Normally, I’m allergic to Sword Art Online-esque VRMMORPG anime, or at least they leave me cold. Other than a brief dalliance with impersonating a hot cat-girl in Final Fantasy XIV, I’ve steered clear of the MMORPG game genre, mainly because I have a full-time job and a wife who would kill me if I sacrificed all my time and energy to online grinding. Although Good Night World is set almost entirely within a VRMMORPG, it at least attempts to do something deeper and more interesting with the setting.
Although the “dysfunctional real family accidentally role-playing as a functional online family” has the potential to be a painfully contrived storytelling device, there are some (eventual) explanations offered later in the story that retroactively make the situation less eye-rollingly dumb than it first appears. For one, each Akabane family member is sworn to secrecy about their real-life identities, and the characters they portray are quite different from their real personas.
Protagonist Taichiro plays the sword-wielding, wide-brimmed-hat-wearing Ichi, the Akabane family’s main muscle. Most of the plot is witnessed through his eyes, and at times, he’s a difficult character to like. Real-life Taichiro is emaciated, half-starved through self-neglect, with lank, unkempt hair, terrible posture, and bulging, bloodshot eyes. His bedroom is disgusting – dark, crusty, and full of black garbage bags. Due to his poor family relationships, he’s shut himself in his room for six years and uses PLANET as his sole pastime. Taichiro’s favorite word is “shit,” so you’d better get used to him expectorating extended rants like “Stupid shitty world, stupid shit family, everything’s shit shit shit shit shit shit shit shit shit!!” He’s an emotionally stunted teenage edgelord gamer with the poorest, most repetitive vocabulary. I did not like him. At all.
Taichiro shares a house with his younger (but taller and generally more successful) brother Asuma Arima, who plays online as “AAAAA” because he couldn’t be bothered choosing an individual name. Taichiro has an inferiority complex towards his brother, and Asuma looks down on Taichiro for his poor lifestyle choices. Intense computer programmer father Kojiro Arima seems to live at his work as a developer for PLANET, and in-game plays as Shiro Akabane, a powerful silver-haired paternal character with an intimidating reputation amongst other players. Finally, Sayaka Arima is an absent wife and mother who seems scatterbrained, drifting in and out of the house on a whim. She plays May, the Akabane family’s housekeeper and healer. She spends more time raising her online sons than her real-life boys.
PLANET as a game seems painfully generic, and the first half of the show follows in excruciatingly banal detail the various politics and machinations between various groups fighting a guild war. This section of the story most closely resembles that of other more generic VRMMORPG stories. If it continued like this the whole way through, I would have dropped the show and never looked back. What do I care if the Pirate Guild loses a war or falls apart?
Thankfully, with episode six, specific plot points, throwaway lines, and unusual concepts culminate in a stunning twist that pulls the rug out from under the viewer’s feet. Suddenly, the world becomes much more disturbing, with deeply unsettling existential implications following the reveal of player character Pico’s true nature. Previously, I’d dismissed Pico as an annoying, whiny girl who kept inexplicably trying to catch Taichiro’s attention, but her ultimate fate is genuinely upsetting and throws into question every “fact” established by the show so far.
From this point on, the narrative becomes much more compelling, discarding most of its uninteresting MMORPG baggage to become more like an extended episode of Black Mirror, complete with digital consciousness duplication, nested virtual worlds, inescapable eternal suffering, and lashings of existential horror. Taichiro never gets any less annoying, though.
Despite this welcome move into darker, more meaty territory, the story is never quite able to soar. It’s hamstrung by vague plotting, poor character writing, and inexplicably dropped or inadequately explained subplots. For example, father Kojiro’s young female assistant, Hana Kamuro, seems to get built up as an important side character, but the narrative completely discards her. Her relationship with Kojiro and her motives are never fully explained.
Likewise, the true identity of the ultimate antagonist, “Black Bird,” is a bit of a stretch and lacks logic mainly because the world’s rules are too fluid and ill-defined. The ending itself, although emotional, is ambiguous to the point that it undercuts its message. Was any of what we witnessed “real”? Did any of it truly matter? It’s hard to discuss without getting into massive spoilers, but I was left with a slightly hollow feeling that what was supposed to be a big “twist” ending was undercooked and ill-thought-through.
Studio NAZ does a reasonable job of producing serviceable animation. The show looks completely fine, unremarkable. It doesn’t fall apart as aggressively as their recent, unforgivably poor Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer adaptation. Similarly, the music is unmemorable but fitting enough. The English dub is decent, but nothing spectacular. Everything about Good Night World screams, “Mostly fine, I guess!”
Overall, it’s a fairly compelling show, with an initially silly premise and an unlikeable protagonist, that takes a while to get started. It peaks in the middle with some meaty existential horror but peters out with an ending that should have been a lot more powerful. As a random Netflix binge, it’s pretty decent, but I doubt that it’ll remain saved to my long-term memory.