Aniwords – What’s Up with “Trapped in an MMO” Anime?

As a disclaimer, since all of the commentors on Crunchyroll felt obligated to point this out—yes, I’m fully aware the stuff I’m talking about in this post wasn’t “invented” by anime for this particular genre. Of course, I probably don’t need to tell you guys that. You know me well enough to actually listen to what I’m trying to say. Ah, well, such is the price for writing for an audience on a big site versus on my blog. That’ll teach me to sell out…

Sword Art Online

Here’s the link!

Bonus Content:

To be honest, I don’t really have anything to add on regarding the content of this week’s post. I feel I’ve said all I need to in the article itself, so I thought I’d just take this opportunity to say thanks to all you blog readers here. I made the crack about selling out in the intro of the post, but it really has been an eye-opening experience writing for a big site for Crunchyroll. The difference in quality of commentors between there and here is stark. And it makes me pretty darn thankful I have a great group of readers on here who engage with me in thoughtful, kind terms.

So yeah, thanks to everyone who reads and comments here on Mage in Barrel. I’m really, truly, genuinely grateful for your readership and participation. Thanks for sticking with me, reading my stuff, and supporting my Patreo–

I kid, I kid. ^_^

11 thoughts on “Aniwords – What’s Up with “Trapped in an MMO” Anime?

  1. I would argue that a world CAN by and IS a representation.

    I do wonder if we could point this to be a manifestation of our narcissism and need for space to express our own unremarkable remarkableness in all of its glory. We WANT a place where we can feel special, even when we’re really not. Some get this with friends and family. Others find this in simulacrums of life, like games. Seems pretty convenient for us to take your average joe and throw him in a place where he’s necessarily special (i.e. in Overlord, the main character is the only person who’s not an NPC; Kirito’s just damn good at playing video games…and girls, etc).

    Just keep doing your thing, bless.


    • Just keep doing your thing, bless.

      Eheh can’t tell if this is a compliment, a dig, or actually just telling me to keep on keeping on. ^_^”

      And I think you’re talking about wish-fulfillment and, yes, I do agree that often comes into play here with these kinds of settings because they are, in a sense, tailored for the player-character.


      • Take it as affectionate support. I don’t always agree with everything you post but I do appreciate you taking the time to explain how you see things. Discussion is the bread and butter of life. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Interesting post. I think at the same time as these MMO shows have started airing, there’s been a drop in a slightly different genre. Shows where a normal person somehow went to a different dimension and were trapped there used to be fairly common. But now the last one I remember seeing is No Game, No Life.

    Perhaps these MMO shows are merely the modern variant of that archetype. Where the authors are just trying to add a modern spin on that old trope.


    • Oh, yes, definitely, the MMO shows are a variant of the “trapped in a strange” world archetype and deal with many of the same fundamental themes. It gets adapted into our modern storytelling in a recognizable form, but it’s truly just the same old, same old.


    • I do think of trapped-in-a-MMO shows as variants of trapped-in-a-different-world show, but there are differences.

      (1) The game aspect: Interestingly, No Game No Life has probably been influenced by the trapped-in-a-game trend, because the world is based around games. The same goes for the Problem Children anime. Maybe also Dog Days, which I didn’t watch a lot, but from what I watched it reminded me more of TV-shows like, say, Takeshi’s Castle than of MMO shows.

      More importantly, though, is:

      (2) Trapped-in-a-different-world shows are usually sudden, unfamiliar settings thrown at the protagonist. But in the new MMO shows the setting is intimately familiar, and what’s changing is the framing: it’s suddenly more real. There’s a reality shift involved. Different shows tackle this differently:

      .hack/sign (and the rest of the .hack franchise I suppose; I haven’t seen much else) actually only has a handful of people trapped in the world, and only one is actually a character in the show. Part of the investigations take place offline. (I’ve played the PS2 games, and those were interesting as you were playing a single player game, in which you were playing a real-world kid, who was playing an online game. You had access to game forums, and the kid’s e-mail account.) .hack/sign was always keenly aware that the online world wasn’t real. It’s the only MMO show I know, for example, where you see characters in the background, who use a palatte-swapped version of a main character’s avatar, for example. Escapism is at the thematic core of the show; you probably know what I mean if you’ve seen it (I’m trying hard not to spoil things).

