Media often butchers the portrayal of anxiety. Inaccurate representation of characters with anxiety is not only damaging to the show’s credibility, but it also increases the stigma around mental illness. RECOVERY OF AN MMO JUNKIE flips that misrepresentation on its head with a realistic portrayal of anxiety.

RECOVERY OF AN MMO JUNKIE's two main characters have online characters, too! Hayashi (Moriko's online character) and Lily (Yuta's online character) sit in a tree.
Hayashi (left) and Lily (right) at their favorite hangout. | Image: Crunchyroll

The protagonist, Moriko Morioka, is a 30-year-old NEET (someone who is not in employment, education, or training) who suffers from anxiety. The show touches on this sensitive issue and acknowledges that Moriko’s fears are valid. Moriko is never pressured to change or judged for her life choices. Instead, she makes new friends who show her nothing but the kindness she deserves. Moriko grows in this positive environment where her friends take her anxiety seriously. This kind of representation is important, both for the show and for fans who may suffer from the same anxiety issues. Here’s a breakdown of what RECOVERY OF AN MMO JUNKIE does right in its portrayal of anxiety through the character Moriko.

Spoilers for RECOVERY OF AN MMO JUNKIE follow.

The Story and Players of RECOVERY OF AN MMO JUNKIE

Moriko quit her office job because the long hours and the pressure from her superiors became too stressful. She retired to a life of gaming as an escape because she felt she could freely express herself online. Moriko plays as a male avatar named Hayashi in the online game Fruits de Mer where she befriends another player named Yuta Sakurai. Online, Yuta is a healer girl named Lily, but offline, Yuta is a man with an office job. The two meet in real life when Moriko takes a trip to the convenience store near her home. In his rush to get to work on time, Yuta runs into Moriko and offers to take her out to dinner as an apology, but she politely refuses.

This is where Homare Koiwai comes into the story to shake things up a bit. A friend of Yuta’s and an old coworker of Moriko’s, Homare invites Moriko on a date after bumping into her at the convenience store she frequents. After their date, Homare downloads Fruits de Mer under the guise of wanting to get closer to Moriko. But really, he’s just playing the role of the world’s best wingman trying to get two socially awkward people to talk to each other.

Magic Pills, ReLIFE, and Uses of Plot Magic

Moriko makes a new character (modeled after a character she played in a different MMO) to play with Homare, who creates a muscular girl avatar named Harumi. It turns out that Yuta used to play with Moriko’s old character and Homare’s “advances” force Yuta into spilling the beans about his multiple online personalities. Homare intervenes again and sets up a meeting for Yuta and Moriko to talk and the show ends on an upbeat note.

Long live slow-burn romance!

The Anxiety of an MMO Junkie

The first clue that Moriko suffers from anxiety is that she quit her job because the pressure was too much. It’s well-known that Japan has a major problem with overworking; Japanese employees are working so much that they die from the stress. The gender issues are no joke either; women in Japan work just as hard as men, but unfortunately, the glass ceiling is still a problem for many of them. Moriko’s choice to play as a male character in Fruits de Mer might even be a reflection of this issue. Moriko leaves before her job takes over her life, but the pressure still leaves a mark.

Moriko dislikes leaving her apartment because she fears social interaction and really only leaves her house to go to the convenience store, where she stocks up on food and cash cards for Fruits de Mer. At the store, she has trouble communicating and gets nervous when purchasing the cash cards. During one of her trips, Moriko’s stomach growls in the store, and she silently begs it to stop. Claiming that she’s going to “die of embarrassment anyway”, Moriko asks the cashier for the last piece of chicken. But when Yuta also asks for the chicken, she flushes with embarrassment and runs out of the store declaring that she won’t return anytime soon.

Moriko runs out of the convenience store with a bag. The subtitle reads, "I won't be able to come to this store for a while!"
We’ve all been there before, Moriko. | Image: Crunchyroll

E-mails are another hurdle that many people with social anxiety dread. When Yuta gives her his contact information, Moriko spends a long time fretting about a response. She sends him a long e-mail thanking him for his kindness, but she refuses his offer for dinner because she doesn’t want to be a burden.

Coping with Anxiety: Relationships

MMO JUNKIE shows how Moriko begins to overcome her anxiety through her relationships with others. The bonds she forges throughout the show help her to recover rather than push her deeper into her shell. Homare pushes her out of her shell a little when he drags her out on a date, but it turns into vital part of her recovery process.

