30-year-old Moriko is single and recently became a NEET after quitting her corporate job. Tired of the real world, she decides to reinvent herself as a handsome male character on the internet.
Source: Anime News Network
I considered making this a one-sentence review: “Watch it and decide for yourself.” Which would, if you were wondering, be the exact opposite of the definition of “review.” It would be a non-review. But that’s my position right now. I am a non-reviewer of Recovery of an MMO Junkie.
Which isn’t to say I didn’t like it. I liked it a whole lot, in fact! It has all the makings of a Nice Comedy (one of my favorite anime genres), and was the first premiere of the season to immediately endear me to its characters, provoke regular giggles, and get me excited for the next episode. I also personally enjoy the way it plays with gender roles and the gap between online and real life presentation and identity. But I’m also aware that it’s rife with potential landmines concerning those same topics, and every viewer’s enjoyment level is going to vary.
So rather than a review, this is going to be more of a summary and analysis. What you do with it is 100% up to you.
There’s initially a lot to like about MMO Junkie. For starters, its protagonist is Morioka Moriko, a… THIRTY-year-old gamer WOMAN?! Call the Vatican, ’cause we just witnessed a damn miracle! She is (and I say this with nothing but love) an A+ trash character; an enjoyable mess who alternates between grumpy anxiety and overzealous affection.
The story begins when she decides to quit her soul-sucking company job and become a full-time NEET, beginning a new life online as a “hot guy character” named Hayashi in the MMO, Fruits de Mer. (I confess to being insanely jealous that she’s financially secure enough to manage this.)
While Moriko is no stranger to MMOs, she’s never played this one before, and struggles with the mechanics until Lily, a cute girl character, befriends “Hayashi” and teaches “him” the ropes. Moriko is immediately enchanted, frequently blushing and talking about how cute Lily is, and soon develops a full-blown crush on her. Moriko/Hayashi later joins Lily’s guild (“The @Home Party”) and becomes friends with the whole mixed-gender crew, improving her/his in-game skills and forming a supportive community along the way.
As you can tell, there’s a lot of “fun with gender/sexuality” stuff going on in this premise, and the series handles it with, if not much depth, then at least a sense of acceptance and playfulness. It’s all but confirmed that Lily is played by a cis man with an everyday office job, but he presents as feminine in the game-world and is happy to work as the advice-giving healer character while Moriko/Hayashi is on the front lines, hacking up enemies with her/his sword.
The rest of the Guild may also end up dancing along those twin spectra of identity and presentation. The ending theme suggests that the team is IRL two men and two women, while their in-game characters are mostly masculine-coded, including an androgynous elf who uses feminine-coded gestures and speech patterns but refers to himself as “big brother Himerelda” (I loved him too, by the way). There’s also a question of just how much Moriko fits with expected gender norms in her real life, as she laments at one point that she can’t “understand how a girl feels… even though I am a girl.”
In a similar vein, Hayashi and Lily are clearly smitten with each other, yet neither knows the other’s real-life gender identity (an element of uncertainty that one character explicitly mentions), nor do they seem to care. Moriko at least seems certain Lily is played by a woman, which the series takes in stride without any gay panic or “no homo”-ing thus far. Their budding relationship is sweetly and simply depicted as two people who respect and support one another. It features a lot of blushing and awkward declarations and is cute as hell.
But stories don’t exist in a vacuum, and that’s where my uncertainty sets in. Sure, our two main characters are happily playing gender identities and roles that don’t match their real-world identities—but their alter-egos still slot into the “boy fighter, girl healer” archetypes, so is this challenging norms or reasserting them? Neither Moriko nor Lily’s player seem bothered by the fact that they’re crushing on someone they think is the same gender—but that isn’t actually the case, so is it sweet that gender doesn’t matter in this romance, or is it irritating that the series is ultimately reinforcing heteronormativity?
Future episodes will give me a better idea of how the story plans to tackle all of this… or if it doesn’t plan to tackle any of it at all. While I don’t think there’s anything mean-spirited in this premiere, it’s also not my place to tell individual viewers what should or shouldn’t bother them. Everyone has their own litmus tests and tolerance levels for stories (especially comedies) that include these imperfect elements, and it’s up to you whether MMO Junkie‘s online gender-swapped(ish) romance comes across as endearing or frustrating.
The good news, I suppose, is that if the premise’s relatively shallow handling of gender and sexuality isn’t a deal-breaker for you, then everything else is pretty great. The character and monster designs are bright and cute; the romance is respectful and sweet; the cast is full of basically nice people who have an easy camaraderie; there’s zero fanservice or revealing character outfits; the story outright acknowledges in-game sexism, noting that cute girl characters have to “deal with creeps”; and the comedic beats are quite strong, whether it’s an MMO-related gag (the puffer fish killed me), a gripe about real-world annoyances, or Moriko generally being a huge dork.
MMO Junkie isn’t going to work for everyone, but it sure did work for me. Consider me charmed. As for you, dear reader, er… I guess you’ll have to watch it and decide for yourself.