Before the isekai genre really kicked off, the ‘transported to another world’ idea was mainly focused on the world of video games, with series from .Hack to Sword Art Online trapping their heroes in a virtual world where they’d have to solve a grand mystery and defeat the big bad of the series to escape back to reality. With so many cookie-cutter entries in the genre that follow the same template, it’s refreshing to see a series like BOFURI, which abandons the epic end-of-the-world type quests and stuck-in-a-virtual-world theme for just simply showing a bunch of friends having a blast playing a video game.
The story focuses on Kaede Honjou, a high school girl who has been invited into the virtual reality MMO “New World Online” by her close friend Risa Shiramine. As she doesn’t like the idea of getting hurt in the game, Kaede creates her in-game character, Maple, as a knight with a great shield and pours all her skill points into the game’s defence stat, vitality. While this means she’s horrendously slow and can’t dish out much damage, enemy attacks do nothing to her, making her the perfect tank. While Risa is grounded from playing games so she can focus on her schoolwork, Kaede dives into the adventure and starts tackling dungeons that reward her with gear and skills that boost her defensive abilities so high she becomes a literal monster, surprising Risa when she eventually gets to play. Together the pair adventure forward, building up their characters, meeting new friends and taking down dangerous enemies as both the game’s players and admins alike take an interest in Maple’s completely overpowered defence.
I must admit that I didn’t quite know what to expect from this series as I headed into it, but I was pleasantly surprised at just how it is amazingly and adorably good fun. The overall plot isn’t anything ground-breaking, as it simply follows Kaede/Maple and her friends as they progress through the game, moving from one big in-game event to the next with some off-the-beaten-track adventures along the way, but it is in its execution that it really shines, as it takes its concept of having a massively overpowered defensive character that can really take a beating and just rolls with it.
Early on we see Maple being munched on by monsters while asleep in the woods and not batting an eyelid, before she turns the tables and eats the monsters themselves, with it being her only real avenue of attack, which is then played up hilariously against a poisonous hydra. And then she destroys practically everyone in the game’s first battle royale event, taking third place with her staunch defence and some powerful new-found skills. While this does attract the attention of the game’s administrators who force restrictions on her abilities, the series just doesn’t stop throwing her into situations for her to pick up even more ridiculous skills, whether that be transforming into an angel, a mecha girl, or a kaiju-like monster. It’s not doing this just for kicks either, as all these abilities really come into their own as the series progresses, becoming vital tools in the battles ahead.
It also helps that Maple is a very charming main character, whose enthusiasm just leaps from the screen, so you always know she is having fun. You do get the feeling she’s not the brightest star in the sky, but her dumb antics and persevering attitude make you really want to root for her, as she quickly gains a large following of fans who are eager to find out what silly thing she’ll get up to next. Her ability to talk to anyone and pretty much instantly make friends is also a huge asset, as she starts gathering people around her to ultimately form her guild, Maple Tree.
The supporting cast are also great fun to watch, with them all offering a different skillset to the team. Risa, or Sally as she is known in the game, is very much a go-getter and is the guild’s strategic core, but as a swashbuckler-type character she’s incredibly fast and utterly brutal in her attacks, being just as entertaining in battle as Maple is. Samurai class Kasumi is just as deadly, showing insane power and skill with her blade, but is also a softie at heart who appreciates the rivalry she strikes up with Sally. Kuromu is the father figure of the group and tries to be the voice of reason, and although he is the same shielded class that Maple is, he tends to die a lot. You’ve also got Kuromu’s friend Iz, who is a talented crafter and makes the team’s gear, Kanade, a mage who has a penchant for knowledge, and rookie sisters Mai and Yui, who have both focused on maxing their attack and go around wielding giant hammers. Let’s also not forget Maple and Sally’s familiars, Syrup the turtle and Oboro the fox, the former of which earns a reputation of its own when it turns giant and learns to fly (yes, really!).
The first half of the series focuses mainly on getting all the members of the Maple Tree guild together, and with that and all the other events and happenings in the game, there’s often a lot of stuff that goes on in each episode. Despite this, it’s still very easy to keep track of everything, and keeping the pace high ensures that the show is full of enjoyable action sequences and funny jokes that will have you both gazing in awe and laughing for most of each episode’s 25-minute runtime.
The second half of the series does slow things down a bit as we head into its climax with the guild competition, and there’s quite a bit of padding in here that doesn’t feel quite as punchy as some of the earlier episodes. However, things quickly pick back up again, with the guild competition properly introducing us to the other two rival top guilds: The Order of the Holy Sword, led by number one-ranked player Payne, and The Flame Emperors, led by the powerful fire mage Mii. While it would have been nice to see more of the top players’ escapades to show just how good they are, the series does well to give a rounded introduction to each guild and build up the personalities of the players in them. When it comes down to it though, putting Maple Tree, The Order of the Holy Sword, and The Flame Emperors together makes for one terrific final battle that comes to an outrageous and very unexpected close.
The series is animated by SILVER LINK., who have put out a nice-looking show with a bright and colourful art style that truly embodies the sense of fun that pervades the series. Both the character and monster designs are strong, although for the latter I can’t help but feel there was some inspiration gained from Pokémon, particularly with one icy bird monster and our leads’ familiars. Meanwhile, action sequences are very punchy and are executed with plenty of style.
The show’s soundtrack, composed by Taro Masuda, is full of jaunty tunes that match the series’ fantasy video game setting and themes. The opening theme, “Kyukyoku Unbalance!” by idol group Junjou no Afilia, is a standard J-Pop number that seems like it was written specifically for the anime but could have done with being a bit more flamboyant, considering how crazy the show gets at times. The ending theme, “Play the world” by Riko Sasaki, is a laid-back song that works well to close out each episode.
The series is brought to us by Funimation, featuring all twelve episodes of the series dubbed in both English and Japanese with English subtitles. The voice acting in both languages is good, with my personal favourites being Kaede Hondo (Love Live! Nijigasaki High School Idol Club, Zombie Land Saga) as Maple and Rina Satou (Non Non Biyori, Persona 5 The Animation) as Mii in the Japanese, and Jad Saxton (Fruits Basket (2019), Kaguya-sama: Love is War) as Sally in the English dub. The subtitles are generally okay, but oddly localise Mai’s name as May, which is not only a bit distracting, but is at odds with the dub itself, which uses Mai.
On-disc extras include next episode previews, episode summaries, promotional videos and commercials, and the clean opening and ending animations. The series is available in both standard and limited editions, with the latter offering a collector’s box, artbook, art cards, playmat and a sticker. The limited edition however seemed to be very limited in supply and I was unable to obtain a copy despite pre-ordering, having to re-order the standard edition instead.
Overall, while BOFURI: I Don’t Want to Get Hurt, so I’ll Max Out My Defense. isn’t particularly ground-breaking, it’s a very fun and engaging series that takes its central concept of an overpowered defensive character and just rolls with it, producing hilarious scenes as Maple’s powers become increasingly more absurd. With a strong cast of characters and a bright and colourful look and feel, this is an expressive and hilariously outlandish take on the isekai and video game genres that have become bogged down in cookie-cutter clones with the same “resurrected hero must save the world” plot. If you have become bored with similar stories or just want a refreshing look at the genre, then there’s definitely a lot to enjoy with this one.