Man, did I miss this show! The jury is still out, though, on whether or not my fondness for this NieR:Automata anime is due to the quality of the show itself, or just the wellspring of nostalgia and goodwill I have for the franchise at large. That isn’t to say the show is bad; in fact, “a mountain too [H]igh” may be the best episode yet, at least so far as the straight adaptation of the game is concerned. The amusement park filled with emotionally unstable robots and the flayed, screaming bodies of near-dead Androids is just too wicked and weird not to love, and the fight against Simone is one of my favorite boss encounters in either of the main NieR games. It’s not just because of the badass battle itself, either! As I’m sure all of you anime-only viewers have noticed by now, Keiichi Okabe‘s soundtrack fucking rips, and all of the music he has composed elevates every other facet of NieR to new heights. I’m pretty sure it would be against the law for me to give less than 3.5 stars to any piece of media that made use of “A Beautiful Song”, this episode’s centerpiece track.
Still, I cannot help but bring all of my baggage as an obsessive DrakeNieR fan into play when I view this show, and I still find myself wondering how cohesive or compelling any of this is for the uninitiated. To its credit, Ver1.1a has included some more character interactions with the Rebellion crew and a handful of appropriately portentous check-ins with the YorHa Commander back up in space, which I suppose does an alright job of streamlining some of the exposition and narrative dot-connecting that is naturally going to be altered when you’re condensing dozens of hours of gameplay into just a handful of hours of animation. When it comes to the bare-bones plot of “a mountain too [High]”, it basically gets across the gist of the Amusement Park adventure. Whether or not the impact of the story is coming through is another thing entirely.
For example, consider the way this episode handles the fight against Simone. As has been the case all season, what we see in this encounter is actually material that has been spliced together from two different campaigns; in the original playthrough as 2B, you don’t get any of the insight into Simone’s fractured and tortured psyche, as all of those revelations don’t come until many hours later when you play through the events again as 9S. On the one hand, I actually really like the extra layers of stylization and embellishment that Ver1.1a includes in 9S’ hacking sequences—it certainly makes sense to take advantage of the medium by forgoing the little bullet-hell minigame and text interludes in favor of a surreal dive into the robot’s spooky mindscape.
On the other hand, we lose that sense of reflection and reinterpretation that came from tying 9S’ experience to its own separate storyline that comes so long after your first encounters with all of the Androids’ enemies. It was never presented as a “twist” exactly, so it isn’t like anything is being spoiled, but the more straightforward delivery of the information saps the project of that particular “NieR” flavor that makes the games stand out.
None of this is to say that this episode is failing the story, either, and there are plenty of moments that nail the NieR experience perfectly. The fight against Simone was thrilling and very fun to watch, and I actually think the gruesome fates of the captured Androids are even more horrifying in animated form; there is just something about the texture of the art and the direction of that opening reveal that makes the sequence legitimately creepy and unsettling, which the game never managed to do for me. I haven’t been 100% convinced that NieR:Automata Ver1.1a is fully capable of standing on its own as a series, but I am very much loving all of these extra little bits and flourishes that expand on the original story in such interesting ways. Hopefully we won’t have to wait another month to see how NieR continues to adapt and interpret this weird and wonderful tale.
• This week’s puppet show is a treat for anyone like me who is very easily impressed by getting to see all of the cute little doll versions of the YorHa side characters. Plus, who among us cannot relate to failing the most important mission of their lives simply because they got distracted and wandered off to do something completely irrelevant?
Grimoire of Lore
This is where you’ll find my more spoilery observations, so you might want to avoid these bits unless you’re already familiar with the NieR games!
• So, I ran back through some playthroughs of the game just to be sure, and feel free to correct me in the comments if I’m wrong, but this is the first time we’ve ever seen 2B perform a hack herself, right? 2B having to bust out a hitherto unknown ability to rescue 9S from Simone’s mind feels like a pretty big deal so far as divergences go, especially when Pod makes a point to mention the threat of corruption that a B-Type Unit is risking by attempting such a feat.
• Also, that final scene where 9S brutally murders the last surviving Robots that were attending the play feels very much like something the 9S of the game’s finale would have pulled; the brazenness of it feels a bit out of character for the guy at such an early stage of the story. It could be a brief lapse in consistency…or maybe it’s a bit of foreshadowing for even bigger changes to come?