Net-juu no Susume – 07

NJS episode 7 is a bit of a let-down, and almost feels like a waste of time, were it not for the development at the very end. Otherwise, we’re in a familiar holding pattern, in which Sakurai tries in vain to give up on Morioka while still interacting with her in Fruits de Mer.

It’s a really untenable position, especially when “Hayashi” gets to talking with “Lily” about her two dates and has a lot more to say about the first one with him than the second one with Koiwai. When Hayashi notes that the first “woman” reminded her of Lily, it really starts to test Sakurai’s resolve.

That resolve is ultimately eroded even further when Koiwai starts playing Fruits de Mer and Morioka creates a new, female avatar, “Molly” who is visually the grown-up version of “Yuki”, whom Sakurai was good friends with in a past MMO.

Koiwai was more irritating than usual this week, for while I can’t fault the guy for wanting to get closer to Morimori, there’s something to be said for letting a NEET have her safe places to escape to, and his sudden imposing of himself into the world of FdM resembled a bull in a china shop (except when he stepped away to email Sakurai; then the bull stood perfectly still).

But if the show is trying to sell us the story of Sakurai and Morioka, there’s something distasteful about every scene with Morioka and Koiwai; it triggers an impatience, especially when combined with Morioka’s continued ignorance of Lily’s true identity and her believe a guy like Sakurai would never be interested in her.

Perhaps once Sakurai creates a new male avatar resembling his old one who Yuki confided in, maybe she’ll start to put the pieces together. But just as I can’t fault Koiwai for continuing to pursue Morioka, I can’t fault Morioka for not knowing the truth, because the easiest way for that to happen is with Sakurai simply telling her, which he has utterly failed to do for yet another week.

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Net-juu no Susume – 06

So, here we are: Hayashi and Lily IRL. Was it a setup by Koiwai? Apparently not; due to her Elite NEET status, Morioka got the day wrong. Little does she know that Sakurai is really Lily, which is the true reason he knew to where and when to “rescue” her from the wrong day.

Let’s not beat around the bush here: Sakurai is, like, totally into Morioka, and their date goes as swimmingly and is as enjoyable as when they’re hanging out in the MMO…maybe moreso! It’s just as enjoyable to watch, despite the fact neither party treats this as an official, “real” date.

I’m a little disappointed things are more complicated than Koiwai staging a setup to get the two together. That seems to be what he’s doing anyway, considering he stops joking around and directly asks Sakurai if he’s really okay with him going out alone with Mori-Mori tomorrow. I’d personally be fine with Koiwai graciously backing out of the triangle rather than keeping the heat on.

I was also a bit miffed that Sakurai made no serious effort to tell Morioka the truth about their being MMO partners. What could have been a built-in in with Morioka instead needlessly muddies the waters. There’s never going to be a good time to tell her, but he needn’t keep holding off the truth until it’s a unequivocally bad time; or worse, to late to salvage any kind of relationship.

Sure, I’m getting ahead of myself, but c’mon; we’re not honestly supposed to be rooting for Koiwai and Morioka. Still, while Koiwai teases both Sakurai and Morioka incessantly, he also shows that he genuinely cares about both of them, and isn’t putting on any act for Morioka (who is almost constantly selling herself short).

Morioka thinks the last two days to be almost too good to be true, but I was glad when she corrected herself earlier and said “thank you” instead of her usual unnecessary apologies. I also liked how she mentioned she might not have left her job if she had co-workers as kindhearted as Sakurai and Koiwai. This suggests that a part of her didn’t really want to resign, but it felt like the best way out of a bad situation.

In any case, it’s wonderful to behold Moiroka’s jubilation upon returning home and, more importantly, re-entering the MMO as Hayashi after two straight nights of going out and drinking as Morioka. It isn’t long before Lily shows up. Sakurai looked like he was in agony the whole night Koiwai was out with Morioka, but he’s decidedly relieved-looking upon her return to the MMO and his (well, Lily’s) side.

Still, I worry he’s being far too passive. Allow Koiwai go out with Morioka too much unchallenged, and there’s a good chance Koiwai falls for her and says “Sorry Sakura-chan, you had your chance!” Heck, that may already be happening! The only one who can do anything about this sad state of affairs is the one enduring them. And he’s only got four episodes left to do it!

