BOFURI: I Don't Want to Get Hurt, so I'll Max Out My Defense.
by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 11 of
BOFURI: I Don't Want to Get Hurt, so I'll Max Out My Defense. ?
One thing I've appreciated about BOFURI is how committed it's been to its setting's nature as a pure game throughout its whole run. Unlike some other VRMMO shows, including its seasonal contemporary Infinite Dendrogram, BOFURI has completely avoided falling into the idea of larger, more serious conspiracies or ethical quandaries. It's entirely video-game-based competitiveness driving things in NewWorld Online, and it's able to make that work exactly as it needs to. I daresay that's another reason the selling point of Maple's absurd power-level works, in that she can be terrifyingly stronger than so many other denizens of this setting, but because there's nothing bigger at stake than in-game Guild rankings, we can accept that as part of the fun. It's the simple fantasy of being really good at a video-game without the weird power-satisfaction of being told the whole world is dependent on you to right it.
As such, all the fighting at the center of this episode comes off much more like competitions in sports-based series than the life-or-death struggles they could look like with all these fire spells and lasers going off. The big focal point is last week's promised battle between Maple and Mii, of the Flame Emperors Guild, each with sidekicks in tow and deploying strategies and counters against each other that we've seen build up for weeks now. Not only do the high power-levels of these two lend credence to how intense this battle should be, the play-styles on display are a matchup made for showing off as well, billed as this is as "The strongest shield versus the strongest lance". There's always been the question of what would happen if Maple really met her match in an opponent, and this seems poised to deliver.
Unfortunately, there are a few structural caveats that prevent this big bout from hitting all the notes I was anticipating last week. The actual structure is one, to start. The whole unstoppable force vs immovable object conceit seems like a natural motif for Maple and Mii's tussle to follow, but in practice it means we spend a lot of time on a mere war of attrition, Mii chipping away at Maple's defenses while pushing her back far enough repeatedly that the shield maiden can't get an actual attack in. There's some ancillary strategization in terms of how each fighter utilizes their backup, Maple indicating that hammer sisters May and Yui are the real ‘secret weapons’ for their orb-gathering strategy and thus prioritizing protecting them, while Mii's pals Misery and Markus (why are there so many ‘M’ names in this series?) take a more offensively-minded approach to assistance. But it still comes off as oddly one-dimensional to watch for a large chunk of it, the characters going back and forth along a singular plane in a manner that makes you wonder if combat in this game suddenly became turn-based.
Also, as a complaint carrying over from how Sally's fight played out last week, I'm continuing to be a little put off by how ‘strategy’ with skills in BOFURI seems to sometimes boil down to simply concealing their abilities and having their opponents be shocked by them when they're deployed. The element of surprise is an important one in contests, sure, but Mii especially puts so much emphasis here on things like seeing Maple's mecha form as a trump-card reveal worthy of declaring victory. It feels like the writing didn't get a complete memo about more interesting ways to use your opponent's lack of knowledge against them, apart from hoping you catch them off guard enough to land a major blow.
But with BOFURI's pointedly low stakes, that just means these issues come off as minor engagement fumbles rather than mishandlings that could throw me out of more dramatic moments. Since Mii and Maple are basically just playing a round of Guild Wars against each other, I can light-heartedly enjoy them one-upping each other with crazy powers until it shakes out in a crater-leaving mecha-mash. Once Mii deploys her own secret weapon especially, a ridiculous long-cast-time number she has to fall back for, the presentation of the episode steps up with more of that more fluid animation and direction, and seeing Maple succeed purely based on her now-ridiculous vitality becomes its own manner of triumphant. It's a great escalation of the long-running joke that Maple's journey is now that she can be interpreted as the kind of anime or game Final Boss who can just shrug off an enemy's selfless sacrifice, and because Mii just gets to respawn after she blows herself up to no avail, her distressed reaction in the face of failing to stop the turtly terror gets to be decidedly funny rather than any kind of distressing downer.
The impression of Maple on the game's general populace is an idea that BOFURI has been building up since day one starting with those chat-room scenes, and as this arc goes on they seem all about showing how that has evolved. Far from just hearing about her as some super-strong legend, she and her guild are well-known enough now that we see defeated players spectating in the event's lobby that are actively rooting for the small team to make it against the big-league guilds. Those guilds, in turn, see Maple specifically as a sort of ‘Boss’ within the game for them to test themselves in defeating, exemplified by the Holy Sword's leader, Payne. Maple's not just an ethereal terror in PVP events or a sign of a broken game's balance gone wrong, she's baked into the world-building of NewWorld Online as something most of the players interact with, directly or not. It's a distinct approach to making the main character matter majorly in the story apart from tasking them with more serious, real-world concerns like other VRMMO shows have opted to do. We find ourselves rooting for Maple as another big fight breaks out at the end of this episode in the same way those aforementioned denizens do: Because even knowing how powerful she is, she still occupies an underdog status with her style of play and friends she associates with, so that's endeared her to us. Even as it stuttered on some structural elements of its battles, this episode kept up that central selling point, and I'm just as excited for this arc's continuation as I have been the past couple weeks.
BOFURI: I Don't Want to Get Hurt, so I'll Max Out My Defense. is currently streaming on FUNimation.
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