And You Thought There is Never a Girl Online? is an easy show to prejudge. Cover art focusing on an unrealistically busty young woman’s cleavage? Check. An MMORPG premise? Check. An MA15+ rating for “sexual references and nudity”? Check. An awkwardly-translated title? Check and check. (For future reference, I’m going to call the show Netoge, as apparently its fans do, to avoid the mouthful And You Thought There is Never a Girl Online?) So I started watching the show fully expecting a trashy, fanservice-heavy harem anime with some familiar videogame action to spice up the proceedings.
While I wasn’t entirely offbase – Netoge certainly hits many traditional ecchi anime beats, with the obligatory ‘day at the beach’ episode and an extended bathhouse interlude – my prejudgement proved misguided. Thankfully! Netoge’s concept is incredibly simple: four online friends – two of whom are ‘MMORPG married’ – decided to meet up and – surprise surprise! – three of them turn out to be attractive young women, all attending the same school as protagonist Hideki (Toshiyuki Toyonaga/Dallas Reid). Rather than pivoting into the expected harem narrative, the ensuing story revolves around the tentative romance between Hideki and online wife Ako (Rina Hidaka/Trina Nishimura).
You see, Ako is pure otaku – incurably obsessed with the show’s MMORPG (called Legendary Age, or LA for short) – and the four online party members make an IRL pact to ‘fix’ her. To teach her to actually value school, and to maybe not violently react to ‘normies’. And to maybe get her to understand that an innocent boyfriend-girlfriend relationship with Hideki might be more meaningful than her marriage to his online persona, Rusian.
In a weaker, more conventional show, Ako’s resistance to reality would be easily overcome; a mere speedbump on a road to harem antics and romantic complications. But while Netoge is primarily a frothy, funny series, it takes Ako’s addiction seriously. Her friends are able to nudge her in the right direction, but by the season’s end they haven’t come close to ‘fixing’ her. Refreshingly – and perhaps understandably given the predominance of otaku culture in Japan – the show also presents her sympathetically, making substantial efforts to understand her obsession through its representation of LA. The show also takes Hideki and Ako’s relationship seriously. Unlike similar shows, where every female character would be falling over themselves to seduce Hideki, the only chemistry here is between these two.
Ah, from misjudgement to mischaracterisation! I’m making Netoge sound like a serious exploration of videogame addiction, which couldn’t be further from the truth. First and foremost, the show is silly entertainment, weaving from online adventure to sexually-charged flirtations to awkward social interactions. While the show’s hardly a masterpiece, its major missteps to me only came in the last few episodes. A PVP-heavy LA storyline feels incongruous with what followed; you’re invested in the characters, not their MMORPG successes. But on the whole, Netoge is a far greater show than I’d expected.