Hyperdimension Neptunia: Episodes 1-5
The Plot: Hyperdimension Neptunia takes place in a fantasy world where everything is an allegory for the video game console wars. Our heroines are goddesses (consoles), each ruling over her own country (company) with the help of her little sister (handheld), and they alternate between competing for magical energy ($$$$) and teaming up against the villains (digital piracy).
Is This A Magical Girl Show?: No.
- No secrecy.
- It takes place in a fantasy world where magic is commonplace. Nobody ever goes to or comes from Earth.
- It doesn’t fit any of the subgenre rules: The girls’ magic is limited to fighting, like in a Magic Warrior show, but they’re naturally magical, like in a Cute Witch show.
- As a rule, Magical Girls are foot-soldiers employed by a higher power, like a queen or a boss or their own parents. In Neptunia, the girls are the higher power — goddesses ruling over whole countries.
- Relatedly, there are no cutesy mascot mentors, nor mentors of any kind for the girls.
However, the show clearly takes a lot of influence from the genre:
- The girls have dual identities — their ordinary form and their goddess form — complete with different appearances, names, and personalities, though the personality shift is usually mild.
- The girls transform via a traditional Sailor-Moon-style henshin, though they don’t require a magic object to do so.
- The little sisters have a slightly more MG-ish arc, learning to transform and becoming fully-fledged goddesses over the course of the show.
- The fights are reminiscent of MG fights, with a mixture of melee combat and energy attacks with silly names.
I’m booting Neptunia out of the main project, but I’ll still include it in discussions of henshins and dual personae.
Is It Any Good?: As a fan of Hetalia, I think Neptunia is a great idea, but unfortunately it fails in the execution. The show is, in a word, impenetrable. The more familiar you are with the details of recent video game history, the more you’ll get out of the experience; the less knowledgeable you are, the more confused and bored you’ll be, and the more you’ll wish for some kind of Neptunia Cliffnotes. Even when I did get the references, some still fell flat, like when one girl is carrying a bag of peaches and gets attacked by a large turtle. Har har.
So unless you’re a gaming history buff, you’re left with a meh action/fantasy show welded to a meh moe/bishoujo (bishmoejo?) show. The characters are all flat clichés — not annoying, but not interesting either — and there’s way too many of them: 4 goddesses + 4 little sisters + 3 mutual friends + the villains makes the show feel cluttered. Visuals are pleasant enough, although the fanservice frequently takes a sharp turn into Hentai Creepyville, with the girls getting captured and molested by blob creatures, tentacle bondage, a monster with a huge slobbery tongue, etc.
The one notable part of the show is its focus on sisterhood. Despite the title, the story really belongs to Neptunia’s sister and the other handhelds, and their struggle between wanting to grow up and out of their big sisters’ shadows and wanting to remain as pampered, responsibility-free little sisters indefinitely. This theme gives the show its substance, though it wasn’t enough to keep me interested.