Jun 23, 2016
There are some series that leaves an impact on the consumer, whether positive or negative, influencing or degrading, enjoyable or painful. They fall into a specific spectrum of very good or very bad. But then there are the in-betweeners, some which have good qualities but still missed their mark more times than acceptable, or are of the “so bad, it's good” due to managing to hold on to some charm that saves it from the trash bin. Others, however, manage to find comfort in the very middle by just “being there”, not picking a side and not making an impression good or bad enough to be properly labeled at a glance. These get glossed over easily enough that one would really have to be paying attention or actively looking to notice them.

Such is the case of “Netoge no Yome wa Onnanoko ja Nai to Omotta?”, “And You Thought There is Never a Girl Online?”, simply shortened to “NetoYome”. It's your typical “high school ecchi romance comedy light novel” adaptation, fit for its particular audience that picks it up every season and manages to enjoy them despite the problems that plague the genre. And yet at the same time, it's one of the more tolerable ones. There is nothing infuriating about it while still not being special enough to fully stand out from its fellow ecchi light novel crowd. You could say it's the wallflower of ecchi light novel anime, the one you notice at the corner of your eye, yet aren't willing to ask for a dance. Well, maybe this time, you can make an exception to try just once, or at least give a wave to acknowledge its presence and make it feel more welcome.

STORY: Hideki Nishimura is a regular in the MMORPG called “Legendary Age” as a knight named in-game “Rusian”, and has been in a few guilds during his play-through. In one such guild, he came to like a particular player and confessed his love for that character in-game and asked to marry them. The player behind the character revealed she's actually a he in real life, and out of shock, he vowed to never trust another female character in-game again. But it doesn't stop him from meeting a new character, a cleric by the name of “Ako”, and after a bit of inner conflict with himself, they marry in-game. One day, as suggested by the guild leader, the Alley Cats decide to have a meet-up in real life, revealing much to his surprise—and near-disbelief—all three of his party members (two of which are male characters) are girls who go to the same high school. And as it turns out, Ako truly is Ako (full name Ako Tamaki), and she has fallen in love with him like she did in the game—if only because she can't differentiate between online fantasy and reality. Thus, Hideki, the tsundere Akane “Schwein” Segawa, and the student council president Kyou “Apricot” Goshouin work together to help her out by forming a club while the two in-game lovebirds find themselves growing just as close in real life.

It's a simple premise, there's nothing more to it than what is listed in the paragraph. You do get character interactions with each other both in the game and in real life (to show their online counterparts aren't too different from their actual personalities), but that's as deep as it goes, even when occurring characters come in-and-out as they please (and showing a strange male-to-female gamer ratio in-series, but whatever). It's a romance, and a sweet romance at that, which for an ecchi rom-com light novel adaptation, it's to be expected, and it knows it's nothing more than that. And yet because it's simple and sweet, there's a special charm to it that makes it refreshing for the genre. In fact, despite being an ecchi, it's not your standard ecchi fare of “main male protagonist and his harem get into sexual slapstick mishaps with cheesecake shots for the camera”. The closest it ever got to this was in the obligatory beach episode, but the roles were actually switched. It was just the characters having fun.

The only real conflict throughout the series is Ako's inability to tell apart online fantasy with the real world, but there was an episode dedicated to a hacker infiltrating Hideki's account that caused a temporary rift between him and Ako while also practically deleting his character and selling all of his inventory for a quick buck. The character of Rusian does get restored, but not with his items, so for the rest of the series afterwards, there's brief discussions about such-and-such item still being missing, Rusian and Ako remarry, and the hacker gets confronted in a strangely amusing but admittedly smart way, then that's about it for the hacker subplot.

If there had to be a problem with the story itself, it's that Hideki's trouble with trusting girls online, which is what kickstarted the anime, goes away pretty early on when he comes to terms that not everyone's what they seem to be behind the keyboard. So he doesn't show too many trust issues throughout the series as originally believed, which may or may not be a good sign depending on what you were expecting to happen. It's not like with “Girls Bravo” in which the main protagonist is allergic to girls, so there's no jokes at his dispense over it during and after. Akane more-or-less is the only one who really pushes his buttons, but that's because she developed a reputation as being the popular beauty who turns down every guy who asks her out despite being bit of an alpha bitch (more-or-less to hide the fact she's a gamer), so she has to keep that title in the school.

CHARACTERS: Personal opinion here, but Ako is one of the most precious, if not adorable characters this season, albeit in personality and design. Sure, there's always that possibility her naïveté will get on people's nerves (and given how moé she is, that's to be expected), but there's something innocent and a little sweet about the way she views her relationship with Hideki. She truly loves him even though she sees him as “Rusian” and calls him as such much to his chagrin, and the other characters are concerned enough about her lack of social life that they want to help her overcome it. And the odd thing is she's a very pretty girl, one would think she'd be popular with the boys in school. But she's not. No one gives her the time of day because she's painfully timid and probably doesn't take great care of herself at times. She's Tomoko's sweeter twin sister who's inexperienced with video games, if you want a comparison.

