The Spring 2022 Preview Guide
Trapped in a Dating Sim: The World of Otome Games is Tough for Mobs

How would you rate episode 1 of
Trapped in a Dating Sim: The World of Otome Games is Tough for Mobs ?
Community score: 3.7

What is this?

Office worker Leon is reincarnated into a particularly punishing dating sim video game, where women reign supreme and only beautiful men have a seat at the table. But Leon has a secret weapon: he remembers everything from his past life, which includes a complete playthrough of the very game in which he is now trapped. Watch Leon spark a revolution to change this new world in order to fulfill his ultimate desire of living a quiet, easy life in the countryside.

Trapped in a Dating Sim: The World of Otome Games is Tough for Mobs is based on Yomu Mishima's light novel series and streams on Crunchyroll on Sundays.

How was the first episode?

Rebecca Silverman

This seems to be the season for me to be making statements like this, but I liked this story (tale type?) more when it was Past Life Countess, Present Life Otome Game NPC?!. Both series have a similar premise: someone is reincarnated in the world of an otome game as a random background character and have to do their best to get the kind of life they want. In the case of this show (based on the light novels of the same name), Leon seems to mostly want to overcome the disadvantages of his upbringing, which are apparently being both the son of his father's mistress and being born male. The latter does raise an eyebrow from me, because I can't think of any otome games that I've played that have that sort of world set up; naturally this doesn't mean that they don't exist, but it's the kind of detail that makes me wonder if the writer(s) have a whole lot of familiarity with otome games in the first place.

The show feels most concerned with the apparently bizarre nature of the game world he's been reincarnated into, which has elements of both fantasy and science fiction, but that's another mild red flag, because those two genres absolutely coexist in the otome games Steam Prison and Code:Realize.

Even if that wasn't the case, however, there's negligible time spent discovering what exactly Leon is after in going to the fancy academy from the game. Perhaps he does want to marry well, but the loot that he brings back from his foray to steal the game's goodies before the plot of the game begins would seem to negate that need, and he also doesn't seem interested in making a play for the heroine. In fact, he actively dislikes the characters from the game, as we see in his playthrough before he falls down the stairs and dies, which may be the single most original moment here because he's not being creamed by everyone's favorite motor vehicle. Watching Leon play the game is probably the most entertaining piece of the entire episode as he gets increasingly frustrated with its mechanics and characters, but even that is marred by the fact that he's doing it for his sister so that she doesn't have to. Does YouTube not exist in their world? Because last I checked, that was a good way to get to watch the cutscenes from video games without having to play them yourself.

The plot doesn't have a terrible concept, and goodness knows that isekai (otome game or otherwise) is ripe for parody and deconstruction at this stage. But as with The Executioner and Her Way of Life, I don't find this the most compelling telling of this particular story. Plus I'm very concerned that the story's “women have all the power” set up is going to be used as a way for the hero to frame himself as a perpetual victim, and I'm not a fan of that for any gender. This just is kind of a muddle, and that's a shame.

James Beckett

I've come to learn that, of all the variations of the modern isekai anime that have cropped up over the years, I tend to prefer the ones where characters get trapped in dating sims and the like. The generic MMORPG worlds that so many of the other isekai trade in bore me to tears, and the stories tend to lack focus and direction on account of the open-ended natures of the video games that the stories are riffing on. When a gal or guy gets reincarnated into a dating sim, though, we have a set cast of characters and plot with more momentum right off the bat, and the characters' knowledge of the game has to be a little more specific than simply having memorized a thousand menus and sub-systems. Granted, the point of cribbing from the tropes of popular dating sims still lies in the fact that the isekai stories are treading familiar ground, but if we must operate entirely within the bumper-lanes of old clichés, I'll settle for the somewhat more entertaining clichés.

