Recovery of an MMO Junkie was my must watch show of the fall season. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first heard about it, because there have been a lot of anime in recent years about people getting stuck in virtual RPG worlds, but this is different. There is no getting trapped. This is simply a romantic comedy featuring a delightful cast of adult gamer nerds, and we need more series like this.
Thirty-year-old Moriko Morioka has been worn down by the grind of her office job, which was incredibly hard on her since she is naturally a people pleaser with low self esteem. So she quits and decides to live off her savings while she gets back into gaming.
She finds a new MMORPG, since the old one she used to play has shut down, and makes a male avatar called Hayashi simply because she wants to play a cute guy. As someone who plays male characters just about as frequently as female ones, I love that MMO Junkie acknowledges that women will play male characters too. Before long, Moriko meets another player who plays a female support character called Lily.
Hayashi and Lily hit it off and rapidly become best buddies in game, all without knowing who the other person is in real life, which isn’t at all uncommon with online gaming and internet friendships. While Moriko suffers from crippling anxiety at meeting people in meatspace, she is open and enthusiastic when she has Hayashi to act as a barrier to other people.
And course, the romantic comedy twist is that the girlish Lily is actually played by a man, Yuta, who has his own hang-ups and insecurities (though he’s still much better put together than Moriko). Arguably the biggest joy of watching MMO Junkie is seeing these two introverted dorks finally come together.
Moriko is a wonderful protagonist. Aside from being in her thirties, she’s relatable in how she is not put together and suffers from a great deal of social anxiety. She doesn’t mind running to the store in sweats to pick up food and prepaid game cards, but if anyone should pay attention beyond ringing up her total at the cash register, it’s completely mortifying. Moriko doesn’t see herself as someone worthwhile, so she has trouble believing anyone else would either.
Though Moriko’s reactions are done for comedy, those who suffer from social anxiety will completely understand how this is how we feel, even while we laugh along. Even an innocuous bit of curiosity from a store clerk can be taken completely the wrong way by the socially anxious. But at the same time, every time she manages to overcome a social hurdle, no matter how small, she’s easy to cheer for, because we know how hard she’s worked to get that far.
Recovery of an MMO Junkie is clearly aware of how games work. Not so much in the mechanics department, but how the players in those games work. There are lots of touches that show the creative staff know games and the behavior of the people who play those games. For instance, in one scene a character spends the entire conversation idly crafting while in game. (Because what else are you going to do when your character is busy making fifty scrolls? You talk to people or go afk.) And there are similar small player to player interactions that will ring true to people who have played MMOs; the guildmaster being the repository of everybody’s secrets and personal hang-ups, players saying something confidently thing in game while uneasily hoping it sounded good in real life, spouses logging on each other’s characters, etc.
They are often small touches, to be seen once and then never repeated, but the fact the creative staff is aware of so many things without reducing them to repeated gags really makes the game world feel like there are real people behind the computer screen, even though we only see the faces of a few of them. There are conversations about work and university, characters aren’t always online at the same time, and it makes it feel like people have a life outside of the game.
Though every episode takes place at least partially in the game world, at least half is spent in the real one, since MMO Junkie is really about the people on the other side of the monitor rather than an epic adventure, especially since Moriko is trying very hard to avoid people discovering her true situation.
Quitting her job was probably the best thing for her mental health, but she’s well aware that it’s not socially acceptable to be an unemployed thirty-year-old woman who spends all day (and night) gaming, and her social situation is one of the biggest hurdles in getting her to acknowledge that Yuta could possibly be interested in her.
If there’s any flaw in the series, I’d say that it’s so short! Everything wraps up quite adorably, and there is a bonus 11th episode for viewers on Crunchyroll (it’s a home video exclusive in Japan!) as well as an animatic for Episode 1. The bonus episode is pretty forgettable fluff, but if you need a little more of Moriko and Yuta it satisfies well enough. The AR animatic is skippable though.
I highly recommend Recovery of an MMO Junkie. This is my light-hearted favorite of 2017.
Number of Episodes: 10 (plus 1 bonus episode)
Pluses: sweet romantic comedy, thirty-year-old female protagonist (!), accurately captures the nuances of being a MMORPG gamer
Minuses: supporting cast doesn’t get much development, coincidences are laid on a little thick
Laurie Tom is a fantasy and science fiction writer based in southern California. Since she was a kid she has considered books, video games, and anime in roughly equal portions to be her primary source of entertainment. Laurie’s short fiction has been published in Galaxy’s Edge, Strange Horizons, and Intergalactic Medicine Show.