Ingress The Animation – Anime Review
Synopsis: After scientists discover a mysterious substance that can influence human minds, two factions wage an all-out battle to control its awesome power. (Official Netflix Synopsis)
Review (Warning: Minor Spoilers to Follow):
Ingress isn’t so much a gradual build but rather a continued stumble down through mediocrity and into utter disappointment. For those not in the know, Ingress isn’t a stand alone title. Ingress The Animation is the adaptation of the phone game known as Ingress, made by Niantic. Niantic is responsible for the mega hit Pokemon Go, and Ingress predates that effort, acting as the baseline experience they used to craft Pokemon Go into the juggernaut that took the world by storm. Ingress was no slouch itself, garnering millions of players in a short-window and all across the globe. With Pokemon Go racking in the money, Niantic saw fit to put the spotlight back on their original efforts. But Ingress The Animation is more than a celebratory lap, it’s also the promotional material for their new game, Ingress Prime, a re-imagining of the original game with deeper systems, team efforts, and a more overt narrative to spice things up.
Early on Ingress The Animation’s victory lap/promotional nature aren’t obvious. Episode 1 opens by introducing us to our cast of characters and some of the sci-fi elements at play. The base Ingress game itself is about two competing factions warring for dominance via capturable relay points. None of that appears in the first episode. Instead we’re treated to characters that can read minds, super speed/predictive dodging/ and other supernatural/sci-fi elements. It’s messy and there isn’t a lot of time for characterization, but what’s featured is at least intriguing and begs for a deeper dive into the 11 Episode series.
But it isn’t long until the game’s elements start to appear full force, but rather than adapt the competing factions into intriguing drama, Ingress The Animation opts to feature the phone game in all its glory. Yes as the story continues, and our heroes delve into deeper conspiracies involving the game’s factions and other players that act as ‘anime original’ content, we see people actually playing Ingress. This isn’t so much as ‘people of the two factions compete for a relay point’ as it is watching characters tap away on their phones to capture it, just like players do in the actual world. It feels silly, lazy and self-congratulatory. Even the ending credits take that further, featuring layered footage of real life players around the world playing Ingress. Eventually this live-action, layered footage appears in the story proper, in a lengthy segment that screams “Wow! we sure made a mega popular game, huh!?”
Maybe this would be forgivable if there were some lovable characters to latch onto. But Ingress lacks even that. Our cast is paper thin, rarely given character moments to flesh things out. Makoto, our mind-reading closeted hermit who gets roped into events when he meets Sarah, a girl with equally impressive psychic powers, is never really explored. Early on he’s introduced as this scarred individual, who grew up being able to read minds at just a touch and found himself not only teased for it, but scorned by his mother. This element is only teased in a few brief flashbacks, and Makoto overcomes that childhood trauma at the drop of a hat. By Episode 4 he’s moved on from what should be life-altering, childhood trauma as if it never really bothered him in the first place. Other characters are even more devoid of depth. Sarah is just a good gal, always trying to do the right thing and eventually the series’ damsel in distress. She remains captive for so long that there isn’t even opportunity to expand on who she is. Jack, an agent for one of the game’s two factions, is equally as thin. He’s misguided, but also hellbent on doing the right thing, whatever that is. He switches allegiances at the drop of a hat, and his convictions eventually seem to have meant nothing at all to him.
It’s not uncommon for thrillers to be light on character. Most Thriller type films focus on plot and twists above all else. That works in a 2 hour format, especially if you can nail a fast pace. But for an 11 episode series, providing over 4 hours of content, you really need to latch onto these characters in some way, especially if the action isn’t one set piece after another. Ingress is often riddled with lengthy stops and few go’s. Frequently characters stand around talking, regurgitating game concepts, or explaining the grander sci-fi concepts (though when it really needs to start to explain stuff in its final episodes Ingress becomes oddly uninterested in providing context and explanation.)
The deeper we get the worse Ingress’ Victory Lap nature takes hold. Halfway through and you can start to feel how built the series is to stroke the ego of the creators or the most die-hard of fans who’ve been playing Ingress all these years. What’s worse is by the end you can feel the promotional nature rearing its ugly head. Ingress Prime launched back in November of 2018, around the time Ingress The Animation was running on Japanese TV. It gradually becomes apparent at the way certain elements are introduced, and the story teases further adventure, that Ingress The Animation is really here to get people excited to play Ingress Prime.
Game to Anime adaptations don’t have to be this way, but too often creators take the lazy way out, failing to craft a compelling story that expands on the origins of the idea. Ingress The Animation at least tries to introduce new ideas, but because it’s so overt with its self-congratulatory nature and Ingress Prime promotional pandering that whatever extra-effort was put in falls flat on its face. I’d only recommend this to hardcore Ingress fans. Everyone else should skip right over it.
Ingress The Animation is available for streaming via Netflix.