Among the hundreds of anime tropes floating around in the world, perhaps one of the most well-known is that of the senpaikouhai (senior-junior) relationship. Although it’s not very prominent in American culture, the idea of expressing the utmost respect for one’s elders is central in East Asia. Anime frequently incorporates this type of relationship, to the point where even the most casual of viewers at the least know what “senpai” means. Most often, we see it in a high-school setting. NEW GAME!, on the other hand, puts it in a professional one.

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Aoba Suzukaze hard at work | Image: Crunchyroll

NEW GAME! follows the story of Aoba Suzukaze, a new employee at a famous video game development company. The anime’s first season covers Aoba’s first year at the company as a character designer. There, she meets her hero, Ko Yagami, who is also her team’s leader. Throughout the first season, Ko is the dependable senior to Aoba, the faithful junior.

The second season, currently airing, looks at Aoba’s second year at the company. Although still Ko’s junior, Aoba’s talents are beginning to shine brighter. She soon finds herself competing with her respected senior for bigger and better opportunities within the company. The arrival of new interns halfway into the season shakes things up even more. Aoba must now assume the role of senior to Momiji Mochizuki, who has very little of the respect and politeness that Aoba has for Ko. Thus, the series provides an interesting contrast of the senior-junior relationship in a workplace setting.

Aoba gets a fun role here as both a senior and a junior at once. We’ll first look into her distinctive relationships with her mentor and mentee. Then, we’ll analyze the different ways the senior-junior relationships operate within NEW GAME!. Luckily, the show uses the professional setting to its advantage — we’re able to leave “I hope senpai notices me this year!” to the high-school anime.

READ: But if you ARE looking for a high-school setting this season, we recommend FASTEST FINGER FIRST!

Ko and Aoba

Aoba gets help from Ko | Image: Crunchyroll

Ko and Aoba have an extremely standard senior-junior relationship. That is to say, Ko plays the role of a reliable team leader and mentor, and Aoba always approaches her with any questions or concerns.

In the first season and much of the second, Aoba idolizes Ko. Ko’s art inspired a younger Aoba to pursue a career in character design. And so, working alongside Ko years later is a dream come true for our protagonist. Aoba is consistently a team player and often goes the extra mile to impress her senior. In turn, Ko offers encouragement and support for Aoba whenever possible. If she feels that Aoba’s skills are overlooked, she will vehemently defend her.

Even so, it’s not as though Aoba is blind to Ko’s human side. Aoba is still openly aware of her leader’s insecurities and flaws. The second season spends time developing their relationship as Aoba’s talents grow to the point where they threaten to overtake Ko’s.

Aoba and Momiji

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Momiji challenges Aoba (and gets her last name wrong) | Image: Crunchyroll

On the other hand, Aoba and Momiji have a much rougher relationship as senior and junior. While Aoba tries to act as much a senior to Momiji as Ko is to her, Momiji is more wary towards her. It also doesn’t help that the two are roughly the same age.

Thus, rather than viewing Aoba as a senior to rely on, Momiji only sees her as competition. Momiji often goes to great lengths to prove that she is just as capable as Aoba. Whether in terms of character designing or not, anything Aoba does, Momiji tries to do better.

Aoba, for her part, remains kind and patient to Momiji. She acknowledges Momiji’s attitude towards her, but still feels they can be friends despite that. She desires to get closer to Momiji and be a proper mentor, but for now, she can only hover around that area.

CLICK: HIS AND HER CIRCUMSTANCES is another great show about various kinds of relationships!

Juniors Towards Seniors

Aoba and Momiji behave vastly different as juniors towards their seniors. Aoba is naturally warm-hearted and eager to impress. Momiji, however, is more focused on pouring all her effort into what’s in front of her and being the best she can be.

