Review/discussion about: Net-juu no Susume
I’ve written about my World of Warcraft days in the past. How I would obsessively get lost within its continents as I raided dungeons, finished quests, and earned achievements. I remember it vividly. I hailed from Ironforge, taking on the guise of an old, gentlemanly dwarf with a formidable white beard.
Believe it or not, I’m neither short in stature (but instead slightly over six-feet tall) nor at such a wizened age (but instead as spry as ever). But that was part of the fun of playing the game: being somebody else within a fantastical land. I would venture a guess that Net-juu no Susume concurs. That it would even go so far as to advocate that games can – and do – lead to even greater happiness.
In a medium rife with high-school settings and teenage-centric dramas, anime romance stories tend to revolve around people of a relatively younger age. Not that that’s a bad thing, for some of the best shows ever derive from such a premise. Still, when Net-juu no Susume pushes back against this norm, crafting an adult romance story instead, the change of pace is no doubt a welcome feeling for fans of the genre wishing for a tale a tad bit fresher than usual.
To get at that new-car smell, the anime splits its time between its two important halves: the game world and the real world. An imbalance exists, though, as the real world receives the most emphasis while the game world acts as little else besides the initial bridge for the plot to occur. Yes, the anime provides common details about item drops and fighting enemies, but Fruits de Mer (the title of the MMORPG they play) cannot exactly be called unique let alone substantial.
This imbalance isn’t so much a slight against Net-juu no Susume as it is an observation that this story revolves less around the game they play and more around the “game” they play. However, this sense of imbalance does carry over into much of the rest of the show itself.
For starters, the vital romantic elements can go either way. On the one hand, watching Moriko and Sakurai slowly stumble into their respective lives, struggle with their feelings, learn more about each other, and ultimately find solace in the love shared between them stands as a major positive throughout the season. On the other hand, it can seem unsatisfying at times. Despite the adult premise, the actual romance hardly goes anywhere spectacular, and the overall payoff amounts to very little (with the finale coming quite close to giving nothing at all).
Such trepidation is likewise imbalanced. The direction of the narrative follows a gradual pace because of Moriko and her lack of self-worth, so it makes sense that the events themselves commit to slow changes, baby steps towards a better life for the female lead. Yet it can also encounter a trouble or two. Uncanny plot conveniences. Weak dramatic moments. While the story does move along in a purposeful manner, these issues can occasionally hinder Net-juu no Susume and its straightforward path.
This imbalance once again leads to another imbalance regarding its themes. On the surface, the anime includes several talking points about social anxiety, problems in the workforce, and the value in having a passion. And, to some extent, the show tries to incorporate them more readily as they translate into that earlier game world or otherwise feature as specific scenes throughout the season in that narrative direction. But these potential themes appear to go to waste as their exploration only reaches so far, lightly touching on these ideas without truly delving into them. They no doubt drive the story; they just don’t put it into high gear.
Again, across its ten episodes, Net-juu no Susume certainly has its moments and its aspects worth praising. However, its noticeable flaws keep the show in check, preventing it from excelling beyond a middling ground.
ART & ANIMATION
Unfortunately for Net-juu no Susume, its artistry can lag in similar fashion to its story.
But first some positives are in order. The jokey style which squashes the characters’ looks and gives them a sillier representation throws in another twinge of comedy for the anime’s benefit. Moriko’s reactions of incredulity and of embarrassment are common examples as to how this style is used to strong effect.
The character designs are also a nice sight. Their looks within the video game they play – different outfits, varying physical builds, color choices – create an easy dichotomy between the fantasy and the reality of the situation. Once again, though, it’s Moriko who offers the best example with a contrast of her own. After she cleans herself up a bit, she moves away from appearing like a disheveled shut-in and towards a beautiful woman, highlighting a wonderful transition for her character on a visual level.
In general, however, the anime swings to the opposite side with difficulties in other parts of its art. For instance, not a whole lot of fluid actual animation in the daily actions they take goes on. Even their mouth movements tend to be subpar at times. Moreover, lighting and shadow details aren’t the most refined as the normal brightness tends to be too bright and the heavy blackness underneath jawlines tends to stick out too much. And the background pieces are usually very plain both in and out of the game, leaving much to be desired.
To reiterate, the collective artistry within Net-juu no Susume is not horrible by any means. But it is also fair to say that the presentation isn’t the most impressive either. So, at the end of the day, what the anime offers is certainly serviceable – but that’s about it.
