It's interesting, but cloth-eared. It makes bad decisions and attempts heroic emotional scenes that feel unearned. (Maybe this flaw comes from the original light novels, or maybe the anime created it with bad adaptation decisions? Dunno.) There's enough good stuff that I don't regret watching it, but it's bad enough to be worth analysing for two different reasons as a definitive example of writing failure.
GIGANTIC SPOILERS, by the way. Stop reading if you might watch this show!
It starts dreadfully. Overpowered heroes are adventuring in an MMORPG fantasy game world. They're dull. The world is dull. It's a tired kind of cliched fantasy power wank that has absolutely no point and is denying the very basis of drama. Its only saving grace is that it's harem-free and gender-balanced. (Three boys, three girls and at least one love triangle.)
However that's only how it looks on the surface. (There's still some tedious one-dimensional RPG cliche farming in the next few episodes, although that dwindles fast. Mr "Join My Party" in ep.2 is a cardboard antagonist, for instance, too cartoonish and absurd for me to care about.) Nonetheless, surprises are waiting for us.
1. A ten-year-old girl (Asahi) is going to die.
2. The party (Subaru) will disband acrimoniously, with survivor guilt (or worse).
3. Six years later, one of them (Haruto) meets Asahi again. No one knows how. He finds her in a treasure chest in a dungeon, having reluctantly been talked into participating in an online game. What's more, she's still got a mental age of ten and doesn't know that six years have passed, or that her physical body is dead.
That's quite a hook. I'd hated most of ep.1, but that kept me watching.
What's more, the ex-members of Subaru all have issues. (a) Haruto blames himself for Asahi's death and has turned into a sullen, sulking teenager who skulks in his room, doesn't try hard at anything and doesn't socialise. He improves, but he'll never be what you'd call fun. (b) Satsuki was the third member of the Haruto-Asahi love triangle and she's turned out pretty negative herself. (c) Takanori is a towering dick who blames Haruto and had always squabbled with him anyway. (d) Clive may or may not be trustworthy. (e) Nozomi, ahahahahaha.
Unfortunately (and, if you're in the right mood, amusingly), we also have:
THE SHOW'S BAD DECISIONS
1. Asahi's still the main love interest, despite having a mental age of ten and a voice actress who sounds even more childish than that. Everyone else is sixteen. She has a naked scene with Haruto in ep.2, albeit obviously in virtual-world. Satsuki sees her as a rival. Haruto's still serious about her. Takanori's always been in love with her and that's still what drives him now. Gyaaaah.
2. Nozomi is even worse. She's always been in love with Takanori... but she's sixteen years old now. She last saw him when they were ten. Nonetheless, she turns up unannounced at a ball and jumps to idiot conclusions from a one-second glimpse of him dancing. (The characters were being so stupid there that it was almost funny.) THIS TURNS HER EVIL. She puts on a stripperiffic dress, joins the villains and starts helping them trash her former friends.
Admittedly her mind's being influenced by the villains' superpowers, but it's just obviously stupid. You laugh at it. The original misunderstanding is the kind of Communications Failure Story Beat you see in bad sitcoms. What's more, you know she's going to turn good again because this is ep.10 and the show's structure is clearly all about reuniting everyone from six years ago. She's the last one unaccounted for. You're just waiting for her emotional redemption scene.
3. I don't buy the idea of forcing another gamer to join your party against their will. Yes, everyone wants Asahi's superpower. (She's precognitive.) However you can't force someone to do anything in an online computer game. It's a game. It's not real. Maybe I'll just log out and join another game instead. Maybe I'll start attacking my new teammates while you're fighting monsters. Maybe I'll lie about the information I got from my superpower and cause a total party kill. It's just nonsense. Admittedly Asahi can't log out and the baddies could have mind-control powers, so it makes a little more sense in this specific case... but even so every "JOIN MY PARTY OR ELSE!" conversation looked stupid to me.