      SAO seemed less interested in the virtual aspect. It’s a more straightforward adventure show; a gamer’s power fantasy, complete with customisable girlfriend. As an example, compare how .hack/sign treats player killers to how SAO treats them. SAO transfers player-killing straight into the world, as a pure villainous concept. The player killer in .hack/sign is a bit of an ass, but generally a decent kid. Part of it is the concept of SAO – someone who engages in player-killing in that show is a killer – no ifs and buts. However, you could easily have tackled the issue, with more awareness of how gaming-habits change. What if, for example, our protagonist had been honed his high skills by being a player killer in the original game (because fighting live people is more challenging than fighting code)? When the show does care about what’s real and what not, it tends to fall somewhere on the continuum between wish-fulfillment and anxiety. I didn’t bother with season 2 as the first episode of that was full of what already annoyed me in season 1.

      Log Horizon is different once again. Rather than .hack’s mysticism, or SAO’s cartharsis, it feels like a sociopolitical sandbox: an elaborate thought experiment, of what the social effects would be if MMO’s were actually real. It’s shallow, but elaborate, thoughtful and fun. The show even breaks away from its shallowness on occasion; there are spots that have genuine emotional depths, and there are more of them later in the show (maybe the author was focussing more on character, as his command of the setting grew more instinctive?).

      I’m not really sure about Overlord, but there’s a distinct salaryman feel to it; as if Momonga is turning into his boss at work. Not so much a power fantasy in the teenage sense (“the world is you oyster”), and more of a role reversal: taking orders in real life, giving them in the game. It’s interesting, for example, how the show characterises entirely absent people by the items or NPCs they created. I could be completely wrong about Overlord, though.

      I also think that some of the appeal of those shows comes from the fact that MMOs have rules that are programmed into its very core. The real world is chaotic and unpredictable, but there’s a sense that a MMO world has rules that can be mastered, and if you master them you master the world. Both .hack and SAO, for example, have powerful programmers modifying the code to their liking, though the .hack programmer was much more private in scope. Overlord has players creating characters and items. MMOs are logical worlds down to the last bit.

      This rule centered approach spills over into the other “portal-shows” I mention above (NGNL…), but also into more straight-forward second-world shows, such as Danmachi (where the gods might as well be programmers and players with special status rolled in one).

      I think there’s something comforting in this rule-centred approach: you will reach level 2 if you kill enough slimes.


      • Oh, this is good stuff! I’m actually probably going to come back to this idea of “a world of rules as comfort food” next week because I want to talk about gamified worlds ala No Game No Life, Problem Children, and maybe even Danmachi.


  3. First I rather post on your blog than CR because frankly there really some idiots on CR ! Not everybody but enough to make you stay sometimes . At least here I can be casual or more serious and feel comfortable ! Everybody on here tries to make very good points ! We differ sometimes but state our cases!

    Secomd I think the quality of the posters on CR has gone way downhill . I know who the good ones are ! But like I said before if you disagree if a color is rust somebody will say it’s crimision or orange red! I guess people dont get outside as much nowadays ! And you will be eaten alive !

    Third I am not knocking the genre but good manga usually has it all over the game adaptions or the MNO’s.

    I actually liked some of SAO / not all / and Overlord has turned into the moment instead of figuring out what went wrong which leads to intrigue !

    Disclaimer I watched and liked No Game No Life but the fans think this is the best show ever Gag / cough / etc!

    I think as we get away from people doing things outside / just using Tech devices / not all / their views of the worlsdare distorted! IMO

    A BONUS observe / Non- Non Biyori EP 4 / will floor you ! / No spoiler just my view !


  4. Mainly, I’m really proud of you. I mean you got a gig mere seconds out of college concerning something you’re interested in. I’m not going to ask about the money. Just consider that CR is pretty high profile, and as such will attract a wide (cough) variety of commenters. Stay strong! Good on you!


    • I know I’m quite late in responding to this, but I just wanted to say thank you for this! It was a great encouragement for me to read this, and I genuinely appreciate it.


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