When the words “MMO” and “anime” are used together, what are usually the things that come to mind?
Casual anime fans may think of the mega-hit Sword Art Online, or maybe the lesser known Log Horizon. Perhaps they may think of last year’s slapstick comedy And you thought there is never a girl online? (sic), or the classic Welcome to the NHK. Digging further back was the .hack series, which predates many anime of the MMO genre.
By contrast, when the words “MMO” and “Japan” are used together, what are usually the things that come to mind?
There is Final Fantasy XIV’s storied revitalization from the brink of utter destruction, and Phantasy Star Online 2’s notorious insistence on an eventual localization (let the dream die folks). Beyond the games themselves, however, MMO’s are often attributed to the highly prevalent NEET problem in Japan (Not in Education, Employment, or Training) that is seeing more and more individuals drop from the workforce over time.
Whether MMO’s are related to anime, Japan, or both, it’s not too difficult to associate them in a negative fashion. They’re portrayed as devious contraptions that trap their players in a fight for survival, flippantly attached to characters having difficulty distinguishing reality from fiction, or postmarked as the vehicle for a youth’s withdrawal from society.
Upon this scene enters Recovery of an MMO Junkie. The title alone seems to tell it all and, to be fair, the show doesn’t really give any indication of deviating from that expectation in the beginning. For reasons so far left vaguely explained, 30-year-old Moriko Morioka left her corporate job and retreated to the life of a NEET where she spends her days whiling away the time on the fictional MMO, Fruits de Mer.
It’s easy to fall into the mindset of knowing where the show will go from such a set-up. Moriko will eventually “recover” from being an “MMO junkie” and return to society as a functional human being. Such an interpretation of the title, however, once again casts MMO’s in a negative light, despite the series being fun and lighthearted on the whole. Fruits de Mer is preventing Moriko’s “recovery”, therefore, it is not good. This is consistent with the base message conveyed through MMOs’ portrayal in anime to date as well as their association with societal issues in Japan.
What Recovery of an MMO Junkie demonstrates, however, is that this is actually not the message it is trying to convey.
Throughout the show, we’ve caught glimpses of what Moriko was like back in her office position. We know that she was earnest and hardworking, but whether it was due to one large event or the build-up of smaller ones, something broke her. Judging by a short scene in the opening that shows her slumped in the doorway of her apartment, it’s not too unreasonable to conclude that it was a somewhat traumatic experience for her.
Moriko’s retreat to the MMO world is without a doubt a form of coping, to escape from her cruel reality. That much is undeniable. However, with the series’ progression we’ve witnessed Moriko grow in the real world in meaningful and healthy ways due to her interactions within the MMO world.
She strove to reach out to those around her thanks to the confidence she built communicating with her guild companions. She started to take pride in her appearance thanks to the advice of her close online friends. Perhaps most importantly, she genuinely enjoys the game for what it is and not simply playing for the sake of getting away from it all. Genuine happiness, without stipulations, has an incredibly positive effect on one’s psyche.
This show isn’t about Moriko’s “recovery” from a crippling addiction, it’s about her “recovery” from being subjected to some harsh circumstances in her life and weakened for it. The MMO isn’t the antagonist to be overcome for once, but a healing mechanism that has a profound therapeutic impact on Moriko.
It helps that the series is presented in such a down-to-earth manner. It doesn’t necessarily sport a serious tone, but it’s far from flippant or comedic about its subject matter either. The real world is just mundane enough, and the MMO world just fantastical enough, as to make Moriko’s predicament a believable one.
Sure, there are a number of bona fide anime coincidences that occur, but even if Yuuta wasn’t Lily, or the convenience store cashier wasn’t Kanbe, the setup is such that Moriko would make progress regardless. One way or another, her experiences with Fruits de Mer would have constructive repercussions on her life.
Recovery of an MMO Junkie is a wonderful double entendre of a title that lures viewers into a faulty mindset before turning those expectations on their heads. The show takes a genre of games that is so often portrayed in a negative and/or joking manner and instead presents a positive aspect that is sorely underrepresented. It’s this progressive outlook that makes Recovery of an MMO Junkie such a surprising breath of fresh air, and a show very much its own.
Recovery of an MMO Junkie is currently airing and can be watched on Crunchyroll.