If there are two things that MMO Junkies has mastered, it’s the shows understanding of awkwardness and depression. Depression is something that a lot anime works already mastered. Without digging too far back, some examples from this season are March Comes in like a Lion and The Ancient Magus Bridge. Awkwardness is something else. The misunderstandings, the way characters can’t fully explain themselves to others, or how characters don’t respond to direct questions with full sentences? No, anime has not always been exceptional at that. When It comes to awkwardness, most series make characters cringe worthy in a comedic way in public. Thus an “awkward” character is created. MMO Junkies blends the two elements of depression and awkwardness together to make its lead characters feel realistic.
When we first see our thirty-year-old main character, Moriko Morioka, we learn a lot about her through some quick lines of dialogue and some careful directing. Those things being that she is depressed, has recently quit her job, and is looking for comfort in something. This is when Moriko tries to log into an MMORPG that she hasn’t played in six months. A bit of a plot point for later, but that game is no longer in service. Thus, she starts looking online for another MMORPG and chooses Fruits de Mer. When the game is downloaded and installed, Moriko created a male character and starts her journey online. Of course, if that is all that Recovery of an MMO Junkie was about, then this would be a very boring series. I’m not saying that Moriko playing online games and reacting with hilarious faces isn’t a major part of this series, but she never feels complete as a person with that one shtick alone.
Seeing Moriko outside the realm of safety, otherwise known as as her apartment, and away from her online persona are what make her feel realistic as a person. In the outside world, we see that Moriko lives the life style of a stealth bomber. You know all the signs: barely appears on anyone else’s radar, accomplishes what she wants to do with minimum effort, never tries to make herself stand out. She dresses simply without putting on makeup or other preparations that for herself like when she went to the office. When Moriko goes to the store, she simply grabs the items she wishes to purchase, purchases them with barely any communication with other people, and leaves. Simple in and out stuff. Such a clear departure from how her online person. All those times when she goes on adventures with a group of online buddies from different persuasions and realms of life. Clear signs that she is too stressed out by the world around her and needs to find an escape route. That’s what makes her relatable.
I know that this is incredibly obvious to everyone, but Moriko was suffering from over work without any escape from reality to keep her sane. When we first saw her, it’s been six months since she last played an mmo. I know that there are many ways to spend time, but considering that this anime is centered around MMORPGs, those games were her one escape route. She is clearly an introvert and doesn’t have the capacity to spend a lot of time with other people out doors. This is why having a hobby helps us live full lives, because stress from a daily work routine can be vented out safely without causing harm to ourselves or other people. That’s why Moriko’s life in the series is realistic, though a tad bit extreme. Then again, maybe Moriko wasn’t allowed anytime to relax because her office pushed her beyond her limits. I don’t think we will ever get clear answers for what she had to live through, but it’s easy to piece together a theory through some facts and data.
Where does the awkwardness come to play? Well, isn’t that obvious by now? It’s comes from Moriko’s depression and stress. The way she doesn’t like to be out in public, the way she dresses and handles herself, and the way she only wants to talk about Fruits De Mer and measures purchases as loot boxes? All right there. Since all of this awkwardness comes from a grounded place, they all come together to create a realistic character. This is why Moriko feels so natural to me and could be somebody you know in real life. In fact, she does remind me of quite a few people that I know. People that are stressed out from the real world and only want to play video games. I won’t get into that more though. That’s good enough.
If we want to put this all together, Sakurai is the more balanced form of Moriko. Is he awkward? Well yeah. It seems he suffers from social anxiety. He is still working at his office job, though. He does work over time and long hours, but somehow he finds time to vent his frustration. Maybe he isn’t online all the time, but that’s beside the point. He has an out. Sakurai is as mentally healthy with his life as one with an office job that has long hours can be. Since he is in such a solid place in his life, seeing him talking to and offering support to Moriko on and off the internet makes sense. These two work as a couple, even if they are both incredibly awkward, because they have something to offer each other to become stronger. The fact that Sakurai created a female character and the two characters started a partnership adds some layers and intrigue to this growing relationship too. I’m so glad Moriko and Sakurai started dating in the end.
I wouldn’t go far as saying that MMO Junkies is a perfect show. It’s lacking some details. The story is basic, but it’s a solid structure to base the show on. The visuals aren’t amazing either, but it’s good enough to convey the messages that this show wants to convey. What is the best thing about this show is the character work. Moriko and Sakurai are well characterized and developed people. Even the side characters are great. Even though not much is done with Junkies side characters, you can’t call them flat. That’s the reason why this show is worth watching. MMO Junkies understanding of depression, isolation, and awkwardness are beyond the boundaries of what most anime think they are. It’s just a good, heart warming anime to help you feel better as you go into the weekend. Nothing wrong with that.