Hideki is your typical male protagonist in that he's the nice guy with no real distinct personality to call his own, especially since he's quite the otaku so his friends at school tease him about. He shows genuine care for his guild (which extends into real life the best they can), but especially for Ako since she's the newbie of the group. And yet, there's something charming about him. By himself, he's just there, but together with Ako, they form a nice dynamic that allows him to shine a little brighter than he could've. It's not the best way to write a character, however, the relationship is definitely there and cannot be overlooked without forsaking the lifeblood of the series.

Akane and Kyou are of their respective archetypes for the most part, but they work fine together with Hideki and Ako and thus that keeps them from being the “slightly more than a background character” characters. Kyou's the guild leader (reflecting her status as student council president as well as a rich girl), so she's the most level-headed of the group, but she has her moments as well. Akane's sharp attitude causes some bickering here and there between her and Hideki, but as the tsundere, it's to be expected, and since there's no romance between them, it's for good fun. She's pretty much their ace in the guild despite Hideki having some of the best items, and is usually the first to go into battle.

Other characters show up, but Nekohime and Sette are more-or-less the only recurring characters. There's honestly nothing more to these characters than what they're introduced as even after becoming regular members of the Alley Cat guild, but there's an actual funny punchline behind Nekohime's identity, at least if you're not paying attention.

ART/ANIMATION: Of all the shows I personally watched this season, “NetoYome” is one of those shows with a distinct art-style that makes characters pop in their beauty and attractiveness (even with the occasional bounciness of the girls not Akane, though she makes up for it with leg shots). Not entirely sure how much of Hisasi's influence there is in the anime, but Akane Yano knew what to do as the character designer. It's a very colorful, pretty show to look at, and I hadn't noticed too many quality dips during its run. Colors also have different palettes for the real world and the online world. There's more color to the real world than in-game where it's more gray and saturated, but that's probably because most of what we see in-game are the characters in the dungeon or in a pub where they hold their meetings. Not that the game itself doesn't have color, when the characters are out in a field or in the village, it is bright and there's like a rainbow filter in the backgrounds, but it's noticeably not the real world. The tone also changes much more in-game than in the real world, where everything's calm and normal, if only because other guilds tend to drop by and pick fights with Rusian when they're not battling a boss (which aren't of bad quality themselves).

I'm not one of those folks that goes around proclaiming “this cinnamon roll is too good for this earth” or “I want to protect that smile”, but I can make an exception for the latter because holy crap these characters have lips and they have adorable smiles that makes the eyes look sparklier than usual (which says something since they have rather sparkly eyes to begin with). Protect that smile at all costs, it's too precious for any other show but this one.

SOUND: Admittedly, I haven't paid too much attention to this, so this'll be short. There is a FUNimation dub currently streaming, but I haven't yet listened to it to really give thoughts on. The original is fine if you ask me, but there's nothing too special or note-worthy outside of Rina Hidaka as Ako. She knows how to make the soft-spoken character adorable, and thus her voice stands out the most in this show. Everyone else is fine, I have nothing against them. As for the music, the soundtrack doesn't really stick out to me that much outside of violins, bells/chimes, and electronic beeps, but it's not bad. The OP is sugary-sweet in setting the tone of the “1st Love Story”, and the ending has some nice, calming beeping effects in the music I actually like. I may never remember the name of the song, but I could most definitely pinpoint it to this series since those notes give off this “Internet” feel.

But I must point out that in the MMO world, swear words when spoken are censored with oinking sound-effects, which is pretty funny. I thought it was because of the “Schwein” character, but it affects all of the characters even though Akane swears the most.

ENJOYMENT: “[Don't] Judge a book by its cover” is a phrase that gets thrown around a lot, but there's a lot of truth to it while there's plenty of exceptions. I don't know what exactly it was about “NetoYome” that I was interested in from the start, but most likely it was the attractive art, and I had no other expectations for it. I'm just as skeptical about the light novel adaptations as the next person, especially as I haven't had too many good times with a lot of them (the last ecchi rom-com light novel adaptation I had watched peeved me off, after all). This isn't even my favorite show of the season.

And yet somehow, it wormed its way into my heart and made itself comfortable. It's too endearing to bother asking it “Yo, why're you here?”, so I just let it be, and I've grown content with its company. It'll probably leave at some point down the road, but I see it sticking around for a little bit or going off to join the likes of “My Dear Marie”, “Gingitsune”, and “Denki-gai no Honya-san” in the “Somehow I Liked This Enough to Acknowledge Its Existence a Bit More Regularly Than I Technically Should've” corner. Either way, I definitely wouldn't mind a second season if they choose to do so. I'd like to see Ako become more socially active and further develop her relationship with Hideki, since it's not too often you get an anime couple willing to develop and grow together prior to the third act of a series.

But no, really, protect that smile. Go ask that darling Ako for a dance and make her feel loved and welcome. Wallflowers are beautiful when they finally open up.
Reviewer’s Rating: 7
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