Falling in love can make a smart person dumb and a dumb person dumber. This is the beating heart of just about every romantic comedy that’s ever existed, anime or otherwise. Gamers!—the 2017 summer light novel adaptation by Studio Pine Jam—is no exception. It starts off like every club-centered anime you’ve ever seen: Average high school gamer Keita Amano has a lucky encounter with the most popular girl in school, Karen Tendou, who invites him to join her competitive gaming club. And for a moment, it seems like Keita has finally found a place where he can be himself, and everything is going to play out like every club anime you’ve heard of in your life. And then Amano flat out rejects Karen’s invitation. Twice. In the same episode. And then Karen slips on a banana peel. Seriously, I couldn’t make any of this up, especially the banana peel, even if I tried.
Right away, Gamers! completely rejects the very concept of the club anime, because it was never interested in being a club anime in the first place. But Keita’s sudden rejection manages to kick off a parade of incidents that manages to entangle a diverse collection of characters in a web of ridiculous romantic misunderstandings that just seems to keep growing and growing with each passing day. In addition to Amano and Karen, caught in this chaotic network are Tasuku Uehara, a former middle school gamer nerd; Aguri, Tasuku’s petite girlfriend who actually has very little interest video games; and Chiaki Hoshinomori, a shy girl who ends up being Amano’s “rival” after clashing with him on putting moe characters in video games. And before you know it, everyone is stuck in a web that somehow manages to both tear these characters apart and bring them all together at the same time.
Gamers! sticks to the comedy aspect of the romantic comedy pretty darn well. At the same time, it’s not an easy anime to follow—even if romantic comedies are you thing—because it’s playing a very dangerous game by practically drowning itself in the formula’s biggest staple: the misunderstanding. Two characters want the same thing, but something awkward or overly ridiculous throws a monkey wrench into the whole thing and takes both characters off the rails. Normally, one of two things tends to happen after this: it will either inject some drama where it really doesn’t call for it, or, in the case of most anime, wacky hijinks throw everyone off—we tend to find the latter in most harem anime, what with the so-called “accidental pervert” trope you can find just about everywhere. While I can’t say I saw any harem-level incidents in Gamers!, I can certainly say that comedy prevailed over drama in every aspect.
By the end of the third episode, a lot of events and misunderstandings have transpired: Karen likes Amano, Amano likes Karen, Uehara and Aguri are dating, Amano rejects Karen, Amano befriends Uehara, Aguri thinks Amano has the hots for Uehara, Karen starts stalking Keita, Uehara tries to hook Amano up with Chiaki, Amano and Chiaki develop a rivalry, Karen thinks Amano and Chiaki are together, Uehara accidentally charms Chiaki into liking him, Aguri thinks Uehara is cheating on him, Amano tries to talk to Aguri in order to fix the misunderstanding, Uehara thinks Amano is making a move on Aguri, Karen sees Amano chasing after Aguri and starts thinking he’s some sort of player, Amano and Aguri see Uehara and Chiaki acting all chummy and Aguri starts thinking that Uehara is cheating on her, and then you literally scream in rage and toss your computer out the window and set in on fire in a blaze of glory because you firmly believe in your heart that no creator would ever make characters with communication skills this crappy.
Gamers! sticks to this staple with gusto, delivering big laughs thanks to a complicated pentagon of relationships—I call it the pentagon of death—defined by bad assumptions that just get more and more ridiculous with each passing episode, with little to no resolution in sight. At one point, one of the characters even tries to draw a chart to sort it all out, with little success, of course. But how does an anime with such a commitment to this formula keep itself from collapsing under its own tremendous weight? For one thing, the writing possesses a keen sense of self-awareness, and when I say “keen,” I mean that the writing throws the obvious response at you like a ton of bricks. This anime simply knows how messed up this all is, but very few people are up to watching the slow-motion trainwreck, because, let’s face it, pain has a way of making us laugh when we least expect it to. Each misunderstanding in concept is so absurd in form that it ends up being funny rather than irritating.
Gamers! also gets huge points for its amazing character writing. We spend a lot of time with each member of the core five characters, getting to know how each one ticks and understanding how their quirks and flaws manifest in the dumb assumptions they make that drive the plot forward. None of them have needlessly dramatic or complex backstories, tales of forgotten first loves, or even any deconstructive elements. As such, Gamers! becomes a case of “what you see is what you get.” It doesn’t try to dress up its characters in perfected tropes, idealize their actions, and make them stand out as role models in any way. This show manages to capture the teenage psyche: tiny issues that end up mutating into crazy assumptions based on the complete inability to understand other human beings. And it captures its mood without once being mean about it, despite every temptation to do so. You can even see it in the vibrant and inviting moe-esque art direction, which ends up supplying an excellent collection of comedic expressions that really capture the chaos these characters end up getting themselves stuck in.
The presence of video games in this anime is certainly something that should be noted. You would think that an anime that literally has the word “game” in its title would stick to that concept in spades. But, ultimately, Gamers! is not so much about gamers as it is about high schoolers who happen to be gamers. While gaming is responsible for initially bringing the cast together, all of that ends up getting pushed into the background and reduced to funny graphics and occasional witty one-liners like, “I wish he’d get in a helicopter that Capcom built” (I’ll admit I have no clue what this actually means). Sekina Aoi, the original author of Gamers!, successfully tricks you into thinking this will be more about the graphics than the stupid kids. But to its credit, this anime clearly understands what gaming is all about. We’re presented with both the competitive perfectionists who practically make winning a religion and the hardcore casuals who are just happy to be mashing the buttons in that moment, and neither side is chosen over the other, thus striking down a clichéd “are you with THEM or US” conundrum.
Gamers!, in the end, is a disasterpiece that works—an unlikely anime that uses a whole lot of BS to deliver major laughs without any shard of darkness and somehow manages to go both go nowhere and practically everywhere at the same time. It brings its audience together with games, and then quickly presents us with the messy consequences of teenage love, laughing like a love-struck lunatic while doing so.
Gamers! is available from Funimation and Crunchyroll.