This Week in Anime
What Makes the MMO Anime BOFURI Stand Out?

by Andy Pfeiffer & Steve Jones,

MMO, fantasy, and isekai anime series usually focus on high adventure, thwarting nefarious plots, and defeating big bads for the safety of the land's denizens. Then there's BOFURI's Maple, whose primary goal is doing whatever she thinks is fun! Stripped of the typical expectations of its genre, is the haphazard exploring of one MMO newb entertaining?

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network.
Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.

You can read our Daily Streaming reviews of BOFURI here.

@Lossthief @Liuwdere @A_Tasty_Sub @vestenet

Andy, normally I don't find myself relating to the protagonists of these "let's play yet another VRMMO!" anime du jour, but in this case, at this specific point in time in the history of our species, I feel a strong affinity towards this tiny dumb girl who just wants to be safe.
Maple is the best hero we could ask for in these social distancing times. Turn that agility down and embrace the safe turtle life.
BOFURI has indeed become a balm amidst these tumultuous current events, and not only because its phonetic similarity to "bofa" will never not be hilarious to me.
It really helps all the other jokes land when the title alone unintentionally sets up low brow humor. I'm also shocked to hear myself say that I really liked this one all the way through, a first in the entire history of video game anime. Turns out that instead of isekai, just have someone that wants to play a game. With other people. And no stakes because it's just a dumb game not an extension of your mortal form.
Oh, and have the overpowered protagonist be the biggest dipshit ever.
I'm on the exact same page there. I think the last MMO-centric anime I got really into was Diary of an MMO Junkie, and that was more for the character drama that framed the video game stuff. BOFURI, on the other hand, takes place almost exclusively inside the game, but it works because it never takes itself seriously, and in fact delights at breaking itself for the sake of comedy. Also, I have it say, it was so quaint to go back through my screencaps from the beginning episodes and reflect on the simpler times, before Maple stumbled into becoming an elder god.
We'll get into the amazing escalation eventually, but we gotta start at the basics, and that's never let your newbie friends start a game unsupervised. Where most sane human beings realize a stat spread is pretty important, Maple lives by one abiding principle:
Ah, but that's BOFURI's secret formula. So many of these shows have gamer protagonists, but BOFURI possesses enough wisdom to realize that the strongest gamer of all is the anti-gamer.
It's the perfect reasoning for everything! Maple thinks she's playing the game normally because she has no frame of reference for her actions. Meanwhile the other players and devs become a global straight man to her increasing legend.
To properly put Maple's character arc into context, for those of you who might not have started the show yet, it's like a noob Dark Souls 1 player somehow managed to find and equip Havel's set from the get-go, and then proceeded to tank everything in the game like that. Is it dumb? Yes. Does it work? Oh, deliciously yes.
Tho that analogy doesn't quite do things justice, because Maple also has the almighty power of vore at her immediate disposal.

Hey now, she doesn't go straight to vore! This is a VRMMO which means you can't grind afk, so in order to become impervious enough to attempt vore tactics you first must complete the most rigorous training imaginable. Naps.

Only after the most fierce sleep beatdown can you become a Vore Beast of unimaginable power.
Maple is pretty much the Mr. Magoo of the post-SAO era. No amount of innate incompetence can stop her from stumbling into some new skill or piece of equipment that turns her into the ultimate Unstoppable Force. The game molds to her, not the other way around.
You can't even be mad about it either though! Sure, she gets insanely broken gear early, but hey that was meant to be a late game reward for whoever manages to solo the poison beast. Her bumbling her way into becoming the game's first Blue Mage on top of it is a combo of incredible stupidity and ingenuity. Which is really what makes the show work. Everyone and everything around her is based on video game logic, but doesn't actually operate entirely on it. Watching Maple's Big Adventure is a lot of fun because you're seeing someone approach game mechanics, guess at what she's supposed to do, and pulling incredibly headass answers out that work because hey, no one thought anyone would try it so there's nothing stopping it.
It's a fantastic example of the whole "5th dimensional chess" problem where abject cluelessness can be functionally indiscernible from genius. And it's all propped up by the fact that Maple is a lovable bundle of sunshine even when she's wearing the edgiest color scheme known to humankind.

Behold, the Terror of New World Online
Too big brained for any of us to ever comprehend. Maple enjoying her first video game is just a delight to watch, and it helps a lot that she doesn't even realize how edgy her outfit is. If she did she'd be no different than the countless too-online people who would totally abuse her powers and ruin the fun for others. Meanwhile Maple is out here drawing a bird during a PVP event, voring anyone attacking her, and then celebrating her bronze Medal.
I'm actually just realizing that another reason why I like this show so much is it embraces video game space as a space primarily for play. There aren't any of the world-ending stakes (in-game or IRL) that drive plenty of other shows in this genre, nor any of the toxic competitiveness and insularity of actual video game discourse. BOFURI is a throwback to the idea that there's no wrong way to play something as long as you're having fun. That's not a new idea, but it sure feels like one sometimes.
No one can replicate Maple because she's a combo of dumb and luck, but that doesn't even mean you should try. All the other characters have their ways to play and have fun too, whether that's being fast, strong, or even things like being a crafter or solving puzzles. The thing that Maple really does is provide a central person for them to hang around and have a good time. As for the moment I was hooked on Maple? It was when she became a Pokémon Trainer and picked the best starter, and then proved that she was the best at names.

