You probably know me here as Lystria. There is a lot of history to that name. It’s the name that I use on just about every MMORPG that I have ever played. That is, when I used to play, as much as I did. To most of my real life friends whom I have kept close over the years know the truth: I am a game addict.
So when an anime series like this one came along, it’s understandable that I wouldn’t get the same kind of joy from it as I would your average gamer, anime fan, or gamer anime fan. And while it did not make it even close to my favorites of 2017, I did still wind up liking this series for all that it’s worth, but with that enjoyment comes a lot of long forgotten memories that are bittersweet.
As you read this, I hope that you will laugh, you will cry, and perhaps smile too. But I also hope you understand that there are many layers to the conversation about gaming, particularly for individuals like me who do find trouble when it comes to managing how much I play when I do, and despite knowing my own limitations, I still do! That’s why it’s called an addiction!
So without further ado, open a session window, strap on your headset, and choose your server. It’s high time this MMO guy got his groove back!
Recovery of an MMO Junkie (Net-jū no Susume) is about the daily musings of Moriko Morioka, a 30-year-old woman who left her job after about 5 years of service. She currently has no plans for employment, education, or training. She is, literally, a NEET.
Moriko used to play a lot of online games when she was younger. It was only because of work that she departed from that lifestyle that she was too busy to play them! So as she boots up her computer and browses the Internet, she discovers a new MMO called Fruits de Mer that makes her feel nostalgic for that fresh moment in her life. And one installation and character customization later, she creates the boyish warrior Hayashi and explores the fantastic world of gaming once again.
Now contrary to all those studies that you hear about regarding the psychology and sociology of what exactly are NEETs or why they exist, no. Moriko has actively chosen this lifestyle, a cut above the other NEETs of the world. An “elite NEET!”
But even with this self-affirmation and pride as a gamer, Moriko is, at the end of the day, a very flawed, ordinary human being, complete with anxieties of going out and meeting everyone else’s expectations. The only reason we’re even talking about NEETs at all is because we collectively think that these people are different from everyone else (which, well, they are) and somehow that’s a problem. But the problems that Moriko faces aren’t so obvious to us, if we’re constantly trying to figure out what is wrong with her.
So for the rest of this review, I will, or at least make an attempt by using my creative liberties, speak on behalf of Moriko Morioka, to address not what is wrong with her or society at large, but how she has learned to cope with the difference in being that elite NEET. Because as I was watching this series, I realized that there really isn’t that much of a difference between us.
1. Moriko, the Hikikomori
Whether or not you’re into the whole naming convention of allegories, it’s pretty obvious that Moriko Morioka’s name is a stab at how most people would see her in this narrative, as a hikikomori. Although her name is more of a pun than a literal translation of “pulling inward, being confined,” the condition of hikikomori is often described as a social withdrawal that results in a person taking root in their house and in extreme cases, their own bedrooms, thus planting themselves like a tree in a forest (mori).
Browse the Internet at your leisure, and you will find plenty of studies and theories, about why this has become such a phenomenon, especially in Japan. But for the purposes of this anime, and by extension this review, the goal here isn’t to “solve” the hikikomori problem, but rather gain some incite as to what makes people like Moriko human.
To me, the answer’s pretty obvious. She’s very relatable. In fact, all those dorky parts of her are why I adore her so much! Not to mention, she’s 30, I’m (almost) 30… we’d probably make a good couple had she existed on this plane of existence.
But where she really stands out to me is that she is also a gamer, and more specifically, a roleplayer who isn’t exactly shy about breaking everyone else’s conception of gendered realities. She plays a guy character, I’ve played a girl character. And most of the people that she plays with are mature enough to not care or draw attention to it, because it’s not like anyone really knows who you are beyond your avatar unless you overshare your identity– wait… (damn it is that why those guys were mad at me that one time)–
Now of course, people playing online games as their opposite gender is very common, that it is, at least for mature players, accepted as something normal in an online environment. That is to say, if you were simply tolerant of the idea that one’s gender identity is “neutral” by default online. But the truth is that when you select your character –boy or girl– other people you are playing with will treat you differently, so long as that anonymity of the real person behind the avatar remains a mystery.
In those years when I was Lystria the mage, warlock, pokémon trainer, whatever, people did treat me differently than when I was playing any of my male avatars. They tend to be nicer around you, watch what they say to appear friendlier. I even had a guy want to go out on an in-game date with me once! Like seriously? Nobody asks me out on a date! It was kind of refreshing!