For those reasons, I ended up having an okay time with Trapped in a Dating Sim, even if it never left me feeling particularly excited or intrigued. A lot of my reservations come from the episode being such an exposition dump; we don't even meet the other central characters of the dating game that Leon has found himself stuck in until the very final shots of the premiere. Until then, it's the Leon the Loner show from top to bottom. He's not an awful protagonist, but he's nothing new to the genre, either. He's prickly and socially awkward, but he also can't be too much of an asshole, since we still have to be impressed with how much he breaks the game using his Earthbound knowledge of its systems and plot. This means that the story of this premiere is essentially a linear chronicle of how Leon inserts himself into the main plot of the game, with most scenes consisting of Leon monologuing in explicit detail what he knows about the game, how he's going to manipulate it, etc. This is the kind of stuff I almost never find interesting, because it assumes that the joy of the isekai premise comes from having the protagonist narrate the condensed Wiki-entry version of a video game, and not, you know, letting us just watch the story happen in peace.

Still, the setting itself has some cool stuff going for it, namely in how it mixes the elements of its typical fantasy setting with mechs and other sci-fi trappings—always a nice touch. It could also very well be that the story picks up speed once Leon arrives at the academy where the game truly takes place and starts to mingle with all of the characters; it's hard to judge how strong a dating-game style story is going to be when you don't even know most of the ensemble yet. I might stick with Trapped in a Dating Sim for another episode or two, just to see if it ends up winning me over. I doubt it will be as fun as My Next Life as a Villainess, but who knows? Stranger things have happened!

Nicholas Dupree

We haven't really seen it reflected in anime yet, but in LN and manga scenes, the isekai subgenre is absolutely rife with Otome Game Villainess stories. You can throw a rock in any direction and are just as liable to hit a book about being reincarnated as the mean girl character in a video game as anything else. So it makes sense with that particular gimmick's proliferation that you'd start seeing stories intentionally twisting it for novelty. Thus we have this show, which attempts to pull the perspective away from the stereotypical nobles and upper class, and instead focus on what it's like to be an anonymous background character in one of these stories. Or, well, it sort of tries that, then gets bored immediately with that premise and more or less turns into a typical male-led isekai in the span of half an episode. Whoops.

The biggest weakness for this show is it just doesn't feel like its creators knew all that much about otome games. Stories like My Next Life as a Villainess or I'm in Love with the Villainess use their familiarity with the subgenre to gently (and sometimes harshly) mock the established conventions of them, but you get the impression those are jokes borne from somebody who deeply enjoys that type of media and spends a lot of time thinking about them. This show, on the other hand, doesn't seem to know much about the genre besides there being a female PC and a lot of hot dudes for her to sweet talk. Everything else is crammed in from other facets of gaming – RTS battles, power armor, sci-fi style airships, micro-transactions, all stuff that shows up in other games that has to be ham-fistedly crammed in here because that's what the creators are more familiar with.

I say all this not to call the creators phonies, but because that muddling of its own premise kind of kills the joke. This isn't a parody of otome games or a critical look at the genre from a new point of view, so none of its observations or gags have any teeth. Wow show, you're right, there sure are a lot of haughty pretty boys in games made for women. You really got them there. And yeah, some games aren't balanced very well so you're forced to spend real money on them. Can't remember ever playing an otome game where that was the case but uh, good dunk games? What are we parodying here, again?

This even comes down to our protagonist, who spends three full days 100%ing the central game – not because he is a guy who likes otome games, but because his pushy little sister blackmailed him into playing it for her. Because she wants to see the ending CGs but doesn't actually want to play the game to get it, and apparently can't use Google to just look them up? It's a clunky, contrived way to allow a guy who hates otome games to still have all the knowledge necessary to cheat the system and get ahead in life, making him fundamentally identical to a regular isekai hero. So we've taken three lefts to make a right and arrive at a plain wayne isekai story, only now our male lead will have to build a harem of doting anime girls by showing up those handsome gigachads who make up the typical love interests.

Then there's the frankly flaccid attempts at role reversal with the game world's gender politics. See, in this game, it's women who hold all the power! So now MEN are the ones forced into loveless political marriages where they serve older, richer WOMEN who all have disposable male paramours. See, it's clever, because they did CTRL+F for the word “patriarchy” and then replaced the P with an M. My first impression upon seeing that part of the premise was that this would be a cringe-inducing setup for a victim complex to further fuel the main character's resentful snark, but I've read enough of the manga adaptation to know that's largely not the case. But that doesn't stop it from feeling like a lazy way to build a paper-thin world, which isn't a whole lot better.