Net-juu no Susume is a story centered on two everyday people: Moriko Morioka and Yuuta Sakurai. While nearly every other side character goes underutilized, either in their involvement or in their own connections within the group, these two receive a worthwhile amount of attention.
Moriko describes herself as an “elite NEET”, a person who has voluntarily chosen to resign herself to a life filled with no job and no prospects but fun in the form of indulging in her addicting hobby. This hobby? Playing massively multiplayer online role-playing games (or MMORPGs for short). When she isn’t using her lint roller, apologizing profusely, or sleeping, she is almost always found sitting down at her gaming station for another long night of key presses and mouse swings.
Sadly, the anime does not divulge much of Moriko’s past (e.g., with a flashback episode or the like), but it does provide glimpses of what she has experienced as well as slight traces of how her previous difficulties have haunted her. She revels getting lost in her “safe” world where she must only deal with imaginary monsters within its rolling fields and its quaint atmosphere as opposed to the “monsters” which reside outside. In fact, she creates a character unlike herself – a happy male hero named Hayashi – to accomplish her goals even further.
Combined with her fear of social interaction, it’s clear that she uses video games as an escape, to hide herself from problematic possibilities. Her feelings of ineptitude and her general sense of depression thus push her away from living in a healthy manner and towards a secluded, lonely existence with only the lights from her computer screen to keep her company. Harsh? Absolutely. But, as they say, “the truth hurts.”
It’s not all negative amongst the pixels. Her guildmates value her presence and offer advice here and there. And, most importantly, she forms a tight bond with her best in-game friend: Lily, the caring female healer who sits atop the trees with her.
Although, unbeknownst to Moriko for quite a while, Lily is actually Sakurai, the man who she accidentally bumps into on a day like any other. He likewise does not have much of a past to speak of, and he does not have nearly as many worries or personal conflicts to manage, so he is thus not as intriguing of a character when compared to his crush. Nevertheless, Sakurai (as Lily) becomes a huge source of support for Moriko (as Hayashi), sincerely listening to her troubles and closely working with her as fabled partners.
The parallels run deeper between Moriko and Sakurai, for they both (subconsciously or not) wish to be more like their respective game personas when out in the real world. She hopes to be more outgoing and regular; he hopes to be more caring and supportive for another.
Thankfully for them, they have a cheerful, mutual friend named Koiwai. He spurs them on from afar, wishing only for the best between these two lovebirds. He pokes at Sakurai to have him come to terms with his thoughts and feelings. He goes on a date with Moriko to simultaneously boost her confidence and pump up Sakurai even further. He puts effort into playing their online game and scheduling indirect meetups to go the extra mile. Koiwai is without a doubt a true companion and an awesome person in their lives.
His actions help Moriko and Sakurai along, and their intertwined moments do so for each other as well. Over the course of Net-juu no Susume, they realize their connection is worth its weight in (in-game) gold and then some. Moriko explains how she is extremely grateful for everything he has done for her, and Sakurai in turn confesses how he cherishes the fact that he even met her in the first place.
As such, Moriko gains some self-esteem, and Sakurai gains the opportunity to watch over her directly. The two of them moving hand-in-hand towards a brighter future together.
MUSIC & SOUND
After hearing the show’s many audio offerings, it’s clear that they are one of the best parts at its disposal.
To be fair, Net-juu no Susume perhaps relies on its main fantasy piece of music overly so from its original soundtrack. But the nostalgic tune carries a lot of emotion regardless due to its simplistic nature and its docile instrumentation. The “scary”, carnival-esque music which accompanies Moriko’s downtrodden feelings makes for a nice aural way to convey said feelings. Even the simple little jingle between the A and the B parts of every episode – to which one cannot help but whistle along – has a spring to it that provides the anime with that extra bit of finesse.
The voice acting performances also deserve some praise. Reina Ueda continues to have one of the cutest voices in her field, giving Lily a heartfelt tone that soothes the soul. Takahiro Sakurai as (coincidentally enough) Sakurai speaks with a very calm cadence which allow his words to comfort Moriko that much more. And speaking of the female lead (and somewhat coincidentally again) Mamiko Noto wins the trophy out of the three. Her various responses, deliveries, and noises capture the sensitive yet mature woman as well as could possibly be.
Lastly, the opening track “Sunday Night Question” and the ending track “Hikari, Hikari” both shine in their own ways, too.
