Updated: Apr 2, 2019
The recent popularity of isekai series like Re:Zero and Sword Art Online underscores the enduring appeal of Final Fantasy-inspired MMORPG games. That, for better or worse, “starting life in another world” is not a actual life choice can cause some serious rub. We already saw this in N.H.K. ni Youkoso (Welcome to the N.H.K.); in that case though, the moral message was communicated through a story almost as NSFW and depression-instilling as the likely contents of a real-life hikikomori‘s online perusings. One time I recommended Welcome to the N.H.K. to a more sensitive friend, as a great anime about the problems of life in the Internet age. My friend ended up being turned off to anime as a whole after four episodes.
The appeal of 2017’s Net-juu no Susume (Recovery of an MMO Junkie), based on the 2013-2015 manga of the same name by Rin Kokuyō, is that it is perfectly contemporary and wholly unobjectionable, not an easy combination. Moriko Morioka has finally quit her stressful job at the big corporation! Now free to play the popular MMO Fruits de Mer without interruption, she spends her days and nights levelling up her male character Hayashi and bonding with members of her guild. As Hayashi, she grows especially close to a female character named Lily, and many idyllic moments are shared together seated on the branch of a virtual tree. Quests and fighting bosses are chiefly background in this story. The fantasy world does not feel so immersive, is not so glamorized as in isekai, but is more like a front porch or neighborhood pub for having intimate conversations with people afraid to let out their real names.
One glance at the rings under Moriko’s eyes is enough to know there’s a problem. And before long—the anime is just 11 episodes long—we encounter a few others and see how the demands of the virtual world and the real shape their lives. Even Moriko has to leave her abode for food and WebMoney (featured in the credits), and if nothing else, we learn that the convenience store Cowson, fictionalized from the real chain Lawson (also in the credits), is a vital meeting place in our often isolated world. However much Moriko doubts herself, however disengaged she has become from real life, her innate charm is there for those who encounter her to see, and she may have the stuffs of shojo romance in her yet. There is never much that’s disheartening in Recovery of an MMO Junkie, and the show gets becomes cute and adorable in a way only anime starring high schoolers or younger usually do, fast. For a warm-hearted, short watch that also has a lot to say about the tension between the gaming life and lived life (and about the loot boxes swindle), highly recommended.