BOFURI: I Don't Want to Get Hurt, so I'll Max Out My Defense.
by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 4 of
BOFURI: I Don't Want to Get Hurt, so I'll Max Out My Defense. ?
There's an argument I've heard before which posits that if you're not entertained by an MMORPG anime, it simply must be because you don't have enough interest and appreciation for MMOs to enjoy what these shows do with the setup. I've personally always dismissed that; There are anime on dozens of subjects I had no interest in that nonetheless became favorites of mine. It's up to the show itself to sell the appeal of its setting and story, and if something like Haikyu can make me thrill to watching high school volleyball matches, a well-made anime should be capable of selling me on the raw appeal of virtual reality and video games. Apart from several other VRMMO shows that have failed to pique my interest, BOFURI has emerged as such an anime to get me to care about its virtual world.
Apart from last episode's game-world-building vignettes, this one presents the first part of a more solid narrative of a plot. There are still some mechanical details slipped in, such as the notation that, at least for the duration of the event Maple and Sally are partaking in, they'll be spending two weeks in-game with only a couple of hours passing out in the real world. This concept of a Hyperbolic Game Chamber seems to mostly exist to allow the kind of story BOFURI is telling to work, and pay attention to that kind of prioritizing, since it is going to come up a few more times before this episode is through. Aside from that, we're here to see how our leading ladies handle a more long-term game quest that works as part of an honest-to-god story arc.
As with last episode, the pacing of that story still feels downright sketch-based at times. There are multiple mini-events paced around the major setpiece of this episode, seeing Maple and Sally take on a giant jester-monster (who goes down surprisingly easily for a guy who's in the opening) or negotiating when they run into Kuromu, the fellow Shielder class who advised Maple early on. Main character that she is, these bits largely serve to reinforce how Maple's...Maple-ness contributes to how she proceeds through this event: She stumbles upon the first dungeon and enemy by clumsily falling down a hole, and allows Kuromu's party first dibs on another entry to potential treasure. The latter situation there showcases the optimism and general niceties that BOFURI views its MMO setting through. There are people willing to help each other out, even as newbies, and that kindness is rewarded later on even in a nominally adversarial situation (running counter to this, Full Gamer Sally is all too ready for some PvP action throughout this episode). It serves to further endear us to Maple and the unconventional way she's proceeded through this game that has made the show such a unique entry.
This leads us to the major setpiece of this episode, wherein BOFURI gets busy. It's a huge chunk of the runtime devoted to Maple and Sally taking on a giant ice-bird boss, and it becomes apparent that after several teases at the idea, this is where the show finally wanted to properly showcase our dynamic duo fighting as a unit. It's been lead into for a couple episodes now, setting up abilities like Maple's Cover Move and earlier in this demonstrating how she can use it to compensate for her low speed and keep up with Sally. And that establishing pays off because they don't have to over-explain game mechanics when things really kick up in this fight against Articuno here: Check out that instant cover-jump Maple makes as Sally's about to run into some ice-spikes, or an earlier bit where Maple tosses her shield to Sally to block hits with her body. That's on account of the shield nerf she suffered last episode. It was around this point that I realized how BOFURI had successfully sucked me into its MMO mechanics to let me be entertained with how they were used in this battle. And it's not just video-game moves in general, the show seems dedicated to demonstrating how a defense-minded playstyle can still be entertaining and ‘cool’ to watch, something it's extremely successful at, in my opinion.
There are admittedly some issues, owing to the mechanical nature of BOFURI's storytelling choices. The climax of this big blizzard bird battle only has its path cleared because Maple once again lucks into a special skill she just happens to need in that moment. It's par for the course for BOFURI at this point, and the moment is still suitably climactic before its expected explanation. But it is a point that will likely win the show no favors with the detractors who already take issue with how its game mechanics exist in service of the story, rather than vice-versa. There's also more noticable CGI used as movement shortcuts for the characters throughout the duration of this fight, which is a bit distracting but not a deal-breaker given the strong direction that keeps carrying it.
Even with the caveat of that mechanical climax, I enjoy it for how it demonstrates what works about BOFURI. Maple's abilities, progression, and successes come not from her consciously min/maxing for the best result, but as happy accidents from her playing the way that is most fun for her. It's reflected in the powers she gets in battle and how people like Kuromu regard her at this point. It's distinct from other game-based anime I've seen in how it validates enjoyment above all else, which also handily dispels the issue of the story feeling like just watching people play the game for its own sake. They are, of course, but they're clearly having fun in doing so, so we do as well.
That's embodied in the last portion of this episode, a perhaps over-lengthy come-down section of Maple and Sally faffing about with their new Pokemon. It's just more cute-as-frig antics, but the series excels at this kind of fluff so much that it's hard for a viewer like me to mind. Four episodes in we're rightly endeared to this power couple that's carrying the show regardless of what kind of plot it's stretching out, and giving them cute pets to cuddle with just pushes that appeal even further. That's combined with the action element that works so well as a centerpiece. I had concerns about BOFURI's cavalier plotting last episode, but here it doubled down on that lackadaisical Let's-Play pacing to prove that it could absolutely keep being fun to watch in that way.
BOFURI: I Don't Want to Get Hurt, so I'll Max Out My Defense. is currently streaming on FUNimation.
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