The Spring 2020 Anime Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
What is this?
Orphaned Hiro lives with his grandfather in a near-future version of our world, and his life is pretty great with one exception – his grandpa won't buy him a smartphone, so he can't play the super popular Shadowverse game with everyone at school. But maybe Grandpa's just been hiding a phone, because one day as he's leaving for school, a strange voice draws Hiro to the shed, where he finds a box with not only a smartphone, but also the extra gear needed to play Shadowverse! Thrilled with his discovery, Hiro heads off to school, where he soon finds himself embroiled in a Shadowverse battle to get his friend Mimori's phone back from a series of unscrupulous players.
Shadowverse is based on a game. It's available streaming on Crunchyroll, Tuesdays at 3 am EST.
How was the first episode?
Shadowverse is a children's show based on a mobile game, and both of those facts become clear within moments of starting this episode. Playing out very similarly to something like Yu-Gi-Oh!, Shadowverse takes place in a universe where basically everyone plays the literal game Shadowverse, and no one really talks about anything else. Eventually, the protagonist Hiro's friend Mimori has her phone stolen by a particularly nefarious Shadowverse-playing child, and he must chase him down to achieve Shadowverse justice.
If my deadpan description of those narrative events didn't clue you in, this is a boring first episode. Both children's shows and shows designed as advertisements for mobile games can actually be very compelling, but that requires a level of storytelling invention that Shadowverse doesn't really seem interested in pursuing. Instead, Shadowverse simply focuses on a bunch of children playing a game that feels a lot like Pokémon or Yu-Gi-Oh!, and sticks to a narrative template that will be familiar to anyone who's watched any similar children's properties. What interest I found in this episode largely came down to the natural incongruity of its tone and subject matter; seeing a child sneeringly declare “the weak don't have the right to play Shadowverse” is funny, but not intentionally so.
Shadowverse's production values are actually well above average, and the show has plenty of fluid character animation, as well as some neat transformation sequences. Still, visual polish can't really do much to change the fact that this is a transparent advertisement for children, with no distinctive narrative ideas that might elevate it above the base appeal of watching kids play a mobile game. For those looking for a genuine story with goals beyond selling the Shadowverse game, there's not much to see here.
You have to sort of admire the fact that Shadowverse makes exactly zero effort to pretend to be anything other than what it is: a vehicle to interest people in its parent game. That this is a video TCG is abundantly clear, although of course things are jazzed up a bit for the anime with a near-future setting and fancy add-ons to make gameplay more realistic, but it still follows the Yu-Gi-Oh! formula, at times feeling like the bargain bin version of that franchise. That may turn some viewers off, but on the other hand, if you know this is something you enjoy – or you want to see a fancier version of a game you play – this doesn't try to be anything other than that.
The nominal story follows Hiro, who's either in middle or high school and just badass enough to tinker with his uniform to make it, well, less uniform. He lives with his hopelessly old-fashioned grandfather, by which I mean that the man won't buy him a smartphone so that he can play Shadowverse with literally all of the other kids at school. The game has become a major fixture among Hiro's friends and classmates, and he's presumably feeling left out. I say “presumably” because, although there's an implication that he's been asking for a phone for a long time, he gets it within minutes of the episode's start, so we never get an idea of what his life was like without one. While this makes sense in terms of hooking the audience, it doesn't do great things for the actual narrative of the episode, because apart from Hiro's insane natural skill at the game and incredible enthusiasm for it, we don't see much of why this is such a big deal.
We do, however, find out that for these school kids, Shadowverse isn't just a game. This may be the most realistic element of the whole thing; things like free phone games or actual TCG do take on outsize proportions for groups of kids, and if adults aren't aware of it, things can absolutely get to the point where Hiro comes in, with a jerk named Tamura taking Mimori's phone because he beat her in a game. Since the one teacher we see is too busy obsessively moving Alice's Adventures in Wonderland-themed statuary around to really notice what the kids are up to on their newfangled gadgets, I'm okay with the lost phone being the impetus for the plot to get moving.
I also like that the setting is only marginally futuristic. There are small details like an increased use of holographic projections (Grandpa's newspaper, the game arena), but no one has a flying car or anything, and this makes elements of the production feel more grounded than they otherwise might. Likewise the adult inattention really works here, not just because it lets the story happen, but because it feels pretty real for the situation. Honestly, if this wasn't such a blatant commercial for the Shadowverse game, it'd be a decent amount of fun. As it stands, however, it's basically a half-hour ad, and that's not how I want to spend my Tuesday mornings.
discuss this in the forum (148 posts) |
this article has been modified since it was originally posted; see change history