Is Cygames a Mark of Anime Quality? – This Week in Anime


Known primarily for their involvement in mobile games, Cygames has quietly been producing some of the best, most farcical anime of the last decade. Steve and Chris look back on Zombie Land Saga, Uma Musume, and this season’s Brave Bang Bravern!

Brave Bang Bravern!, Zombie Land Saga, Uma Musume Pretty Derby, Princess Connect! Re:Dive, and The Marginal Service are available on Crunchyroll. Akiba Maid War is available on HIDIVE. Rage of Bahamut Genesis is available on Funimation and Uma Musume Pretty Derby: Road to the Top is available on YouTube.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network.
Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.


Steve


Chris, at the beginning of every new anime season, amongst all the blockbuster shonen adaptations and other flashy known quantities, there’s always at least one dark horse competitor that vies for the title of The Best Premiere. And sometimes, that dark horse arrives fashionably late as a giant gay robot.

They are here, queer, and able to withstand the harsh vacuum of space. There’s no shortage of angles to attack the boisterous Brave Bang Bravern! from, but today, we want to focus on a single name that can be found highlighted in the credits. For better or worse, you’re probably familiar with it.

Right outta the robot-riding gate, that little logo was the reason the audience probably should have predicted that Bravern would be a wilder ride than its promos were initially presenting it as. You can put all the gritty, grounded, “real” robots in the trailers you want, but the involvement of one Masami Ōbari would make that suspect enough. With Cygames in production, many weebs have been trained to expect the unexpected.

So, just for some background, Cygames is a game studio best known for its mobile titles, and among those probably best known for series like Granblue Fantasy, Princess Connect! Re:Dive, and Uma Musume. You might notice that those are all successful gacha games, so you might also guess that Cygames has a money vault that would make Scrooge McDuck green with envy. As with any company that collects more coinage than they know what to do with, they diversified a lot over the past decade, and part of that diversification included a focus on producing anime.
It’s hardly a distinguishing maneuver; companies like Bushiroad are also doing it. But in many other cases, that anime production is predicated on seeding IPs that might grow into lucrative new multimedia/gacha properties. Cygames, on the other hand, has made a habit of just driving dump-truck loads of money up to offbeat projects that they have no intention to market or idea how to market as franchises.


It’s quite an exciting—and bumpy—rollercoaster of titles, and I didn’t even realize the extent of it before I started researching for this column. Mind you, they’ll have been in the anime game for a full decade this year. And that makes me feel extra old because I remember being wowed by the first show that credits them as a producer, Rage of Bahamut Genesis.




This wasn’t an original but based on one of Cygame’s earliest titles, Rage of Bahamut. But I think most people (myself included) were expecting a card game advertisement and not a corker of a premiere with rooftop horse chases, swordplay, and other skullduggery.
Even being the first one and a mobile game tie-in, Genesis still immediately set the standard for what viewers would regard as the “Cygames premiere”—a (virtually) original production effectively rooted in a standby genre or two, but bursting with enough personality and wild swerves to get everyone talking about it after it aired, despite little buzz before.
This was also animated by MAPPA back when we all had stars in our eyes and hope for the future of the industry. Were we ever so young? And to be clear, they animated the hell out of it. Lots of fun, lots of polish. It’s an opening statement to remember.
It makes it an absolute crime that Rage of Bahamut Genesis has been buried under several layers of defunct streaming services since. But kids, if you’ve still got an active Funimation account and want to see what MAPPA looked like before Yuri!!! on Ice and afforded what was, according to legends at the time, an “unlimited budget” by their mobage sugar daddies, absolutely give it a look.



The other crime is that the sequel season to Genesis turned out kinda lousy, but look, they’re a gacha company, which means you can never really know what you’ll get.

Despite this discussion’s overall timbre, I want to be firm about this: under no circumstances do you have to hand it to Cygames. Gacha money is evil. But on the other hand, if you have a pile of cursed quarterly earnings, there are worse things to spend it on than cool anime.

You and I have previously discussed the double-edged sword of mobage money. But for all the ill-gotten nature of those gains, the hit ratio of Cygames‘ criminal corner of it stands out. As with Rage of Bahamut, this applies to many of their game tie-in productions. Uma Musume continues to be one of my favorite series in recent years, and the Princess Connect anime was way better than anyone reasonably would’ve expected from something that was both a gacha commercial and an isekai.




The latter also stands out as one of those premieres that caught everyone off-guard in its season.
A “producer” role in a big company like Cygames is nebulous enough to mean anything from a big cash injection to a more hands-on logistical approach. So, I don’t know exactly who to credit for getting the KONOSUBA director to commit to this project, but they had the vision.

