Does Enjoying Ni No Kuni 2 Mean I Like Anime Now?

'Cuz If So, Well... OOOF.

Games Features Ni No Kuni 2
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Does Enjoying <i>Ni No Kuni 2</i> Mean I Like Anime Now?

Social media was never about creating or deepening friendships. Twitter and Facebook and Instagram are about two things: if you made any of those apps, they’re about making money, and if you use any of those apps, they’re about selling an idealized version of yourself. It’s all just a high tech spin on the kind of daily performance we put on whenever we leave our house, but broadcast around the world for anybody we allow to see.

If you follow me on Twitter there’s a chance you’ve seen me talk a fair amount of mess about anime. It’s true that I don’t watch a lot of the stuff. I don’t have any malice against it, though, or the people who do watch it. It wasn’t very relevant to American pop culture when I was the right age to most enjoy it, and by the time it became relevant I no longer had the time to get into it. There are only so many hours in a day and only so many hobbies you can squeeze into them. My Twitter feed is stocked deep with anime chatter from younger people who did grow up watching it, though, and at some point I started to think it would be fun to act like an anti-anime grump on that app. It might have been fun once or twice. Now it’s just a bad running in-joke that I should’ve dropped years ago.

I might talk tough about anime, but in actuality I have no problem with it. I enjoy and actively seek out Studio Ghibli films. I’ve even watched maybe eleven episodes of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. Anime is totally fine and I can see why some people are definitely into it. It’s not, however, something I feel the need to get into, no matter how many times I’ve tried. Again, my docket is pretty much full, all of the time.

Occasionally, though, I’ll start to wonder. I’ll watch or read something that makes me think it might finally be time to give anime a legitimate shot, or play a game that’s heavily influenced by it. It’s almost always games, actually. 10 years ago it was Valkyria Chronicles, five years ago it was Xenoblade Chronicles, and today it’s Ni No Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom, which is out later this week and which I am a few hours into. All three are essentially anime series that you can play through, strapping a visual style almost indistinguishable from something you’d see on Toonami to the kind of role-playing structure and depth that can keep me focused on a game for dozens of hours. The first two are among my favorite games of the last decade, and Ni No Kuni 2 could be on its way to joining them. (I already enjoy it more than the first one, whose combat was too passive to really hook me.) They all embody specific hallmarks of various stripes of anime, including such crucial aspects as aesthetic and storytelling, in a relationship that’s closely linked to that animated form in a way that isn’t really comparable to anything similar between games and Western animation.

Considering it’s the only one of those three on a current system, it’s not a surprise that Ni No Kuni 2 better replicates the appearance of anime than those older games. What’s most impressive about its style is that it isn’t just the cut scenes that pull that off. When the dialogue stops, the camera settles behind your character’s back, you take direct control of them again, and everything looks pretty much exactly how it looked during the cut scene. It’s like if you were watching a Blu-ray that let you play through certain scenes instead of just watching.

As I’ve been playing through those scenes, and watching the story of political intrigue and deadly betrayal unfold, there’s no sort of inconvenience or nagging discomfort from whatever sort of wall my half-joking Twitter presence might’ve built up between me and anime. I’m fully invested in a way I rarely get when watching actual anime, in a way that’s stronger and more coercive than whatever I felt while watching something like Fullmetal Alchemist. These games offer a more interactive approach to the genre, which, for me, is apparently more than enough to compensate for some of the stylistic trappings that have come to define anime that might normally give me pause.

I don’t believe that the inherently interactive nature of games generally has a positive impact upon their ability to tell a story. I actually kind of believe the opposite. But when it comes to games like Ni No Kuni 2, games that closely hew to a type of animation and storytelling that I largely have no interest in, that interactivity somehow makes a crucial difference in my ability to not just tolerate but genuinely cherish the visual and narrative design decisions they make. If we define these games as a type of anime, I might have to find a new shibboleth to lazily and performatively mock on Twitter.

Garrett Martin edits Paste’s comedy and games sections. He’s on Twitter @grmartin.