The Nier: Automata Anime Is Back And Still The Most Impressive Game Adaptation Around

Image: Aniplex
Image: Aniplex

In January 2023, one of the best video game adaptations made to date premiered on TV. A week later HBO’s The Last of Us also premiered. The live-action prestige series based on the critically acclaimed Naughty Dog game of the same name overshadowed a more interesting game adaptation in the form of the anime Nier: Automata Ver1.1a. But now that the anime is back with the second part of its first season, it’s as good a time as ever to tune in and see the show’s fascinating recreation and reinterpretation of the 2017 game on which it is based.

Ver1.1a follows the same setup and plot of the Nier: Automata. It follows androids 2B and 9S on their mission to rid a post-apocalyptic Earth of evil machine lifeforms in order to make the planet hospitable for the remaining humans, who have been living on the moon for safety. As this is a Yoko Taro joint, the story has tendrils that spiral out to touch on some pretty heavy themes about morality, philosophy, what it means to be human, and the absurdity of war. And Ver1.1a brings over a lot of what fans of the game love. It has the same voice actors, the same character designs, the same general plot, and Yoko Taro is involved. But what makes it special is how the show diverges from the path laid out by its source material.

The first few episodes of the series follow the dialogue and direction of the game’s cutscenes pretty closely, so it’s not until later that Ver1.1a starts to reveal its complexities. This is mainly done through the character of Lily, who is part of the android resistance against the machines on Earth and a new face for those who played the game, but not to those who know the extended lore of the NieR/Drakengard universe. She’s actually from a play that serves as a prequel to the game, which has heavy ties to its third protagonist, A2. Tying her story directly into the show creates ripples and permutations of what we as returning fans know. Nier Replicant proved Taro is always iterating on stories, yet Ver1.a’s changes are done so seamlessly that newcomers aren’t lost. For those who haven’t played the game, Ver1.1a has served as a wonderful streamlining that encapsulates what makes the source material so great without losing too much in translation.

I think that’s owed to Yoko Taro’s skill at crafting stories in plenty of different mediums. He’s done theater, TV, and games and knows the strengths of each medium. For Nier: Automata, one of the biggest pillars of the game is how player choice and interactivity feel exceptionally important to how the themes are communicated to the player. That’s probably best exemplified by the game’s multiple endings, which range from short jokes to deeply emotional finales. To give anime viewers a piece of that, the show ends each episode with a short puppet play with its own (sometimes completely new) endings to the show’s story.

The first part of season 1 ended in dramatic fashion, revealing perhaps the game’s biggest twist. Humanity is entirely dead and the androids are only continuing their mission, so they do not go into an existential crisis. 9S discovers this and then quickly loses his memory of the major discovery. Part 2 picks up from there, showing vignettes of 2B and 9S traveling together. Each vignette ends with 9S dying or being reset in some way until the second grand reveal comes that 2B is his executioner and has killed versions of him many times in the past due to his realization about the truth of humanity.

The anime takes this betrayal one step forward by showing it actually happen, something the game only tells us about. It’s brutal and heartbreaking and shows how useful Ver1.1a is as a companion to its source material. Nier games demand a lot of the player, asking them to play multiple times to reach the true ending. A lot of players probably never get past ending A, but Ver1.1a succinctly tells the stories leading to endings A and B.

It’s impressive how much Ver1.1 achieves as an adaptation. It serves diehard fans by tying in deeper lore directly into the plot, it gives gamers who only saw a part of the story a chance to experience it in full, and it serves as a complete package for newcomers. It’s quite an accomplishment, and it continues the excellence and ingenuity of the Nier series’ storytelling. If you haven’t been watching it, it’s time to start.


For the latest news, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.