Back when Sword Art Online premiered (and before I realized I don’t like SAO), I remember finding an anime set in a VRMMO pretty novel. Now, I look at new shows such as BOFURI thinking, “Of course it’s set in a VRMMO” while also rolling my eyes. It’s a cynical thought I know but tell me anime and light novels aren’t too obsessed with video games. It doesn’t help that isekai has proven that you don’t even need to set your story in a real video game to make your characters play one. I’d like to see this bubble burst but I have a feeling this will last for a couple more years.
Is BOFURI a possible bright spot in a very tired, saturated trend? It’s hard to say. I didn’t dread watching it but I’m not terribly sold by it either. The premise sounds fine. Per the recommendation of her friend, Kaede Honjou (played by the similarly named Kaede Hondo) begins playing a new VRMMO called “New World Online” (I can’t believe that’s what it’s called). Not wanting to feel pain when she gets attacked by monsters, she decides to turn her avatar, Maple, into a defensive tank. The likelihood of a high stake plot is super low but it’s decent enough for what’s looking to be a more slice of life story.
The main problem I have with the premise is that within the first episode, BOFURI already exhausts what it can do with it. Not only does Maple keep jacking up her defense, she continually gets skills and equipment that further improve her tanking and she very quickly gains immunity to Poison, the one status ailment fatal to her build. Worse is that Maple’s negligence of the other stats in the game has seemingly no consequence for her. Like, she’ll comment on her slow movement due to her low agility but since she takes no damage from anything, she doesn’t care and wins fights regardless. This could all work if this happened more gradually and we get a sense that Maple has poured hours and labor into experimenting and perfecting her desired build. But no, everything is practically gifted to her and whatever issues she might have is likely either ignored or immediately resolved.
Equally problematic is that Maple herself isn’t all that interesting as a character. Her two defining traits seem to be that she doesn’t like feeling pain and that she’s a cutely designed anime girl. The former in particular lacks a compelling motivation behind it. Maple chooses to beef up her defense simply because she read the stats on her customization screen and saw that it’s the stat she wants to put points toward. That’s it. I hate to sound cruel but maybe the show should’ve gotten its protagonist horribly injured in-game. Have her get in a fight, get hurt, and come to the conclusion that she wants to build herself as a tank. That would at least feel more like an arc and less of a moe-fied Let’s Play. Maybe there’s a legitimate reason and the show has yet to elaborate but it wouldn’t surprise me if this is all purely preference on Maple’s part. And if that is a case, that’s pretty stinking boring.
Admittedly, BOFURI only briefly introduces other characters in the show. It’s possible they might be able to help spruce things up. I’d particularly like to see Maple learn some tidbits from that other shield user she meets in the premiere but considering what skills and equipment she has so far, I fear she has little to learn. The blacksmith character and Maple’s best friend could provide some decent chemistry but that’s possibly borderline CGDCT territory and therefore not necessarily anything substantial. I’ll see what the next episode or two has to offer in this department but I have a feeling this show could be a drop.
Thanks for reading!