The OP blends synthesized and grander sounds, bringing about a duality of a song. Its somber first half hints at optimism in its second half, and the opposing instrumentals somewhat mirror the gaming-versus-reality motif of the show itself. Also worth mentioning, the catchy notes and the soft vocalizing go a long way towards making the piece a treat.
As for the ED, it plays out as if it were a sweet jam session with tons of heart. The shifting pace. The multiple guitars. The smooth bass. The playful lyrical delivery. The nifty solo to ride it out. It all combines into a fun-filled song, leaving the audience more smiley and more uplifted than they had been before listening to it.
Altogether, Net-juu no Susume doesn’t necessarily create anything incredible across its music and sound choices. However, they work quite well within the context of the anime, and they’re well-executed enough earn a shout-out or two even after finishing the series up.
I’m writing this review months after major controversy plagued this show. I haven’t yet talked about it myself, so I figure I should throw my own two cents into this well as well.
For those not in the know or needing a quick refresher, observant individuals noted that the director for this anime committed to some rather awful ideas on Twitter. That is to say, his Antisemitic remarks and other related comments were obtuse, vitriolic, or otherwise unbecoming.
This show was liked by a sizable chunk of the community, and so this debacle sparked a necessary debate. Specifically, if someone loves a piece of media, only to later discover that the creator behind it took part in reprehensible behavior, should this new, truthful fact influence his or her attachment to said media?
Even simpler, should we separate the art from the artist?
Strangely enough, my younger brother, my brother-in-law, and I had an extensive conversation about these questions over a family dinner at a restaurant not too long ago. We debated both extremes, but, in the end, we agreed on somewhere in the middle. That a person must always try to keep both sides separated – but that everyone has a line of tolerance which, once crossed, makes it almost impossible to fully appreciate the body of work as its own entity.
This line changes in location and shape for many reasons. It depends on the content and whether that person’s views influenced or affected the work. It depends on how much value is placed on the 99% of others who contributed their efforts and who uphold legitimate goodness (or, at the very least, do not spit such vile statements). It depends on the consumer’s personal life and the variables they deem relevant. And so on and so forth.
When I consider this viewpoint, it makes for a tough predicament since I like this anime. Moriko is a super-likable character and an attractive lady to boot. The romance had me all giddy with excitement since I’m a huge, huge romance fan. The miniscule video-game traits got the gamer in me nodding my head. In other words, this anime entertained me for sure.
Yet the lameness still lingers. While I’m not Jewish myself, I find the rhetoric completely cruel and lacking in sympathy for those who were persecuted and who were mistreated. Moreover, I get upset at people who spout such gross misinformation since it only harms and misleads others.
But we also shouldn’t forget about those other factors involved. The studio overseeing the show denounced and distanced the director, refusing to let him tarnish the project anymore (which could be argued as “too little, too late”). And the original author of this story (as far as I am aware) does not hold remotely similar views, meaning that, at its core, the anime does not derive from an evil place.
So, in total, it doesn’t fully cross that proverbial line for me personally. I was forced to move closer to it than I ever needed to, of course. Plus, I would be lying if I wrote that this incident would never be linked to this project during my own discussions about it from here on out. Regardless, let’s hope that we do not encounter a similar debacle again anytime soon, for a good show like this one deserves better.
Net-juu no Susume promises an adult-romance tale, and it follows through on that statement plus a little bit more. While the controversy surrounding it cannot be outright ignored, and certain parts are mediocre at best, the characters, the audio, and the entertainment in general put the anime above the median. No guises, no white beards. Just an interesting experience.
Story: Fine, while imbalances in execution exist throughout the narrative, it has enough going for it romantically, structurally, and thematically to not fall behind
Art & Animation: Fine, a set of nice designs and the occasional jokey art style offset the plain, unadventurous visuals which persist throughout its entire run
Characters: Good, Moriko and Sakurai grow a lot from their relationship, Koiwai is a friend everyone deserves, but the rest of the supporting cast are sidelined to a noticeable extent
Music & Sound: Good, the OST, the VA performances, the OP, and the ED are a strong positive, even if next to nothing sticks out as outstanding
Enjoyment: Fine, a likable project which inadvertently caused an important discussion within the community itself about separating the art and the artist
Final Score: 6/10
Thanks for taking the time to read my review.
If you want, take part in the discussion below! :3