TV REVIEW: NieR: Automata 1.1a S1E1: “Not to [B]e”

By | January 16, 2023

When I heard that there would be an anime adaptation of NieR: Automata, I was excited almost immediately. The NieR: Automata video game is easily one of my favorite action RPGs, largely because of the unique vision of creator Yoko Taro. The world of NieR is a fascinating blend of the bizarre and the subversive, offering a dystopian future timeline that offers something truly different from most video games and even most stories in its genre. At the same time, it’s a series that explores difficult moral choices, bittersweet and tragic events, all rooted in deep characterization and worldbuilding. It’s a story that works well as an anime, focusing on the androids 2B and 9S as they wage a long war against alien machines.

This opening episode of the anime covers the prologue and opening sequence of the video game. In terms of storytelling, it’s largely extremely faithful to this section of the game, a pleasant surprise given how many projects have deviated from the source material. It would seem that Yoko Taro’s involvement was an important part of the writing process, as the story is true to the characters and the world that he created. Because of that, everything in this episode feels grounded in the reality of the game, from the characters to the PODs and the Goliath-class mech. The major beats of the game’s opening sequence are honored as well, including the iconic scene of 2B drawing her sword against the buzzsaw robotic arm. The dynamic between 2B and 9S, the core of the game’s story, plays out exactly as presented in the game, though hinting at the deeper secrets revealed in later chapter. This is the emotional center of the game, with the tragic love between the two androids that are separated by duty, and the anime captures this perfectly in the first episode.

At the same time, this is not a shot-for-shot remake of the video game, nor should it be. There are small changes in the anime’s narrative, though nothing that violates the vision of Yoko Taro. Indeed, some elements even add to this. The anime begins with one of these moments, set later in the game’s story, and hinting at the endless cycle of love and death that 2B and 9S are destined to repeat. But there are also other small additions as well. The game focuses on 2B’s perspective because that’s the player’s perspective, and this sequence is part of 2B’s story. The anime, however, takes a broader perspective, filling in the gaps by showing us what 9S does while 2B is infiltrating the robot factory. This is not done completely perfectly, as they change a scene where 2B destroys a group of machines in the game, instead having the machines be inactive as she passes. However, this still works well enough in a narrative sense, and nothing is lost with such minor changes. The changes that exist are few, but they generally deepen the story that already existed.

The art style for the NieR: Automata anime is pleasant to look at, capturing the stylistic flavor of the anime. The scene with 2B in the flight suit as her squadron is destroyed looks better here than in the original game, if anything. The background details capture the settings depicted in the game, and they excel with the robot designs and the action sequences. The artwork of the characters isn’t quite as photorealistic in the anime, taking a more stylized approach, but it works for the characters. The action looks fluid on the screen, maintaining the visual beats and feeling consistent with the gameplay from the video game. The important visual moments are all there and captured well, even in an anime-style format. There are also good visual touches unique to the anime, such as the shot of a sleeping 2B without her blindfold. In addition, the end segment goes full Yoko Taro in terms of strangeness, replaying alternate endings through a puppet show. The animation is further strengthened by the game’s haunting and unique theme music, including iconic tracks like “Bipolar Nightmare” during the battle with the Goliath. Everything blends together nicely, making something visually new while respecting the past.

So far, NieR: Automata 1.1a is everything a good adaptation should be. Everything about “Not to [B]e” respects the game that Yoko Taro built, while leaving room for the animators to contribute something worthwhile to the formula. It also works as a first episode, using the Goliath mission as the perfect introduction to 2B and 9S, while hinting at Yoko Taro’s deeper themes. Hopefully at some point we’ll see an English version voiced by the game’s English voice cast. But as it is, this is still a very strong start for the anime, and hopefully we’ll see more of Yoko Taro’s work (such as Drakengard and Drakengard 3) adapted in this format.

Score: 5/5

Director: Ryouji Masuyomi

Writers: Yoko Taro and Ryouji Masuyomi

Cast: Yui Ishikawa, Natsuki Hanae, Hiroku Yasimoto