The Spring 2016 Anime Preview Guide
And you thought there is never a girl online?
How would you rate episode 1 of
And you thought there is never a girl online? ?
What is this?
Hideki Nishimura (username Rusian) has decided to swear off romance for good. After pledging his heart to his perfect woman online, he is traumatized to learn that the cute catgirl was actually an older man all along. Now Hideki spends every day grinding and questing in his favorite MMO (Legendary Age) with a party (the Alley Cats) of three other hardcore gamers: their leader Apricot, his fellow warrior Schwein, and a "female" healer named Ako. At her insistence, Hideki even got married to Ako in-game, but he won't be fooled again. It's never a girl online, and Hideki has long since accepted that there's probably a burly bro behind that adorable avatar. But when he calls Ako's feelings into question, Apricot proposes the idea of a real-life guild meetup, where Hideki is shocked to discover that his entire party is female behind their avatars, and Ako's feelings for him are even more powerful in the flesh. With a busty otaku (Ako) on one arm, and a twin-tailed debutante (Schwein) and the student council president (Apricot) watching him with suspicious stares, Hideki has more online girls around than he knows what to do with! And you thought there is never a girl online? is based on a series of light novels and can be found streaming on Funimation, Wednesdays at 12:00 PM EST.
How was the first episode?
This is 100% gamer fantasy material with a heaping helping of fanservice. There's plenty of jiggling around in camera shots that cut off female character's heads in favor of zooming in on their chests. This is the usual rigamarole for shows more interested in creating titillation than fleshing out characters. It's so expected at this point that it's hard to get worked up or offended by it. Ako's destiny as hug pillow fodder was preordained before I ever watched this episode.
Surprisingly, And you thought there is never a girl online? sets up its harem trappings in a less creepy way than I was expecting. The plot synopsis before it aired hinted that Ako was more or less a hikikomori raised via the MMO, leaving it up to Hideki to socialize her properly. We haven't gotten there yet, but it is a more uncomfortable premise than the cheap fantasy one we start out with instead. I say “cheap” not because the production looks particularly bad but because of how archetypal everything is. Ako is buxom and bookish, Akane is a tsundere with blonde twin-tails, and Kyo's over-the-top club leader vibe all rings of Anime Characterization 101.
So this is a romantic comedy, and I have no doubt that despite the eventual affections of every girl in the show, Hideki will stick with Ako for "reasons," like her doll-like naivete being so cute. That's not much of a romance. In fact, I'm not even sure why Ako fell for in-game Hideki over any of the other male avatar guild members. The show is quick to tell us that the only reason he accepted her is because of how incessantly she pursued him. So what's this waifu relationship even built on?
Without interesting characters or any kind of interesting hook for the relationship, Netoge is a bouncing pile of bland boobs. There's plenty of better constructed fanservice anime out there.
Jacob Hope Chapman
Netoge (the abbreviation for this anime's million-mile title) and today's other comedy premiere, Anne-Happy, have something in common. They're both comedies that spend their entire runtime being unspeakably boring instead of making me laugh.
In Netoge's case, it's because they seemingly forgot to write any jokes at all. Despite being marketed as a romantic comedy, the show plays out more like a romance with extra fanservice where the humor was supposed to be. Unless you consider the entirely expected reveal of our protagonist's first crush to be a dude, there aren't really any other gags to be found here, just a sequence of bland high schoolers talking to each other about their bland lives both online and off, with plenty of bouncing boobs and the undeniable undercurrent of an ensuing love quadrangle. Mind you, that would be perfectly FINE Entertainment if these characters were compelling or relatable blandos (that's the entire premise of cult hit My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU), but Netoge even bats below average on that minimum expectation.
To use two examples from recent romcom anime specialist Kanta Kamei's body of work, Netoge could have gone the Saekano route and created self-aware characters who embraced their roles as too-obvious romcom tropes while reflecting their own humanity in their relationships with each other from the beginning. But it doesn't do this. It could have gone the Oreshura route and created over-the-top characters whose relationships to each other are entertaining in their eccentricity, waiting until later to layer in some humanity when we least expect it. But that's not the case either.
Nope, Netoge somehow spends a full twenty minutes on four characters who are every bit the most underwhelming version of their own stereotypes! Hideki is an obtuse otaku who inexplicably draws cute girls to his side. Ako is a shy and empty-headed sex doll with no discernable character traits apart from being in love with Hideki for no reason. Akane is a twin-tailed tsundere that Hideki only says is "all tsun and no dere" despite all evidence to the contrary. Kyou is the mischievous yet maternal jokester who probably exists to explain Hideki's own feelings to him (while hiding her own unrequited love of course). The show even has the gall to make a joke about how Hideki's catgirl crush couldn't have been a Real Girl because real girls don't end all their sentences with meow, but then proceeds to introduce one of the most flavorless cardboard cutout harem casts I've seen in a long time, whose every action bears no similarity whatsoever to how a "Real Girl" would act, even by anime standards.
