BOFURI: I Don't Want to Get Hurt, so I'll Max Out My Defense.
by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 1 of
BOFURI: I Don't Want to Get Hurt, so I'll Max Out My Defense. ?
How would you rate episode 2 of
BOFURI: I Don't Want to Get Hurt, so I'll Max Out My Defense. ?
The premiere of BOFURI was a rather pleasant surprise. The VRMMO genre of anime is one I tend to bounce off of, but this series was rendered perfectly accessible and entertaining thanks to its amusing premise powered by a charming heroine. Shows like this can live or die quickly on account of their overpowered heroes and how interesting they are. In BOFURI's case, it cleverly presents main character Kaede/Maple's powers as a direct (though unintentional) result of her most defining quirk: She's stupid as hell. I can hardly mean that as an insult, given how much endearing entertainment the show mines it for, while also fairly contextualizing the majority of Kaede's naivete as being in regards to her unfamiliarity with online games like the one this takes place in. And it creates an interesting alternate path to her online-world overpowering compared to the more consciously creative min/maxing other heroes in these kinds of settings enact.
Indeed, it's called attention to in that first episode how well Kaede's particular personality works at carrying what's basically a one-woman show for that first half-hour. It's the equivalent of watching a not-particularly-skilled new player in a game or RPG stumble around and succeed in spite of themselves, through a combination of amazingly lucky dice-rolls and a game system straight-up not built to reckon with the ridiculous way they're playing. Because of Kaede's goofy, airheaded personality, it makes her endeavors as Maple come off far less tedious than with a more traditionally cipher-esque protagonist. Granted at times, that means BOFURI comes off like it's trying a little too hard to sell the cloying moe appeal of Maple. This comes to a head in the battle royale event partway through the second episode. There is an effective dissonance to her fighting style wrecking all comers while she cheerfully shows she's still wholly unsure of exactly what she's doing, but it's still where the show's presentation of her personality feels a little too over-eager. BOFURI is better when it lets her interchanging stupidity and savant strategies speak for themselves.
The other potential issue with this anime could be found on the mechanical side. Like so many other VRMMO shows, the world of the creatively-named NewWorld Online seems far too eager to cater to Kaede's main-character status. It's played off in the form of the game's level system being based on acquiring skills and buffs in accordance with actions and occurrences that befall the player. In-show, this translates into Maple constantly tripping over new skills that she just so happens to need right at the most convenient moment. There is actually some precedent for a progression system like this in games, the earliest example I can think of being Final Fantasy II. But here it's still clearly designed at the behest of the story first, and may turn off some people who tune into VRMMO anime to see a more ‘realistic’ game system detailed and exploited.
The game setting of the series does however mitigate a lot of other issues I might take this early on were this show presented slightly differently. Basically, there's little hint of conflict or struggle to the plot so far; no real-world worries, and Kaede's already at the point in the virtual world where it seems like nothing can stand against her. However, with it acknowledged that the characters are simply playing a game for fun, not even trapped in it or somesuch situation, it makes the easygoing intent that much more clear. Thus far we have a much breezier fantasy experience than you might first expect, more like a pleasant iyashikei than a serious game-action series.
That tone persists in the second episode, even as that one has far more happening in it than the more leisurely, singular-focused action of the first. We get treated to that aforementioned battle royale event, and then Kaede's friend Risa finally joins her in-game to adventure together. Here BOFURI also demonstrates that it can handle plotlines decentralized from Kaede, as a situational setup conspires to have Risa defeat a big boss by herself to earn her own specialized gear the same way her gal-pal did in the first episode. It presents a much more conventional through-line than the preceding goofiness, and also shows that this series is able to eschew the influence of its forebears and let a secondary character get a win without being carried by the overpowered protagonist. That conventionality does present the possibility of an additional weakness, as the scenes of Risa studying seriously over her stats is far less entertaining and endearing than the flippancy which Kaede went about them with. Hopefully BOFURI realizes what works and doesn't spend too much time on overt game-mechanic elements.
Tying all this together are some surprisingly strong technical merits. It feels less pronounced in the first episode, as Maple sort of lists through the game world on her own, but in the second, especially after Risa joins up and they can play off each other, the character acting and expression work in this show absolutely comes alive. You'll notice things like split-second expressions from Maple at the beginning, a bit where Risa hops off a desk just as Kaede is idly kicking her legs around, or the establishment of the adorable manner in which Risa compensates for Kaede's low speed by literally carrying her. Similarly, the action animation for Risa's fight in the water against the giant fish at the end of episode two has some incredibly smooth effects and dynamic direction. There are a few places where some obvious CGI was used as a shortcut, but for the most part, so far, this is a remarkably strong production for what's ostensibly a silly little game-playing show, and goes a long way to making the anime as fun to watch as it is.
It's hard to say right now exactly where BOFURI will go, perhaps nowhere. But this is a series I can see getting away with that kind of progress-lite flippancy, since its premise and characters are so much fun to spend time with so far. If it can keep up all that charm, it'll be a solid one. For now, I've had a great time with it already just in these first two episodes.
BOFURI: I Don't Want to Get Hurt, so I'll Max Out My Defense. is currently streaming on FUNimation.
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