This ponderously titled anime covers the same ground as many other series: the nerd gets the girl. Fortunately it does that with a good amount of originality. The nerd in question is Hideki Nishimura, who spends his spare time doing internet gaming on a multiplayer game called Legendary Age. The game has a chat facility and players can form groups and alliances. Sometimes players take this a step further and develop in-game relationships. Hideki learnt the futility of that approach to dating the hard way, when he proposed to a cute cat girl in the game, only for her to reveal that in real life she’s a middle aged dude… or so she says.
Realising that “the game and the real world are different things”, which becomes his catch phrase, Hideki swears off dating within the game, until he steps in one day to save a newbie in trouble and she latches onto him. Ako isn’t going to take no for an answer, and Hideki even agrees to marry her within the game environment. By this point, Hideki is spending his time while gaming with a group of internet friends in Legendary Age, two other guys and Ako, and they have all formed a guild together. They decide to take a big step and meet in real life.
In a reversal of the apparent cat-girl situation, the two male players in the group turn out to be female in real life. There’s Kyo, who is the “master” of the group within the game and in reality is a rich girl who is the student council president at school. There’s Akane, who is a popular blonde who keeps her gaming a secret in real life to avoid damaging her cool reputation. And then there’s Ako, who is the main focus of the series. Oh, by the way, they all just happen to be attending the same school, because everyone we meet on the world wide web just happens to live a few streets away… right?
So we have to take a leap of faith there, but it’s worth it. Ako is absolutely adorable but frankly she’s mentally troubled. She can’t distinguish properly between the game and real life, and starts calling everyone by their game names (so Hideki is “Rusian”, for example). That’s a problem for Akane in particular, who has a reputation to protect (oh, and her gamer name just happens to be the German for “pig”). Ako also treats Hideki as if he’s really her husband. You would have thought that would be a dream come true for a nerdy teenager, but the brilliance of this anime is that it acknowledges that you can’t live a fantasy. Hideki realises that Ako is blurring the lines between the game and reality, and he knows it’s just not right. He starts to fall in love with her pretty quickly but he wants it to be real, not just the attentions of a confused, troubled school dropout with no real life friends. He wants Ako to love him for who he really is, not his in-game persona. The trouble is, Ako just can’t seem to understand the difference, and that problem is at the heart of this series. The group all wants to help Ako, and they form a gaming club at school, so now they are meeting together as real friends.
There are quite a few surprises along the way, with a couple of new characters also making an impact, but I can’t really talk about either of them here without spoiling some key moments in the series. What I really loved about this series is that it isn’t a harem anime, contrary to appearances. Instead it’s an uplifting portrayal of the importance of friendship, and the way friends can support and help each other. There’s plenty of fanservice, and it does feel at times like the writer is exploiting Ako a little too much. That might sound like an odd thing to say, because she’s just a character in an anime, but I do think when you are portraying what is basically a form of mental illness then as a writer you have some duty of care in the way you do that. But the majority of the fanservice tends to be focused on Kyo, which is a lot more harmless.
I always enjoy an anime that shows lonely people finding friends. It gives the viewer a warm, fuzzy feeling. But more than that, this shows the importance of having the right kind of friends. Akane already has loads, but that’s just because she’s playing the popular girl act. It’s only when she meets her LA friends that she finds something real, which is ironic because it all springs from something that clearly isn’t real at all. This is a series that acknowledges the pitfalls and dangers of internet friendships, while celebrating them and showing how important they can also be.
Hideki insists on drawing a clear line between the online world and reality, and to some extent that ends up holding him back. Ako doesn’t draw a line at all, and to some extent that damages her social and educational progress in the real world. Somewhere between those two extremes there’s a balance to be struck. RP