The Winter 2021 Preview Guide
So I'm a Spider, So What?
How would you rate episode 1 of
So I'm a Spider, So What? ?
What is this?
After a Japanese classroom was destroyed by a mysterious explosion, all the students reincarnated as humans on a fantasy world – except for a female student who had the lowest reputation in the classroom, who was reincarnated as a spider monster. Being the weakest monster in the dungeon, she needs to survive using all her human intellect and courage.
How was the first episode?
Maybe I'm a contrarian, but I wasn't really looking forward to “So I'm a Spider, So What?.” The last Crunchyroll co-produced isekai made me seriously question their judgment, and the buzz around it didn't do much to assuage my fears. I knew it was going to make heavy use of CG animation, which has gone disastrously for director Shin Itagaki, who was responsible for the embarrassment that was the 2016 Berserk adaptation. Plus, I'm highly suspect of light novel-based isekai in general, since far too often it turns out to be bland wish-fulfillment.
Much like how our arachnoid heroine eats the frog, I'm eating my words, because this was darn endearing. I'm inclined to like spiders to begin with – I'm the kind of person who scoops them into a cup and releases them outside – and the thus-far unnamed spider is a perfect blend of cute cartoonishness and realistic spider mannerisms, like how she walks and moves… that is, when she's not dancing around. Instead of everything coming easily to her, she's swiftly confronted with the brutal reality of spider birth, including her hundreds of siblings chowing down on each other. Like most modern isekai protagonists, she's armed with genre awareness and game-style skill acquisition, but they don't help her nearly as much as one would think.
She also talks a lot. Almost every second of her twenty minutes or so onscreen is filled with her running commentary on her situation, as the first-person narration that characterizes most light novels has been translated literally to an internal monologue. At first, I was annoyed, but you know what? If I'm going to listen to an anime spider talk to herself for 20 minutes, I'll take one voiced by Aoi Yūki over pretty much any other option. Her infectious energy and determination to survive actually won me over pretty quickly.
I'm still pretty skeptical over the animation, though. Spider generally looks fine, but other parts, like the acid-spitting frog she captures in her web, look downright janky. The traditionally animated segments also look great, but I have mixed feelings about the characters. At the end of the episode, we meet some of Spider's classmates who have also been reincarnated into more fortunate forms. They generally seem fine, but one of them makes a joke about another one having an incestuous relationship, and another mocks his once-male classmate for being reincarnated in a female body.
The few one-off lines and niggling irritants that come parcelled with the genre added up to me docking more stars than I would have otherwise, but it was still a solidly entertaining half-hour (give or take) of TV. I'll definitely be watching for at least a little farther.
If there's one thing that's keeping this from being a 4.5, it's that our spider friend is somehow drastically more annoying when you hear her constant narration out loud over the course of half an hour. We're not talking Asta levels of loud and irritating, but wow – I don't think I realized quite how much adding a voice to the character would affect my perception of her. But now that that's out of the way, let me say that it's going to be worth getting used to it, because this episode is a lot of fun.
So I'm a Spider, So What? takes its own approach to the same old isekai tale we've all gotten (over)used to. Yes, it opens like any other in its genre: an unwitting class of high school students and their teacher are all removed wholesale from our world and dumped in a new one. The caveat here is that they weren't summoned (or if they were, the summoner was pretty bad at their job); they all died in some sort of explosion and were reborn in a fantasy realm. For most of them, things then progressed down the usual isekai path – sure there was some gender-switching and at least one person is now a cute little domestic animal and another's an elf, but otherwise everyone's basically human and on the side of lawful good.
But then there's our heroine.
Not only is she not human, she's also not a fuzzy domestic snuggle buddy like her classmate Shinohara. In fact, she's a spider monster living in what looks like the depths of a pretty dangerous dungeon. As a newly-hatched spider baby, she's got minimal defenses, and really it's just her past life as a human that keeps her alive after she hatches and realizes that her species cannibalizes the weak ones, because instead of joining in the battle royale, she nopes right out there and hits the road. Of course, she then has to figure out how to stay alive away from her murderous family, and that's when another particularly fun part of the story comes in: as she's musing about how this is just like some light novel, she hears a voice dictating her stats and asking if she wants to spend her skill points.
This is where the story shows that it's not just your average isekai. It's self-aware, which isn't new, but only when the plot is focused on Spider-chan – she knows that there are conventions that her life is following and that she'd better figure out how to use them real quick, and it's obvious that she's read the book her new life's based on, so to speak. But when the story is with her classmates who have all reincarnated as human(ish) and together, things run much more like a regular old isekai series, without the meta elements or the humor. It's a conceit that would make this episode stand out even if the heroine wasn't the cutest damn occasionally CG spider I've ever seen. (Or that I've seen this side of Giant Spider & Me). That's likely to make this worth keeping an eye on even if you're sick of isekai or not thrilled with the constant narration, because while this may be the same old genre we're all getting tired of, it still has plenty to offer that makes it work.
Can a single vocal performance carry an entire season of anime? I suspect this may be the show where we get a definitive answer to such a question.
