By Dustin Cabeal
Recovery of an MMO Junkie is unusual in that it’s a budding love story between two adults. Now, that might sound like old hat if you’re not an anime viewer, but you’d have to dig and dig to find another anime like Recovery. Sure, there are plenty of romance stories in anime and manga form, but they tend to have a specific look and pacing to them. Recovery looks a lot like a typical slice of life show, mostly because it's also a slice of life story… about playing MMOs.
The begins and primarily follows Moriko Morioka. She comes home after a long day, carrying a bouquet of flowers. She tosses them in the trash and falls into bed where she remains until the sound of her alarm the next day. Habit takes hold, and she panics for a moment before realizing she doesn’t have to go anywhere because she’s quit her job to become an elite NEET. Eventually, she fires up the computer and tries to play the last MMO she played, only to find it’s shut down. A quick search leads her to a new MMO that’s making waves and she’s off to play… as a dude.
After a lot of in-game deaths, she runs into a player in the game named Lily. Lily begins helping her, and she finally gets past the boss. Moriko, playing as a guy, starts spending a lot of time with Lily. She eventually joins the same guild and bonds with the person playing Lily. They have matching bracelets that they both wear, even though they’re low powered. They eventually become partners in the game, which is a decently big deal for them. They also get the same wardrobe style so that they’re recognizable as partners.
Everything in the game is excellent for Moriko. One night though she and Lily stay up late and Moriko gets sick in real life. On her way to the doctor, the next morning she runs into a man on his cellphone and you have to kind of go, “Hmm….” It doesn’t take long to figure out that this man is playing as Lily, but the show will take the long and frustrating route to get the characters to figure it out. What adds to the drama and the difficulty is that Moriko and the man, Yuta, actually have a longer history with each other, than either of them realize. Moriko quit the company that Yuta works for, and he works with one of her former colleagues.
Their love story of sorts is unusual in that it’s not all that romantic. No one is swept off their feet with cheesy lines. Neither are ridiculously beautiful, but both are anime attractive. Their relationship is probably the most believable anime relationship I’ve ever seen because they get to know each other as people and that’s what sparks their interest in each other.
There are still some problems with the pacing of the series itself. There’s a lot of time spent introducing the other guild members, and two of them appear in the real world, but then they’re quickly abandoned halfway through the season. Kazuomi makes a few brief appearances to drive the story forward, but it has no relevance to the overall story. His push isn’t even needed as the co-worker both Moriko, and Yuta know pushes them towards each other constantly. Watching weekly, it’s easy to miss this, but looking at the season overall there is a sharp turn away from the online people when the story moves more to the real world.
Which is probably the only other downside to the story. When it moves to the real world, it loses some of the charms it had. The online world was handled very well, with actual video game jokes transpiring. The characters also had different voice actors, so it gave an honest sense of an online persona, which is a big theme to the story. Everyone says, “It’s okay to play as someone else online,” but then it creates difficulties for Moriko over and over again. The real-world interactions are significant, but losing the online communications only makes you crave them more, and sadly they never go back into it again other than some quick story moments.
The only other issue I have with the story might be a non-issue. Part of me feels as if the story was trying to make commentary about how society perceives women and the expectation of beauty that’s placed upon them, but then the other part of me thinks it was doing precisely that. It could have been using that perception to show that Yuta cares more about Moriko’s personality than appearance, but it never goes all in on this concept. The results are several episodes of Moriko freaking out about her appearance and feel as if she’s embarrassed Yuta, while also being perceived as not being good enough to be around him. It dwells on this emotion and never addresses it satisfactorily. No one says to her, “Hey, fuck all that shit you’re perfect for me, and there’s no reason to have that self-doubt.” Instead, it becomes her default personality trait leaving me to wonder if it was a message to viewers saying that being like NEET Moriko was bad or what. That’s the problem; it’s just not very clear with the message it’s trying to get across leaving it at times feeling sexist.
The animation was clearly done with a smaller budget. The art is quite good, but the coloring is a lot of solid colors and not a lot of lighting effects. That and the show being only ten episodes, plus a special is kinda revealing. Though I would say that the ten-episode structure was perfect for the show. Otherwise, the artwork is solid and consistent. There were never any dips in the quality, and the online parts were handled with as much care as the real-world aspects of the story. The characters were memorable in their designs and didn’t particularly remind me of anything else, which is rare and lovely to encounter.
While Recovery of an MMO Junkie isn’t perfect, it is one of the most original anime I have seen in the past two years. It was even in strong contention for a spot on my Best Anime of 2017 list. If the list had been longer, Recovery definitely would have been on it. There is a good amount of humor, video game references and the drama that can only come with personal relationships. It’s not sappy, but just about everyone should be able to relate to it.
Recovery of an MMO Junkie
Creator: Rin Kokuyō
Director: Kazuyoshi Yaginuma
Writer: Kazuyuki Fudeyasu