But once the veil of ignorance is uncovered and they find out that I am in fact a guy (not that it wasn’t obvious. Just analyze my use of language and it’s superfluously clear) lots of players were thrown for a loop! Surprise. Anger. Betrayal. A wide range of antagonizing emotions would always come up in these situations had I not just told them from the beginning “By the way, I’m a guy.” It was because of these negative reactions from other gamers that I was, for a good 5 years or so, afraid to even play online games anymore, so I played games by myself instead!
So what does this have to do with Moriko? I’m glad you asked, Straw Man, because I used to think that girls who play guys would react differently than guys who play girls. To me, there is a certain level of empowerment that comes from playing as a guy, which Moriko seems to get a kick out of just by being a gamer herself (lots of gamers where I come from have a great deal of confidence when they play), while choosing to play a girl suddenly means that you’re into cute stuff (I will say by experience alone that this statement is very much false. Lystria will not hesitate to kick your ass in a duel with the most terrifying demons and hellfire imaginable!) Watching a player like Moriko show signs of insecurity even as a guy is something that I admittedly wouldn’t have expected.
So I guess to that extent, Moriko is breaking gendered assumptions even for me!
But for those of you who have watched the show (which I’m going to guess is anyone who comes across this review anyway), you’re probably wondering, “Why compare yourself to Moriko? You’re obviously more like Yūta Sakurai!” Well, now that you mention it…
2. Moriko, the (Not So) Young Lady
Now with any good anime, I don’t think that there is anything to prevent anyone, boy or girl or somewhere in between, to truly like any given series. Recovery of an MMO Junkie is sincerely gender neutral in terms of its target audience, but let’s be honest: there are going to be elements that guys generally are going to like than girls are, and vice versa.
So there’s this point in the anime where Moriko has this will-they-won’t-they happening with Recovery of an MMO Junkie‘s (other) protagonist, the heart-throb salary man Yūta Sakurai who frequents the same convenience store as Moriko. They meet, they run into each other on multiple occasions, and they also play Fruits de Mer together without even knowing it! While Moriko plays the brave, but clueless Hayashi, Yūta plays the cute, but fierce Lily (find any poster or cover of this anime, and she is prominently featured, even on mine). Sakurai has the benefit of knowing who Moriko is via their mutual friend/coworker Homare Koiwai, whose motives on what he wants to do for either of them are, shall we say, very loose. And with that, Koiwai asks Moriko out on a date, to which she got about as flustered as I did (if not more) when I was asked out over an in-game environment, so she gets herself a makeover. And, well…
Okay. I would be lying to you if I said that I wasn’t interested. Disheveled NEET Moriko will always have her charm, but the lengths that Moriko goes to “impress” an old friend, complete with her own high, yet misunderstood expectations about a “date…” her effort definitely shows.
Now for whatever reason, Koiwai never had any romantic interest in Moriko whatsoever, so from his vantage point, her efforts would be considered “going overboard.” And during her shopping montage to make that makeover happen, it certainly feels that way! Splurging on cosmetics that she could use for game points, confusing a hairdresser over how she wants to present herself, something as simple as a makeover doesn’t seem to be something that Moriko would do on a regular basis or even on a whim, and yet she does!
Now I’m sure that her intentions had nothing to do with wanting to impress Koiwai either, but rather that this is something that is expected of anyone that’s going out on a date, I suppose (and that is a conversation I will definitely have for one of my philosophical editorials, feminism edition). But for now, what I felt most genuine about her transformation is how Sakurai reacts to her new look.
One misunderstanding after another, Moriko “accidentally” bumps into Sakurai before she meets up with Koiwai, who was somewhere else at the time anyway. Confused and distraught from having left the comfort of her home for something so foolish, Moriko broke down, feeling like all of that effort had been wasted. And yet in that moment, here was a young man whom Moriko barely knows in real life, called her date and complimented her, and declaring just how jealous he should be for missing out!
Listen up, fellas. This is how a gentleman responds!
The budding relationship that Moriko and Sakurai have from this point forward is rather cute, albeit very awkward, considering that each one of them is hiding a secret from the other, that we the audience laugh at because it has no reason to be a secret! The truth is that Moriko and Sakurai have known each other for a long time, not as people in the real world, but in Fruits de Mer as Hayashi and Lily. And if you really want to get technical, the two had met when they were playing another MMO years ago!
