The eight-episode Arknights anime starts at the beginning of the mobile game’s story, but is there any draw if you haven’t already played the game? Steve and Nick discuss what the series has to offer and the pros and cons of joining a militarized medical force staffed by furries.
This series is streaming on Crunchyroll
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network.
Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.
Steve, considering everything I know about Arknights, there is only a tonal and thematic way to open this column.
“Ehhhh, what’s up, Doc?”
Sorry, Nick, no time for jokes right now. A new Arknights event just dropped, and I’m trying to pull the new super-powerful 6-star unit named Ligma.
That’s a joke, folks. There’s no 6-star in the game named Ligma. They’re a 5-star and are clearly inferior to Bofa, the actual 6-star whose E2 M3 totally licks anything Ligma can do.
Look, we both know the upcoming limited operator Sugma is gonna clean both of their clocks. But we can talk turkey about Arknights
and its totally sane codenames at any time. For now, let’s wrap up this year of “This Week In Anime” by covering Arknights: Prelude to Dawn
, the long awaiting anime adaptation of the hit gacha game! It’s got some of the action and all of the depression!
So while Steve and I are packed to the brim with Arknights
brain rot, for the uninitiated, here’s the lowdown: this is based on a mobile game that’s been running for about three years now that’s built a pretty strong niche for itself, especially for an original property not spun-off from an established franchise like your Fate/GOs
and Fire Emblem Heroeses
. Much of that success can be attributed to every character being a sexy furry.
It pays to have strong fundamentals. And in this case, those fundamentals are kemonomimi girls with cool techwear and rock cancer. Look no further than Amiya, the poster girl for the series, and her oversized coat, donkey rabbit ears, and crystal lesions. Like any gacha game, the character designs run the gamut, but I greatly enjoy the “core” Arknights
Truly the hottest cockroach in anime today. And yes, her name is just W. Arknights
has a very particular approach to character names, and that approach is to look around home improvement and lawncare stores for inspiration.
Just looking through my Operator list in the game, I have such brilliant Nom de Guerres as:
- Projekt Red
and many other animal girls who sound like I spilled a dictionary.
You neglected to mention my favorite, Asbestos, but otherwise, that’s a pretty good list. The point is, Arknights is a distinct game with a strong sense of style and a ton of lore and personality. It also, quite notoriously, has a very weak opening act, which is precisely what this adaptation covers! Fun!
I’ll be honest, I have long since given up trying to follow the story of Arknights
. When I started playing, the text speed was too slow and made reading the cutscenes painful, so I hit “skip” and never looked back. This works perfectly fine because the main appeal is the Tower Defense style strategy of its many maps and collecting your own terminally sick menagerie. And by “your own,” I technically mean the faceless, nameless Doctor who gets their brain turned into scrambled eggs immediately before the start of the game.
I held out a little longer, but I’ve also stopped keeping up with anything outside the main narrative. The storytelling in the game isn’t the friendliest. It’s very verbose and circumlocutory, and the events are also set up to incentivize skipping past the visual novel scenes. But with these weaknesses comes an opportunity. Where words fall short, an animated adaptation could be able to succeed.
How well the transition to a TV structure is a…complicated question. But if nothing else, I appreciate how the show looks. Not just in how it manages to translate the hectic character designs to animation but in its environmental design and eye for interesting or striking framing.
Yeah, I’ll give Prelude to Dawn
this much at the very least: it looks damn good. The premiere impressed me right off the bat with how well it used the brutalist architecture of Chernobog to instill the right mood. The environment is vast and daunting when it needs to show how vulnerable our heroes are, and it’s tight and claustrophobic when they’re on the run.
As the cinematic framing implies, it’s an adaptation that takes itself extremely seriously. And for the most part, that works in its favor.
It carries itself as a highly polished, prestigious work that wants you to be impressed by its high-stakes drama and ambitious worldbuilding. This makes it way funnier when all the cinematic direction has to keep applying depth-of-field effects to Amiya’s goofy rabbit ears.
Honestly, it might be my favorite part of the anime. Seeing designs like this, treated with so much gravitas, is something I can’t say I’ve seen in animation before. This is pretty fitting since the entire driving force of the story is that all the catgirls got turbo cancer.
As you can see there, the anime can’t avoid some moments of expository clumsiness, which stems from its source material. The player character is an amnesiac (tell me if you’ve heard that one before). That prompts many of their companions to stop every few minutes and deliver a quick tutorial, like how to install Arknights
on your smartphone.
A neat thing Prelude to Dawn
does is keep the Doctor’s gender deliberately neutral. We’re just a white-haired person in a weird hood who says “Amiya” a lot and sometimes gives sage tactical advice. You don’t need gender to do any of that.
They’re also more of a plot device than a character, as a consequence of the brain problems and lack of a face. Like technically, they’re the tactical mastermind of Rhodes Island, the suspiciously militarized medical company, but there’s no way to translate the act of deploying a dozen little anime characters on a map into watchable television. So instead, Doctor is mostly here for moral support and to occasionally get damsel’d so Amiya can save them.
