In this pessimistic world, Recovery of an MMO Junkie is a touching depiction of escapism and healing from reality’s cruelty.
Written and illustrated by Rin Kokuyō, MMO Junkie was originally released and is currently serialized as a web manga through Comico, a webcomic app. The series follows Moriko Morioka, a Japanese woman in her 30s, who recently has quit her corporate office job. Deliberately allowing herself to become a NEET, Morioka finds escape in an MMORPG (massive multiplayer online role-playing game) called Fruits de Mer.
She creates a male character named Hayashi, a blue-haired, handsome man that is clearly far from a projection of who she actually is in real life. As Hayashi, she meets another player named Lily, an enthusiastically kind and sweet-nurturing female character that helps guide Morioka into the basics of the game. Lily encourages Morioka, as Hayashi, to naturally grow from a newbie to regular player. Developing an online companionship and eventually joining a guild, Morioka’s entrance into Fruits de Mer provides her a network of coincidental relationships that unexpectedly help her return to the normalcy and routine of the real world.
The recent trend of anime revolving around MMOs and the fantasy genre can easily be attributed to the recent phenomenon and popularity of Sword Art Online. What would happen if the line between reality and the game completely blur? However, Sword Art Online and its concept are not unique: series such as Log Horizon, Overlord, and even going back as far as the .hack franchise have serialized much earlier. KonoSuba, a comedy, satirizes the idea of being trapped in a fantasy online game in addition to anime tropes and the MMO genre as a whole.
Morioka, on the other hand, is not literally trapped in a game: we are in reality and the viewer sees her as a real person playing the game in question. Instead of facing her anxieties head on, Morioka finds joy and confidence by logging in as Hayashi every day. We can say that Morioka is “trapped” because she plays Fruit de Mer with some degree of dependency, but as opposed to presenting itself as some cautionary tale against the heavy immersion of gaming, Recovery of an MMO Junkie does just the opposite. Instead of portraying her as completely disillusioned, Morioka’s gaming habits are depicted as relatively calm, if not pretty normal, matching the slow-paced nature of the series. Morioka remains consistently in touch with the outside world, her gaming does not get excessive, and it is made clear that her reclusiveness is not out of her complete control, but with suggestions of depression.
Compared to series like Watamote and Kiss Him Not Me - both series that have female protagonists so obsessed with their interests that they try to force them in real life situations - Morioka is not a caricature of a nerd and by no means a fujoshi. Her character is not portrayed with wild animation and exaggerated design: she is simply tired. The series also makes it clear that Morioka was not only a competent and hardworking employee, but that she had quit in response to heavy stress. We, the viewer, are meant to empathise with her, if not possibly resonate with her hurt.
What also makes Recovery of an MMO Junkie special is representing the Generation Y (millennial) demographic that is still a minority in most mainstream anime. Most of the protagonists are in their late 20s with Morioka nearing her early 30s. While talking about their office jobs and the stress of forming relationships, the series also does its part in revealing the who would end up being other players of Fruit de Mer. With fears lying in employment, finances, and so on, finding escape in fantasy is inevitable - something that largely resonates in this particular generation.
Although a lot of the developments in MMO Junkie still depended on the magic of coincidence and possibly fate (What are the chances of people you meet in a game comprised of possibly thousands of players living in the same area as you?), relationships formed online are just as real and impactful as those formed offline. For Morioka, playing an MMO was not a gateway into something unhealthy, but is a stepping stone to her recovery as she builds confidence and finds authenticity within the online relationships she forms. Especially when it comes to coping and self-care, how one recovers can go by a variety ways.
Series like Recovery of an MMO Junkie help bring a positive light on nerdy lifestyles that still face a degree of stigma. Although clearly targeting a specific audience, it doesn’t alienate viewers by loading its dialogue with specific technicalities and nerdy references. Focusing on the reality aspect of online gaming compared to other titles about MMOs at the moment, the series raises the conversation on mental health and worklife. Morioka’s struggles, regardless of how she channels them, is universal and is something all of us can or have related to.
We have all felt the weight of the world thrown on our shoulders when what we really needed the most is a break. For Morioka, her retreat is found in playing an online game and there is simply nothing wrong with that.