Satomi AraiAi KakumaNoriaki SugiyamaNanaka Suwa
BOFURI: I Don't Want to Get Hurt, so I'll Max Out My Defense. Season 1
Episode 1 also reviewed here: Anime 1st episodes 2020: B
Also known as: Itai no wa Iya nano de Bougyoryoku ni Kyokufuri Shitai to Omoimasu. Season 1
Medium: TV, series
Year: 2020
Director: Mirai Minato, Shin Oonuma
Writer: Fumihiko Shimo
Original creator: Yuumikan
Actor: Ai Kakuma, Kaede Hondo, Miyuri Shimabukuro, Nanaka Suwa, Noriaki Sugiyama, Ruriko Noguchi, Saori Hayami, Satomi Arai, Satomi Satou
Keywords: anime, fantasy
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Format: 12 episodes
Website category: Anime 2020
Review date: 7 June 2023
It's a charming low-stakes anime, set almost entirely inside a computer game. No one takes it particularly seriously. "Death" just means disappearing in a cloud of purple pixels, then immediately reappearing. It's just a game. Why not? If a rival player kills you in a PvP deathmatch, it's only for fun and you'd go to their celebration party if they invited you. Our heroine, Kaede/Maple, couldn't be ruthless or selfish if she tried and will give her game prizes to her rivals. In a world of level-grinding and building up your character's power levels, she spends eps.2-3 hanging out with her friend Risa/Sally and letting her take all the cool skills and level boosts.
However, Maple has the superpower of being a clueless newbie. This is how she allocates her character creation points in ep.1:
(She keeps putting all subsequent experience points into defence, naturally.)
Through sheer dumb luck and some wacky lateral thinking, she then keeps wandering into 100% kill situations, surviving them because she's a tank and gaining yet more insane skills, weapons and transformations. This never stops snowballing. Eventually, she's a legend of the gamer community and capable of transforming into at least four forms that started at "game-breaking" and go up to "almighty holy shit". At least once, the game's alarmed moderators change the rules because they hadn't realised what Maple could do with the skills she's gained. This doesn't stop her.
(But she can't run fast or swim. DEX 0, remember?)
For anime, though, none of this is unusual. There are isekai harem protagonists whose power levels start out this broken, or worse. What makes this show different is that it's not about power fantasy. It's more of a comedy about how being nice and clueless can be the ultimate game strategy. When scouting for guild members, for instance, Maple doesn't care about anyone's power levels so long as they look like fun people. She can turn into a Lovecraftian atrocity (a skill called "Atrocity") and still keep her girly body language as she has a cup of tea with her friends.
Impressively, despite Maple's game-breaking power escalator, the show manages to stay alive as (friendly, zero-stakes) drama. There's a seriously tough fight in ep.4, because the monster had been designed to be unkillable. (Afterwards, the game developers are gobsmacked.)
There are also regular game events, revealing that the most dangerous foes will always be other players. You can acquire all the skills you like, but there will always be someone out there who's accumulated even more and is clever at using them against other players. They might also have a bigger guild, with an army of allies. The last few episodes have some pretty cool to-and-fro. Maple might be every kind of abomination, but she can't be in two places at once, she can't move very fast and it's possible to cut her off from her friends.
I like those friends too, by the way. Maple attracts specialists. Sally is an all-DEX player, on the assumption that hit points don't matter if you never get hit. (She's also slightly scary in PvP.) Mai and Yui are all-STR. They'd get flattened if they went out alone, but put them in a party and you've got two Incredible Hulks. Oh, and Mii's second personality is funny.
In its fluffy, gentle way, I find this quite an interesting show. To oversimplify, there are two extremes in drama. One is to go as high-stakes as possible, with life-or-death struggles and the fate of everything. The other is to do the opposite, which in anime often means "cute girls doing cute things" and shows like "Is The Order A Rabbit?" (Which can melt your brain.) P.G. Wodehouse used to talk about this. There's an alarming amount of anime that deliberately violates every principle of drama for the sake of power fantasy. This show does something not dissimilar... but it works. Maple's power accumulation is downright game-breaking and is repeatedly described as such in-universe. Nothing meaningful is at stake, as is underlined by Maple's selfless play style. There's often no tension at all as Maple does her indestructible thing, although admittedly at other times she'll be hard-pressed to survive. None of that matters, because it's not what the show's about. Our heroes' motivations are to play, win and have fun. The show's inspirational philosophy is that playing games together is more enjoyable when everyone's being friendly and nice to each other, which it must be said doesn't always happen with real gamers.
That's enough to make the show consistently entertaining and often funny (e.g. her ep.2 megakilling). There's going to be a second season and I'll watch it, although I have my doubts about whether you could make Maple's powers significantly more ridiculous than they already are.