Reviewby Nick Creamer,
Recovery of an MMO Junkie
Episodes 1-10 Streaming
Moriko Morikawa has had enough. Quitting her job and tossing her goodbye bouquet in the trash, she returns to her apartment, now a NEET at thirty years old with nowhere to go. Turning on her computer, she's reminded of how much joy and security she once found in MMOs. And so Moriko installs a new MMO and creates Hayashi, a cute boy avatar to explore this sensational new world. Through Hayashi, Moriko will discover both new friends and new sides of herself, growing intimately close to her companions beyond the screen. But the distance between Moriko's virtual and real-life relationships is shorter than she might think, and when friendship turns to potential romance, Moriko will have to come to terms with her “real” self.
It's a common complaint that there just aren't that many anime about adults. The medium's most popular genres tend to be dominated by teenage protagonists, and the bulk of shows are purposefully aimed at a teen/young adult audience. Even when adults do appear in anime, they tend to be confronted with conflicts like convincing young heroes to get inside giant robots or using their light-bringing swords to beat back ancestral evils. The percentage of shows focused on adult characters dealing with relatable, everyday conflicts is vanishingly slim.
Recovery of an MMO Junkie stands as a strong counterexample to this trend, embracing the poignancy and universality of mundane adult conflicts while also reflecting the fact that “growing up” isn't such a concrete process. Its heroine Moriko Morikawa opens the series beset by mundane problems. She hates her job and has significant social anxiety, so she decides to quit. Thirty years old and unemployed, she ends up falling back into the MMOs she once loved, creating a male avatar named Hayashi and embracing a new fantasy world. Online, she meets the female avatar Lily, and the two grow close across their RPG adventures.
Outside of the refreshing age of its heroine, MMO Junkie's most immediate strength is the acuity of its perspective. Moriko's initial adventures online run through a number of classic gaming-related gags that play on the inherent silliness of MMO mechanics, but the show is also smart about consistently emphasizing the weird disconnect between Moriko's online and real-life selves. What does it mean to have a crush on someone you only know through their gaming avatar? How much of ourselves do we place in these characters, and when is it okay to tell others personal things about our real-life selves? What if our guild leader knows our real-life gender but our crush doesn't, and we don't want to lie to our crush but since this is such a weird situation, maybe we should just go to the convenience store to calm down, but we've already gone three times this week and what if they start to see us as a creepy regular? MMO Junkie's jokes are often breezy and fun, but they also offer consistently rewarding reflections on both online living and social anxiety.
These questions of comfort and identity are bolstered mightily by MMO Junkie's very likable cast. Moriko is a mixture of giddy gaming enthusiasm and crippling self-doubt, as enamored with her online life as she is ashamed of her actual living situation. Her joy at playing online is infectious, and her awkward reactions to the perils of social engagement are both funny and painfully relatable. Moriko is surrounded by a variety of lightly developed but likable companions, and her interactions with her cute guild-mate Lily are endearing and romantically satisfying from the start. Lily herself starts off as a perfectly likable character, but she only becomes more engaging once we learn that “Lily” is actually Yuta Sakurai, a late-twenties salaryman who just so happens to bump into Moriko on the street.
So begins MMO Junkie's central conflict, a romantic entanglement that's seriously complicated by the strange relationship between the couple's physical and online selves. As Sakurai becomes more infatuated with Moriko, his online partnership with Hayashi starts to become his emotional rock. As Moriko starts to get drawn back into the real-life dating scene, she turns to her confidant Lily for help, certain that the graceful Lily would know just what a girl should wear on a date. The emergent comedy of errors mines satisfying drama out of the two's slow journey toward mutual understanding, every physical step forward accompanied by more mishap-laden online conversations. Moriko and Sakurai are both adorable dorks, and watching them fumble toward romance is a joy from start to finish.
MMO Junkie's visuals are perfectly up to the task of executing on its relatively straightforward drama. The show's character designs are pleasant enough, and the background art is basically just par for the course. The show doesn't have a particularly distinctive visual identity, but given that it's a straightforward romantic comedy, that does little to undercut its dramatic appeal. More important are things like the show's wide array of silly expressions, which consistently elevate Moriko's emotional outbursts. On that note, Moriko's voice actress Mamiko Noto deserves special credit for her bizarre array of weird noises. Hearing Moriko respond to some awkward social faux paus with a sound like a bear snoring in a massage chair is one of the year's more unique pleasures.
Music and animation-wise, MMO Junkie is also just functional. There are some occasional nice animation flourishes, but it mostly falls to the strong expression work and sturdy writing to convey character. The show's soundtrack is mostly just a reserved collection of simple piano melodies, occasionally complementing the drama but never drawing attention to itself. The show's main appeal is comedy, character, and conceit. These are endearing characters doing their best to arrive at a romance it's easy to cheer on, and the show doesn't really need more than that.
I'd emphatically recommend MMO Junkie to anyone who's interested in comedy, romance, portrayals of social anxiety, or an exploration of the weird intersection of our physical and digital selves. Moriko's online energy and IRL awkwardness both feel bracingly true to the modern twenty-to-thirty-something experience, and her slow journey toward romance kept me hungry for each new episode. Though its topic is unique and its focus on adult characters refreshing, MMO Junkie ultimately succeeds through executing brilliantly on romantic comedy fundamentals. It's a straightforward wonderful time.
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : A-
Animation : B-
Art : B
Music : B-
+ Great character writing and smart reflections on social anxiety elevate a romantic comedy that already excels in romance and comedy
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