There are plenty of issues inherent to a story focusing almost entirely on a singular joke it runs into the ground. There’s the problem of repetition, which Full Dive has regularly run into as it reiterates just how terrible a game Kiwame Quest is. But the broader problem with needing to exist in service of that material is that it means things like the characterizations will regularly come across feeling stalled- People behaving in ways that seem at odds with their experiences thus far regardless of how deep we get into the story because it serves as setup for the regular punch-line. That’s been the main disconnect with Hiro so far in Full Dive: He knows this game sucks and he hates every agonizing minute of playing it, but he has to keep going anyway just so we can see the next ridiculous, supposedly-hilarious escalation.
I’ll give Full Dive points for at least understanding the mechanics of how that kind of escalation works, even at the cost of actual entertainment as Hiro’s interactions in the game stretch the suspension of disbelief to their furthest limits yet this week. Things actually start off decently enough, with the vanishingly rare event of a goblin attack befalling the hilariously-named city of Ted, providing another outside instance of misfortune befalling Hiro that at least serves to force some plot momentum. There are some solid gags about how unhelpful ‘realistic’ NPCs would be for dispensing information in such a panicked situation (even as the show still feels the overt need to qualify each instance with a “That’s how realism works” nudge). And there is something amusingly dissonant about honing in on a hero needing to manually scrape the rust off his sword, in real time, as the horrors of a monster attack play out in the background behind him. There’s also some solid injection of the idea that Hiro needs to figure all this out on his own, on the fly, since being in a VR setting locks him out of being able to just look up guides and information about how to perform tasks like said sword-sharpening.
The problems with this presentation arise when we pull back from simple mechanical gags like that to try to have characters discuss their desires and drive to pursue the actions of the plot. With the goblin attack underway, Hiro leads this episode showing an excited desire to fight one of the creatures that runs so counter to his experiences with the game world thus far as to feel unbelievable. At this point, Hiro has become intimately aware of all the ways Kiwame Quest will always conspire to make the player miserable, yet for some reason, perks up to presume that actually fighting an actual monster to the death will finally be the fun exception to what we’ve seen are nigh-universal rules in the game so far. It comes across as out-of-character and, frankly, insulting to the audience who has followed Hiro on his journey to this point, gaining an understanding of the game and how to deal with it. Previously we were just along for the ride with him, experiencing the epic lows the game had to offer, but now we’re actively questioning his decision-making like we were the only ones that learned anything from this experience after all.
This choice of focus on Hiro’s decision against all sense also just brings the pacing of the episode to a grinding halt as he and Reona have another repetitious, circular conversation about the shittiness of the game and what parts of it Hiro thinks he can work against. This does at least uncover another game mechanic I’d been wondering about, that being the question of what happens when one dies in Kiwame Quest. It evidently results in both the game and console being destroyed, adding another layer of consequences for Hiro to attempt to avoid on top of the heaps of suffering he’s already constantly trying to get through. But it also stretches that aforementioned credibility even more, since we’re now aware of the multitude of misfortune Hiro is staring down when he makes boneheaded decisions like wanting to steal a look at some goblins before he can safely save and log out. With that in mind, it knocks out even more of our sympathy for the guy, making him come across less as a believable person, and more an entity acting solely at the behest of pushing forward Full Dive‘s singular gimmick, even in the face of him just having a five-minute long conversation making clear he knows how ultimately shitty this game always turns out to be.
The one high-water mark for this episode does turn out to also keep my impression of Hiro ever-so-slightly bumped up. The resolution with Martin in last week’s episode seems to have left an impact on Hiro that motivates him to want to prevent the deaths of other NPCs in the game, which, fair play, I think works well as an extension of the immersion and realism angle Full Dive is going for. This extends to the latter part of the episode, where his efforts in his exploits provide Hiro with a sense of accomplishment that comes specifically from persevering through such absurd odds. Given his previous hang-ups, it is a mark of progression to see Hiro really trying at something, even mixing in his original sole talent at running as his chosen method for trying to save a young girl from the goblins. So his reward of the game seemingly granting him a momentary Actual Fantasy Power of super-speed jibes with that framework, and even serves as a reward for us in the audience as well by delivering the most impressive uptick in presentation Full Dive has yet seen, brief as it ultimately is. And it lingers with the interesting question of how the power was actually accessed, which provides, in my opinion, a much more intriguing hook beyond “How is this game going to ruin Hiro’s life next”.
Is that single instance of uplifting concept and presentation enough to save this whole episode? Not in my mind, especially as it still immediately follows up with cheap jokes about Hiro being a pedophile and teases that even these earnest efforts are going to lead to more suffering for him in the long run. But it is at least something amongst all the repetition and circular reiteration of Full Dive‘s One Joke we otherwise contend with this week. So props to the show for that: It clearly knows how to introduce compelling new ideas and provide some sense of momentum. Now if only it would choose to deploy them more regularly.
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Chris is a freelance writer who appreciates anime, action figures, and additional ancillary artistry. He can be found staying up way too late posting screencaps on his Twitter.