They do have one unifying feature: they both are aware of and admire their seniors’ talents. Aoba is in awe of Ko’s skill, and Momiji is immediately impressed by Aoba’s concept work. But even that similarity leads to their differences in how they treat their seniors. Where Aoba’s admiration of Ko leads her to trust and rely on her almost immediately, Momiji’s only lets her see a rival.

This isn’t to say, though, that Momiji is outright mean to Aoba. She acknowledges that Aoba has more experience than her, telling Aoba not to speak so formally to her on account of that. In turn, she maintains polite speech when she talks to Aoba, even though they’re the same age. Momiji is competitive, but she isn’t disrespectful. She also has little interest or ability in socializing for the sake of socializing. Instead, she chooses to remain professional and alone most of the time.

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Momiji declines an invitation to eat with her coworkers | Image: Crunchyroll

Momiji’s lack of social skills results in an awkward gap between her and Aoba. Aoba often tries to converse with and invite her out to places; Momiji declines simply because she doesn’t see the point in it.

Unlike Momiji, Aoba is much more in tune with social cues and basic empathy, especially when Ko is involved. Aoba inherently cares about her senior as a person. She reassures Ko whenever the pressure on the team leader grows to be too much. She also is able to understand her and her quirks where few others can. This is exemplified when she’s the only one to find Ko when Ko vanishes from a party. Thus, Aoba’s behavior as a junior comes from her warmth and humanity; Momiji’s behavior centers on work, talent, and little else.

Seniors Towards Juniors

Aoba and Ko are surprisingly similar as seniors. They both are welcoming and friendly to their juniors and always happy to help. The contrasts, obviously, lie in how their juniors receive those attitudes, as we saw before.

That difference in influence stems mostly from their varying skill sets and experiences. Ko radiates a sense of authority and charisma simply because she’s worked at the company for so long. As the character team’s leader at the start of the series, she’s accustomed to taking charge and giving instructions. On the other hand, Aoba is still too new and excitable to behave as a respectable senior. Her eagerness comes off as try-hard, which is off-putting to a more reserved and serious worker like Momiji.

Considering this, it’s easy to say that Ko is the more effective senior between them. However, Aoba does have one virtue as a senior that Ko initially lacked. Aoba deals with Momiji’s competitiveness towards her with patience and understanding. If she’s bothered by her junior trying to overtake her, she doesn’t show it in the least.

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Aoba acknowledges Momiji as a rival | Image: Crunchyroll

In comparison, early in season two, Ko feels that her position might start to crumble thanks to Aoba’s talent. Under pressure and stressed from the thought, she ends up lashing out at her junior. This results in a brief rift between them.

Each of them has their own flaws to overcome as people trying to mentor those beneath them. Ko’s insecurities and temperament occasionally force a distance between her and others. Aoba is still too inexperienced to effectively guide someone. Importantly, though, these flaws don’t overshadow their positive aspects as seniors. They simply make these characters all the more human.

SEE: In the new live-action DEATH NOTE‘s case, we’d say the flaws definitely overshadow the positive aspects. Check out our review here!

Cute With a Touch of Drama

Now, there’s no denying that NEW GAME! is definitely a show that’s just about “cute girls doing cute things.” But for that kind of show, there’s still some notable character development and interesting reflections of real-life workplaces.

A longtime worker can believably feel threatened and consequently hostile towards a talented newcomer, as we see with Ko. Similarly, a newcomer can understandably feel that she must do all she can to surpass her superior to prove her worth, as is Momiji’s case. These characters follow realistic beats of the working world, which gives NEW GAME! an impressive amount of depth for an otherwise lighthearted series.

By dipping into credible conflicts of the senior-junior relationship, NEW GAME! introduces a type of tension not seen in most other comedies. To be sure, it remains a relaxing watch thanks to its bright colors and cute art style. However, it’s also proven its skill as a workplace drama, which only heightens my expectations for it in the coming weeks. With only a few episodes left for the season, I’m eager to see how it will finish handling its contrasting relationships and the developments of its characters’ arcs.

Featured image screenshotted from Crunchyroll.


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