Mobile games are a massive business worldwide, but the Japanese mobile game market is a whole other beast. The handheld fighting/story game hybrids are stepping into a field previously occupied primarily by visual novels as a way to tell a story on a relatively low budget and perhaps eventually get a full-fledged anime out of it.
Nowadays, the market goes both ways. Make a successful gacha game like Fate/Grand Order and you might get an anime; on the other hand, make a successful anime like Madoka Magica and you might get a tie-in game! Or there’s the third option: plan the whole package from the start as a “mixed media” project, like Love Live! or Revue Starlight.
This season, anime fans can tune in to two very different mobile game series, covering two of those three methods. On one side, we have a baseball game turned sports anime; on the other, a story of thirteen hot Buddhas with a mobile game to follow. What can we expect from these two shows, other than massive casts to fill out the gacha, of course? I watched the first few episodes of these two series to see how they fare on the anime side of things.
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Cinderella Nine: The Power of Teamwork
Does anything else go together quite like anime and baseball? Apparently not. The two cross over quite a bit, from hot-blooded series about high school kids forming their own teams to collaborations between Mobile Suit Gundam and the Pacific League. Cinderella Nine isn’t even the first anime about an all-girls’ hardball team: the similarly-named Princess Nine came out back in 1998, and remains a favorite among sports anime fans to this day.
The original game (fully titled Cinderella Nine in August) came out back in 2017, and became popular enough to receive light novel adaptations, a manga penned by Pop Team Epic creator Bkub Okawa, and music albums performed by the game’s voice actresses. You can even go to Cinderella Nine summer concerts!
While its popularity seems to have eluded the States until now, the girls came in swinging this spring with the anime adaptation. The voice cast from the game returns to play their anime iterations, led by the determined Tsubasa, a former Little League champion attempting to start up a girls’ team at her school. The majority of the players haven’t even picked up a bat before, but the focus is on community and fun. Little by little, the team’s handful of knowledgeable players help the newbies find their strengths and hone their skills.
Interestingly, there’s a major character missing from the adaptation: you. As with many games where you “collect” characters, the original Cinderella Nine had an unseen manager overseeing everything. Some shows, like Fate/Grand Order and IDOLiSH7, retain the player character in some form. But, like Love Live! before it, Cinderella Nine chooses to let the girls tell their story themselves.
The result is a surprisingly uplifting story of the importance of remembering to just have fun in your hobbies. Tsubasa and her friends are absolutely looking to improve their skills, make no mistake. But all the training and planning falls flat without acknowledging each other’s hard work and taking defeat as an opportunity to learn. The willingness to stop and say “Nice catch!” or “It’s okay, you’ll get it next time” can often be the difference between a win and a loss. Get too laser-focused on victory, Cinderella Nine says, and you’ll just psych yourself out.
Namu Amida Butsu! -Utena-: Best Buddha Buddies
First things first: despite the preponderance of long-haired pretty boys, this show has nothing to do with Revolutionary Girl Utena. The “utena” of the title refers to the lotus-shaped pedestal you’ll see under many Buddhist figures. And if that seems like a deeply specific reference, wait until you see the rest of this show.
Namu Amida Butsu! -Utena- comes to us from DMM Games, a company whose offerings tend to follow the “What if this thing was a cute person” formula. There’s Kantai Collection (the first of the “What if warships were cute girls” trend), Touken Ranbu (“What if swords were cute boys”), and now this: what if the Thirteen Buddhas were cute boys?
The series is part of a multi-stage plan for DMM, including a tie-in mobile game. The roots of gamification are already present in the series: the thirteen Buddhas all gather at a shrine on present-day Earth to keep an eye on humanity, clearing them of major vices. However, they can’t do so without clearance from Shaka Nyorai (a.k.a. The Buddha), so most of their time is spent learning about modern humanity and keeping the temple clean.
The plot follows two specific threads. The first, the relationship between Taishakuten and Bonten, harkens back to stories in Buddhist belief. The pair are both honored as protectors of the aforementioned historical Buddha, and are almost always pictured together. In the anime, the pair follow the same path in different ways, often finding themselves at odds while still being in complete agreement with each other.
The other involves the absence and apparent disinterest of Dainichi Nyorai (the “Primordial Buddha”), who prefers to leave his work to the newly arrived pair as he goes around Japan learning about macarons and karaoke. It doesn’t take long to discover that his out-of-character behavior comes with a rather good — or, rather, very bad — reason, related to the ever-present threat of the corruptor Mara and the evil Ashura.
As much as this sounds like a pile-on of philosophy, it isn’t actually necessary to know anything about Buddhism to watch the show. Some of the jokes and visual gags will ring truer, but the personalities and abilities of each character help establish what they’re about. Plus, they reference each character’s personal story and traits throughout, meaning you’ll learn a little something as you watch.
It can be a little daunting to keep up with 13 protagonists. Just keep your eyes on Taishakuten and Bonten, and you should be fine.
There’s plenty more mobile game anime brewing. Fate/Grand Order is preparing to launch two films retelling its Camelot arc and a series covering its Babylon arc. Madoka Magica tie-in game Magia Record will be getting the animated treatment. And there’s always more iDOLM@STER around the corner! Now if we could just get a Love Nikki adaptation…