In theory there is very little about the long-delayed So I'm a Spider adaptation that would appeal to me. Director Shin Itagaki made some wonderfully charming nonsense with Teekyū, but his foray into full-length series has been a very mixed bag at best, and his particular eye for direction in either 3DCG or traditional 2D animation has always been off-putting. Isekai was already an overused plot setup back when this anime was announced, and 3+ years later that problem's only gotten bigger. Heck, even the gimmick of being isekai'd into a monster body and having to work your way up the food chain was done by That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime nearly 2 years ago. By all accounts this premiere should have felt like a tedious, washed-up set of ideas that have been done to death.
But somewhere in creating this show, somebody had the brilliant idea to cast Aoi Yūki as the titular spider, and that one decision may have just saved the whole production. There's nothing gripping or unique to this script or our spider heroine's dialogue, but it's all delivered with the unrestrained, endearing, infectiously FUN energy that only Aoi Yūki can bring. Whether she's frantically running from a monster, proudly gloating over her first kill, or belligerently screaming at the vagueness of her acquired Skill titles, Yuki's performance is overflowing with charm that's rarely seen. I'd dare say that in just about any other hands this whole episode would be a total flop, but in our timeline at least, I ended up having a really good time just watching this nervous wreck of an arachnid scuttle through the terrors of a video game dungeon.
There's also at least a little original meat to this show, if only at its fringes. It turns out along with our nameless reincarnated heroine, several of her classmates were also reborn into this world, though they got much cushier positions as the sons and daughters of nobles, and have managed to find each other in their new bodies/lives. That's a fairly unique twist to this sort of isekai story, and has the potential to be interesting in its own right, though so far it's hard to see how any of it could connect back to Spider-girl back in the depths of some anonymous raid dungeon. Still, it's something.
As-is though, this show is being held above the depths of total mediocrity by a single spider's thread, and if the burden of its story and characters ever grows too heavy for Aoi Yūki to shoulder on her own, I foresee it becoming a real chore to get through. But if nothing else I'll always appreciate the absolutely insane ED theme.
SPIDER SPIDER SPIDER SPIDER SPIDER SPIDER SPIDER SPIDER SPIDER SPIDER SPIDER. . .
Okay, now that I've got that out of my system, the light novel series on which this anime is based would probably rank in the #1 spot on my lists of both Favorite and Best light novel series that I have read to date, so this is easily my most-anticipated title for the season, and maybe even the whole year. Thus I might be a little fanboyish about this title. I also felt in the run-up to this season that the spider (she will not be named at this point, as her true identity in the classroom is an epic-level spoiler, but she is called Kumoko in some circles) would be one of the stand-out characters for the whole year. After seeing the first episode, I may have underestimated even that. I know this is only the first week of January, but I do not see how any other character this year is going to outshine her.
That's because she hits the screen with all of the force of whatever mystical explosion ended the lives of Ms. Oka and her Classical Literature students. The source novels depict her with a very frenetic internal voice, and the combined animation, directing, and voice acting effort here captures that beautifully. Whatever she's doing here – whether fleeing for her life, battling the acid-spitting frog, experimenting with her Appraisal skill, or even fashioning herself a web home so she can live the NEET lifestyle in spider form – she does it with an irrepressible verve, like a genki girl on speed. Aoi Yūki – in one of the truly great anime casting choices – absolutely nails the performance; this will likely be remembered as one of the year's stand-out Japanese vocal efforts, and I am really curious to see who Crunchyroll is going to get to dub that role.
The technical effort deserves a lot of comment here. This series was in production for more than two years, and my impression is that it was at least partly due to the difficulty working out the modeling for the spider and how she moves as she goes through her activities. Early CG clips did not look that great, but the finished result produces a surprisingly adorable spider (albeit at the cost of complete anatomical accuracy) which moves in a very distinctive fashion, one which effectively conveys both the spider's speed and that she is not human. I also appreciated that they did not pull punches on how violent and messy her reality is. The musical support is something else, too, and that closing number – wow. I want a translation for what she's saying and singing in that, but it's a spectacle worthy of being checked out even if you don't watch the rest of the episode. The opener isn't bad, either.
The one reason I'm not giving the episode a maximum score is because I'm not sure how much I like what the production team decided to do with the human side. This is generally regarded by fans of the novels as the weaker and more generic part of the story, and some of that is deliberate on the part of the original author; it is meant to be a contrast to the spider's situation, after all, and the anime captures that indelibly with the comparison between the feast scene in the human world and the spider chowing down on the frog. The look of the human-side scene also captures that contrast; the technical merits and character designs on the human front are very sharp, though starkly different stylistically. My concern here is that, by introducing the human (and elven) characters with that scene, a significant amount of book content is being skipped. If this proves to be an in media res situation (which I suspect is the case) then my concerns are trivial, but if not then they are skipping a fairly important aspect of the story – namely, how others besides the spider adjust to their reincarnations. We'll see next episode, I guess.
As a final thought, stats are a big part of the novel, but I like the idea of posting them as the eye catch. If they mostly continue this practice, with the stats updated every episode, then I think it will work well.
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