When I was younger, anime was a closet-tight passion. At school, I would keep my lips sealed and at work, my head down. Most people saw me as quiet or shy. If I shared conversations with friends, it was about music or the latest Gossip Girl, never about anime. Even as I joined book clubs, I would hardly ever talk about manga. At the time, claiming to be invested in such a niche avenue of nerd culture was associated with being strange—I couldn’t even watch anime episodes in front of others out of a panic of attracting attention.
It was only when I reached college that I realized... while part of this was due to my own insecurities, much of it came from how we regulate our external appearance of “maturity” by keeping a tight hold on the ways display ourselves to society. After all, as we get older, it’s harder to spend time on our hobbies. Homework or jobs dictate the schedule in our day; we live our lives according to the tick of a clock or the checking off items on our laundry list of errands. Fun isn’t found in the routine. It’s found outside, in the small amounts of time we allow to ourselves. The kinds of strange joy we find in the niche, whatever it may be, must be kept to ourselves, or on the internet, where we find others through those niche interests in the first place.
Recovery of an MMO Junkie disagrees with this way of living. The show could be classified as a cute romance between two adults, but I personally find its infectious joy to be so much more than just that. Rather than using conventional romance tropes, much of MMO Junkie revolves around the idea of an “adult nerd” life, which doesn’t just mean overcoming barriers like corporate disillusionment, social anxiety, or finding intimate relationships with outsiders. In MMO Junkie, living as an adult nerd means being able to freely accept and share the hobbies you have with respect and sincerity.
We see this played out through a variety of interactions in the show. The main character, Moriko Morioka, is a 30+ year old woman who battles anxiety and restlessness with a lackluster life by immersing herself in a video game. Through the game, she’s able to channel a more positive image of herself: a character capable of overcoming battles through help and easily making friendships with other characters online. This kind of perspective is common – a glorified image of the NEET life, one that dissociates the hardships of reality with positive escapism. For Moriko, though, the NEET life is all about being discreet. She can’t share her hobby outside of her room – and why would she when it’s a hobby looked down upon by so many others?
But as we gradually discover more and more of Moriko’s internet life, we see that her friends openly defy the idea of associating a private hobby with shame. While they respect privacy and choosing to keep one’s personal life dissociated from the internet one, they still invite friendship and venting out personal problems from that life if need be. For the show, this is a sign of maturity – acceptance without intrusion. Kanbe, the guild leader, is a perfect example of this. He eventually comes to learn about Moriko’s real-life identity (and knows about Sakurai being Lily in-game) but respects the identities of both individuals while sharing his passion for gaming with them. In real life, he’s a part-time worker at a convenience store, but even after coming to know Moriko in real life and in the game, he freely keeps up conversations about Fruits der Mer with her. This kind of generous mentality can be extended to nearly all of Moriko’s guild – at heart, they are a family of nerds that all love indulging in the game, whoever they are.
This is taken to the next level with Sakurai and his coworker, Koiwai, as they begin to interact more with Moriko in real life. After having a meeting with Moriko, Koiwai becomes openly interested in MMO games. It’s not portrayed as a childish hobby or something to be ashamed about. Koiwai eagerly joins out of a curiosity to know more about Moriko and her passion. He doesn’t want to understand her within the confines of traditional dating or her past professional life; he wants to understand what makes gaming joyous not only to her, but Sakurai as well.
Of course, the real magic of Recovery of an MMO Junkie lies with Sakurai and Moriko’s relationship, and the mystery and unraveling of it as they slowly find out each other’s true identity in the real world – and online. That final part is key. Even when they discover each other’s real-life identities, the magic doesn’t stop because they are able to inspire and connect with each other through their shared passion for video games. This doesn’t make them immature or unrealistic; on the contrary, Sakurai and Moriko’s relationship feels genuine because it’s grounded on similar interests. Their conversations continue around how much they like their MMO, but it’s not just that either. They go to bars, they meet in convenience stores while grocery shopping, and in Sakurai’s case, still go to work on a regular basis. These events do not define their relationship; rather, they serve as a background in which they can foster and continue their discussions about their hobby.
And here, it’s clear. For Recovery of an MMO Junkie, being an adult doesn’t mean you have to be ashamed of your inner nerd life, or even completely separate it from your daily one. They can coexist peacefully – even joyously, if you choose to be open-minded, respectful, and surround yourself with equally accepting and positive adults.
These days, I recommend anime when I can to friends and coworkers. I excitedly talk about what I find so inspiring about Kunihiko Ikuhara or Shigeyasu Yamauchi. If I invite people into my home, I don’t hastily shove manga volumes or anime figures under my bed. It’s still not easy freely admitting a hobby that can have negative connotations. There’s always the fear that I will be looked down on or rejected for my passions. I sometimes feel awkward watching anime on a plane, or listening to opening and ending themes in the car. I’ve found, however, that there’s an inherent joy in being able to express myself freely and adequately, through gesture and small talk. Maybe we can’t always find the perfect audience for our niche obsessions, but we can at least make the topic accessible and pave a way for future discussions.