For the past year or so, I’ve made casual tradition out of picking out the worst-rated anime towards the end of each season just to… see. I’ve covered a few here on this site and avoided writing about several others because I couldn’t even finish a single episode. But with the addition of the anime short Tenka Hyakken: Meiji-kan e Youkoso! (rated 4.8 out of 10) to the bottom of my list this season, I’ve begun to pick up on a trend that I had never noticed before:
All of the worst, or at least the most bizarre, of my bad selections in recent months originated as adaptations of gacha or collectible card games.
Count them up for the fall 2019 season: Tenka Hyakken, Azur Lane, Granblue Fantasy, Aikatsu on Parade!, Z/X: Code Reunion, Stand My Heroes, Dorufuro: Iyashi-hen (from Girls’ Frontline), and Fate/Grand Order (though the last one belongs to an even larger franchise). For as much as people complain about the oversaturation of fantasy isekai anime, I think those eight have them beat…
Of course, I haven’t watched all of them (and, I should clarify: not all of them are “bad.” See comments below). But most of the worst gacha-inspired anime that I have seen share a few similar problems. For example, many have a massive cast that forces the series into a rushed episodic structure intent on showcasing as many of its characters as possible:
And then most of those casts are exceedingly strange, maybe because the crowded mobile-games market forces each new entry to pick a flashy theme to attract players while following scalable templates that enable easy expansion with new characters if the game grows. So, try some of the odd girly anthropomorphizations of inexhaustible objects like guns for Girls’ Frontline or warships for Azur Lane or, if you want boys, the sexed-up Buddhas and Bodhisattvas out of spring 2019’s Namu Amida Butsu. I still can’t wrap my head around that one…
For its part, Tenka Hyakken uses the “physical incarnations of ancient swords” as cute anime girls. I wish I had more to say about that premise, but after as many three-minute-thirty-second episodes as I could stand, I still can’t explain what the girls even do. They have a maid service… and take baths… and celebrate Halloween (?) and stuff. Nothing you might expect from historical swords, but the huge cast and short episodes maybe make building any sort of connections to the histories of their real swords impossible. For such a niche topic though, who knows — I once knew a hobbyist sword appraiser and collector that might pick up on some of the details in Tenka Hyakken. But then with such an expensive hobby, I doubt he has much cash laying around to spin the gacha slots anyway.
With that money in mind too, most of these gacha anime seem to serve more as an advertising gimmick for the games themselves than a complete, standalone product. At the very least, Tenka Hyakken clearly doesn’t aspire to achieve anything more than a fun three-minute diversion and doesn’t deserve to join nonsense like Pastel Memories in my personal junk bin. But then longer games-based anime like Z/X, Aikatsu, and Granblue Fantasy have all worked their way into second or third seasons so they must have done something right in their story-telling beyond mere marketing.
I’m just a little disappointed though — will all of these gacha game adaptations continue to crowd out my seasonal search for bad anime? There’s only so many times I can complain “cast too big” before it begins to seem that I have a problem with the genre rather than the individual series. I don’t want to sound like a bigot. But, I only have so much time to dig through the dregs. I need more fine, invigorating original trash like RErideD and Assassin’s Pride (mwah, perfection) and less stop-orific, standardized gacha garbage.
Huh, roll the numbers for next season and sigh for relief: only four more. Though, I have to wonder: how much further will this trend carry through the next decade?