Net-juu no Susume – 05

Last week, Sakurai seemed to have all but figured out that Hayashi is Morioka, and comes so tantalizingly close to asking her about it…only to back away at the last second. AAAARRRRGGGGHHHH!

Ah well, I guess it is bad online manners to guess someone’s identity out of the blue, and who knows how she’d react if he guessed correctly. But while he harbors serious doubts that such a series of coincidences could occur, his suspicions about Hayashi being Morioka IRL still remain (Also, the show apparently wasn’t quite ready to open up that can of worms).

Also, what’s this? Koiwai casually telling Sakurai he can come along? Saying the whole reason he arranged this was for his sake? This is the friend I knew Koiwai was; trying to jump-start a relationship that is stuck in, well, MMO-land (little does he know).

Morioka, meanwhile, tries to relax about the whole prospect of drinks with a guy, realizing it’s no big deal…but when she starts listing in her head all of the things she needs to do regarding her makeup, hair, and attire, she quickly becomes overwhelmed.

She’s snapped out of this state by the friendly clerk Fujimoto, who formally introduces himself. When he learns she and Morioka are on the same server, he comes right out and tells her his name…Kanbe. A guy finally does learn who “Hayashi” is…just not the right guy.

That being said, neither Kanbe nor Lilac (who doesn’t know, but partakes in a rhetorical discussion on the matter) would judge any friend for switching their gender online. Heck, Lilac’s friend at university plays a guy. Morioka is sorry to Kanbe for lying, but Kanbe tells her it’s up to her whether to tell anyone else, including Lily.

When Hayashi mentions he’s going out for drinks tomorrow, Sakurai starts to think maybe he isn’t Morioka, since she and Koiwai aren’t going for drinks until the day after tomorrow. When Hayashi asks Lily what to wear, he gives the best answer he can, only to be pressed further by Kanbe, backing Morioka up.

Kanbe and Lily get into a pretty heated argument about what length of hair is best, and Morioka settles on a medium length. The haircut, along with a new outfit matching Lily’s advice, runs Morioka a pretty penny, and she can’t help but itemize it in terms of loot boxes. She also realizes how rusty she’s become at things like applying mascara.

However, she gets herself made up, dressed, and together, and heads to the agreed-upon meeting place…on the wrong day. Koiwai is away on business until tomorrow, and Sakurai is worried. He’s worried Morioka got the day wrong, wait there, get shown up, and take it the wrong way.

So in the middle of a quest with the other members of the guild, Lily suddenly logs out, and Sakurai heads to the site of the date. I dreaded the fact he might not recognize her after her makeover, but thankfully he does notice her walking away looking sad, and calls out.

Now, this encounter doesn’t immediately, definitively prove to Sakurai that Morioka is Hayashi, nor to Morioka that Sakurai is Lily. But it comes pretty damn close! The question is, did Morioka really get the day mixed up, or did Koiwai arrange it so that only the two of them would meet?

If that’s the case, good-intentioned or not, and even if Sakurai’s a better fit for her, Koiwai will owe Morioka an apology and explanation for his machinations. After all, she expected, and waited an hour, for him, not Sakurai.

Net-juu no Susume – 04

A new series of cute loot and a bonus point campaign spur Morika, already in high spirits upon becoming partners with Lily, to splurge a little. Only a happy circumstance takes place at the convenience store as she has to wait a few minutes for the store’s e-money system to boot.

Those minutes are spent suddenly learning that the store clerk is also a fan of Fruits de Mer, and goes on and on about it in a way Morioka find very fulfilling. They have so much fun talking, the clerk neglects the fact there’s a guy who needs his cigs!

Even so, it was exhilarating for Morioka to finally talk with someone about MMOs in real life. In the game, Hayashi encounters Kanbe and Lilac, the latter of which has just gone to the loot outlet and picked out some stuff that’s very fluffy and cute, but Kanbe prefers what she usually wears.

We also meet Lilac’s real-life player, who both laments not having snatched up Hayashi as her partner and seems to have a bit of a spark with Kanbe. Hayashi manages to score both rare and common loot, but lucky Lily takes the cake by scoring the whole set.

