The Spring 2020 Anime Preview Guide
My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead To Doom!
How would you rate episode 1 of
My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom! ?
What is this?
In the magical kingdom of Sorcier, Catarina Claes is a spoiled and selfish young girl living in the lap of aristocratic luxury, until an accidental bonk on the head reveals memories of a life as an obsessive otaku teen in Japan who died after getting hit by a truck. With her old memories and personality restored, Catarina learns an even more disturbing truth: The world and people she knows in her new life is identical to one of her favorite otome dating sims, Fortune Lover, and Catarina Claes is the villainous ice queen whose life will ultimately end in tragedy once the plucky heroine wins the heart of Geordo Stuart, Catarina's betrothed. Is there any way for Catarina to use her otaku expertise to reverse the fates of the many handsome noblemen in her life, and thus escape her ultimate doom?
My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom! is based on a series of light novels, and can be found streaming on Crunchyroll, Saturdays at 1:30 PM EDT.
How was the first episode?
Standing as the first adaptation of a recent trend in isekai light novels, My Next Life as a Villainess offers a refreshing twist on the usual “transported to a videogame world” concept. Rather than arriving as a destined hero or dashing adventurer, Villainess' heroine Catarina Claes finds herself in an otome game - and what's more, she's trapped in the role of the game's cruel and heartless antagonist. Knowing her predicted life path inevitably ends in either exile or death, Catarina must work to overcome her own destiny, and escape her well-earned demise.
Even Villainess' base concept feels like a much more creative, engaging use of the “trapped in a videogame” conceit than most isekai. Often, these shows use the inherent game-like nature of their worlds as a sort of worldbuilding shorthand, to avoid the difficult work of actually creating a compelling alternate reality. In contrast, Villainess isn't just using game terms because they're universally understood - it actually dives into the contrived and inherently amusing nature of Catarina's “source material,” and centers on a character who's essentially already read the strategy guide. Villainess' premiere finds both great comedy and strong character beats in Catarina's attempts to rewrite history, with the inherent looming threat of the game's original path providing a natural sense of urgency and encroaching doom.
It also helps greatly that Catarina herself is such a fun character to follow. I tend to generally be a fan of stories that show sympathy for their villains, and Catarina makes for a terrific underdog, with her attempts to rewrite her own history hitting a strong balance of well-intentioned and misguided. Catarina's villainous destiny means the characters around her don't naturally gravitate to her side; she has to work to earn their respect or trust, and so far, the secondary characters are looking to have just as much personality and agency as Catarina herself. In spite of also setting up the show's premise and rambling through a variety of comedic setpieces, this episode is able to rise to a well-earned dramatic finale, where she metaphorically and literally breaks through to her brother Keith.
Villainess' production is also reasonable on the whole. The show's characters are expressive, and though their designs don't always mesh perfectly with the show's backgrounds, those backgrounds are themselves detailed and lovingly painted. The animation is about average, but that never felt like a dramatic limitation; Villainess is driven by its writing, and this episode's writing was excellent throughout.
On the whole, Villainess' comedy, characters, and overall charm surprised and impressed me from start to finish. Villainess wasn't on my radar coming into this season, but I'm now eager to see where Catarina's journey goes, and urge everyone to check out this endearing show.
This wasn't among my most anticipated titles of the new season but it's still been on my radar ever since the anime adaptation of the source novels got green-lighted last summer. The concept at least shows that the isekai genre is trying to come up with fresh variations on standard concepts, and this one particularly intrigued me: rather than the protagonist being inserted as the central character of the game, she is instead one of the main villains and has to figure out a way to avoid her fate. Fortunately she came to her senses about that early enough to start laying the groundwork years ahead of time, and that is what the entirety of the first episode is about.
Although “stuck in a game” has become a tiresome isekai gimmick, this approach breathes new life into the premise. Like with Ascendance of a Bookworm (which is arguably its main competition this season), the other key to its potential success is the adorability of its protagonist. Catarina may not be quite the charmer that Myne is, but she has her own appeal, and her much more physically active version of earnest determination is just as refreshing; I particularly loved how she smashed through the door with the axe and her great reaction when her mother showed up to punish her for it. Her mind space where she works out how she's going to approach every step in the process is also just as cute as Myne's inner expressions of joy, and the debate between different incarnations of her character is a clever way to illustrate her inner thoughts.
What should be interesting to see going forward is how her relationship develop with other important characters, given what she know about the story and its various paths. The tricky part for her is that she has four paths that she has to simultaneously worry about and thus cut off each one. She seems to be making good headway already with her adoptive brother, but the more interesting case is the prince. She knows from the game that he has a dark and twisted side, but what she doesn't seem to be accounting for as this point is that he may not have developed that yet; he may well be an innocent soul at this point. Perhaps it was the original Catarina's behavior that drove him in that direction and she is already unwittingly setting things on a better path?
