BOFURI: I Don't Want to Get Hurt, so I'll Max Out My Defense.
by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 3 of
BOFURI: I Don't Want to Get Hurt, so I'll Max Out My Defense. ?
It's kind of funny that one of the preeminent complaints about BOFURI initially was how unbalanced and unworkable some of the game mechanics felt, given how this one opens: The developers of NewWorld Online release some new patch notes, and it turns out poor Maple's been nerfed! It's an amusingly tacit admission of the mechanics behind the story's progression up to this point, and also cuts an interesting distinction between the oft-conflated VRMMO and isekai genres: In a VRMMO, the overpowered hero can always be in danger of having the mods come down on them. In-practice, it's unclear if this is an attempt by the author of the series to undercut the issues driving Kaede's superpowered performance, or rather intends to pave the way for her to be challenged a bit more in future story arcs. But either way, as an aside to opening the episode, it's a funny one.
Frontloading snippets like that is probably a smart storytelling strategy, as BOFURI settles into a decided comfort zone this week. After establishing Kaede's style and her relationship with Risa in the first couple episodes, this one seems mostly content to let the pair's working dynamic be demonstrated for a full episode for us. That translates to a uniquely recurring storytelling structure for this sort of genre: Loosely-connected vignettes. We get treated to like four or five little mini-adventures of the Maple/Sally party, less concerned with advancing anything resembling an overarching plot, and more with showing off neat things about the game world as well how cutesy-poo the two leads are. It's a case where BOFURI's unique strength, the appealingly-written personalities of its main characters, helps carry what would otherwise be some pretty banal content.
For what it's worth, BOFURI does make an effort to use a few of these sketches to demonstrate more than mere slice-of-life appeal. These are the first adventures we've really seen Maple and Sally tackle as a unit, so the writing uses this opportunity to contrast their adventuring styles. To start, Kaede's outside-the-box handling of a spooky seasonal quest sees her deigning to use healing spells on the afflicted central figure in the event, sending him off to ‘rest in peace’. Whether this is a result of using revive magic on what was actually a zombie or the intended way of clearing the quest isn't elaborated on, its intent is more to show Kaede's unconventional approach to things beyond her defense-minded stat-building.
On the other hand, Risa's status as the more natural video-game fighter comes up in a boss battle that Kaede ends up knocked out for part of. It's a somewhat odd placement, as the first half of the fight seems designed to demonstrate their partner dynamic in combat: Kaede drawing aggro from enemies and tanking their hits while Risa zips around to scout and strike them. But then, as in her fight with the big fish last episode, Risa proves to be plenty effective against this episode's Deer God on her own in the latter part of the battle. It does beg the question of how ‘overpowered’ Maple is actually meant to be at this stage in the story, but here we at least quantify their roles in the entertainment part of the show: Kaede drives cute, unconventional antics, while Risa busts out for more expected dynamic monster-fight scenes (the animation of which is still delivering this week).
There's also instances of game-world-building sprinkled throughout this episode, with indications that the design of NewWorld Online might have unique complexities apart from its unusual levelling/skill system. Key attention is called to leisure and atmosphere in the game world, including the detail that food there can be virtually ‘eaten’ and has taste (which goes a long way to explaining how Kaede exploited such mechanics in her fight with the hydra in the first episode) to showing off areas that seemingly exist only to be pretty scenery. There's even an area that Risa leads Kaede to for a romantic, candle-lit dinner for two with temporary aesthetic aftereffects. Building an appealing in-fiction game is a key attraction of the VRMMO genre, and BOFURI creates something unique, at least, while also trying to balance it out with vestiges of functional believability.
There's certainly plenty of ‘stuff’ in this episode, and it's still presented with that intangible charm BOFURI has over similar stories, in my opinion. But it also feels a bit stalled in terms of progression, with any whiffs of plot relegated to setup of events and characters for next week's battle event. The rest feels a bit light and vapid as the most average of these kinds of anime can test my patience with. Thus far Maple and Sally can carry the show with their duo dynamic, but only just. It mainly serves as an example of what stronger characterization than usual can let you get away with. With more vanilla VRMMO protagonists, I might have checked out entirely on this episode, but these two still totally work for me. That also gives me something more to look forward to, in wondering what other characters and party members can be mixed into this dynamic.
BOFURI: I Don't Want to Get Hurt, so I'll Max Out My Defense. is currently streaming on FUNimation.
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