Anime Review: Recovery of an MMO Junkie — GIRL Power!

What a fun game.

Pre-Review Background

Recovery of an MMO Junkie…I’m honestly struggling to find out what to say about this show before diving into the plot. It’s not made by any anime studio whose name is big enough to care about. The director is a complete unknown. It’s based on a web manga that’s only two volumes long despite starting in 2013. There’s literally nothing remarkable about this show’s production in any way. About the only thing I can say about it without getting into the plot is that the show has picked up quite a bit of cult fanbase for being one of those relatable “adult” shows, which I’ve never really been a fan of for the same reason I’m not into movies like Lady Bird. And of course, it’s an anime about MMOs. But it’s not an adventure-style MMO anime. It’s an anime that uses MMOs as a crux for a slice-of-life romance.

And…yeah that’s really all the background information I have for Recovery of an MMO Junkie. Nothing special at all, and boy is that reflected in the actual product. I remember seeing the premise for this show and thinking to myself that it sounded gimmicky. In my experience, when anime tries to sell you on relatability, it generally does it at the expense of story. And if you don’t have a good story to support your characters, generally your characters tend to suffer as a result and lose what makes them relatable in the process. It’s like a great voice actor you love trying to hold up a character with nothing but basic writing to accompany them.

General Plot

Recovery of an MMO Junkie is centered on a thirty-year old NEET named Moriko Morioka who left her relatively successful corporate lifestyle to find fulfillment away from Japan’s rather horrible working conditions. As such, she turns to online gaming in order to get through the day, and after her favorite one gets shut down, she becomes quite addicted to a fantasy game called Fruits De Mer – which brings up the question of why it always has to be fantasy MMOs in anime. How about a space environment every once in a while?

In-game, Moriko plays with a male avatar and ends up joining a guild where she meets a girl avatar named Lilly and strikes up a friendship with the “might actually be male” light-haired being with the funny hat. I don’t think I’m really spoiling anything when I say that yes, Lilly is actually a male in real life, and once they start bringing up the possibility of romance between players, you already know where the story is going, especially when emails are exchange for an IRL meeting. In fact, Lilly in RL is a good-looking male corporate employee named Yuta Sakurai, who…doesn’t really have much more to him than that now that I think about it. He’s just a nice company guy who plays MMOs in his spare time and acts like he’s twelve when confronted with the mere possibility of asking his online friend out on a date. This stands out a lot compared to Moriko, because she has the character arc where she’s trying to become more open as a result of her experiences. Yuta has no such journey other than maybe to overcome puberty.

The narrative frequently switches between the online world and the real world at various points in the story in order to highlight how different the two are, and yet how the bonds you form within each can be the same. So online characters will be opening up to each other one moment and then not knowing how to say a word to each other when they’re confronted with their true selves. There’s also a dude named Homare who works with Yuta and by sheer coincidence, had a working relationship with Moriko during her own company time despite never meeting her in real life. So when he finds out the two are trying to form a connection, he decides to lend a hand like he’s a college kid who’s watched nothing but PBS shows and Friends all his life.

And that’s pretty much your plot: two people meet each other online and struggle to form a RL romantic relationship. Um…exciting?

Personal Dissection

I think you can tell by my dismissive remarks in the first two sections that I find it really hard to describe this show in a way that’s interesting because MMO Junkie sets really low bars to hurdle over. Why? Because it’s a show about two adults meeting online and forming a real life relationship where the girl learns to slowly recover from her NEET lifestyle as a result while the guy learns to not be twelve. It’s like the show tried to be relatable at the concept stage, but then took a hard turn away from what I consider sympathetic at a crucial moment and never came back.

Here’s a question I’d like to see people answer: what exactly is the point of this show? And I don’t want to hear “the romance” because that’s to be expected when you look at the premise of this and every shoujo anime in existence. I’m asking what exactly is giving this particular romance show flavor? I understand that the show does portray online communities and why people join them with a degree of accuracy, but what exactly is this portrayal for? Because I never really got a sense that MMO Junkie knew what it wanted to do with its elements beyond basic aesthetics that aren’t really important to the core of what actually goes on.

Does the show being centered on adults actually add anything to the story? I know the anime market is overcrowded with stories centered on teenagers saving the world, but I would also like to point out that a lot of those stories are crappy because the teenagers act like they’re five years younger than they really are. And it’s even more jarring to see adults act the exact same way, not too dissimilar from those 80s-90s highschool movies that were hard to take seriously because I’m pretty sure no highschool in existence has an entire student body looking like they’re in their thirties. Another question: does the MMO aspect actually add anything to the story? Is there actually an attempt to examine the particulars of online relationships in this show or is it just a convenient means of interaction for the main couple?

