The genre of ‘stuck in an MMO’ has really taken off in the past few years. Sword Art Online, Overlord, Log Horizon (which I have yet to watch) and now The New Gate.
This time though, it’s SAO mixed with Onepunch-Man, in the sense that the main character Shin is seriously OP. OP to the point of being deemed godlike. Heck, he’s deemed godlike for his abilities from before he cleared the game, but right off the bat, the story starts with him getting another boost to his power. Also, he’s trying to rank up as an adventurer, much like how Saitama is trying to rank up as a hero. For different reasons, of course, but the parallels are there.
The only reason why there’s even a story is that he doesn’t want to be recognised and become well known, and just wants to go home. Fair enough, but as such stories go, he gets thrust into situations where he can’t help but bust out his true abilities to overcome the obstacle before him.
I wouldn’t say the premise is very interesting, not least because I’m no longer a big fan of overpowered protagonists. Onepunch-Man is an exception because it’s a satire on the concept. Sure, he wants to keep a low profile, but he utterly fails at that.
And the story uses pretty cliché ideas, which further reduces my interest. ‘Stuck in an MMO’ premises all mostly fail to discuss social implications to an extent which piques my interest, and The New Gate even skipped right over the actual game and transposed Shin into the game world of 500 years later.
The author of the web novel also spends way too much time discussing how each skill works. I mean, I can also be obsessive about keeping a list of abilities my protagonist has, how each one works, the requirements, drawbacks, stats, and so on. But while the story is in a quasi-MMO setting, readers are going to lose interest if all they see is bits of action interspersed in a long chain of original MMO skills. Of which Shin has thousands, literally.
That sort of improved from volume 4 onward, but then the story tried to focus on combat and dragging it out. Bleach must have inspired him, because that fight dragged on for ages. And worse, there was no to and fro between opponents like typical shonen fights. It was just Shin bashing the enemy over and over with a new skill as he released his limits bit by bit, and the enemy regenerating over and over in some way or another.
It’s the problem with the premise, really. When there are no stakes for Shin, who is practically invincible, then there’s no joy in watching him trying to use the least amount of power to beat the enemy. Shonen is all about personal growth, about determination to overcome insurmountable obstacles. Not about trying to hide your power as much as possible while fighting a monster that doesn’t even threaten you normally.
All that said, I do like the concept of support characters. I mean, it’s rather ridiculous for a game to be so extensive and for Shin to have spent so much time that he’s a master blacksmith, knows thousands of skills, has a shop, had several rebirths, and created support characters that are as powerful as the best players on the tier below him. But the idea that the support characters turned from NPCs into ‘real people’ is a concept worth exploring much more.
The whole Girard thing was kinda lame, but Schnee has real potential as a character. We see more and more character development for Shin and Schnee now, and their loyalty to each other clashing with their desires is something to look forward to. And while Schnee is, as the story goes, created in the sort of wish-fulfillment style that fanfiction authors love, she’s not entirely one-dimensional now that she has her own thoughts and feelings.
But that’s it, really. My hope is that the story veers far, FAR away from Shin’s misadventures in trying to keep a low profile while saving the world (ugh), and focusing on relationships and character development. There are seeds of potential here; they just need to be nurtured in a way that doesn’t result in SAO.