4. Someone in ep.10 says "it's showtime".
5. The unearned attempts to pull on our heartstrings. Haruto in ep.5 goes alone to save Asahi and gives a Jedi Force Bullshit reason, when he had the extremely powerful Satsuki offering to help. He fights a 5000-man guild solo. This makes the big heroic gesture unconvincing, so you're rolling your eyes at a scene that should have been stirring and emotional. It's as if the writers have seen similar scenes in other shows and are stealing them, but don't understand how to set them up dramatically.
I'd make similar points about the triumphalist dragon fight in ep.8, plus the big Nozomi-Takanori scene in ep.11 where Nozomi's idiotic and Takanori's motivation is being turned upside-down. All these scenes could have been great if they'd been earned. They're not. Their heroic emotional heights are thus instead irritating.
(That's the first bit that's bad enough to warrant study. You could learn a lot about how to write dramatic peaks by dissecting this anime's repeated failures with them. Even the music's overdone.)
6. Semi-unlikeable heroes. Asahi has no dark side, but she's the only ray of sunshine and she's dead. They're annoying and dull in ep.1 before everything goes wrong. Then, afterwards, they tend to be off-putting and obnoxious (although they get character development over time). Haruto and Takanori both have a period during which they can sod right off. Haruto's is brief, but Takanori wallows in his for ages. An ep.9 scene degenerates into them punching each other. As for the girls, Satsuki is a cold, rude tsundere and Nozomi is being crushed by idiotic writing.
1. The show has some odd crossovers between the game and the real world. The MMORPG is sponsored by a company that will give the winning players sponsorship, university places and a job. Hmmm. I see a recruitment policy aimed at ten-year-olds, basement-dwelling autistic nerds and hardcore gamers who never stop playing before 5am. (The sponsors have ulterior motives, but it's still goofy.)
2. Furthermore, game superpowers are called Senses (hence the title) and one of the show's big revelations is that you can use your Senses in the real world too. Our heroes' Senses are: "Fighting Spirit" (which in practice just means "look cool in combat"), "Heart Play" (influence other people's hearts and see the future), "Sorcery" (summon and control magical spirits, which among other things is seriously powerful in combat), "Natural Laws" (control the laws of physics and analyse or rewrite the world, e.g. with teleportation), "Dream Boundary" (turn imaginary things into reality) and "Transformation" (change the nature and properties of objects). Wow. You could take over the world with that. Turn yourself into the dictator of all Japan before lunch. Topple America during your coffee break.
3. If nothing else, reading about this show led me to an impressive-sounding anime, Anohana, that sounded like a similar idea done better. I watched it.
Comparing the two is painful. This show's six main characters have been cut-and-pasted from Anohana's six main characters, complete with the same plot idea and romantic relationships. Four of the six are almost identical, down to their personalities. Two have been reinvented, but serve the same purpose in the love triangles.
The difference is the clunking lack of subtlety. Anohana will destroy you (in a good way). This anime uses uses love and grief as plot devices, written as if by someone who doesn't really understand them. There's no attempt at layers. Everything's presented up front. Characters info-dump their motivations into dialogue, preventing any journey of exploration.
I watched these two shows back-to-back. One's like a bad fanfic version of the other. This is the other study-worthy point of badness. Again, you could learn a lot by studying this show's choices and comparing them with what a real writer (Mari Okada) did with the same ingredients.
This show is inept. It makes a hash of all-important basics. It disappears up itself with bizarre game-reality ideas and Asahi's idea of reuniting six stupid ex-friends, while the show's real emotional hold over you is left dangling. Why did Asahi come back to life? Where's her body? What's going on? (Presumably that'll be addressed in later volumes of the original light novels.)
Oh, and the art can be bad.
That said, though, it's also far better than the show I'd thought we were getting in ep.1. There's some meat on its bones. It's not yet another paper-thin overpowered hero fantasy with a harem, no stakes and no meaningful content. I watched it all. It's bad, but it's not boring. I like it not being all about Haruto, for instance. He's a twat and Satsuki saves the day more often than he does. I also liked the ep.12 thing with Elicia, despite the utter lack of explanations. It's actual, proper drama about an ensemble cast, even though it's badly executed.