What about the main character being a NEET at the “Christmas Cake” age? Is Recovery of an MMO Junkie actually about NEETs and why they shut themselves away from the world, or is it just a label that was slapped onto the lead so that she can have development? This is a big reason why I was never on board with the whole “let’s make more anime about adults” trend that Shirobako increased interest in. Because I was afraid they’d miss the point of Shirobako having adult characters in the show and just throw them in there because that’s what the charts say. And as much as teenage romance has annoyed me in the past, we’ve been getting so many I’ve actually liked this year because they actually use the ages as part of the story and make it clear as the episodes pass that while romance is nice to experience, it’s not something you should depend on to have a happy life.

MMO Junkie’s story can best be described as something that was made for an audience who just wants to appreciate the simple things in life. After all, a lot of people didn’t like Scum’s Wish because they didn’t want to watch a romance show where characters in love did horrible things to each other. And Your Name has also received some flak for its large-scale disaster story being too much of an overcomplication. I think that’s why Your Lie in April is also beloved by so many people. Because at its core, it’s about a girl on borrowed time trying to help someone she admired, and isn’t that just simplistically romantic for anime fans? Who cares about the more controversial details as long as it’s cute? And it’s true that a lot of the time, those details tend to get in the way of the story more often than not because it takes a special set of skills to integrate them correctly.

However, I believe that risks are an essential part of making good entertainment, and as someone who loves his Your Names and Scum’s Wishes, I can say for certainty that compared to them, Recovery of an MMO Junkie can suck a big fat one. The animation is awful to look at for one thing. It’s soulless pre-packaged art with nothing to justify the medium’s existence, and gives off a sense that the creators of this show made it as part of an obligation rather than because they wanted to sell chemistry to me. Every single joke is delivered so cheaply that it starts resembling anti-humor at points, and the jokes themselves are poorly conceived at times. The anime goes into date rape territory at points with Homare and it’s played purely for comedy, but it comes off as incredibly immature at best and sexually offensive at worst because there was no punchline to it besides one guy wanting to act like a dick because that’s how he gets his jollies from his friends.

I really dreaded anytime the anime spent in the MMO world because of how flavorless it is as a setting to the point that it feels like the romance story gets put on halt whenever the characters hang out in it rather than as the contrast to reality that it’s supposed to be. A very generic fantasy game where everything basically boils down to “player avatars are the opposite sex of the players” or “you can’t date anyone in a group” or “play the fucking game already!”. There’s no real attempt to actually examine what it means to be a thirty-year old NEET addicted to online games, and in fact, there’s nothing about this story that you couldn’t say about every generic romance story ever. Main girl meets main guy through a few contrivances, they become awkward with each other, some annoying third-parties get involved, end of show.

So basically, the anime has no way to get me to care about anything that’s happening because it goes for all the easy answers regarding online personalities and the real you. Can we get an insight into Japan’s working environment and how unhealthy it can be? Nope, because apparently it gives enough free time for Homare to play as a childish matchmaker, so it can’t be that bad. Come to think of it, is there any chemistry between the two leads at all? I feel like I’ve had more chemistry with anime club members I meet on the very first day than what Moriko and Yuta have.

Hell, the two leads in Scum’s Wish had more chemistry in the very first episode and they didn’t even like each other much. They just said “my crush is dating your crush. Can you let me grope you so I can feel better? And if it’s not too much trouble, let’s sing Naruto songs together as well.” Basically, their romance was purposefully obligatory and ironically shone all the brighter for it due to the understandable reasons going in, whereas the contractual obligation that ties the leads in MMO Junkie feels like it was made by a last-minute decision with no alcohol involved.

Conclusion

Why on earth would anyone settle for Recovery of an MMO Junkie when there are several better romance products out there? It’s like watching someone say Knack is a great game in an era where Spelunky, Crash Bandicoot, and all the 3D Mario games exist. You can predict everything that happens in this show from beginning to end, and that’s very rarely a good thing. And by the time it was over, the only overall message I got was “if you hang out in the online world after becoming a shut-in, someday your prince will come to help you out”. Why exactly did I need to watch ten episodes for that mundane conclusion?

As much as I’d like adult characters to be more prevalent in the anime industry, they’re just like any other cliche in that it’s fine to use them as a softening agent to ease people into your story, but you can’t depend on them to carry the audience throughout the entire runtime, especially when your product belongs to that accursed “chick flick” genre where the cliches are many and the stories make men play with their phones real fast. MMO Junkie’s characters may legally be older than the cast in, say, Just Because, but mentally they live in a decade where people still laughed at The Brady Bunch’s antics.

Additional Quips

  • Why is it that none of the people I meet online ever live close to me anyways?
  • There are probably some sexist undertones to a shut-in woman needing a man to cure her, but I’d rather not open that can of worms.
  • I’m trying to think of a chick flick I’ve liked, but I keep coming up with zilch.

8 responses to “Anime Review: Recovery of an MMO Junkie — GIRL Power!

