The following contains speculation for the story of the new NieR Automata Anime and discusses spoilers for the original game. Spoilers ahead.
Yoko Taro’s penchant for dramatic, high-concept, esoteric fantasy was long underappreciated in the gaming sphere until a collaboration with Platinum Games made NieR a big name. NieR Automata Ver1.1a is an animated version of the video game of the same name, but with the confirmation that Yoko Taro is writing the adaptation, there’s still a chance that there’s more under the surface.
NieR Automata was released in 2017 and became an international sensation that was praised for its hack-and-slash gameplay, its haunting depiction of the future of humanity and its heart-wrenching story. On the fifth anniversary of the game’s release, Aniplex announced that the game would receive a TV animation project, leaving fans excited about what surprises might be in store.
In the absence of a full trailer for the series, the producers have been releasing small teasers focusing on the individual characters ever since the Aniplex Online Fest in September. It obviously started with 2B and 9S, the main characters, and has since then expanded its scope to the supporting cast.
With six PVs released at the time of writing, the promotional material seems to be playing things very close to the chest. The teasers spotlight the admittedly pretty art design which seems to add just the right amount of color to the gray and sometimes washed out look of the original, but there isn’t much to go off of.
A more cynical eye might raise flags that 1.1’s animation might be underwhelming in the finished product. The series may well be a victim of pressure to follow the art direction of the original, thereby overshadowing its scope and limiting how consistently the animation can meet expectations. For many, the 3D robots can already be a turn-off.
More optimistically, looking at A1 Pictures’ recent reputation, and considering the source material being adapted, it’s possible that the staff are simply keeping things under wraps. Not content with simply being an adaptation of the material with returning voice actors, the production is written by none other than the original creator himself, Yoko Taro.
The mysterious Mr. Taro
Taro is one of those eccentric figures in Japanese pop culture who brings a smile to people’s faces with their personalities and personalities, despite some incredibly heavy stories they write. His philosophy of storytelling and game design often leaves his works largely niche and often not for everyone, assuming one can’t get invested in the story.
Even when his stories contain sandbox elements, exploration, and side quests, the stories are fairly linear, building up to a series of rare but highly potent choices. His games are not that different from Visual Novels, where the linear story is actually a captivating novel, but one that starts from the beginning with some new insight.
NieR has multiple endings, but not in the conventional sense that games like e.g The Witcher or Mass effect. Route A in Vending machines tells the story from 2B’s perspective, Route B tells the same story from 9S’s perspective, with new revelations only they discover. Route C begins a new story, but one that jumps back and forth between characters, resulting in multiple choices that lead to one of three endings: C, D, or the true ending, E.
And it seems that Taro understood that adapting this large story into one TV series could be limiting, as he has commented on the difficulty of capturing the story. It can be done, and fans can even piece together where each story could go, but would it really be NieR if the fans knew where it was going next?
“…the title ‘NieR:Automata’ was a story we made to be a game, so copying it as is would not6 make an interesting story for an anime.”
– Yoko Taro, on NieR:Automata Ver1.1a, during the Aniplex Online Fest
According to Taro, he submitted a pilot episode that was completely different from the game, which was quickly rejected, but fans of his work are probably not surprised by such a thing. Each new ending and each hidden secret in his works is not only a fun hunt, but a further exploration of an already dense work of art.
Many fans would argue that if something new were to be released it would be lost NieR: Automataits namesake, so outside of a clean port, it had to somehow expand and change. But what does this mean for the animated series, which is set to be released in January 2023? Does that mean the story will just be told differently, or could it expand the game?
A new ending?
NieR: Automata known to have 27 endings, 26 in the base game and another in the DLC expansion. To be precise, most of these endings were jokes based on the inability to complete certain objectives or intentionally perform certain unwanted actions. Endings A and B are completed during the game, leading to the end when players choose between C, D, or E.
Ending E, the True Ending, is itself an open ending, closing the door on the story while leaving the player with no doubt many questions. After all the characters apparently die and all of YorHa is to be erased and restarted to preserve a lie, the AI Pods that have been following the characters come to a different conclusion.
The player battles the literal credits of the game at the expense of their own save data, and as a result, they witness the closest thing to a happy ending the game can offer. The pods are seen carrying spare parts to 2B and 9S, who appear to be sleeping, discussing the events as if they are all about to happen again. However, the story ends with hope that another ending might be possible.
What if Ver1.1ahistory is just another cycle of NieRits story, one that deviates and shares a new message or expands on the existing one? Optimistically, it could be the end that Pod 042 and 153 have been waiting for. Alternatively, there could be a cycle set before the game that is even darker and more violent.
Tarot’s stories are often so inherently built around gameplay and mechanics that can only exist within the gaming medium. One wonders if this story can replicate such an experience without the interaction of the player at the pivotal moment. Could the anime’s ending hit as hard as losing the saved data? The only way the anime could do something like this would be if it only streamed once and was never seen again…which feels like something Taro would try to do.
MORE: Every PlatinumGames game ever made, ranked
Source: Yoko Taro on Twitter