The Fall 2017 Anime Preview Guide
Recovery of an MMO Junkie
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Recovery of an MMO Junkie ?
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How was the first episode?
Taking a second look at Recovery of an MMO Junkie's opening episode reaffirms my initial impressions of the series. This is a relatively laid back way to begin a story, with a focus on character development over big plot hooks or action set-pieces. It paints Moriko in a relatable light, and the online chemistry between Hayashi and Lily has the breezy, pleasant vibe of a budding romance. This episode seems to promise an earnest and gentle story about relatable people, which is exactly what the series has delivered in the weeks since.
SimulDub Preview: The good news about Funimation's simuldub is that, at least for now, it avoids one of my biggest pet peeves about this genre. Dubs of gaming-themed anime can sometimes be overzealous in their attempts to sound like they're “in” on the subject material. Scripts can go overboard on gaming lingo and shoehorn in extra references, only to end up sounding forced and artificial. With Recovery of an MMO Junkie, the dub script has largely avoided this pitfall, keeping the dialogue clean, simple, and fairly close to the subtitle track. Considering that this show seems more focused on telling its own story than dropping pop culture references, this approach strikes me as the right one.
Terri Doty puts in a solid performance as Moriko, hitting the right emotional notes without going overboard on the character's comedic inner monologues. Josh Grelle and Ian Sinclair make a respectable impression as Yuta and Koiwai respectively, though it's hard to read too much into their performances given the characters' limited screen time. Hayashi and Lily are arguably the stars of this first episode, and their chemistry has also survived the translation process intact. Natalie Hoover's take on Lily plays up the character's “cute healer girl” image, while Aaron Dismuke feels spot-on as the slightly overwhelmed hero Hayashi. The dub looks like a solid option for those who prefer English audio, and if anything it could actually stand to loosen the translated dialogue up a bit. I can see myself watching the dub for my own entertainment in parallel with the Japanese version for review purposes, and that's always an encouraging sign.
We've seen series about NEETs who get hooked on MMOs before, so does making the NEET an adult woman actually give the concept a fresh twist?
I'd say so, and it's not just because her situation will be a lot more relatable to older viewers, although that is a big factor. That sense of aimlessness that some young adults can feel over what to do with their lives just gets compounded when it hits you in your '30s like it has Moriko, and from personal experience I can relate to the sense of feeling set adrift. When you don't have a sweetheart or good collection of friends to support you (neither of which seems to be the case for Moriko), the effect seems even worse. So I can't blame her one bit for seeking solace and connections in the game. That the character she's connected with the most is a man around her own age who's also playing an opposite-gender character. The situation is sweet enough that I don't mind the clichéd irony involved, and I'm curious to see how this plays out.
The other reason the twist works is because it allows for some pretty amusing segments. The specific line that won me over was Moriko's lament, “I'm never going to lose my virginity as a man. Wait, I guess that's obvious.” That's hardly the only funny line or sequence, and some of the gameplay items – like Moriko's character being thrashed by the giant mouse while wielding a stick – also assist engagement. While the game she's playing is every bit the typical MMO, it's also not above being dorky just for the sake of being dorky.
The technical merits of the series, though decent, aren't especially inspired. Lily and Hayashi do make a cute couple though, and both of their players are realistically attractive for their ages. I'm curious to see how the other characters in the credits are going to fit into the picture too; are they the other guild members, perhaps? Whatever the case may be, this feels like what And you thought there is never a girl online? could have been if it skewed older and was less enslaved to harem romcom conventions.
It's amazing how refreshing a different perspective can be. Most modern anime are driven by teenagers, so to see a show's lead be a thirty-something woman who is also a NEET and a gamer is a genuinely unexpected surprise. What's even more surprising is how, instead of making Moriko the butt of the joke, her social dysfunction and desire to form a friendship with her new MMO companion is handled sincerely and gently. This isn't Welcome to the NHK or Watamote, at least not yet, and for now RoaMMOJ seems to be content to tell an earnest and adorable love story, framed in the trappings of almost-middle-aged ennui and fantasy MMO tropes.
