Recovery of an MMO Junkie looked to be a romance anime that would really capture my interest last season, and I was not disappointed. It became not only a fairly entertaining romance but also a nearly equally deep look into online relationships and the reasons behind why people play MMOs. In fact, I’m actually planning a much longer article to look more in depth into this issue, but for the time being, I wanted to get my overall review out to you all first. As someone who frequently played these types of games all through high school, I found myself easily relating to the characters and the feelings they ascribed to their avatars and online friends. For anyone who finds or has found themselves logging into a game every night to meet with friends you have never met in real-life, I think this anime will be right up your alley.
Moriko Morioka is a 30-year-old successful career woman who decides to quit her taxing corporate job and become an elite NEET (not in employment, education, or training) and find a more fulfilling life. She joins an online MMORPG Fruits de Mer and creates a male character named Hayashi as her avatar. In game Hayashi meets another character Lily, a high level player who helps him learn the game. Hayashi and Lily become close friends and Hayashi joins her guild, @HomeParty. Meanwhile, in the real world, Moriko has a chance encounter with a good-looking elite company employee, Yuta Sakurai, who may have ties with her online life. Adapted from the webcomic by Rin Kokuyō, it was picked up for the anime adaptation by Signal MD and licensed for US simulcast by Crunchyroll for their Fall 2017 season.
The animation throughout the show is fairly standard, simple even, but the animators do a great job in using what resources they have to present compelling and meaningful animations. The opening is a great place to see this. Mother’s Basement has a great video going in-depth into the visuals and their meaning throughout the opening. In particular, he details a few scenes where the animation staff used simple methods to create interesting scenes. I have limited knowledge when it comes to the nuts and bolts of animation, but even I can see the care they gave this opening to really get the message across to viewers on what this show is about and who their characters are. It’s interesting to note as well the work that went into translating this series from a webcomic on Comico that was meant to be read in 3 minute intervals to a 30 minute episode series. In an interview with on of the producers, Satoshi Taira, he details the specific aspects of the comic that he focused on in order to bring it to life. In essence, he says he focused the most on voice acting and mannerisms in order to really bring out the true nature of the characters.
Before we get into the meat of the series, I also want to note something interesting about the marketing of the series that was brought up in that interview as well. Recovery of an MMO Junkie is probably one of the few if not only animes to post their episodes on video streaming platforms three days before it aired live on TV in Japan. It was also one the few series to decrease the long gap between when the anime finished airing and the DVD release, to make sure fans got their hands on it as soon as possible. This meant finishing production on the episodes months in advance. From a marketing and sales perspective it means that hopefully fan interest in this seasonal anime hadn’t waned too much by the time the physical DVDs came out, sparking more sales. Overall, Taira came up with an interesting strategy to capitalize on changing viewing practices and the wax/wane interest we see in fans of seasonal animes.
The story behind MMO Junkie has a lot to pick apart, but as I said above, I’ll be saving a lot of the more complicated ideas of online relationships and gender expression for a longer article in the near future. In the meantime, the condensed version is that this series presents and interesting picture of how and why people choose to make relationships online. It also shows how a person’s online persona can conflict or even expand on their real-life personality. Morioka chooses to play this game as a way to escape from thinking about her mindless, corporate job she just quit. It is also my theory that her choice to create a male avatar is a sort of wish-fulfillment on her part so that she can, in essence, become a more confident and social person. When we look at someone like Sakurai, we see that in his younger years, he also sought out games as a way to escape from his family situation, but now that he has a fairly stable life, this reasoning seems to not be as relevant anymore. His continual return to this game may stem from a more social aspect now as a way to connect to more people. Given his caring nature in real life, his creation of Lily seems to also support this in her healer qualities and her sweet and cute nature. This, in a way, enhances and feminizes his core personality traits, becoming less wish-fulfillment and more an extension of himself.
It was really interesting to see this dichotomy between their characters in real-life and their online avatars especially with the addition of different voice-actors for in-game. Going back to the interview I linked above, Taiga said that one of the aspects of the series he focused on the most was giving voice to the characters. If we take into account that the voice-actors for their avatars are essentially having to incorporate two characters into their acting, I think overall it turned out very well. The inclusion of mannerisms specific to their personalities was also a nice touch. Morioka, for example, likes to lint-roll her carpet when she gets anxious. Sakurai likes to sit in an in-game tree when he’s feeling depressed, an area that soon becomes a shared space for Morioka and him when they need to talk with each other about their relationship or personal troubles.
However, as much as I like this series, I do think it has its faults. For one, it tends to fall back on old shoujo romance tropes. There are moments where Morioka or Sakurai’s phone will die during the middle of an important conversation or one of them will fall asleep. These are both tactics that’s only purpose is to add time to an episode so that they can either end the episode on a convenient plot point or cliff-hanger or make sure they have enough content to fill the full 30 minutes. As I mentioned above, MMO Junkie was adapted from a webcomic that was meant to be a fairly quick read, so it’s no surprise that these plot tropes would be included in the series. I haven’t read the comic myself, so I’m not sure if or how they were used there, but in general I find these highly frustrating. I also found that while I understand the amount of episodes may not have allowed them to add this, I would have really liked to have seen a little more about the other members in the guild. There is so much potential behind looking at their relationships especially when you consider that Pokotaro and Himerelda are married in real life. I felt like that would have been a nice contrast to Morioka and Sakurai’s budding relationship.
I definitely have a lot more to say about this series from the way Morioka and Sakurai’s relationship develops to both of their growth in characters over the season. But, I do have a limit to how much I can write tonight. Check out my longer feature on this series where I take a deep dive into what makes online relationships tick and reasons behind Morioka and Sakurai’s choice of avatars. If you also had the chance to watch this series last season, let me know what you thought in the comments below! Be sure to also follow me here and on Facebook so you don’t miss any updates!