Fewer characters getting basic stuff like stat sheets and skills explained to them, please, and more of them getting even basic things explained, like that money can be exchanged for goods and services.


Also more girls with huge appetites.







Uma Musume similarly qualifies in that regard.
These horse girls eat like, well, you know.

Quite so.



Uma Musume is one of the rare examples where I specifically remember the advertisement. This was years before the anime materialized, but this teaser caused a stir at the time, and a brief moment where we all wondered if this would be the fabled Yuri!!! on Ice.





Cygames‘ marketing strategies would eventually become a whole separate aspect. As much buzz as the initial ad got, I don’t recall the premiere of Uma Musume‘s anime itself being quite the showstopper as other examples. There was respect for its surprising commitment to its technically bizarre world-building, but otherwise, a fair amount of befuddled staring (admittedly, that was mainly on the Western side).



It feels like it took a minute for it to grow into the kind of notorious moneymaker you’d expect from the illicit convergence of horse racing and gacha games.
I don’t think the anime fully came into its own until the second season honed in on the inherent tragedy of horse racing and managed to transmute that into a bizarrely compelling sports narrative about extradimensional horsegirl avatars. So yeah, it’s not the strongest example of a Cygames stunner. But when it comes to long distances, with three seasons, a web OVA, and a forthcoming movie in the works, Uma Musume has shown more endurance than any other Cygames-produced anime.
And it’s the consistent success of series like Uma Musume and a little franchise you might’ve heard of called Granblue Fantasy that has seemingly let the company move into producing series with out-of-nowhere reputations. Also, one for premieres that feature outlandish, incongruous musical numbers.





Let’s get into the “good stuff,” by which I mean the gonzo original projects that may very well exist only by the public’s willingness to pay premium dollars for shiny jpegs. I salute you, and more importantly, Tae Yamada salutes you.



Well, she’s trying her best.
Zombie Land Saga was the one that truly hit that “Where the hell did this come from?!” reaction the way Rage of Bahamut had years earlier, then turned the amps up to eleven. Especially given the question of what to expect from a show about zombie pop idols produced by a gacha game company and animated by…MAPPA, again?


They know how to make an impact.
Light idol satire with a dash of the macabre. I love this show for a lot of reasons, but its humor is a big one. The premiere especially is super punchy, and Mamoru Miyano‘s ridiculous performance sends it over the edge.





It’s amazing how well that first episode sells itself with only two members of its main cast even conscious, though one of them being Miyano at his Miyano-est certainly helps. By the time you get to the end with its screaming head-banging zombie idol death-metal concert, you get a sense of how this bizarre monster accumulated two seasons, a multitude of tie-ins, and a guest appearance in the UK Parliament.

Someone somewhere whaled for a Granblue character once, and later Lily Hoshikawa became an international trans rights icon. It’s the butterfly effect but based.

Where’s that domino meme when you need it?

I am glad Cygames never made a Zombie Land Saga game. While we can’t stop the girls from popping up in collaborations, I think turning Franchouchou into a gacha would diminish the irreverent spirit of the show. Greedy as Cygames may be, they at least understand that. Or they were too busy printing money elsewhere—either way.

It’s supposed to be a series about promoting the prefecture of Saga itself. Though how well it’s marketed in the area can be…arguable. Regardless, there’s that sense that the Cygames suits behind Zombie Land Saga weren’t too fussed about how they could or should monetize something like it. Instead, they’d lean into that whole “What the hell is happening here?” aspect when it came to promoting shows like 2022’s Akiba Maid War.


Man, my affection for Akiba Maid War has only grown in the past year. I can’t believe this show is real. I can’t believe it’s this good. I can’t believe it has yet to spawn a dozen copycat anime about maids in their mid-thirties.

I recall you, Nick, and I all listing Akiba Maid War among our most anticipated anime of the Fall 2022 season just off the back of that mystery-box trailer. The series doesn’t treat you like an idiot; it makes its true, violent nature apparent from the very beginning of its premiere. But even then, the full power of that first episode was enough to get a whole bunch of my circle talking (and dancing).

The extent to which it is, toe to tip, a yakuza film dressed up in a maid cafe uniform is wickedly funny. If it were a single ounce less committed to the stupidity of the concept, the whole thing would collapse, but Akiba Maid War plays it deadpan and blood-soaked.


Sometimes, simple is best. Akiba Maid War has a fair amount in common with Zombie Land Saga, being a juxtaposed genre mash-up and even repeating the gag of having a non-verbal character who’s later revealed to be played by a legendary veteran seiyuu.



This one swaps out MAPPA for Cygames‘ previous Uma Musume collaborators P.A. Works. This inadvertently makes me wonder if Akiba Maid War technically counts as part of that studio’s overarching series of working women anime.
This looks like hard work to me.



