Let me start with an old Shinbo Akiyuki interview, in which he expresses his view on hikikomori:
The character Erio is a bit of a hikikomori. Lately, it seems that the darker side of otaku culture, including NEETs, hikikomori, and those with unhealthy obsessions, have a greater presence in recent anime. What do you want otaku viewers, particularly those prone to this sort of lifestyle, to get out of your works?
Shinbo: The very first idea that I want to share is, “Who cares if you are a hikikomori?” If I didn’t have this job I, too, may have become a NEET. I thought that it would be nice if people, including myself, could step out and do something…but at the same time, who cares if you can’t take that very first step yet? What’s wrong with not taking it?
With this in mind, the title for the show Net-juu no Susume has to be one of the more curious ones, both the Japanese and the English title. There’s also the engrish title RECOMMENDATION OF THE WONDERFUL VIRTUAL LIFE, but shouldn’t be studied too carefully. It’s true that Morioka Moriko is looking for online game recommendations. It’s also true that the Japanese word for recommendation is often written in katakana (ススメ). However, this usage of katakana promotes a different reading. It decouples itself from semantically definite homonyms like 勧め (recommendation) or 進め (to advance, progress, move forward), of which the latter was used to twist and twine the English title Recovery of an MMO Junkie.
The thing that I hate about the word recovery is that in this context of NEET and hikikomori it’s used kind of derogatorily. It invites us to perceive Moriko as somebody who has fallen from grace by leaving the workforce and becoming an MMO addict. Now that she’s meeting all these people again, she’s getting back to her own self, which means becoming once more a functioning adult who valiantly contributes to society. That’s what I get out of that. However, as someone who used to fashion the NEET lifestyle, my perception of Moriko’s state is that of envy. In fact, I envied her so much that I downloaded TERA from Steam and clocked in around 13 hours since last week. This show made me nostalgic for the time when I (thought I) could just drop out of world affairs and indulged in time sinks such as Final Fantasy XI, anime blogging, or fansub drama. If you allow me to be a bit more frank, after I turned 20 I got stuck in basically the same rut as Morimori for around five years of my life.
In the first episode, after an exhausting day of work, Moriko throws herself to the bed, landing flat on her face. I remember that feeling all too well. You can’t be bothered to do anything. You stop. You swear to God you had enough. The details about events leading to that point in Moriko’s life are obscured. Do we need to know what happened to her? I don’t have to, and neither do the people that have gone through similar experiences that she has. That feeling of falling down and lying mentally exhausted was all we needed to know what was to come – a long moratorium, followed by her progressing and eventually graduating from NEET life.
The short story is that I eventually figured my shit out and moved on. I don’t believe that you can be NEET for longer than a decade, by which I mean to say that this kind of life is only a temporary state of affairs. Most people that I personally know who have at one point taken pride of being NEET or hikikomori have been living like that for a couple of months to up to a couple of years, at most. For most of us, not doing anything meaningful was basically a form of self-therapy, personal growth, or whatever you want to call it. These days, I view that part of my life as an almost inevitable phase that I had to go through.
Shinbo states something very profound: some simply can’t take that step … yet. And what’s wrong with not taking it? Whenever I meet crazy or visibly damaged people I feel relieved that I had put my life on hold to figure things out, as I suspect I would be a walking mess otherwise. Moriko obviously has her own issues to work through first, then she might be ready to reengage with society. Or maybe not. In the ending that I’m rooting for Moriko remains a shut-in, for at least a while longer, with hints of her making progress on her issues. I would just hate it if a hot guy that suddenly appeared in her life was all it took for her to reach inner peace. Because why the fuck would a different person be able to solve all of your problems? Either way, I don’t think her issues stem from anything relating to loneliness, but it would be a goddamn travesty if the show that depicted the elite NEET mindset so well ended up as merely a fucking romance drama. That’s just plain evil.
Whatever the case, the show rocks so far and Moriko is hot.