I liked it a lot more than I'd been expecting. I'd recommend it. It's still visibly a light novel adaptation, but it's taking its premise seriously (albeit for comedy) and telling the stories you want it to tell.
It's about hardcore online gamers. They have trouble with online/reality boundaries and most of them don't have any real-world friends. Our heroes are a four-man party in a massively multiplayer online role-playing game called Legendary Age (LA), except in ep.5 when they try a first-person shooter. ("Imagine that the enemy are normals!") They're close allies who've been together for months... online. However they don't know each others' real names, genders, ages or anything else that might identify them. This is normal, of course. It's the internet. They use virtual identities and online handles. They're clearly all Japanese, but beyond that they could be anyone. Our four heroes are:
RUSIAN (male knight, protagonist) - combat role: "tank". It's his job to go at the front and take the damage.
SCHWEIN (male knight) - combat role: attack. He's less tough than Rusian, but he kills more enemies.
AKO (female cleric) - scatty and bad at her job, which is magical healing. She's also Rusian's in-game wife. She pestered him about it so much that he eventually gave in and said yes.
APRICOT (male mage) - group leader who uses lots of premium items that are only available to gamers who spend real-world money. He thinks this is great. All his teammates think he's just a "premium player" who's buying his way to victory, although he's still their friend and an invaluable party member.
...and that's how they've always thought of each other. In ep.1, though, Apricot suggests an offline meeting. It thus transpires that our sword-wielding fantasy heroes are all students at the same high school. (ALERT: DAFT COINCIDENCE. The show never justifies this.) Their true selves are, in order:
HIDEKI NISHIMURA (Rusian) - a nerd with no social life. He's not even trying to hide it. Everyone at school knows that he's a loser.
AKANE SEGAWA (Schwein) - an obnoxious but beautiful girl who despises geeks. She'd never be seen dead playing online games. Why, she probably doesn't even know how to use a computer... or at least that's what everyone at school thinks. Akane puts a lot of effort into maintaining this facade.
AKO TAMAKI (Ako) - the group's problem case. Yes, even compared with Hideki and Akane. She doesn't normally go to school, because it's full of normal people. Normals are evil. Normals should die. She also denies that there's any such thing as an online/reality boundary, which means that she fastens on to Hideki like a vampire on discovering his real identity and will call him her husband at school, in front of all his classmates. She'll use your game name in public, not your real name. (She doesn't see any difference and indeed for her they're the same.)
KYOU GOSHOUIN (Apricot) - the student council president. Rich, aloof and seemingly proud of having no friends. Everyone's too intimidated to talk to her. (When the other girls visit her mansion in ep.9, the servants weep in joy at the sight of her having friends.)
All this is fun, but I was saying to myself "here we go again". We've seen all this before. A light novel adapation with a socially inept male protagonist who somehow ends up surrounded by hot girls? Yup. The poor lamb's trying to fight off someone who's decided that she's his wife? Yup. Furthermore everyone has improbable bosoms, with Akane being the only woman in this universe who's not a bra-buster. Those are silly, but then there's Kyou. Her online character is a shirtless male hunk. Fair enough. It's sword-and-sorcery fantasy. After a while, though, the show abandons the male avatars and instead we start seeing everyone as themselves in-game. Kyou's still her usual buxom self, but in her game outfit. She's topless. Technically she has two tassels preserving her modesty, but those barely cover five per cent of the exposed acreage. (Her swimsuit in ep.7 is almost as revealing, by the way, and that's real-world.)
The good news, though, is that this is superficial. The show's not offensive and I'd happily recommend it to female viewers if they could take the boobs. It's not a wank fantasy for relationship-challenged otaku, instead really being about a bunch of gamers. They play games. They care about their games. One of them gets hacked. The season finale involves everyone participating in a player-vs-player contest and trying to take over a castle, despite being far less proficient at that kind of thing than certain arrogant backstabbing player-vs-player specialists.
Their idea of trauma is having to deal with normal people, which might even be accompanied by Tragic Piano Music. (This is very funny.) They're all no-hopers, each in their own way, but Ako's clearly the worst of them and the show's heart lies in everyone's efforts to bludgeon some social awareness into her. It might be the blind leading the blind, but Ako's a social cripple and proud of it.
The show's still a comedy, of course. It likes these nerds. Their personality issues are viewed fondly and turned into jokes, which are in fairness funny, e.g. Akane's traumas in trying to maintain her public persona. However I was rather impressed, for instance, with how the show handled Ako's truancy. Japan does have a problem with children not going to school. Ako rejects the offline world and doesn't even see the point in attending classes, so clearly that's an issue that's front and centre for this show. They do indeed address it, but in a way that's interestingly non-judgemental. Hideki doesn't lecture her about it or tell her that she's wrong. He's supportive. He accompanies her! I was a bit startled by his behaviour, in fact, but then in the end it turns out to have been clever and he does indeed manage to help Ako realise that it would be better if she came to school with everyone after all.
Then we have the marriage thing. There are hundreds of anime that do something similar, but here it's mostly a symptom of how messed-up Ako is. She needs curing. Had Rusian turned out to be a granny in a wheelchair, would Ako still be posing all these problems for her "husband"? It seems likely, yes. It's almost never being played for sex comedy and when it is, Hideki's reaction is simply to tell Ako to stop it. (Hideki's an unusually convincing Chaste Anime Hero, because he's... well, because he's Hideki. It's not that he's pure and noble. It's more that he's a dead-end geek whose brain doesn't really have room for that kind of thing and would seize up if he ever tried to do something.) That said, though, he does take their marriage seriously (in-game, at least) and you can watch them becoming a proper couple. I was quite impressed by the silly cod-relationship being allowed to mature into a real one.
One thing I violently hated, though, was the use of "my waifu" as a translation for "ore no yome" in the subtitles I saw for the early episodes. I loathe that bit of fanspeak. Fortunately, though, they abandon it and revert to "my wife".
I really liked this show. It's fun. It makes a few artistic decisions that won't be for everyone (amazing camera angles of Kyou's boobs, those semi-circle smiles) but they're not a serious obstacle. More importantly, the show's doing the gamer stuff properly, not as an excuse for harem shenanigans. (It's not a harem show at all, in fact, except in the shallow sense of the cast's gender balance. It's not all about Hideki and indeed there's a Hideki-free episode.) What it has instead is a broken cast of comedy loons who are totally hopeless, all in interesting ways that express something about a particular kind of gamer otaku.
I like the games the show plays with online vs. offline identities. I like the way it tackles the issues raised by Ako's personality problems and disengagement with society, albeit in a light-hearted comedy way. I liked the characters and I laughed a lot. I think it's very good indeed.