The technical merits here are nothing special, but I already think it's likely that I will wind up following this one.
As happens from time to time, I enjoyed this episode far more than I perhaps should have. As an adaptation of the source material, it's definitely moving in fast-forward, less in terms of how many chapters we're covering (it's roughly two) and more in the number of events that the story's just flying through. Catarina (yes, it's a different spelling than both the novels and the manga use) regains her memories of her past life, meets Geordo and Keith, and sets up her escape plans all in the span of this one episode, and while it doesn't feel like we're glossing over too much, it's still a little overwhelming as a novel reader. There's also the fact that the art and animation really aren't great – while the characters do look enough like their illustration counterparts (for better or worse), there's a lot of general simplifying that doesn't necessarily look amazing and the animation can be downright awkward; just look at that horse's movements in the opening scene.
Fortunately, the story is as much fun in this format as it is in any other. Catarina is both self-aware and completely oblivious as a character, the start of which we can see clearly in her interactions with both other versions of herself inside her mind and with other characters. Keith's adorable vulnerability comes across very clearly, and if Geordo's a bit harder to get a handle on at this point, that's very much deliberate. It could become an issue later on if, as it thus far seems, the other characters' narration will be left out of the story, but it's too early to tell if that will become a problem. Right now neither he nor Catarina are entirely sure what to make of each other (although Catarina has an idea based on her past life gameplay), and as far as plot progression goes, it works.
Keith and Catarina are stealing the show as of right now. While Catarina can be a bit much – she talks almost nonstop as she tries to figure out what's going on and how to avoid the dire fates the otome game Fortune Lover had in store for her – her way-too-simple plans for her future are entertaining, and her ideas about how to solve the Keith problem actually feel pretty solid. That they have the result of making the poor boy feel safe and loved for the first time in his life is really very sweet, even if we can see the unintentional consequences coming a mile away. (Okay, you caught me – I'm totally Team Keith even though the adopted sibling is never my first choice in these stories.) The stark difference between pre-and-post head bump Catarina is also well done, as it hints at how the original story could very easily have played out and the fact that none of the characters have any idea what to do with this new, improved Catarina.
Even if you're sick of isekai, this one is worth at least checking out. It's silly, sweet, and definitely playing with a different set of tropes than most of the others in the genre we've seen, even other female-oriented ones such as Kakuriyo -Bed & Breakfast for Spirits-, Fushigi Yugi, or The Twelve Kingdoms. The original novels may still be the best way to experience the story, but I'm thinking that this adaptation may be just as much fun to follow.
What a charming show this was! Though I am often irritated by the blandness and lack of ambition that I see in so many modern isekai that are based on light novels, My Next Life as a Villainess is here to prove that time-tested formulas and tropes can still be entertaining and fresh when approached with a creative perspective. The show gladly revels in dating-sim archetypes and a fantasy world that would be familiar to anyone that has popped their head into the YA section of their local bookstore, but it gets away with it by acknowledging that its audience is smart enough to recognize the fluffy junk-food trappings of Fortune Lover for what they are, and that the fun of Catarina Claes' story is that her otaku obsessions and encyclopedic knowledge of the video-game world she's been reborn into are liable to cause just as many problems as solutions. The biggest problem I have with the isekai anime I've railed against in the past is that the power fantasy aspect of the story is treated as the core of the genre's appeal, and that one might as well dispense with things like “conflict” and “character development” if it means keeping Hero McGoodpants from being a super awesome badass that attracts the undying lust of literally every woman he meets.
Conversely, My Next Life as a Villainess' greatest strength is its understanding that its heroine is likable because of her struggles. Getting reborn into her favorite video game with all of the knowledge of her past life is the perfect chance for her to get a glitzy and magical do-over, yes, but this is a game with a specific plot, and the role she has been born into is a doomed one. Now, I have no doubt that Catarina will probably end up winning over all of the guys that were meant to fall in love with the heroine of the game (and she might even get the girls, too, if the OP's not-so-subtle foreshadowing is to be believed). This premiere already has me much more invested in Catarina's inevitable transformation into Queen of the Harem because she actually has to work for it, and grow as a person. She practices gardening to improve her magic, has hilarious little forums within her own inner-monologue to try and determine the best course of action, and she even makes some mistakes, like when she almost kills her kicked-puppy looking half-brother Keith with her butt.
Will these mistakes eventually lead to a bunch of familiar romantic shenanigans that result in a bunch of men and women falling in love with her? Probably — this isn't trying to be the next DEVILMAN crybaby, or anything. My Next Life as a Villainess is not ashamed to present itself as exactly what it is: A bright and well-produced romantic comedy that features just enough of a twist on old ideas to be worth checking out. It has me sold, that's for sure.
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