Yeah, Amiya’s the actual protagonist. A young girl at the head of Rhodes Island, she drives the events of Prelude to Dawn
, which eventually culminate in her reconciling her youth and naïveté with the realities of the battle Rhodes Island is embroiled in against Reunion. Who are the guys in these goofy masks?
They’re also an army of people infected with the magic rock cancer, led by a ruthless leader who seeks to violently overthrow the countries that oppress the afflicted. If that sounds like a whole minefield of potential pitfalls, boy, howdy is it!
Haha, which gets to my favorite part of early Arknights
: the politics! Because in these early stages, you are essentially fighting rioters who have pretty good reasons to rebel against the system. Oripathy can be contagious under certain circumstances—namely, after death—so this has resulted in widespread discrimination against the Infected on all levels, from the personal to the federal. Rhodes Island, ostensibly a pharmaceutical company (it’s a long story), wants to bridge the gap between both sides. Still, the people in Reunion are fueled by the violence they’ve experienced at the hands of their oppressors.
It’s definitely an ambitious conflict to build your furry gacha game around! And at its best moments, Prelude to Dawn
manages to thread a needle between disagreeing with Reunion’s actions without demonizing their justified anger. But then there are moments like introducing one of Reunion’s leaders as a literal evil child.
Mephisto is such a trip, lol. So is Talulah, for that matter, the stony queen leading Reunion with her building-flattening flame magic. Both of these characters, and more, are in the story for the long haul, so they only get a little to do here in the opening act. And in general, the longer arc of this Reunion conflict builds up a lot of apparent hypocrisies that the narrative takes a while to address with the proper nuance. There are shades of it here, but right now, we’re left rooting for (or playing as) a PMC that is only making this conflict worse.
Ah, but let me present you with the toughest ethical quandary ever: what if the Dragon Cop is hot?
I would be more open to your argument if Ch’en were in the sexy dress you can buy from the Outfit Store. But yes, I’m sure some will be swayed by the…let’s say, aesthetic of the Lungmen cast.
This is where illustrator Kuroblood’s years-long gambit pays off, which should inspire us all. If you work hard enough and on the correct game, you too can live to see your furry OCs animated in an internationally distributed television program.
Also, Wei isn’t even a recruitable operator. Arknights
‘ character design just goes that hard unilaterally.
Honestly, half the fun of this show was picking out all the characters I recognized who will only get a line of dialogue because they don’t appear in cutscenes.
I finally know how other gacha players feel watching shows built entirely to pander to them.
It’s nice, isn’t it? And Prelude to Dawn
, to its credit, is pretty unobtrusive about the cameos, which are primarily relegated to the handful of scenes on Rhodes Island’s base. Elsewhere, the show focuses on a much smaller and more manageable cast of playable ops, which includes an apple pie-loving angel and an Italian wolf with a penchant for Pocky.
And they’re pretty normal by Rhodes Island standards.
Sadly, they don’t get around to introducing Texas’ feral girlfriend/nemesis, but the Penguin Logistics pair adds some much-needed levity to the RI crew.
And here’s another injection of levity for you: the name of the antagonist for this arc:
Honestly, Skullshatterer may be the most normal name in this show, if only because it’s the supervillain name an edgelord teenager came up with for himself. What’s Rockrock’s excuse?
Like, it’s obvious to the audience that Skullshatterer is talking up checks that Reunion cannot cash, but at the same time, we understand why this is the path he had to choose and why Misha decides to throw her lot in with him as well. We can see the tragedy coming from a mile away, but that doesn’t blunt its impact.
It also gives Reunion a human (well, y’know what I mean) face (well, you know what I mean) that keeps them from being a bunch of cryptic villains out to cause rampant destruction. Even the totally anonymous grunts get just that little bit of characterization.
Look at that guy and his wacky little mask. I love him. I sure hope he doesn’t get kicked in the head by a wolf-girl later.
Alas, war never changes. Neither does the anime’s visual potency. Look, I didn’t notice this parallel until I started sorting my screencaps. They went above and beyond your average gacha advert.
It’s excellent, and the arc does a lot to salvage a very dour and slow series, even at just eight episodes. Like, speaking objectively, I think the first 75% of this show will only work for those who are jazzed to see their favorite units animated. But I can totally see somebody getting invested in the Tragedy of Skullshatterer without prior Arknighting.
It’s better than nothing, but still, a tall order for most catgirl techwear laypersons to commit to. Only Arknights
fans and people excited to watch the first ~25% of a long and plodding war tragedy will lap Prelude to Dawn
up. But if you’re in either of those crowds, it’s a pleasant surprise of a show with more than enough artistry to sustain its ambitious tack.
It’s pure fanservice
, but I am a fan being serviced and pretty well at that. So I certainly won’t say no to the already-announced follow-up. Even if it’s mostly for the novelty of seeing my tall High HP/DEF wife block a grenade launcher melee attack with her Dorito shield.
I couldn’t agree more. In fact, I think Hoshiguma herself put it best:
Anyway, I think my stamina’s replenished by now, so I’ve got to go back to trust-farming these event maps. DM me to add as a friend, folks. I’ve got an S3M3 fully leveled Surtr in my support roster!