Having just re-embraced life, Sato find a way to re-engage with lifeliseness in Welcome to the Fantasy! and Welcome to Game Over!
After a devastating phone call from his mother where Sato learns his allowance will be (gasp) cut in half due to his father being thrown out of work, Sato becomes desperate. Not desperate enough to change anything about his life or his interaction with the world, but desperate to be able to maintain his NEET lifestyle without interruption. Then he remembers the advice he got from a friend on the ill-fated suiciders trip: some people sell items from on-line games in the real world. It’s a way for a shut-in to make money.
Which sends Sato careening back from the brink of being a human being to the warm, soft confines of the computer screen. His retreat comes in the form of Ultimate Fantasy, and FFO style game where he fights monsters (badly) and neglects what few duties he has in the real world to immerse himself in the on-line world. It starts out with commerce in mind,. but it’s not too long before he finds something more enticing in MMORPG playing: a budding romance with a cat girl.
“Fantasy” plays with the notion of whether disappearing into an alternate reality can have a beneficial effect on the real world – Sato is unusually focused when playing the game, so much so that Misaki thinks that he’s actually made a life improvement and will be moving forward (without her, which makes her a bit miffed).
It isn’t until she barges into his apartment that she finds the awful truth – Sato has become worse than ever with his obsessive intersting in MMPORGing.
Two years ago (it’s been awhile!) I wrote a very negative review of these episodes, one that I never posted because just the thought of watching more anime made me nauseos. Watching these episodes again today, far removed from the fatigue of several kind of samey NHKs, I can’t quite fathom my initial negative reaction. Besides being a decent (though entirely surfacey) parody of MMORPG players and the unreality they present to players, it’s a clever microcosm of Sato’s problems with the real outside world. A VG rpg gives on a semblance of progress – after all, one’s level does increase – without the bother of real accomplishment. Sato’s neetness comes from a lack of cause and effect in the real world – he’d put in effort, and have nothing to show for it. Whether it was a lack of patience, his own limited abilities or whatever, the world wasn’t showing him at all what he needed from it. But this video game world does in spades, and even offers the possibility of love with the cat girl, Mia. She heals his wounds, brings him friends with no effort, has boobs. Everything a growing boy needs.
So when the exasperated Yamazaki reveals that Mia is really him, it doesn’t go over as the hard lesson well-learned that he anticipates. Instead, Sato is furious to have everything he thought he was building, in terms of a career and a relationship, so completely pull away from him.
It’s neither delicate nor subtle, but Sato’s move from one foot into the real world to both planted firmly in fantasy is emblematic of his social and mental problems: he is always seeking the easy way out, and convincing himself there’s some virtue in it. Sato is a neet not because of trauma, but because of softness. At some point he calls himself the her of Vina Teelo, the fantasy world of the mmorpg, because he’s created a self-image from this on-line world. When Yamazaki forces him to look at what he would become (and to confront him with the fact that doing well on-line requires a team, so that his social anxiety will hold him back even here) Sato lashes out in fury. He knows that the real world can’t be so easily escaped, and it terrifies and enrages him. There’s no escape hatch from this. You have to deal with it.