nothing of any substance. In the grand scheme of things, avoiding this route is most definitely a boon and a welcome one.
Come the last few episodes and the group have another enemy other than time, in the form of a rival production team, headed by an obnoxious woman who challenges Sayuki in a head-to-head sales battle, thinking it is in the bag due to her experience. Running on the periphery is a prolific and eccentric otaku also providing competition but is less a threat.
Characters designs as alluded to earlier are largely unremarkable with Teruha being the lone standout, a sort of cross between Grell Sutcliff from Black Butler and Rias Gremory from High School DxD. The animation is fairly standard too but the artwork by Project No.9 is superb, rich in detail and warmth. The studio equipment in the voice recording session is particularly stunning, no doubt CGI assisted for total accuracy.
Admittedly I didn’t have much hope for Girls Beyond The Wasteland even with the cute premise, bracing myself for a tortuous experience. Instead I found this to be a decidedly pedestrian but inexplicably enjoyable tale of talented young people looking for their path in life. Not an essential show but suitably distracting for what it is.
Disc 1 only:
Clean Opening Animation
Clean Ending Animation
Rating – ***
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