And You Thought There’s Never A Girl Online Collection (Cert 15)
2 Discs DVD / 2 Discs Blu-ray (Distributor: MVM) Running time: 291 minutes approx.
Over the past few years, the unholy trinity of the mecha, harem comedy, and magical girl subgenres of anime felt the presence of another overplayed premise looking to join their ranks – the MMORPG fantasy. Whilst the .hack franchise introduced the concept in 2002, it was Sword Art Online a decade later that really opened the floodgates.
So, prepare to roll your eyes again as another MMORPG related show comes our way in the form of this adaptation of the light novel series by Shibai Kineko, complete with an obnoxiously long title. But this one is a little different, incorporating elements of the harem comedy (two anathema in one) whilst attempting to address a potentially serious issue.
Hideki Nishimura is a high school boy and dedicated player of the online game Legendary Age (known hereafter as LA) under the name Rusian. After proposing to a female called Nekohime in a game but is rejected because “she” was actually a male player in real life, Hideki swears off in game marriages for good. Two years later whilst playing LA, Rusian is proposed to by a female healer named Ako, turning her down as per his vow.
Eventually Hideki relents and accepts Ako’s proposal, egged on by his male online guild mates Schwein and Apricot, who in a show of solidarity decide they should meet in real life after hearing Hideki’s story. On the day of the meet, Hideki is shocked to discover Schwein is in fact tsundere classmate Akane Segawa, Apricot is student council president Kyo Goshoin and Ako is a shy girl of the same name who has a real crush on Hideki.
The twist is that Ako has become such an intense game player due to her loneliness and inability to make friends that she struggles to tell reality from fiction, convincing herself that Hideki really is Rusian and they are really husband and wife! Unable to persuade Ako otherwise, Kyo uses her position and wealth to set up a games club at the school in order to help Ako understand the distinction between real and online worlds.
Perhaps lumping Girl Online with the other MMORPG related shows might be a tad unfair since nobody is trapped inside a game but the characters do live a fair chunk of their lives as medieval fantasy sprites. To illustrates this, and make things easier for the audience, the onscreen avatars do change to match their real life appearances – rather helpful since Schwein and Apricot are both male and Rusian is more butch whilst Ako looks the same in both.
However in real life, Ako refers to everyone by their online names, especially Hideki, who is forever Rusian to her, and once they realise Ako is in the same school as them, this proves to be a source of embarrassment for Kyo and Akane, the latter openly hostile towards Hideki for being an Otaku. Eventually this stigma is overcome and others join the fray, including Akane’s friend Nanako Akiyama and teacher Ms. Saito.
Certain tropes are become obvious rather quickly by the giveaway character designs – Kyo is the forthright, bossy rich girl, Akane has pigtails and a snooty manner and Ms. Saito could be a relative of K-ON!’s Sawako Yamanaka. Aside from Akane, the girls are also all generously proportioned up top, so expect plenty of jiggling, revealing costumes in the game and a dollop of fan service in the obligatory beach/bath episode.
The most interesting character is unquestionably Ako because of her loose grip on reality but this is a different portrayal from what you might expect. Initially, we infer Ako might be like Rikka Takahashi and suffer from chunibyo but Ako doesn’t assume a secondary identity or live that character in real life. It is only really Ako’s insistence on using the LA names and refusing to accept Hideki isn’t really her husband that parallels the chunibyo condition.
If the reason behind this are explored in the novel series or the manga, they aren’t in this adaptation which is a disappointment since it really could have lifted this show beyond its generic roots. The room for creating the same empathy we feel for Rikka is there but it is never capitalised on, offering no explanation for how or why Ako has such a lack of social mobility or how badly this affected her psyche.
Without this, Ako is just another ditzy big boobed girl with a good heart to build some base comedy around and provide a reason to fulfil every hackneyed plot beat like the school festival, maid cosplay, swimsuits and so on. Avoiding the discussion of what is quite clearly a major psychological flaw that might affect many a hikikimori or gaming addict is such a wasted opportunity it becomes quite infuriating.
For fans of gaming, the final three episodes are for you, devoted as they are to a huge battle conducted entirely within the LA storyline but presented as a real live situation. There is a small subplot involving a hacker which may or may not be plausible but I’ll leave you to pick the bones of authenticity out of that one.
Given the derivative nature of the set up and the catalogue of clichés and conventions surrounding it, it is not big news that the artwork and animation doesn’t break any real ground either. As mentioned earlier, Ako is the only cast member not taken from the off the peg collection of anime character designs, and that goes for their online versions too, extending to the world of LA which is just like every other fantasy setting in anime.
And You Thought There’s Never A Girl Online offers plenty of fun but squanders its opportunity to be different, letting itself down by being beholden to the status quo. The pathos behind Ako’s situation sows the seeds for audience investment but doesn’t allow them to bloom, leaving the gamers watching to at least nod embarrassingly in recognition of the cross-player scenario.
English Language 2.0
Japanese Language 2.0 w/ English Subtitles
Rating – ***
Man In Black