I remain flabbergasted that not only did Maple manage to become the mom of the world's cutest turtle, but she also taught it to become giant, fly, and use Hyper Beam while still looking just as cute.

The most galaxy of brains.
The best part is the Devs knew she was going to win an award in this event, specifically looked at her and made sure there wasn't a way for her to become more broken no matter what she picked with her win, and then still did it because they forgot about her pet turtle. They were so occupied on what would make the player character stronger that they never considered she might create the first Flying Mount. And lo' the devastation that followed:

The actual gamer reactions in this show to her stupid logic are wonderful and could fill the entire column. Each time they tell themselves that no matter what she pulls out next they won't be surprised, but then it's even worse than they could imagine.
I like, tho, that the gamer friends she makes also naturally end up being people who play the game in similarly atypical ways. Nowhere near on the level of Maple, of course, but Sally for instance is my kind of player, making a full-on DEX build. Who needs hit points if you never get hit?
They make a good combo!
And let's not forget the Hammer Sisters, who raise their attack (and only their attack) enough to power stance dual-wield giant crystal bludgeons.
I like that even the veteran player ends up with a thing that Maple could never get, because he stumbles upon a dungeon that you can only find if you've die enough.

But he never would've found that had he not left his comfort zone by associating with Maple and company. It really is fun to see the show take a lot of older video game situations and find ways to poke and prod at fun ways that they could be handled. A lot of video game shows feel blandly generic, but this one has clear references. From its Final Fantasy box art

to guild battles being ported straight from Ragnarok Online, a sentence I never thought I'd say in 2020

it's clear that the things that happen aren't because the creators are unaware of how video games are supposed to work. It's that they know exactly how they do, and which buttons to push to turn them from archaic to absurd.
Oh yeah, this is obviously written by someone who knows their MMOs. It even broaches the more mundane aspects, like the difficulty of finding a nice place to settle down in with your newlywed gamer wife.

At least from what I hear that's a common MMO experience.
I'm so glad they found the perfect one!

But that this takes place while everyone in the world is like "I wonder what crazy training Maple is doing right now to become the server's #1" is the icing on the cake. Maple simply plays the game at her own pace!
I love that the long arc of this season goes from the devs being "Maple who?" to "guys we gotta nerf Maple. oh my god why is nothing working? oh my god why is she getting STRONGER???" to "Maple is the main reason people play our game now, so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ let's ride."
It's a beautiful arc, but it's not too hard to see how this could be your flagship mascot.
I am become like unto Fluff Incarnate.

And that isn't even her final form!

I absolutely love that from that point on all rules go out the window, and Maple becomes HELLZILLA
Yeah, by the end she can transform into literal hellbeast clones that look like giant xenomorphs, yet she and the show remain doggedly light-hearted! She goes from savagely devouring the most powerful player in the game to calmly sipping tea with the girls. As one does.
I really like to think that Iz had to craft her that giant cup, and that fills me with joy.
She deserves it!
But hey, I'm sure that the ability to become a giant hell beast is the last power up Maple ever needs! It's not like there's much else she could possibly- oh wait
BOFURI was not the place I was expecting to see genuine 2D mecha animation this season, but I'm certainly not complaining.
They did a really good job with it! Also it just goes to show that some people take travelling to a new town differently. While her friends go around looking for new shops and quests, Maple rides her Giant Flying Turtle to the endgame and becomes the Machine God of Destruction by accident. Whoopsie!
It's just like Breath of the Wild. Sure, you can go follow the questline and explore the whole world, or you can storm Hyrule Castle right away, become an unstoppable robot girl, and beat the final boss in less than a half hour. The choice is yours.

I gotta say thought that I really appreciate that the show tries to build up a big conflict over who the #1 player is, and it does this by never really showing the other contender. Other players talk of his strength and how he's so high level and doesn't need anyone's help, so you get this impression that he's going to be the opposite of Maple. But then he shows up and is just... a dude. Playing the game same as her, and all the build up you've witnessed is probably how everyone else thinks about Maple as well.
Even after she turns into a literal endboss, destroys him, and becomes an Apocalypse, he's got no hard feelings and is like, good for her for playing her way.

Becoming a Giant God Warrior from Nausicaä, fair and square.
From her perspective, she genuinely is! And that's what the show is all about. Having fun online and having no hard feelings towards your fellow gaming brethren. What a concept!
Maple, and by extension BOFURI itself, is really something special. It's not trying to be the best at anything other than a solid good time, and that's commendable. It really goes to show that sometimes all you need in a character arc is someone that can happily go from mounting their friends to being the mount for their friends.
I was waxing sentimental up there, because I do have a lot of warm feelings towards this wonderfully dumb little show, but it's also true that BOFURI comes with practical life advice: when in doubt, vore, and when being vored, vore harder.
Actually, maybe this is the most salient message of all.

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