  1. I agree with you completely.

    I’m not really sure why I read so much praise for this show, especially considering it’s sharing the season with Just Because, which for all of its animation problems, has some of the finest, most naturalistic dialogue I’ve ever heard in an anime.

    The best thing you can say about MMO Junkie is that it’s inoffensive. But you hit the nail on the head when you note that if the characters are going to act like they’re teenagers, who cares if they’re nominally supposed to be in their 20s and 30s?

  2. Unlike you, I don’t dislike fluff, but I still like to see fluff with actual effort put into it. Looking back, Maid dragon is the better “adult” show this year, since it’s actually well-animated/directed and there’s stuffs that only work well in animation.

    I enjoy the first episode of Junkie, then rapidly lose interest when I realized this the same shit I’ve seen million times before. Also describe relife and a bunch of LN/VNs. Seriously, I don’t understand these type of vaguely “adult” shows. There’s like a billions of those in live actions, so if they don’t offer unique animation, storytelling or anything, then why bother watching anime at all?

    • I was going to mention Maid Dragon being better in comparison, but while it also had an adult female lead suffering from working environment issues and such, the priorities for both shows were ultimately too different given Junkie wanted to push the romance as the story. You’ll notice I didn’t bring up Welcome to the NHK either.

      And I wouldn’t say I dislike the concept of fluff so much as my standards are a lot stricter for it. Plus, I can tell the difference between fluff in Girls’ Last Tour and how that’d appeal to people compared to, say, Persona 4 Golden: The Animation which I have no idea who that’d appeal to.

  3. Lots to chew through here …

    I guess I’m one of those old people now who enjoy simple things in life. It’s also a very relatable story to me personally, which makes me like it even more.

    I wouldn’t recommend judging this show by how great of a romance it is. It’s certainly cute, for which we can in large part thank how awkward the characters are. Is there chemistry between these characters? This is where things get interesting. Moriko’s got huge self-esteem issues. In such a mindset, it’s also impossible to see anyone being interested in you. So as much as there’s an attempt at a “romantic comedy” here, the show is much more focused on Moriko’s POV and her relationship with Sakurai. Therefore, your comparisons of this show with Kimi no Na Wa and Scum’s Wish are completely lost on me.

    You have raised the concern that the show doesn’t delve much into NEET lifestyle. Without coincidences driving the story, and constant pushing from Sakurai’s coworker for them to get together, they as a couple would have never gotten off the ground. The amount of luck and energy that was needed for them to get together was enormous. This effort illustrates perfectly the struggle of being cut off from society when you’re in Moriko’s position. I was a NEET myself, without any real friends and so on. For that to change, it took my parents a lot of patience and money to give me an opportunity to pick myself up, go out there, make some friends, get education, find job … The rut NEET find themselves stuck in is especially hard to get out of.

    At the end of the show, the struggle for Moriko is not over yet, but what is celebrated in this show, in my opinion, is the miracle that she needed to take those first steps. She had all this help, luck on her side, a pretty face … imagine some ugly-faced NEET without the social support that she had got. It’s a real struggle.

    The MMO(s) made it all happen, but shouldn’t be studied too carefully.

    What I think this show does well is portray NEET life without being overly explicit about it. It also has some really great moments, for example when Moriko opens up to Sakurai over the phone, or how Sakurai is always giving Moriko clothes in real life, just like he’s buying her cosmetics in game as Lily.

    Wanted to write some more about your resentment toward shows with adult characters, but it’s far too late here to be tying those knots together.

    • I wouldn’t recommend judging this show by how great of a romance it is.

      But that’s what the show frames itself as. You even said this…

      the show is much more focused on Moriko’s POV and her relationship with Sakurai.

      …which is pretty much the definition of every romantic comedy/chick flick out there from Maid to Manhattan to The Ugly Truth. How am I supposed to care about the NEET stuff, see the show as anything more than a generic romance, or care about moments like these…

      It also has some really great moments, for example when Moriko opens up to Sakurai over the phone, or how Sakurai is always giving Moriko clothes in real life, just like he’s buying her cosmetics in game as Lily.

      …if it keeps shoving chick flick cliches in my face to the point that it feels like its portrayal of NEET culture isn’t genuine so I can’t take the story seriously? That’s like asking me to pay attention to the tale of rebellion and power struggles in Code Geass when it keeps spoiling the mood with its many tone-breaking Sunrise cliches.

  4. “But that’s what the show frames itself as.”
    They were (online) friends way before they supposedly became lovers. So you can choose to see it as a romantic relationship, or you can choose to see it as a relationship.

    • You do realize a lot of romantic relationships start with people being friends first, right? Hell, that’s like the entire premise of Your Name. Plus it wouldn’t matter how I saw it because I find the show’s tone to be too distracting and cliche-ridden to take the relationship seriously. Since that’s the main crux of the anime, that’s a major problem.

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