Although it started slow, PSO 2 The Animation's series premier ended with plenty of exciting action and laid solid groundwork for the series going forward.
Yes, it’s true SEGA has yet to release Phantasy Star Online 2 in the West, but when we learned that Crunchyroll would be airing Phantasy Star Online 2 The Animation, it almost made up for it.
OK, not really, but c’mon, it’s a Phantasy Star Online anime, what SEGA Nerd wouldn’t be excited for it, right?
Well, the series premiere early this morning, and we stayed up late to give it a watch. Did it live up to our high expectations? Let’s find out!
PSO 2 The Animation is directed by Keiichiro Kawaguchi, with Mitsutaka Hirota handling both scripting and series composition. Character designs are provided by Minoko Takasu, with animation produced by TELECOM ANIMATION FILM.
The first thing you should know before watching PSO 2 The Animation is it’s not set within the game itself. When I first learned about the anime, I was really excited, thinking it might follow a kick ass group of hunters or even catch us up with what’s been going on with the game, since, ya know, we’ve never actually been able to play it officially.
Instead, it takes place both in the real world and inside the video game, and follows a high school student named Tachibana Itsuki, where he and his fellow classmates attend the “Seiga Academy” (yes, seriously).
I’m not entirely sure how ingrained Phantasy Star Online 2 is in the Japanese culture, but in the anime, everyone plays the game. I mean, just in the opening minutes, we see a couple of young kids playing the game on their Vitas while riding a bus (wait, does that really happen?).
Soon after, we meet Itsuki, who’s returning to school from summer break to find many new faces. As he walks through the sprawling Seiga Academy campus, we see groups of students jogging, while others read magazines together on a park bench on a beautiful sunny morning, complete with SEGA blue skies. We also get an aerial view of the campus, which looks quite lovely and reveals the inner courtyard with Sonic the Hedgehog’s unmistakable face engraved on the ground.
As Itsuka walks through the academy doors, he’s greeted by a gruff security guard who asks for his student ID. Unfortunately, it seems that Itsuki has misplaced it, and the security guard suspects he’s up to no good, when Izumi, the student council president, walks in to vouch for Itsuki that his is, in fact, a Seiga Academy student in Room 2-B.
The security guard blushes when Izumi Rina talks to him, clearly infatuated, and quickly lets Itsuki pass, along with the rest of the students. A bit weird, to be honest.
Soon after, we see Itsuki sitting at a table with his friend, Kota, eating some cookies his sister made, when a fellow student walks up to ask Kota if he’s going to play some PSO 2 later in the day.
Itsuki is at a loss as he isn’t familiar with the game, but Kota quickly explains that “if you don’t play online games in this day and age, you’ll get left behind.”
Later that night, Kota is reading a magazine in his room when he hears a beep from his computer, notifying him he’s received an email from the Seiga Academy student council. It’s a message from Itsuki, requesting that he report to the student council room after he’s finished with his school activities to receive an important message.
The following morning, Kota can’t believe Itsuki received the invitation from Izumi, as she’s one of the most popular girls in school. After Itsuki plays a game of soccer and grabs some drinks with his friends at a local cafe, he’s alerted that it’s already 6 p.m., and he’s late for his meeting with Izumi.
He walks into the student council room, which is filled with a row of council members studiously at work on computers. Izumi is at the front of the room with her back turned, and despite some objections from others, she announces that Itsuki will be named the student council vice president. Several students aren’t very happy with Izumi’s decision and begin calling Itsuki names, but Izumi explains that he’s the perfect candidate to fill the vacancy because he’s a good student and has nothing better to do.
Itsuki is still unsure why he’s required to play PSO 2, when Izumi explains that the Seiga Academy leadership requires the student council to submit reports to get a better understanding of how the academy’s social network. She wants Itsuki to play the game and report his experience to her.
Nice to meet you
Later in the day, we find Itsuki at his computer reading over sloppily drawn instructions that Kota gave him, before he logs into the game for the very first time. There’s a short video that explains the game’s premise that you’re a member of ARKS, a planetary investigation organization who travels to various planets to carry out missions.
Itsuki is then taken to the character creation screen, but instead of taking the time to customize his character, he chooses to randomize it. It just so happens he finds a character model that’s a splitting image of himself. How convenient, right? He chooses to become a human hunter equipped with a gunslash (a sword/gun combo).
He finally enters the game and finds himself in the all-too familiar PSO lobby, looking around and seeing dozens of characters standing about in conversation, with seemingly not much going on, when a CAST named SORO comes up from behind to introduce himself.
SORO knows Itsuki is a rookie and decides that since he’s a veteran player, it’s his duty to take Itsuki under his wing and show him the ropes. After some funny back and forth banter and Soro saying that he’s recently changed classes and wants to quest with Itsuki, an alarm sounds with an announcement that the ARKS city ship is under attack by Darkers.
With all the ARKS members rushing to the quest counter to respond to the attack, Itsuki runs off to join them, leaving SORO behind screaming that emergency quests are too hard for beginners.
But it’s too late, and Itsuki boards a ship to fight off the invaders. As he spawns in the next area, he’s walking alone at night on a ravaged city highway that looks to have been turned to rubble by war. As he walks along the road, a winged darker flies into view and spawns about a dozen insect darkers that quickly move in to attack Itsuki.
Due to his low level and inexperience, he’s quickly outmatched and is about to be killed when a series of blasts come from offscreen, laying waste to several of the insect darkers, and Soro flies into view, sliding down a fallen building, all the while picking off darkers with his gun. He takes out the rest of the insect darkers, leaving the flying darker for Itsuki to handle.
As Itsuki jumps for an attack, the flying darker evades from striking distance. Slowly falling to the ground and at a loss what to do next, SORO reminds him his weapon can also shoot, and Itsuki fires off a series of blasts, hitting it directly in the head and killing it for good.
SORO is proud of his young friend, telling him to keep fighting and “the courage to take on adventures will make your soul shine.”
SORO turns to leave and looks back to say, “I’ll see you tomorrow,” and glides offscreen.
We then see that Izumi has been watching Itsuki’s exploits on her Vita in the student council room and acknowledges to herself that he’s better than she expected but wonders if he’ll return the next day to continue the game.
The following morning, Itsuki submits his report and tells Izumi that he’ll continue because it’s his responsibility as the vice president.
The episode ends with a striking, blue-eyed female student with long, blonde pigtails standing outside the school grounds. She looks determined, but we don’t know what part she’ll play.
The episode ends with a silly dance with a group of rappies and Soro’s CAST character dancing to a song, apparently about rare item drops.
All in all, despite being relatively slow moving due to character introduction and building, this was a solid premier episode to PSO 2’s anime.
The animation is well done, and seeing SORO’s hulking CAST gliding across the screen, shooting enemies was one of the high points in the episode to me. I’m really looking forward to him returning in the next episode.
I wasn’t all that thrilled with the story taking place in the real world and inside the game, but I do find it interesting to see how the series remains a relevant aspect of Japanese culture, where it’s largely become a forgotten franchise in North America and Europe.