When in-game, NjS packs a lot of neat details, like the way Lilac sees Hayashi as a sensitive guy (compared to Kanbe) rather than what he actually is—a she; Pokotarou suddenly spawning in the same space as Lilac, obscuring her avatar; or Himeralda’s player playing as her husband, who plays Pokotarou; a surprising and clever occurrence.

But NjS makes good use of both of its worlds, and seems really balanced this week. Sakurai is depressed about not being able to see Morioka, and as he lists off all the ways he’s tried, Koiwai rightly suspects him of stalking, which isn’t good.

But then…Koiwai stakes out the convenience store, bumps into Morioka as planned, and works his businessman magic. Morioka is initially like, “why is this guy talking to me?!” and rightly so, even if she weren’t naturally shy; but once they get to talking they establish a quick rapport, though Koiwai comes off as a little pushy in gaining her contact info.

When Koiwai shows Sakurai what he’s done, how he managed to get a date with Morioka, Sakurai’s expression is of shock, which if the camera had lingered would have surely turns to dejection. Is Koiwai simply helping Sakurai out, or does he want to date Morioka? I hope it’s the former; besides seeming like a nice guy, what kind of friend would stab him in the back like that?

That brings us back into the game, where Hayashi goes to a, yup, dejected-looking Lily, who reminds them that since they’re partners, he can come to her to talk any time. Morioka, through Hayashi, words things very carefully in telling Lily the story of how she ended up in the hospital on an IV all the way to accepting a date from a former work colleague.

The coincidences are far too many, and Sakurai is no fool; he connects the dots, flipping Hayashi’s gender to make her Morioka. Now all he needs to do is believe the deduction he’s just made and proceed from there. After all, despite thinking he’s had no contact with Morioka, all this time he’s had all the contact, and they’re already partners, for gosh sakes. It’s high time the RL players need to catch up to their MMO counterparts.

Net-juu no Susume – 03

Sakurai receives a reply from Morioka first thing in the morning, and he looks nervous, but also excited. We later learn that it’s a gentle and respectful decline on his offer of dinner out of a misplaced sense of not wanting to “cause any more trouble” after he did so much for her post-elbowing. But it’s pretty clear Sakurai wants “trouble” from Morioka. Why offer dinner in the first place?

When he does research on her career at a prestigious Bussan, he learns both from his own research and his co-worker Koiwai (who interacted with before) that Morioka was an exemplary employee and businessperson…who suddenly resigned. A old photo of her confirms she’s the one he accidentally knocked over.

Perhaps he’ll learn, as we have, that despite being damn good at her job, it just wasn’t something she wanted to do anymore. She wants to be a NEET and play MMOs now, and if she can afford to, who’s to say she can’t?

I’ll say, from the perfect structure and syntax of her text message to Sakurai, Morioka’s business skills probably haven’t dulled that much. She’s a talented, capable woman. But she does get a bit nervous in any kind of social situations, which is why after sending her reply, Morioka feels as though a great weight has been lifted from her shoulders, and she goes out to buy some snacks, some beer, and some extra points for FdM.

There, she quickly receives a gift from Lily – a super-expensive coat, and wonders what the underlying purpose of the gift was, considering it will be hard to reciprocate considering its cost. Lily is briefly taken aback by the, well, accusation of ulterior motives, but cannot entirely plead innocence. In fact, she’s come to feel a deep connection for Hayashi and wants him to be her partner in the game.

It’s a big step, and even though it may be a while before Sakurai and Morioka connect the dots on who each other are in the real world, it’s a good sign that they’re growing close enough in-game that a truth-revealing real-world meetup won’t be out of the question down the road. Of course, Morioka needs to realize that she’s not the only one using an avatar of the opposite sex.

NjS is getting better and better as we spend more time with “Mori-Mori” and “Sakura-chan;” particularly their moments of victory and elation when things go well for them. The narrative method of switching between worlds rather than going “full-dive” (ala SAO, NGNL, or KonoSuba) also tethers the story and makes it feel more real. It’s a great balance other shows with similar themes lacked. The music’s pretty bangin’, too.

Net-juu no Susume – 02

Well, first of all, NJS has a solid OP. Great vocals, orchestration, and visuals. Really gets you pumped for the episode!

While exploring a dungeon deep into the night, Hayashi’s fellow guild member Lilac notices she’s always online, and guesses that she’s 21 and a university student, like her. That leads to the guildmaster Kanbe having to pay out for losing the bet on Hayashi’s real age.

