The Winter 2020 Anime Preview Guide
BOFURI: I Don't Want to Get Hurt, so I'll Max Out My Defense.
How would you rate episode 1 of
BOFURI: I Don't Want to Get Hurt, so I'll Max Out My Defense. ?
What is this?
BOFURI: I Don't Want to Get Hurt, so I'll Max Out My Defense. is based on a light novel. It's available streaming on Funimation, Wednesdays at 9 am EST.
How was the first episode?
I've come to realize that, for me, there seems to be an inverse relationship between the amount of time an anime spends time having its characters react to changes in their RPG stat sheets and how much I'm likely to enjoy it. Anime about virtual-reality games and MMORPGs have been a thing for years, but I feel like only recently has the convergence of iyashikei tropes, light novel trends, and now-played-out anime clichés reached a kind of critical mass that I find difficult to personally connect with. It's one thing to have a plot and its characters interact with and react to the systems of whatever game the story is set in, but more than ever we are seeing where the little chime and pop-up of a video-game's UI has become the driving force of the story itself. Being a very low-stakes slice-of-life anime, I never expected BOFURI to be teeming with plot developments and thrilling drama, but it also doesn't go too far out of its way to land any jokes or present any fun characters either.
Instead, we simply get our heroine, Kaede (aka Maple), an aggressively adorkable newbie to the VR experience that is New World Online. Being unfamiliar with how such games would traditionally be played, Maple decides to play it ultra-safe by dumping literally every stat point she has into defense, a choice that is bolstered by the many defense-multiplying items and skills she picks up as she wanders about killing monsters and diving into dungeons. That's the show in a nutshell, a bone-simple premise that is padded out by many scenes of Maple checking out the in-game menu to learn she has gained some kind of loot or experience that invariable makes her even more of a defensive powerhouse. There are some other players and in-game characters we meet that give Maple a hand, but they don't have much in the way of personality either, so whether or not you enjoy this show will depend entirely on how much you want to watch a vaguely likable girl play a generic fantasy RPG in a slightly silly way.
For as much as the show managed to be both completely inoffensive and moderately cute, I mostly found BOFURI's premiere to be tedious, which caused my mind to wander. I couldn't help but get stuck on the kind of mundane claptrap I usually avoid thinking too much about, such as how poorly balanced and inexplicably designed New World Online seems to be, or the strange disconnect between what Maple experiences and reacts to in the game versus what Kaede must be doing in the real world. Can she really taste the giant poison dragon she eats alive for some reason, or is Kaede flailing about wildly in her room, screaming nonsense while her in-game avatar does all of the work? For fans that appreciate either cozy slice-of-life comedies, anime about MMORPGs, or both, maybe BOFURI will be a winner. It's a little too much fluffy nothing for my ADHD addled brain, however, so I'll be giving it a pass this season.
Based on the description of the concept, I was just expecting this to be a rather ordinary series about a girl who's getting into gaming and perhaps taking a bit different perspective on it than normal. While that is more or less what we get, the first episode surprised me on one major point: it's enormously funny in a very charming way. In fact, I daresay that a lot of more pure anime comedies only wish they could be as funny in this episode as this one is.
As a long-time tabletop RPG player, I have always liked playing with people outside my normal circles at conventions, as discovering what new gimmicks unfamiliar players (and possibly even ones from different parts of the country or different countries) are doing with the characters can sometimes be quite entertaining. That's the kind of feel I get watching Kaede play as Maple. She has a different understanding of the game, and her own very logical (at least to her) thought processes about how to play it; even though she probably doesn't understand the concept of a “tank,” she's basically made herself the ultimate one by gleefully devoting all her points to vitality. No sane gamer would commit 100% to one stat like that, as normally that would leave you too inflexible, but she makes it work for her because no one has ever told her it won't work. This leads to some normally-ridiculous situations, such as how she actively builds up her poison defense by pretending to be defenseless or falls asleep in a location where she gets attacked a lot but nothing can hurt her. That all builds up to the most absurd situation of all: beating the hydra by gaming the system to build up poison immunity and then biting it to death. I really hope at some later point we get to see her explaining that to other players, as their shock reactions would be terribly amusing.
Although the situations are primed for humor, what makes the whole thing work is Maple herself. She has such gleeful enthusiasm for playing the game, and yet the portrayal restrains that enthusiasm just enough to not be obnoxious. Watching someone who truly enjoys what they're doing, without artifice or pretense, can be entertaining in of itself, and she's got a refreshing cute factor going for her on top of that. It's not at all hard to understand why the other Great Shield user asks others to help watch out for her, though she probably doesn't need that as much as they might realize.
The one complaint I have about the first episode isn't even the story's fault: the texts come so rapid-fire that judicious use of the Pause button is going to be needed to catch them all. With respectable technical merits also backing the series, this one is off to an adorable start. I'll definitely be watching more.