What works best about this show is Moriko, without a doubt; she's one of the most freshly endearing protagonists I've encountered in a long time. She's characterized as a video game addict and a loner, but the show doesn't resort to mean or lazy jokes at her expense; instead she struggles through daily social interactions and the trials of trying to make friends online, which is something a lot of people (myself included) can absolutely empathize with. Her handsome avatar's gender-swapped romance with the hyper-kawaii Lily is intensely cute, especially since Lily is in reality a late-twenties-to-early-thirties man who seems to have his own reasons for playing as a cute girl online. Watching Lily bond with Moriko (who goes by Hayashi in-game) as she navigates an unfamiliar world was a treat from beginning to end, and the show could easily be successful if it just stuck to that central romance as its premise. It's only been one episode, and I'm already eager to see where our two charmingly dorky heroes go from here.
If I have any complaints about the series so early on, the largest would have to be how rough this show looks. It's obviously a labor of love operating on shoestring resources, and I can mostly look past its inconsistent art and generally uninspired direction, but the sequences set in the MMORPG itself aren't particularly exciting, unless Hayashi and Lily are together. In fact, I could have done with a bit less of the in-game stuff in general; I recognize that a lot of it is necessary to set up how Moriko bonds with her new romantic interest, but there isn't much to Fruits de Mer outside of being an avenue for that sweet, sappy romance. I have a feeling I'll enjoy the show even more when we can see more of Moriko's life in the real world.
Overall though, I enjoyed this premiere, and despite it being a little rough around the edges, it's one of the few shows I plan on following this season, at least so far. I am, after all, a sucker for cute and dorky romance, and Recovery of an MMO Junkie seems like it will have that in spades.
Guys. Guys. Guys. This is the cutest freaking thing I have ever seen.
I usually try to avoid checklist-criticism when writing about a show (e.g. "this show has superpowered animal companions in it, which is extremely my thing"), but I can't help it this time. Recovery of an MMO Junkie is everything I didn't know I wanted in a nerd romance. Both characters are in their late 20s/early 30s. Unbeknownst to each other, they're playing the opposite gender in an MMO where they fall in love, not knowing each other's true identities. The woman is older than the guy and firmly over it in every aspect of her life in a highly relatable way. (She didn't have to quit the corporate world to sit around on her ass playing games that made her happy, but screw it, she could and she wanted to.) We don't know much about the guy yet, but he seems extremely shy and insecure, which should be interesting contrasted with his go-getter occupation, so maybe he plays a girl online to escape the pressures of his work and just be treated nicely for a while. I get the feeling his reasons are different from his paramour's, who's playing as a boy simply so she can look at a sexy dude while she plays. (I know plenty of girls who do this, but it's refreshing to see portrayed, because you usually only see this motive depicted through male players with lady avatars.)
It's hard to describe this show as a comedy, since there aren't really jokes with setups and punchlines, but watching these characters interact is just funny because they feel so true-to-life. For the most part, we're just indulging their instant chemistry and enjoying the contrast between Moriko's NEET demeanor and the front she puts forth as Hayashi in the game, as she bemoans how hard it is to flirt with a girl as a boy. It's a great premise for a nerd romance that happens to be executed with pitch-perfect sweetness so far. From Lilly helping Hayashi level up to their impromptu Christmas date inside an anemone to the scene where they were literally sitting in a tree, this episode just charmed the pants off me. The only real flaw in the slaw are some pretty lackluster production values, but even those can be endearing in the context of an unassuming oddball romcom.
Between all the harems and ensemble dramas we get every season, there aren't as many straight-up committed anime romances nowadays, but if that rarity yields unique gems like this one, it's absolutely worth the wait. Recovery of an MMO Junkie is one of the only romance anime where I can say I honestly don't know how it's going to develop, but I'm excited to find out.
Games can be one of the best escapes from real life, because honestly, being a certified adult can be overwhelming. No one knows that better than the heroine of Recovery of an MMO Junkie, a regular old office worker who dropped out of her favorite MMORPG because of work. Now newly NEET again, she discovers that her game has gone out of service and has to find a new one. Enter the hilariously named Fruits de Mer, which is French for “seafood,” where she makes herself a new hot male avatar and a new cute female friend in short order.
