4 girls discover the world of analog and tabletop games.
Title: Hōkago Saikoro Kurabu (After School Dice Club)
Studio: Liden Films
Synopsis (Via My Anime List)
Miki Takekasa is an introverted high schooler who does not socialize with her classmates. However, she wants to know what “fun” really is, waiting for someone who could help her understand its true meaning. One day after school, she crosses paths with her classmate Aya Takayashiki, who takes her on a little adventure. Miki discovers wonders she had never seen before, opening a way to change her withdrawn life.
On their way home, Miki and Aya see their class representative Midori Oono entering Saikoro Club, a store specializing in board games. After trying out a German board game, Miki soon understands the kind of fun she had been looking for: playing various games after school along with the friends and acquaintances she makes from her newfound pleasure.
Growing up in a time where the analog and digital realms occupied my days in equal measure, some of my most vivid memories would have to be from the tactile side of things. From various type of card games only nerds and geeks of a certain vintage would recognize and understand to making up stories and reveling in fantasy worlds inspired by video games and the like, I certainly can say that my childhood has been one where the social interactions I built came from face-to-face meetings rather than behind some interface. Sadly, where card games were a large part of my childhood, as I grew older, it became less of a staple, preferring the instant gratification of game consoles and computers that helped fill the void of a shrinking social circle. To this day I still do look wistful to online shops researching weird (and often obscure) board games and other types that I would have probably played and even might of have enjoyed today if I still had something a respectable group to do so with. Oddly enough, from the Fall 2019 anime season, Hōkago Saikoro Kurabu or After School Dice Club is a series with the specific aim of providing a wider lens of a world unfamiliar to most.
Centering around 3 girls: reserved Miki Takekasa, the bubbly Aya Takayashiki, and aspiring game creator and class representative Midori Ono – they decided to form a group of sorts dedicated to the amusement and play of analog games. Viewers won’t find mention of stereotypical video games such as Street Fighter or Mario or even more viable candidates like Monopoly rather than a selection mostly originating from Europe that gained a cult following. Yes, Catan does make a cameo appearance at some point. More a demonstration in the pure joy to be found in these titles and less of a glorified advertisement, After School Dice Club is a fairly simple and entertaining watch that also exemplifies how such experiences can be used as a social lubricant helping bring people together. This is best illustrated by Miki that goes from a rather bored and timid school student to someone that is slowly opening up to what is around here – people and new experiences in particular. As more supporting characters appear and reappear from episode to episode, it only goes to further enhance this as Miki’s social circle beings to grow and wishing to change herself to move forward like her friends. That being said, as far as supporting characters and interactions go, they aren’t just serviceable or for show and feel like they do have some noteworthy agency. By far, Kyōko’s and her minor backstory has to be a personal favorite as it creates a nice moment between her and Miki after a less than smooth meeting a few episodes ago.
Of course, beyond the social aspect, After School Dice Club also highlights some of the more tangible and intriguing concepts behind tabletop gaming. One prominent idea that is clearly pointed out is the work and numerous iterations most board games (or games in general) have to go through in order to be fit for playing. For Midori (and maybe the viewers) it becomes invaluable food for thought what the power of criticism and a few minor changes can bring to the table, especially once they add a 4th member with the same dreams to their friend group. Always thrilled to learn some facts of novelty from series like this, I had no idea that Germany (of all places) plays a large role in the designer game market as exemplified by many of the real life mentions. Where I do wish the series would be more boldly forthcoming with some of the information it brings up like Japan’s own market size and limited focus, research is left for the curious to do themselves.
As digital games continue to become a fruitful financial endeavor (despite some the risk associated) and designer games making something of a resurgence in recent years like the tabletop RPG’s, After School Dice Club is nice shinning spotlight to the attractive nature of such products. Granted it probably won’t convert anyone over to add board games into their rotation of entertainment forays or teach those already into the medium anything new, but the awareness and a look at all the idiosyncratic elements is never a waste of effort. With a season packed with isekai and sequels, After School Dice Club is a slice-of-title with a little more than fun and games at it’s core.
Final Verdict: Whether you are a curious onlooker with a passive interest in the tabletop genre or well-versed in the matter, After School Dice club is one of those anime series that gives it’s all in covering such a specific subject matter to make it a little more than enticing. Beyond the games and nuance behind them, there is a nice slice-of-life title that has a lot too like and very little to detest.