Spoiler Warning for Recovery of an MMO Junkie
After watching the first episode of Recovery of an MMO Junkie, my first reaction was “this show gets it.” As for what it gets, it gets what it’s like being a nerd (or whatever term you want to use for someone into niche entertainment over going outside) and the appeal of online communities. Much of the anime takes place in an MMO, and that’s where a lot of the groundwork for the central relationship comes from. It may seem unusual for the main relationship to be built on interactions in an MMO, but Recovery of an MMO Junkie understands just how important online friendships can be.
At the start of the series, it’s strongly implied that Moriko doesn’t have any real friends. She never leaves her apartment except to buy food, and she’s never shown socializing with anyone outside of the game. She’s obviously uncomfortable socializing, and always seems nervous or self-conscious when she has to talk to people. When Koiwai starts talking to her in the convenience store, she just wonders why and tries to get out of it. On the other hand, she quickly finds a group of friends in the MMO, and never seems shy around them. As Hayashi, Moriko is able to interact with others free from her usual self-consciousness. This is exactly the appeal of MMOs and online friendships in general. When you’re communicating behind a username or an avatar, there’s more of a barrier between you and other people. You don’t have to worry about being judge for your appearance, of sounding awkward, or saying something without thinking. Moriko’s goofy overreactions when she’s playing the game are in stark contrast to her usual shyness, which is because she doesn’t have to worry about people noticing her silly crying or excited yelling. Even when she’s talking to people in game, she’s still doing so from the safety of her own room. If you’ve ever seen something funny online and burst out laughing harder than you would in public, you’ve been in the same situation. Interacting online is freeing in that way.
Even though MMO Junkie acknowledges the barrier between MMO life and real interactions, it simultaneously understands just how meaningful online friendships can be. Moriko’s relationship with Sakurai (as Lily) becomes just as much of a constant as any real life friendship would be. Beyond just gaming together, they start hanging out in-game and spending time together as friends. They meet up on Christmas when neither one has anywhere else to go, exchange gifts, and share how their days have been. Moriko even goes to Lily for advice on how to dress for her date with Koiwai, the same way most people would with a friend they know in real life. In some ways, the boundary created by online interaction allows Moriko to be more open than she would outside of a game. It’s hard to imagine her discussing so many personal details outside of a game because of her shyness, but Moriko’s able to be more open to friends she knows in the game. Ironically, the invisible wall the game creates allows her to be more open than she would be without the game.
Moriko isn’t alone in this either. In some ways, Sakurai is just as nervous outside of the game. He’s better at socializing than Moriko, but he also doesn’t seem to open up as easily as someone like Koiwai. This is in stark contrast to his far more outgoing attitude as Lily. Lily is bubbly, outgoing, and not remotely nervous or self-conscious, almost like a completely different character. Using an avatar allows Sakurai to be someone he isn’t, to be more of the person he wants to be.
We see even more of this in Sakurai and Moriko’s friendship in the previous MMO they played. After his parents’ death, Sakurai used MMOs to find companionship, while also keeping a safe distance. With the internet as a buffer, he could spend time with people, while simultaneously keeping a wall between them. At the same time, he (as Harth) struck up a friendship with Moriko (as Yuki). Moriko used MMOs to deal with stress from work, the same way Sakurai used them as a cure for loneliness. As they grew closer, their conversations became just as important as any real life friend, internet or not. You see just how meaningful their friendship was when Moriko finally learns that Sakurai was also Harth. After the initial awkwardness wears off, she’s overjoyed to reunite with her old friend. The buffer the game provided ironically allowed them to grow closer than they would have if they met in outside of a game.
Recovery of an MMO Junkie gets the value of online friendships more than any other anime I’ve seen. Online friendships can simultaneously be safer and closer than some real life relationships. MMO Junkie manages to approach this topic without devaluing either form of interaction, showing a real understanding for the value of both. This anime just gets it.