NieR: Automata Ver1.1a has the difficult task of adapting one of the most complex video game narratives into a 24-episode anime that will air for only a fraction of the game’s runtime. The show’s first episode laid any questions to rest about whether or not the anime could live up to its source material. Offering newcomers to the story an accurate retelling of the game while peppering in new wrinkles and Easter eggs for long-time fans to obsess over, it is already shaping up to be the must-watch anime of the season, regardless of how familiar you are with the work of Yoko Taro.
Beginner friendly — NieR creator Yoko Taro has stated that in making the animated Automata adaptation, the rest of the production team had to reel him in from making many changes to the story. From the opening moments of episode one, titled “Or not to [B]e,” this is true (mostly, but we will get to that later).
The anime’s main opening sequence and most of the entire episode are nearly a shot-for-shot copy of the game. Both the anime and game see 2B arriving at an abandoned factory via flight unit at which point she battles her way through a series of machines. Along the way, she joins Scanner unit 9S.
Everything from the anime’s music, script, voice actors, and even attack combos in action sequences are directly lifted from the game it adapts. For those hoping that NieR: Automata Ver1.1a would be a faithful way to experience the game’s beloved story, this is enough to put those questions to rest.
Ver1.1a also understands much of its audience may be unfamiliar with the game. In a comedic post-credits scene to the first episode, puppet versions of 2B and 9S explain the concept of the game’s multiple endings until they accidentally touch black boxes and explode the set.
The black screen then shows a short text explaining this explosion destroyed the bunker, marking the anime’s first “ending.” This tongue-in-cheek ode to the game helps keep Ver1.1a in line with what makes the game special, including its more humorous elements.
More than meets the eye — But Yoko Taro is going to Yoko Taro, and “Or not to [B]e” also tips its hat to those who have played the game and acknowledges this show will be more than just a one-to-one adaptation.
Before the show dives directly into the shot-for-shot copy of the game’s opening sequence in the abandoned factory, a short scene with a monologue from 2B begins the show. This isn’t too dissimilar to the game’s opening, but the monologues and visuals are different.
This specific change feels geared directly at fans of NieR who expect something new from this show. A specific emotionally loaded visual accompanies 2B’s monologue, which in the game was angry and cynical but now reads as somber with more sadness.
One issue the anime was going to have to deal with is the multiple perspectives that NieR: Automata uses to tell its story over multiple playthroughs. Specifically, Route A and B, which show 2B and 9S’s versions of events respectively. While the game makes the player go through these separately the anime immediately combines them, showing both characters' perspectives chronologically.
While this saves time and streamlines an already complex narrative it does raise questions about how important pieces of information will be revealed in a way that still has the same impact as the game’s method of storytelling.
In just one episode, NieR: Automata Ver1.1a solidifies itself as a worthwhile watch for longtime fans and newcomers that manages to walk the line between faithful adaptation and retelling.
NieR: Automata Ver1.1a is available to stream on Crunchyroll.