Do you know what is even less original than a new isekai (transported to another world) anime these days? Someone claiming that the latest isekai is a new take on the genre. And yet, here we are with My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom!, which promises to be another unique entry in the ever-growing list of isekai anime. But unlike other soulless shows that attempt to gimmick themselves into relevance such as In Another World with My Smartphone, Villainess has thus far proven that its premise is more than a mere stunt. Instead, Villainess takes full advantage of its unusual premise and delivers a character-based drama that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Catarina Claes is the young daughter of a noble family. After accidentally hitting her head, her memories of being a 17 year old girl in Japan suddenly return, and with them, a realization: Catarina Claes is the name of the villainess from the dating sim that she played in her past life. In the original game, Catarina meets her doom regardless of the choice the player makes, be it by execution or by exile. Loathe to allow such a terrible turn of events to transpire, Catarina vows to spend her childhood fostering relationships with the characters that will later appear as love interests or rivals in the game. She still has several years until her high school enrollment, after which the main story of the game begins.
Anime protagonists with knowledge from another world tend to utilize their expertise as a catch-all solution to any challenges they face in their new surroundings. If this plot device is overly relied upon, the result is an invincible character who never faces any truly convincing difficulties. The viewer never feels like they are in any real danger. Likewise, the medieval fantasy RPG-type setting that many isekai anime take place in is often a substitute for a truly original setting; the writer is able to avoid the complexities of world-building by substituting game mechanics that feel as though they are from a bland Final Fantasy knock-off.
Villainess avoids both of these issues by taking advantage of the otome genre of visual novels that the fantasy world of the series is based upon. Otome (lit. young maiden) games are a type of dating simulation in which players take the role of a female protagonist and attempt to romance various attractive male characters. Players make decisions throughout the game that decide the path (or “route”) that the story ultimately travels. Catarina played the very game her new world is based on when she lived on Earth, and as such she has extensive knowledge of the personalities of the characters and the potential fates of each person depending on the route the game takes. Catarina endeavors to change her relationships with the other characters from the game to prevent her own character’s terrible fate, but in doing so she compromises her own knowledge from her previous life. By changing the background stories of the cast, she effectively changes the story of the entire game in ways that she can’t always accurately predict. The unintended consequences of her actions are often funny, but they also serve as a counterbalance to the initial advantage Catarina has from playing the game before.
Similarly, the nature of the otome genre itself takes the pressure off the usually-boring medieval fantasy setting. Otome games are by definition character-focused; the goal of the game is to understand the personalities of the various love interests and make choices that will lead to the desired relationship development. Catarina’s quest to form strong relationships with the characters from the game is likewise character focused. The main story arcs of both episodes that have aired so far center on the struggles and personalities of the people around Catarina and how she helps those people overcome their problems. The fact that they are all children of rich noble families in a fantasy world is relevant, but it’s not really the point. The plot is supported by a cast of dynamic characters who grow through their interactions with Catarina.
Perhaps just as importantly, Villainess strikes the right balance between heartwarming and funny. Not all of the humor lands perfectly, but the jokes are varied and take advantage of the dating sim premise and characters’ personalities. Catarina’s internal decision making council in which different aspects of her personality squabble over issues in a courtroom setting is a recurring bit that is frequently amusing. On the other hand, Catarina’s attempts to endear herself to the other characters often result in feel-good moments where one can see how her actions are removing or changing many of the insecurities that the characters of the original video game clung to due to childhood trauma. Villainess thus manages to strike a strong emotional tone without taking itself too seriously.
It’s difficult to say if Villainess will ultimately stick the landing, but the writing so far is encouraging. The series’ otome game premise renders Catarina’s knowledge of the original game increasingly unreliable as she changes the background story of each character, and the character-driven story reduces the burden of world-building that causes many other series in the genre to stumble. Many of the characters still feel one-dimensional, but hopefully this will be resolved with more episodes. Either way, Villainess is memorable for having the increasingly rare ability to take advantage of the trappings of the isekai genre. I will not be surprised if many series attempt to follow its example and we become inundated with mediocre otome isekai anime, but until then, I will applaud its originality.
Title: My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom!
Based on: light novel series of the same name by Satoru Yamaguchi
Produced by: Silver Link
Director: Keisuke Inoue
Streaming on: Crunchyroll (US)
Episodes watched: 2
This article is the first of several first impressions from my fellow AniTAY authors. Stay tuned for more in the near future!
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