Moriko feels bad for lying about her age, but is also relieved it won’t come up anymore. Meanwhile, Lily is pretty upfront about being older than Hayashi, and calls him “serious and kindhearted.” Moriko wants to tell Lily more, and wants to learn more about her, so they make a promise to do just that.

Fate strikes both Moriko and Lily’s player once again when he elbows Moriko (out to get cold medicine) while rounding a corner on his way to work (ironically, because he stayed up playing a netoge with Moriko!)

While out cold, Moriko meets an angel (perhaps her online friend from the previous MMO she played) and also enters a Brazil-style distopia in which endless columns of identitcal salarymen enter the Tower of Bebel only to jump into an abyss. Grim!

Moriko awakens in hospital, with a handsome young man with blond hair  sitting beside her bed. He’s Sakurai Yuuta, and he wants to make amends for accidentaly elbowing her. He leaves her his contact info and assures her she can text or call anytime, for any reason.

Moriko returns to FdM, where his comrades are ready and willing to hear what’s eating Hayashi. When he tells them, Lilac and Himeralda think it sounds like the intro to a romance manga and, thinking Hayashi’s player is a guy, urge him to ask her out…he may even get lucky!

Guildmaster Kanbe is more down-to-earth; nothing need be done except for what must: she should send a text thanking him at the very least and telling him she’s all good; as it would do no good to make him worry. Moriko agrees, and jumps offline to text Sakurai. She’s shocked to get an immediate reply asking if she’d let him take her out to eat as an apology.

Morioka likes this guy, but thinks he’s too good and too “blinding” for her, and a look in the mirror doesn’t help her confidence (though character design-wise, she’s hardly unattractive). Ironically, then it’s another encounter with Lily (i.e. Sakurai) that convinces her to send him a proper reply—which she sends at two in the morning!—though we’ll have to wait and see the contents of said reply.

Lily makes Morioka’s chest feel warm, reminding her that no matter how perfect someone may seem, everyone has problems and doubts, and she need not fear how someone who has already been so kind to her will regard her. The only way to know for sure is to move forward. Even eyebrow-plucking isn’t mandatory!

Net-juu no Susume – 01 (First Impressions)

After a super-catchy OP, we meet 30-year-old corporate dropout and “elite NEET” Morioka Moriko. Being a NEET, she has a lot of time on her hands, but her old go-to MMO, Nanter SG, is no longer available. She checks out a new one, Fruits de Mer, which she choses to play with a male avatar, Hayashi. When she fails again and again to defeat a rodent boss in a dungeon, a cute mage Lily comes to Hayashi’s aid, and Moriko is instantly smitten.

Moriko’s inexperience with interpersonal relationships (particularly romantic ones) is exposed in her dealings with Lily, who takes a liking to Hayashi as well, but Moriko starts avoiding her in order to collect a rare item to give her for Christmas—inadvertently making Lily feel alone and like she did something to make Hayashi avoid her.

Lily confides in Hime, a fellow guild member, and the guildmaster manages to discuss the issue with Hayashi, who never meant to hurt Lily. They meet in a tree and arrange a Christmas Eve date. In the real world, Moriko is out of food, and must venture out to the convenience store at the worst possible time: when it’s full of happy couples.

In that very same store, we meet the player who controls the Lily avatar, and like Moriko, he chose to play as the opposite sex. They both ask for the store’s last piece of Christmas chicken, but the guy yields it to Moriko after hearing her stomach’s “jingle bells.”

Aside from seeing from the in-game cash card she’s buying that she’s also a player of Fruits de Mer, neither the guy nor Moriko know they just cross paths with each other in real life, but when they meet as Hayashi and Lily, you couldn’t ask for a lovelier, more mirthful scene as they exchange gifts.

Having come so close to meeting once, I can’t help but hope Hayashi and Lily meet in the real world in earnest. After all, while both seem content spending their free time playing an MMO and meeting virtual friends, there’s an overarching sense of profound loneliness wafting off the two of them.

Moriko claims to have chosen to be a NEET, and was clearly put off by the couples in the store. But couples tend to be most annoying until you actually find yourself in one. I for one am glad to see an MMO-themed anime that actually spends time in both worlds, rather than just the fantasy one.