To be honest, I couldn’t have told you why I was excited about Recovery of an MMO Junkie at the beginning of this season. In a season full of long-awaited adaptations and much-hyped sequels, this scrappy manga adaptation didn’t really stand out to me. I’d watched plenty of shows about MMOs, and plenty of shows about NEETs, so what could this one bring to the table? Well, three weeks into the new season, MMO Junkie has ably demonstrated its strengths, and leapt to the top of my must-view schedule. So today let’s run down a few of this strange show’s strengths, and the things that keep me coming back every week.
#1: A Great Protagonist
MMO Junkie’s heroine Moriko Morioka is a thirty-year-old societal dropout, something that already makes her somewhat unique in a sea of high school-age heroes. Moriko is relatable and funny, and her slovenly self is consistently brought to life through MMO Junkie’s wonderful expressions. Moriko is a nerd, but not an over-the-top cliche – her problems feel very human, and her reactions to everything that happens online are so charming and believable that it often feels like the show is just dunking on me directly. If you’ve ever been so overcome with emotion you just had to spam that cry emote, you’ll probably relate to Moriko’s endless struggles.
#2: An Endearing Romance
Moriko’s slowly unfolding relationship with fellow guildmate Lily is one of MMO Junkie’s greatest charms. The two find an immediate rapport based in their genuine wonder at the world they’re exploring, and Lily’s combination of upbeat attitude and sulky anxieties matches well with Moriko’s sometimes brittle temperament. Scenes of Moriko not knowing how to interact with a girl online eventually give way to more unique and sensitive material, like when the two of them discuss their comfort levels regarding telling each other about their real life selves. Moriko and Lily have a relationship based on compromise and mutual support, and it’s inherently rewarding to see the two of them grow closer.
#3: A Piercing View of MMO Life
Many anime frame video games as total escapes, as if gamers are transported into another world entirely. This can result in a rewarding fantasy, but it also misses out on a lot of the true weirdness of games and how online gaming is always a negotiation between multiples selves. MMO Junkie understands that weirdness from its title on down, with Moriko constantly stressing over the disconnect between her real and digital self, and the show’s camera often cutting back from the game to Moriko’s dimly lit reactions. The show’s approach brings us even closer to Moriko’s perspective, and knowing details like turning a long gaming session into an all-nighter make it clear that MMO Junkie’s creators have been there before. MMO Junkie isn’t about life "in" a video game, it’s about how life and video games actually collide.
#4: A Sensitive Approach to Social Anxiety
Based just on the first two episodes, it’s clear that Moriko didn’t abandon her professional life just because she was bored – Moriko suffers from serious social anxiety, and as someone with similar problems, MMO Junkie’s approach to anxiety feels honest, funny, and very sympathetic. When Moriko flubs an interaction with a cashier, she makes a note to avoid that convenience store in the future. When Moriko is asked out to dinner, she freaks out over the prospect of uninvited social interaction, and ultimately turns the invitation down just to avoid feeling awkward. The strange, often contradictory landmines of social anxiety define a great deal of Moriko’s world, and watching her navigate them is an endearing and often validating experience.
#5: It’s Just Really Funny
I suppose this should go without saying, but as a straight-up comedy, MMO Junkie is an unabashed success. The show’s characters play off each other well, there are lots of dorky riffs on MMO nonsense, and the consistently funny expression work does a great deal to elevate all the gags. MMO Junkie brings a great voice for character and a strong ear for timing to its romance, its MMO setups, and all its other conflicts, keeping things light in spite of its sometimes dramatically heavy material. Anime comedies aren’t often my scene, but MMO Junkie marries the energy of a snappy sitcom to the heart of a dedicated character drama, making for a charming and laugh-out-loud funny ride.
For all those reasons and more, MMO Junkie is one of my favorite new shows this season. But of course, the show certainly has more to it than that. Let me know in the comments what you all love about MMO Junkie, and what other shows are catching your eye this fall!