Moriko and Homare enjoy some wine on their dinner date.
Moriko (left) and Homare (right) on their dinner date. | Image: Crunchyroll

During their date Moriko worries that Homare might reject her NEET life, believing that he won’t want to be around her once he finds out that she plays MMO’s all day instead of working. But Homare is full of surprises and, instead of mocking her, he expresses genuine curiosity in her interests. He admires how passionate she is about games and decides that he wants to play an MMO with her. Homare’s support is so important to Moriko’s development because he doesn’t judge her for being outside of the social norm, nor does he pressure her to leave what makes her happy. He provides her with the support she needs to slowly break through her social anxiety all on her own.

Coping with Anxiety: The MMO Junkie’s Online Life

Homare isn’t the only one who helps her to cope. Her online friends are there when she needs them, giving her advice when she’s struggling to decide what to do about her date with Homare; Lily is especially helpful. She recognizes Moriko’s kindness and passion through Hayashi and encourages her to go on the date. Moriko comes to rely on Lily as she gets to know Yuta and Homare better.

Moriko’s relationship with Yuta is perhaps the best emotional support she receives. Though she doesn’t realize it at first, Yuta’s been at her side for a long time. Yuta played another MMO with Moriko when she still worked at the office. At the time, Yuta was going through some family issues and Moriko helped him to cope. When Moriko felt her job wearing down on her, Yuta encouraged her in turn. Moriko eventually quit her job and the MMO, but she still looks back at the memories of Yuta’s character with fondness.

Moriko stresses over the interaction with the woman at the convenience store. The subtitle reads, "She really meant, 'There's no way a girl like that is your girlfriend, right?' Didn't she?"
Moriko bullies herself after an encounter with a convenience store employee. | Image: Crunchyroll

Yuta is glad to help her in any way he can. However, Moriko thinks she’s a burden on him. Moriko apologizes for being seen together at the convenience store. She thinks the woman working there is judging Yuta for being with a NEET. In reality, she’s just a nosy employee who wants to know if they’re dating. Moriko tells herself that someone like her shouldn’t be near Yuta. Her anxiety is about to take over when Yuta says that he doesn’t think that way at all. His words are plain, but they have an impact. She snaps out of her panic and they walk to Yuta’s apartment to escape the rain.

The camera gives Yuta a close-up as he assures Moriko that he doesn't think she's a burden at all. The subtitle reads, "I don't feel that way at all!"
Yuta assures Moriko that he likes being with her. | Image: Crunchyroll

What MMO JUNKIE’s Portrayal Does Right

Moriko’s struggles with daily life are comedic, but not in a demeaning way. Her constant self-deprecation and avoidance of social interactions are both symptoms of social anxiety that are difficult to deal with. Seeing an anime character struggle with those same problems is liberating.

It’s always important to have characters that your audience can identify with and Moriko does just that. Limited accurate portrayals of anxiety make it harder for anime fans to cope with their own anxiety, which is why it’s so refreshing to see a character like Moriko. Her character gives an accurate depiction of living with social anxiety that isn’t romanticized.

In this screencap of the final episode, Moriko looks forward with determination. The subtitle reads, "I'm going to take a step forward."
You can do it, Moriko! | Image: Crunchyroll

The trope where the magic of love heals a character is tired and unrealistic. Love doesn’t always make the anxiety go away. Yuta’s love and encouragement is an important stepping stone on the road to Moriko’s self-recovery, but it’s not the cure. Just like in real life, Moriko’s anxiety takes time to work with and heal.

Why Moriko’s Representation Matters

It’s important now more than ever that we have proper representation in media. Media often portrays characters with mental illnesses as bad people, which leads to a stigma. In Japan, the stigma even prevents people from seeking mental health care for fear of being shamed. But any anime like MMO JUNKIE that depicts anxiety accurately can change the way people view mental illness.

Moriko’s character is important because audiences can identify with her. She gives us validation because we can see that others share our experiences and that our problems are genuine. Moriko’s anxiety isn’t brushed off, no one makes fun of her for being nervous, no one chastises her for her choices, and no one tells her that her problems aren’t real. RECOVERY OF AN MMO JUNKIE is a breath of fresh air because of this humane representation. We identify with Moriko and know that our experiences aren’t something to be taken lightly, either.

Anime Watchlist: Top 5 Short Anime

RECOVERY OF AN MMO JUNKIE deals with heavy topics that need to be discussed in anime while staying a light-hearted and fun show. It provides fans with a character that they can identify with and find strength in. Whether you’re someone who’s been searching for a character like Moriko to relate to, or just a fan looking for a rom-com to enjoy, RECOVERY OF AN MMO JUNKIE is definitely a show worth your time!

RECOVERY OF AN MMO JUNKIE is available to users on Crunchyroll.

Featured image courtesy of Crunchyroll

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