With bare minimum animation and no comic energy to offset this poor excuse for a harem cast, my god is Netoge dull dull dull. At first, I expected to feel insulted or annoyed by Netoge's moronic premise (the twist is that GIRLS play MMOs?!), but I wasn't expecting to nod off every five minutes. What a snooze.
You know, I actually think there could be a very good show with something similar to this premise. The ways we navigate online lives and friendships, and the weird lines drawn in MMOs versus our daily lives, has a whole compelling psychology and vocabulary to it that is ripe for both comedy and drama. At its best moments, No Girls Online (what I'd assume this would be called if not for light novel naming conventions) actually gestures towards that show. The protagonist Hideki's fears about the people he meets online come from an understandable place, and the show can be nicely blunt in the ways it engages with otaku identity. There's a joke at one point about players who just buy all the best gear with real money, and another that rightfully points out “girls in real life don't say ‘meow.’ You should figure that out already.” No Girls Online can at times feel earnest and well-observed, a sharp comedy mining a rich and timely comedic vein.
Unfortunately, No Girls Online is very inconsistently that show. For one thing, it's very hard to take this show's criticisms of otaku assumptions seriously when it itself is so wedded to those assumptions, mainly through its character types and heavy fanservice. The ways main heroine Ako consistently fails to understand internet protocol (using her real name, admitting her real gender) are a nice touch, but outside of that, her personality so far is “has huge boobs and is totally in love with the main character.” The other characters aren't much better, and include highlights like that classic blond-twintails-tsundere who surely must have some repressed feelings for Hideki. Without strong characters leading the way, it's difficult to imagine the show will become something truly noteworthy. There's a decent platform here, but the show seems perfectly content to use it in order to make one more Saekano-esque, self-aware harem comedy.
Still, as far as harem comedies go, the premise does make this one a bit more engaging than usual. And if we're judging it on those metrics, then the fact that this first episode was swimming in fanservice is actually a plus, as opposed to something that detracts from any real points being made. The aesthetics aren't the best, and there isn't much animation to speak of, but the overall package at least gets the job done. The only real failing of this episode in terms of its genre is that it lacks an actual hook - we meet these characters in the MMO and they eventually get together in real life, but their happy reunion is where the episode ends. No Girls Online seems like it'll be significantly less interesting than it has the potential to be, but it's a reasonable entry in the light novel harem genre.
Review: Let's get the biggest negative out of the way first: this light novel adaptation is very decidedly an otaku wet dream scenario, and its first episode doesn't do anywhere near enough to rise above that level or show compelling merits beyond that. Hence anyone normally turned off by such fare is unlikely to find anything of interest here.
That being said, the series does put at least some effort into establishing its premise. While it's hardly an original gimmick, I actually liked the way it bases itself in grand irony: that a person who has been burned badly before by people cross-playing online suddenly discovers that he is now (arguably) the benefactor of it. I also like that this isn't a fully-immersive VR scenario; we actually get shots of what the game looks like to people playing it in addition to the “in the game” perspective shots. It also has at least a few good joke scenes, too, such as how Hideki/Rusian (I think it's actually supposed to be Lucian, so we'll see if Funimation updates its subtitles at some point) gets mobbed on in-game while his guild mates are chatting about his in-game marriage to Ako. And at least the series doesn't (yet) seem to be indulging in smarmy “meta” play.
The meat (if it can be called that) of the episode, though, is about the whole game otaku dynamic concerning the 2D vs. 3D worlds. The discussions about how hostile Rusian's guild mates are to “normies” (in other words, people who function normally in the real world) was interesting, but whether that remains so depends on what the rest of the series does with it. Is this going to be just a gimmick to justify why these pretty girls are distancing themselves from having actual real-world love interests (and thus give them an excuse to get attached to the main character), or is the story actually going to explore this dynamic, take a look at why these girls are so devoutly rejecting normality even when at least two of them seem like they aren't social outcasts? I think there's a lot of potential there to examine social trends in Japan, but given that this is a more light-hearted comedy series (it certainly shows no signs of being a WATAMOTE or Welcome to the NHK), I am not expecting much attempt at depth on this front. That Hideki seems the most socially well-adjusted of the lot – he is actually shown having friends that are not apparently connected to gaming – also suggests that we won't see much serious treatment, which is a shame because a series about a socially maladjusted guy connecting with socially maladjusted girls could have its own appeal. Hopefully, though, we will get at least some insight about Ako in particular, as she seems like a legitimate basket case.
And oh, yes, this is also quite prominently a fan service series. While the artistry doesn't show any undergarments or even come close to nudity, it does offer substantial cleavage on Ako in game form and the camera's relentless focus on butt and boob shots constantly reminds us of who the target audience is. That does bring up an interesting point, though: is it just me, or is the fan service so far this season remarkably restrained even in the titles that you would expect to have it? And does that mean anything?
The technical merits are nothing special (although the one meaningfully-placed shot of a broken-off ESC key was a nice touch), so the series will have to sustain itself on its execution of its premise. I am leery that it will be able to do that without falling too deeply into a morass of typical tropes, but I am willing to give it a chance to prove itself.
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