Are gacha game adaptations the next front in bad anime?

I dunno, they’re anthropomorphized swords doing Halloween or something. It’s bizarre. I just pulled an image off the official website because I couldn’t be bothered to watch again for screenshots.

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:

A scrolling sampling of Tenka Hyakken’s sword girls. I count over 100 on the character page.

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?

4 thoughts on “Are gacha game adaptations the next front in bad anime?

  1. I’m honestly surprised that Actors: Song Connection isn’t a gaccha game. It handles a huge cast pretty well, and it’s got the strangeness going for it, and it even has a meta story line (they’re literally virtual singing boys in the anime). If there isn’t a game yet, they should make one. It’s a perfect fit.

    I’ve liked quite a few gacha game adaptions: Sengoku Collection, Uma Musume, Last Period, and Merc Storia were all good. Sengoku Collection goes unappologetically episodic, which each episode (and very few two parters) focussing on different characters (with a few returns). Uma Musume focuses on one character and tells a straightforward story. Last Period goes fully meta (with a summons merchant, and our heroes constantly getting low level summons, while the opponents draw all the rares; there’s even an addiction episode…), and Merc Storia animates side stories, with our main characters mostly functioning as witnesses.

    Cygames is an interesting company. They use anime to sell their games, but its obvious they also care about anime as a medium itself (you’ll find them on the production committe of shows like Made in Abyss or In this Corner of the World), and their anime adaptions always have a concrete concept, sometimes amounting to original stories (Shingeki no Bahamut). It might be worth researching them in more detail. Zombieland Saga looks perfectly suited to make games from, for example. I don’t know if any exist, or what the plan was when they made that show.

    This season both Z/X Code Re-Union and Granblue Fantasy are exactly what they want to be, with GbF definitely being the better show. I don’t watch any of the others. Generally, I think gacha games work really well with the short story format, and I wish more would go that way. Slice of Life can work pretty well, too. I haven’t seen much of the Token Ranbu slice of life show (there’s an action-adventure show, too), but what I’ve seen was fun. I think slice-of-life variants just try to create familiarity with the actual story being a backdrop. Sort of a safe-space that normalises weirdness. That works for me, when it does. In such cases, character designs and easily identifiable quirks trump narrative content (and by design).

    I dropped Azur Lane, but I watched all of Kantai Collection. Narrative didn’t factor into either decision.

    I don’t mind gacha game adaptions, and if Cygames is on the production committee, I actually take note.

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    1. Oh, I should clarify: I’m not trying to say that *all* gacha game anime are bad. I’m actually excited for the new Puella Magi next season. I’ve also seen a few you’ve listed and yeah, they’re at least alright.

      However, when I check in on the *worst* stuff every season just for fun, it’s almost always been gacha. So, I don’t mean to say that you can’t do them right, just that there’s a definite pattern in the way they can turn out wrong: a huge (unfocused, undifferentiated) cast, little engagement with the weirder themes, and a sort of (again, unfocused) hybrid structure between an actual narrative and slice-of-life.

      And then, I suppose I was also just struck with surprise… I had no idea so many even existed!

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    2. I wonder if it’s the various industries discovering anime as a marketing niché that leads to a glut, which leads to more bad stuff from a source type? I mean when I started watching anime as it aired, everyone was ragging on visual novels, then it was light novels, and maybe people will catch on gacha games in a while (I don’t hear too many complain yet). Personally, I often didn’t even know what the source was. I remember watching Sengoku Collection in, what, 2012? I didn’t even know what a gacha game was back then. For a while I thought it was an adaption of a collectible card game (like Yu Gi Oh!).

      Yeah, I think you’ve made a good point about what can go wrong.

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