What’s it about? Ash isn’t really sure who he is, or why he’s here. He’s on his way to the planet of Naverius with his squad of ARKS peacekeepers as a foot soldier who ensures people’s safety across the universe. Although Naverius is supposed to be safe, giant bug-like monsters attack their squad, leaving only him and his partner Alfis alive. Backup arrives from ARKS, and it looks like everything’s going back to normal, but then a strange girl floats down from the sky and into Ash’s arms!
Dear reader, you might be wondering, “Is this a sequel to something? Can I watch it with no prior knowledge of Phantasy Star? Didn’t they already make an anime out of Phantasy Star Online 2?” The answers to your perfectly reasonable questions are, “No,” “Yes,” and “Kind of.”
Despite its name, Phantasy Star Online 2 is a standalone story, in the tradition of many JRPG series where sequels may be completely unrelated or only loosely connected. You don’t need to have played the game in order to watch the anime, which is good because PSO2 is only just getting an English translation in 2020.
And it’s true, they did make an anime called Phantasy Star Online 2: The Animation. It was not an adaptation of the game, however. They decided to go with the daring and original idea of making an anime about people playing the game. It was justifiably mocked as a thinly veiled commercial for the game, and gained zero traction among English-speaking audiences with limited access to the product it was advertising.
Episode Oracle at least adapts the story, so its role as basically an advertisement feels a little more veiled. Unfortunately, it’s also just not very good.
The game has a decent amount of acclaim, but this anime episode came across as so much fantasy/sci-fi mush, full of concepts that have been done before and more distinctively, blended together until all of the flavors merge into one big nothing. Giant bugs? Space elves? A rookie suddenly having to deal with watching his comrades die? There’s plenty of potential for pathos and adventure in these elements, but that would require some thought or effort.
And don’t even get me started on the girl falling from the sky.
Fine, I guess I will get started on that. I was frankly a little shocked to see such an archaic cliche in the year of our lord 2019. It was slightly recontextualized from, say, Ah My Goddess or Princess Rouge (why am I even referencing that one, no one under the age of 30 will understand it), in that she’s not there to be his girlfriend.
No, she opens her eyes and starts weeping and begs Ash, who looks like Kirito and also every single other generic video game anime protagonist, to kill her.
It’s hard to articulate exactly what my issue with this trope is. Maybe it’s just because it hearkens back to old “sudden girlfriend” stories, which are inherently sexist because it’s literally about a girl falling from the sky with no purpose other than to fall in love with the milquetoast protagonist. Maybe it’s because it’s so passive—instead of her being an active participant in the search for Ash, she floats down in a prone position into his arms.
The game is somewhat infamous for its female character models and their… uh… perkiness. What I mean is that the jiggle physics are just as much fictional nonsense as the astrophysics. Fortunately, the anime adaptation doesn’t seem to be following suit, although the girls’ outfits leave a lot to be desired.
Also, sexually dimorphous robots. Why do robots even need gender? Why do the boy robots look like, well, robots, but the girl robots look like Aigis from Persona 3, with human heads and torsos and robotic limbs?
In the wise words of Kanji Tatsumi (am I making references to two different Persona games in one review? You bet I am, I need to entertain myself SOMEHOW): “It’s impressive how [you] can take so many ingredients and have it come out tasting like nothing.” There’s so many other cool fantasy/sci-fi anime out there. Watch one of those instead.