We've experienced a wide variety of MMO or MMO-adjacent anime over the past few years, with various titles either trending towards the isekai end, or simply exploring the fun of playing MMOs with friends. Unfortunately, these titles have a tendency to shoot themselves in the foot in a variety of ways; they're often awkwardly drenched in exposition, cloyingly self-aware, too in love with their own protagonists, or simply clumsy as narratives. Standing as a counterpoint to this sea of mediocrity, this season's Bofuri demonstrates that engaging characters and fundamentally punchy writing are all you really need to make a great anime in any genre.
Bofuri's greatest strength is undoubtedly its heroine, Kaede. Unlike many MMO or isekai protagonists, she's not a gamer herself, and she's thus experiencing the fun of online games for the very first time. This means Bofuri is able to play off some of the most basic assumptions of RPG gaming, as Kaede stumbles through terrible tactical decision after terrible tactical decision with a smile. Instead of the repetitive “it's just like a game” gags these shows often feature, Bofuri runs on an inherently charming sense of dramatic irony. Kaede seesaws continuously between “I have no idea what I'm doing” and “I am a genius,” while we in the audience can only gnash our teeth as she continues to dump every single one of her points into vitality.
The jokes in general were excellent in this episode, effectively playing up Kaede's ignorance regarding gaming fundamentals, while ultimately validating her silly decisions in a variety of improbable ways. Kaede's joy feels relatable and infectious; she's not astounded because this particular game is unbelievably convincing or exciting (it isn't), but because she's never played games before. Kaede lives in that magical space just after you've started a new game, but before you've mastered it to the extent where it has resolved itself into a series of discrete gameplay systems; she's treating this MMO as an actual place, and the disconnect between that attitude and traditionally “effective” gameplay results in fun gags all throughout this episode. Meanwhile, the actual design of the game she's playing is wisely set up to directly validate her decisions - when simply getting hit raises your defense stats, it's truly possible to triumph even if your only attack strategy is “bite the dragon until he gives up.” It's refreshing to see a show that understands worldbuilding must work in service of character and narrative, not the other way around.
Couple all that with Bofuri's attractive visual aesthetic, and you end up with one of Winter 2020's strongest premieres so far. As someone who's not generally a fan of anime comedies or MMO shows, Bofuri easily won me over on both counts, and earns a strong recommendation for anyone looking for some lighthearted fantasy.
BOFURI: I Don't Want to Get Hurt, so I'll Max Out My Defense. is simultaneously entertaining and annoying. Both of those come down to Kaede, or Maple, the protagonist of the story. A total game newbie, she bases her play style entirely on the idea that she doesn't want to feel pain and continually pours all of her skill points into defense, not even considering the idea that maybe having some other skills could be useful. I'm honestly not even sure why this annoys me so much, but by the end of the episode I found myself screeching at the screen for her to please just put points somewhere else for once.
That she doesn't is, of course, a large part of the premise of the story, and it naturally ends up working to her benefit. Mostly she acts as she does because no one, including her friend who got her into the game or any of the other players she interacts with in-game, gives her any solid advice. This could be because none of them can believe that anyone could possibly play the way Maple's playing, or even that it would be fun to mostly just stand there and take hit after hit after hit. On that front, there's definitely something to be said for this episode celebrating the fact that games are something that we all enjoy differently, and that since Maple doesn't know any “better,” she's free to just do her own thing. That she becomes (in)famous is just a side benefit. (The scene where Kuromu finds her sleeping in the woods while getting mobbed by monsters is pretty great.) And really, the idea of being able to solo a dungeon is appealing, even if the “bite the monster to death” strategy Maple employs is a bit out there.
Part of the issue with this episode is that we don't really know how the game works any better than Maple does, so if you're familiar with MMORPGs, or even just other shows set in them, there are some glaring questions yearning to be answered. The major one is naturally if pain is possible in the game or if that's that just Maple's assumption. It would be pretty funny if it all turned out to be her not understanding the game mechanics or missing a “pain” slider in the initial set up. Presumably Risa never thought Kaede would be quite as clueless as she is, but she still does seem a little too blank on how the game works, although maybe she just skipped the tutorial or didn't read the manual or something. At any rate, while it works for the character, it is a little hard on the audience to have no real understanding of how much is Maple and how much is simply the way New World Online functions.
The adorable and pretty low-level monsters (clearly how attractive a beast is denotes its danger level, as we see when Maple enters the dungeon) and bright colors do help this episode to look good, and Maple's methods don't tax the animation unduly. With more characters added we may have less of Maple's chirpy monologue, and that could really help things. Mostly I'm feeling ambivalent about this show – it's something to pick up if there's nothing else on, harmless, but not really much more than that.
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