BOFURI is About the Joy of Playing Games the Wrong Way

Iyashikei (soothing/healing) shows have become a staple of anime over the past decade. Whether you’re looking for quiet, gentle comedies about camping, cooking, or raising a pet, the genre’s appeal has only shone brighter as daily life becomes more stressful. This season’s I Don’t Want to Get Hurt, So I Maxed Out My Defense, better known as BOFURI (a shortened portmanteau of its Japanese title), combines that chill atmosphere with the popular genre of fantasy VR anime. Shows like Sword Art Online or Infinite Dendrogram might have life-threatening stakes for the gamers entering their virtual worlds, but BOFURI just wants to concentrate on its teenage leads making friends and having a good time. It’s awesome.

The title refers to the show’s central conceit: protagonist Kaede (who goes by the in-game name “Maple”) is new to MMORPGs, so she allocates all her points into her defense stat and accidentally winds up with an absurdly broken min/maxed character. But while her first day mostly involves stumbling into skills that chain together into her initial broken build (she leaves the game running and gets mobbed by starter enemies that can’t chip her HP, unlocking a special defense skill, which leads to another, which leads to her stumbling into the first boss and surviving long enough to earn a poison immunity skill, and so on), the writing is smart enough to realize that a protagonist constantly surviving on oblivious luck would get old fast. Thoroughly “meh” first episode aside, it’s not long before Maple is cheerfully chaining together skills into creative puzzle solutions that reward her inventiveness.

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While admittedly the show depicts a somewhat exaggerated version of what MMO play is like, it taps into how much playing games the “wrong” way can be. Maple ultimately isn’t that different from speedrunners, Pokemon Nuzlocke run enthusiasts, and fighting game fans who ignore metagaming and only play as their faves. BOFURI’s expanded cast also embraces this philosophy, with some making their own min/max builds and others eschewing combat entirely to work on crafting or puzzle dungeons. While they’re sometimes comically formidable, the focus is less on topping the leaderboards and more on the sense of community Maple and her friends find through gaming.

It doesn’t hurt that animation studio Silver Link have poured a great deal of love and care into the show’s visuals. The fights might not be life-or-death, but they are creatively choreographed to communicate the gameplay functions at work while still maintaining a sense of tension and fluidity. The virtual world opens up tons of opportunities for dynamic lighting and physics, inviting the viewer to look forward to exploration as much as the characters do. For anyone wanting to enjoy all the best parts of online gaming without the grinding and the assholes in PVP, BOFURI is an excellent 12 episodes of decompression.