And like you said earlier, capping the premieres of both this and Zombie Land Saga with a left-field musical number drives home the ridiculousness in a fun and creative way. That’s how you stick a landing and wrangle an audience. While Cygames may not be directly responsible for these creative decisions and executions, there are some people in that office who have an eye trained to look out for weird pitches that I want to watch.
What makes Akiba Maid War, along with Zombie Land Saga before it, work so well is having pretty serious legs beyond the strong shock-value opener. Seriously, if you’re a reader who watched the beginning of this show for the memes and never got around to the rest of it, I implore you to do so. It turns into a genuinely worthy crime story, with one of my favorite endings in recent memory.

That means I’m also bullish about another more recent Cygames-produced show having legs beyond the flamboyance of its opening statement. And yeah, I suppose having the legend Masami Ōbari in the director’s chair helps, too.

It’s not always a sure thing. The way Zombie Land Saga and Akiba Maid War landed seemed to inspire Cygames to play up the mysterious element of their original productions as a matter of course. And yeah, I was at least a little interested in 2023’s The Marginal Service based on those past successes and its obtuse early promo pics that just looked like this.



But all the strategic nudity in the world isn’t going to matter when the anime you eventually premiere lacks any of that word-of-mouth impact and is instead a pretty standard supernatural cop show that feels like a less-cool Men in Black.



Then again, this show is up for a Crunchyroll Anime Award, so what do I know?

I had wholly forgotten that series existed before you mentioned it. I can’t even remember anybody talking about it last year. I know “marginal” is in the title, but they didn’t have to get so literal about it.

Not every pull is going to be an SSR. Thankfully, Brave Bang Bravern! seems to have avoided being consigned to that sort of dustbin, if the way my social media feed lit up last Thursday was any indication. Even Crunchyroll cruelly delaying their release of the show doesn’t seem to have hurt it. Perhaps because that meant we got two episodes dropped at once, with the second being where the really good stuff started.





Like Zombie Land Saga and Akiba Maid War, Bravern is unapologetically itself and extremely extra about it. We should also note that Bravern is animated by Cygames Pictures, i.e., the animation studio Cygames founded in 2016. This is an extra degree of involvement beyond producing the show.
It’s the studio they used to animate the similarly extra Uma Musume: Road to the Top ONA last year. That setup let director Cheng Zhi Liao and her crew cut loose on one of Cygames‘ flagship franchises. Hopefully, the same conditions bode well for allowing a master of the mecha craft like Obari to work his magic on Bravern.


Hopefully! It’s a small shame that Bravern and his alien enemies aren’t hand-drawn, but such are these times. And nevertheless, the animation, both traditional and CG, has looked pretty darn good so far. They’ve been going out of their way to make Bravern appear moe, so you can tell the animators have their priorities straight.

Years of coldly stern faceplate mechs mean the youths have missed out on the handsome facial features of Obari’s Brave ‘bots. It’s about time they learned.



They also include the robot finishing enemies off with an explosion before turning around and transforming with a stock sequence in front of a giant sigil, so I think it’s safe to say Obari and the team know what they’re doing after all these years.


And never fear; the essential male nipple is also here.


Obari is a lot of things, but he’s never been a coward. Much as Bravern singing his theme song at the end of the first episode fits the bill of the Cygames Musical Number™️, the debut of the show’s ending theme marked it as the true inheritor, if the amount of excited posting I saw of it was any indication. My own included.


It’s really good! Like, even if you ignore the overt homoeroticism (which you shouldn’t), the first two episodes have been a standout exercise in silliness willing to push the boundaries of good taste. And yes, I’m talking about Bravern’s gay pining being intercut with a scene of the US military waterboarding Isami. That’s an insane way to edit that episode, and I support it.


This show’s got our number.



It works so well that I was enthralled watching it, even if the extra week delay meant I was spoiled on the “Super Robot crashes a Real Robot anime” genre twist. That’s a sign, like Rage of Bahamut, Zombie Land Saga, and Akiba Maid War before it, of having strong fundamentals with the material it’s also subverting.
So far, Bravern is a worthy successor to the oddball spirit that inexplicably connects those various Cygames-produced anime. Again, I don’t want it to sound like Cygames is responsible for everything that made these shows good. Still, it is curious how much synergy can be found between these series despite the different franchises, sources, studios, and artists working on them. Even if we can’t quantify it, something is being done right, and I hope it keeps being done right.

Look, as long as Cygames wants to keep giving creatives like Obari so much leeway he can call up his favorite beer company to ask them to let him include a cameo in his queer robot cartoon; I’m inclined to let them. Shilling gacha is reprehensible. Where it’s at is marketing the crisp, refreshing taste of Kona Brewing Co. beer!*




*Please Enjoy Responsibly



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