Combined with stiff, sub-par animation and pacing that leaps from moment to moment with a bald-faced desperation, this one winds up a total mess. It's at once overstuffed and totally lacking in ideas, and has the gall to have its own protagonist complain about how much its world and story suck like it's somebody else's fault. It's just a flop all around.

Caitlin Moore

There's a particular type of guy out there who is seethingly angry at the idea of things that exist to play into women's fantasies. He doesn't take issue with media aimed at delivering male fantasies, oh no, but the very concept of media where the central aim is allowing women to indulge in the fantasy of being desirable to a range of hot men? Oh no, that cannot stand! Such things are truly detestable, and any girl who likes them is a shallow bitch.

I can't say that's for sure the case with whoever wrote Trapped in a Dating Sim, but it sure does come across that way. The protagonist, now known as Leon, beefed it on the staircase after his little sister blackmailed him into playing an otome game for three days straight while she went on Hawaii because… she wanted to hear the end conversation? Why not just go look it up? Why would she even care about it decontextualized from the rest of the game? (Or maybe that's just me.) What is this terrible secret she's holding over his head? Our little pre-Leon seems baffled that the game would have JRPG/science fiction/strategy elements, but considering my favorite genre of game is “visual novel with gameplay elements,” it doesn't seem remotely shocking. And why would it make him actively angry?

Then there's the issue of the matriarchal society. Why would that even be a thing in a dating sim? It's such a bizarre detail that has existed in absolutely none of the games I've played. That's the part that made me really get the feeling that whoever created this nonsense has never actually played an otome game, but is super angry that they exist. Pre-Leon grouses that the girls in the game are way too powerful, which shows up in the game world as women subjecting men to the exact same social oppression that women in the real world have been suffering under for centuries. Now, if it seemed like it had any actual intention of examining how things like economics arranged marriages between girls and much older men, that would be one thing, but it just leaves it as one of the reasons being in this world sucks for average men.

I hate being able to see the seams of constructed worlds, where you can see the structures designed specifically for the main character to chafe at and systems designed specifically to screw them over individually. And honestly, most of the episode's plot, with him going off on a little sidequest to get his DLC super-powerful fighter plane and enough money to sidestep his arranged marriage, felt like little more than a digression. The next one, where he starts attending the academy, will probably feel entirely different.

Richard Eisenbeis

As someone who loves games—including JRPGs and dating sims—I greatly enjoyed this first episode. Over the years we've had numerous anime about being reincarnated in good games. The world of Trapped in a Dating Sim is the opposite: what it would be like to be trapped in a terrible one.

Let's break down the game we see in this anime. To start with, it suffers from the shotgun approach to game design. Alto Liebe may be a dating sim first and foremost, but it also features both turn-based dungeon crawling and strategy RPG mecha battles. Worse yet, the difficulty for these parts of the game is ridiculously unbalanced. The game is literally designed around its cash shop—forcing players to dump even more real-world money into the game if they want to be able to beat it.

The actual story for the game makes things even worse. When the game was just a game, things didn't really need to make sense. You could have fantasy magic, sci-fi mecha, and a feudal society together in the same story. You could even have an ending where the player character ends up with a harmonious harem made up of the kingdom's finest young men. The problem is that when this becomes a fully-realized world, everything becomes taken to their logical extremes.

This is the world our “hero” (and I use that term loosely) Leon finds himself in. The pay-to-win aspect of the game means that not only are the enemies in the world so strong that he almost dies on his first adventure (despite exploiting the enemies' weaknesses) but also that society is obsessed with money. But far worse is that, to contrive a happy reverse harem ending, the world suffers from a ludicrous level of ingrained misandry—with human men relegated to the status of third-class citizens. Leon himself is set to be married off to a 50-year-old black widow who will send him to the front lines to die for a quick insurance payout.

The world of Trapped in a Dating Sim is a joke—and that's the point. It's cliché and underwritten to the extreme. It's a hell to live in. Because of this, we can get behind Leon and his rather assholish nature. His drive to be as far away from the main plot as possible is understandable—at least in the background he might find something resembling normalcy. Of course, it almost certainly won't be that simple and I look forward to watching Leon bust through numerous dating sim and RPG game tropes as the weeks go on.

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