What’s it about? College student Akane started playing the freemium RPG Forest of Savior to bond with her boyfriend, but now he’s dumped her for someone else. Hoping to show him what he’s missing, she shows up to the game’s anniversary event and even asks her guildmate (and pro gamer) Yamada to be her fake boyfriend. Unfortunately, “tact” is not part of Yamada’s skill tree.
Shojosei fans rejoice, for we have been granted a romance story about grown adults with the power of Madhouse behind it. It might be long past its days as the studio of ambitious auteurs, but that doesn’t mean they’ve stopped putting out some all-time hits. There’s a few sour notes here that mostly come down to having to get the premise out of the way, but I think this might shape up to be a nice balm for all the people who were crushed when the director of Recovery of an MMO Junkie turned out to be violently anti-Semitic.
Downsides first: the writing around Yamada’s character makes me a little preemptively exhausted. He’s blunt to the point of kind of being a dick in average interactions, and I was getting more and more anxious that this would be a case of a het romance where the female lead has to do all the emotional labor and then we’re all supposed to be overjoyed when the male lead manages to fart out a whole sentence of affection. What saved the burgeoning dynamic for me is that when Akane shows overtly visible hurt, like crying or getting scraped up, Yamada is proactively concerned about her. It tips him a lot closer to “autistic-coded and can’t understand conversational cues” rather than “brusque dirtbag.”
I did make an audible groan when Yamada mentioned he “wasn’t interested in romance.” Fiction of all stripes needs more aromantic representation, but I doubt the show titled My Love Story with Yamada-kun at Lv999 is gonna be the one to provide it. More likely it’s meant to be shorthand for Yamada being emotionally immature and something he’s expected to grow out of, and that really sucks.
Akane herself doesn’t get the best showing in this first episode either, mind, mainly because she spends the entire time in crisis mode. I support her right to have a complete meltdown and make bad choices in the wake of a dumping, but I don’t know her well enough yet to be on board with the wild swings from crying depression to “I’m gonna get SO HOT that he’ll rue the day he ever left me!” I get it in abstract, but it’s a speedrun that kind of wore me down by the end. I was also a bit disappointed that Akane doesn’t seem to have much interest in games of her own accord. Lots of people get into hobbies because of their partners, but if they stick with it they tend to find their own niche of likes and dislikes. It’s fine if Akane isn’t there yet, but if the show decides that it’s better for her to be persistently clueless so Yamada can explain gaming terms to her for 12 episodes, I will scrape off my skin with my Switch controller.
(I won’t, I can’t afford to have it sent back for drift repair again.)
That said, there’s plenty of promise here too. The color palette is lovely, with a nice separate style for in-game scenes—in an appealing break from the hyper-detailed style that’s been popular lately, makes the characters look more like tabletop miniatures). Akane also has some nice face game going on, and while I wouldn’t call the episode “laugh out loud” funny there are some excellent and varied visual gags. Best of all, though, is the two-hit combo at the top of the staff bill: director Asaka Morio, best known for adapting Nana, Chihayafuru, and MY love STORY!!; and series composer Nakanishi Yasuhiro, responsible for adapting both Kaguya-sama and Toilet-Bound Hanako-kun. Between that resume and the premiere’s more charming points, I’m willing to give it three episodes to win me over.