There's so much that's fun about this episode, from Moriko's exhausted behavior to her basic struggles both in the game and in real life. It's not that she can't be an adult or a productive member of society—it's that it's a pain and it's tiring and isn't it just better to relax sometimes? Moriko's just utterly human. She's looking for a temporary release, not a total escape, and that's relatable.
Fruits de Mer itself is also an interesting centerpiece for the show's conceit. It functions more like a real-life MMO, or at least the casual ones I've played. There's nothing special about it, and no one has ludicrous gear (so far) or reaches ridiculous levels. In fact, Moriko keeps dying in an effort to complete her very first quest (or at least one of the early ones; we don't have the exact timeline). I admit I laughed a little harder each time increasing numbers of passersby came along to say “amen” over her character's corpse. There's almost a “Flintlocke's Guide to Azeroth” feel to moments of the gameplay, enhanced by the fact that we're never allowed to forget that it is Moriko playing the game—she's sitting at her computer, not pulling a Kirito and actually running around the world of Fruits de Mer. Her interactions with Lily also have a basic feeling of real online conversations; the characters never forget that they're talking through game avatars, but that doesn't discount the real connection that they feel.
The fly in the ointment here is largely the visuals. Everything is competent enough, but the art isn't anything to write home about, and I had to repress a chuckle when Moriko comments that her avatar is sufficiently hot. There's definitely something generic-looking about the whole thing, but that's not bad when the plot is fun enough to keep us watching. This series has a lot of promise in terms of doing something a little different with the MMO genre. Right now it feels like a more grounded version of And You Thought There Was Never a Girl Online, and it's definitely worth checking out.
I wasn't expecting to be quite so charmed by this one. Though “an MMO series about an actual adult protagonist” has a certain appeal, anime has so thoroughly drained the “journey to an MMO-esque fantasy world” well that it felt unlikely any new property could really draw up anything fresh. I'm certainly happy to be proven wrong though, particularly when the results are this endearing. MMO Junkie has turned out to be one of my unexpected highlights of the new season.
MMO Junkie's biggest strength is easily its protagonist, Moriko Morioka. Moriko is lazy and fatigued and unhealthy in a way that feels both realistic and never truly depressing. She's an utterly convincing not-so-young adult, and from her apathy toward her apartment's condition to her misadventures at convenience stores, all of her challenges felt both relatable and ever so slightly painful to witness. Moriko's voice and personality are similarly funny and realistic—moments like realizing she no longer has to get up for work have a painfully specific ring, while the way she giggles and fawns over her relationships in Fruits de Mer feels completely true to the MMO experience. Mamiko Noto deserves special credit for her performance here, bringing a tone of mature solidity to the role that we too rarely hear in anime characters.
MMO Junkie's portrayal of the MMO life deserves credit for its own sake. Instead of presenting Fruits de Mer as a magical world people get totally swept away by, MMO Junkie consistently pokes at the limitations of the genre and uses regular cutaways to Moriko's reactions to make sure we're in her perspective, not her avatar's. It's a small choice that results in an oversized dramatic effect—Fruits de Mer never truly feels like an “escape”, or at least not one that actually removes you from your life circumstances. Both the appeal and the inherent melancholy of MMOs are thus captured in full.
Execution-wise, MMO Junkie is a just slightly above-average production. The show's animation is pretty limited, but given its focus on presenting a not-entirely-convincing MMO world, that doesn't really hurt it too much. The character designs are all quite expressive, and Moriko in particular has a variety of dead-eyed expressions that seem to embody the millennial experience. The overall art design is mostly just functional, but in a show carried by its ear for character voice and comedy, that works out okay.
On the whole, MMO Junkie gets an easy recommendation from me. Though the show's execution is only middling and the second half of this episode felt rushed, its strong character writing, solid premise, and consistently charming comedy kept me entertained all episode long. MMO Junkie presents characters I already care about, and I'm excited to see where their journey goes.
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