Moriko is advanced in her years, both in age and in gaming, and Sakurai would be as well. And yet as they reconnected through this new game, they had subconsciously thought of each other nostalgically as they created their avatars. It is for this reason that a lot of fans wanted to see them get together IRL, for being such a strong pair all this time, and thinking about one another over the years, as they continue to adult. But where our romantic expectations lie in this awkward pair falling in love with each other somehow, there is something often gets overlooked.
Moriko and Sakurai aren’t attracted to each other in real life. They are attracted to each other in game.
Love is a very complicated thing, especially as you get older. But Moriko and Sakurai’s precious moments together aren’t as ordinary Japanese citizens, but as Hayashi and Lily in Fruits de Mer.
And for me, I gotta be honest. I’m really glad it stayed that way.
3. Moriko, the Recovering MMO Junkie
I am a gamer. My brother and I shared a NES and SNES when we were growing up. I played my Gameboy brick for hours on end. My parents never really liked how much time I spent playing video games, but hardly said anything about it unless it impeded other activities such as doing homework or talking to people I don’t care about. I love video games because it allowed me to enter a world that I wouldn’t get here in real life, and the technology for games have only made immersion into these fantastic worlds a lot easier.
But the worst of my habits came into fruition not too long ago, when my life revolved entirely around Blizzard’s World of Warcraft. Sure, I had fond memories of being Lystria, and I’ve met a lot of really cool people from those years. But at the end of the day, I was never really happy about what I was doing. Bringing my laptop literally everywhere just to play, failing classes at a school that I ultimately didn’t care about, getting angry at trivial inconveniences like lag or server maintenance. And worst of all, having to put up with the amount of testosterone that comes with guys over voice chat: yelling, interrupting each other, making fun of anything that was even remotely non-masculine. Don’t even get me started on battles over ideology; I’ve lost friends over their strong opinions on all things politics, many of whom were people that I raided with. In the few years I played, I witnessed many guilds fall apart on my watch, just over people and their sensitive egos, suddenly burst when one little thing doesn’t go their way. And I kid you not, this behavior didn’t just come from the guys. When it comes to gaming, toxicity knows no gender.
I needed a way out. That’s how I learned about anime.
Moriko Morioka is kind of an odd person, whether she’s a NEET on Earth or a warrior in Fruits de Mer. She once had fun playing video games, and now she has come back to that life when her real life becomes too demanding. Moriko may just be yet another fictional character, but she does represent a fragment of our frustrated generation, who are under a lot of pressure from societal expectations. For us, mediums like gaming is our coping mechanism to take out our stress of everyday life onto something that is, supposedly anyway, a safer space. But as the lines between the fictional universe and reality continue to blur, that safe medium imitates reality, problems and all.
I will still game, but I don’t particularly find enjoyment in doing it. For some people, that is the very definition of addiction. But if there is anything that I loved about gaming, it is the social aspect. People across the nation or even around the world, going on quests, raiding together, battling each other, and sometimes griping about something stupid that happened at work that day. MMOs can be very therapeutic, if given the chance to meet people that are cool enough. Sadly I think that I got the short end of the stick, because a lot of my social experience is grossly intermeshed between happy moments and agonizing ones.
Moriko is a fragile gamer, but with her vulnerabilities comes a very warm, kind-hearted person. One who cherishes her friends even at the age of 30, when everyone else is younger than her. But the most important relationship of all isn’t among any one of those players in real life, but with Hayashi, the character that she created herself. It is through him that she experiences this fantasy world, and the joy she gets out of logging into it everyday. And for what it’s worth, she isn’t the only one that gets that enjoyment either!
Recovery of an MMO Junkie may not be one of my favorite animes out there. But it is an important one to me because it refreshed my perspective on a time in my life that wasn’t particularly happy for me. I can’t say that I ever really had a Moriko or Sakurai in my life from those times, but I certainly had plenty of Hayashi and Lily moments. And to me, those are the ones that are worth remembering.
If you are an older anime fan like myself, this series is a refresher on shows that deal directly with MMOs and fantasy worlds, that makes it more palatable for those who are adulting right now. I certainly am when I’m teaching!
Life is a game in a lot of respects. We all play by certain rules, and have great expectations on other players because of that. But sometimes the most important things we remember about those experiences aren’t from the game itself, but in the relationships, the bonds, we make with others as we play.
So if you’re looking for an anime that revives the gamer in you, watch Recovery of an MMO Junkie. And have a Happy Valentine’s Day, wherever you might be.