BOFURI: I Don't Want to Get Hurt, so I'll Max Out My Defense.
by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 12 of
BOFURI: I Don't Want to Get Hurt, so I'll Max Out My Defense. ?
I actually did have some concerns going into this final episode of BOFURI. As easy as it had been for me to admit I was enjoying its good-natured freewheeling funtimes, especially over the past couple weeks, there were worries that the thematic strengths of the show had since fallen by the wayside. Maple's pointed aversion to direct PVP had been jettisoned since her and the tiny twins were sent out on offense, we hadn't seen any follow-up on Sally's characterization in why she was so enthused about fighting for Maple's sake, things like that. There was nothing necessarily wrong with the show going full-time screwing-around shenanigans, especially as it had proven to be so good at it, but the way it had previously gotten me to invest, even a little, into the thematic character growth of this cute little video-game club was a neat trick and I would have been sad to see that not followed up on.
But like the rest of her guild, I was right to put my faith in Maple to the end. The finale of this first season of BOFURI (and yeah, spoilers up front, we're getting another one of these babies) not only delivers on the idea-based front on an almost shockingly-casual level alongside all its over-the-top action antics, it brings back main theses from earlier in its story so naturally that it's clear this was always where it was going. But that's one of the show's angles as well, of course: That the journey and the fun we have on it is way more important than any destination. To that extent, just the surface-level stuff in this last episode does its job extremely well.
When you load your main character up with superpowers, there's always the danger of underutilizing some of them and begging the question of the reason for their inclusion. I can't count the number of times I've seen some isekai protag stumble into a neat trick or cool piece of equipment only to show it off once then file it away, never seen again. BOFURI, however, has found a smart formula in how it has doled out Maple's myriad upgrades, having her acquire them (generally accidentally) by steamrolling quests, showing them off to her friends, and now deploying them as sequential secret weapons against rival guilds in this event. So it is that her one remaining unused transformation, the massively monstrous Maple-zilla appropriately titled ‘Atrocity’ sees use against the Holy Sword team as they bring the Payne. There's a now-accepted amount of anticlimax in how Maple bringing this form out immediately turns the tide in what had been a tense, close battle, and then gives way to her staying in that form for the rest of the event purely out of convenience. This big bad beastie being animated with Maple's adorable body language is a joke the show's already used, of course, but it's so amusingly cute that it still works as a terrific punchline in this situation.
The second half of the episode just rolls with that escalation, monster-Maple rampaging through the event field to increase her team's odds of ranking through sheer numerical elimination. Not only does that same montage theme song dutifully return one more time here, but there's a cut to the Flame Emperors guild where they get their own remix of it. BOFURI really is broadening its horizons! All this as a denouement to the event works on that basic ‘fun to watch’ level, seeing Maple's Atrocity form really cutting loose being its own reward as entertainment. However, it's here that my mind started prepping to watch the show stumble over some thematic hurdles. Maple's pointed aversion to direct PVP was a key feature of the earlier parts of this show, with Sally specifically going out on the brutal player-killing runs apart from her. Seeing our superbly-silly Shield Heroine brutally devouring her enemy players is fun as a dissonant affect, but does it fly in the face of the Maple we initially came to know and love?
Not so, as it turns out BOFURI would have it. Just as I was questioning the presentation of this, Maple's massive visage appeared specifically to rescue her previous rivals in the Flame Emperors. Sally of course immediately describes the rank-climbing pragmatism behind such a decision, but there remains an inkling that Maple really was just trying to be nice. That pays off majorly at the end, as she reveals to her guildmates that she's befriended all the players in the Flame Emperors, as well as the Holy Sword, and even invited them to her victory party. It's a perfectly-calculated line-up with Maple's early-series focus on diplomatic, friendly approaches to progression with other players wherever possible, and contrasts with the presentation these characters had previously. Payne and Frederica toasting and cheering with Maple and pals is a direct refutation of the scheming shadowing rivals they were set up as at this arc's outset, and that shift happened specifically because of Maple's outlook.
The idea of Maple maintaining this attitude even as she ramps up her battle participation actually manifests back at the beginning of this episode, showing the writing was more assured than I gave it credit for at that halfway mark. There's a rather direct callout by Payne regarding Maple needing to pay more attention to directly dueling him rather than working to cover and defend her allies. It's a clear dichotomy between players who genuinely care and worry for their friends in-game versus those who are only playing to win. So Maple may now be more willing to fight other players, but her reasoning is still more focused on others that she is or could be friends with. Even cut off from her support, Maple's winning move against Payne is initiated by her discarding her shield, a suggestion she recalls from her best friend, Sally.
BOFURI advances a bit from online-RPG anime (at least a lot of the ones I've seen) in how it uses its setting to portray not just what is already fun about playing games online with your friends, but in idealizing how they can be made better through simple good nature and compassion. “There's no sides when the fighting stops” is outlined as a thesis at that party at the very end, a solid codification of Maple's seeming newfound philosophy towards battle as well as highlighting a positive feature of intense combat being ‘just a game’. Maple Tree may have just achieved third place in the event, but they're the ones whose party everyone showed up to, all because making the most friends is the real goal in mind Maple plays with. That idealization of online gaming's best face is also the reasoning of those adorable NewWorld Online admins deciding Maple's fate for now: She's become the appealing face of the game at this point, so they might as well let her keep on trucking and see how else she inspires other players to be their best selves.
BOFURI started out with a simple but cute and effective gimmick, and let that carry it all the way to this season's end while also being inspiring in that understated way. It's definitely a ‘little show that could’ feeling, mirrored towards the end of the episode when Maple, back in her real-world incarnation of Kaede, expresses gratitude after all that she got into the game. She muses how it changed her life in a good way. In her case she seems mostly delighted with how it paved a new way for her to make friends, mostly-unaware of her current status as the face of the game's appeal. But that appeal applies to us in the audience and our own gratitude as well. I couldn't have known twelve weeks ago just how much I'd end up enjoying this little show and its simply lovable main character, and now her and her story have led to me writing reams of text on the idealization of online-game connections. It's an understated charge to stumble into, for sure, but that's what I or anyone else gets for underestimating Maple.
BOFURI: I Don't Want to Get Hurt, so I'll Max Out My Defense. is currently streaming on FUNimation.
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