The Winter 2022 Preview Guide
In the Land of Leadale
How would you rate episode 1 of
In the Land of Leadale ?
Community score: 3.6
What is this?
The last thing she can remember is her life support beginning to fail. Her body had suffered terribly after a fateful accident and the only freedom left in her life came from the VR world of Leadale. Now she finds herself in a country very similar to Leadale and 200 years have passed.
How was the first episode?
Coming out of this first episode, what can I say? This feels like nothing but the newest cliché isekai anime in a never-ending stream of cliché isekai anime. It's not bad, per se, but everything you'd expect is here: the video game-like magic system, the overpowered protagonist, the attempts at fish-out-of-water comedy. And to be clear here, I like isekai anime. However, what I truly enjoy is watching how a series takes the established framework and twists it in new and interesting ways. So far, there's nothing here I haven't seen before and better.
The girl with a terminal condition escaping into VRMMO world? Sword Art Online II. Being reincarnated as your character in a video game world? Log Horizon. Your character's past in the game haunting you in the present: Overlord. A cute, overpowered heroine playing comically off of other cute girls? Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear. I'm hard pressed to pick out a single aspect of this anime that brings something new to the genre.
This is sadly compounded by the simple fact that much of the setup is underexplained. We don't know how or why Cayna came to be in the game world. We don't know if this really is the game world or just something similar. We don't know how her AI from the real world is still with her. Heck, we don't even know for sure if she is dead or if this is all an illusion made in her oxygen-deprived brain.
Now, if I thought that searching for answers to these questions would be the driving force of the show, I think I might be able to muster some interest. However, the tone of the series seems to be more focused on slow-life, light comedy than anything else—when we're not getting tonal whiplash from flashes of her tortured life as a hospitalized person with quadriplegia, that is. So in the end, I think it's just safe to say that this one isn't for me—though if you like slow-life isekai stuff or cute girls doing cute things, you still might want to give Leadale a try.
The most annoying thing to me, as a reviewer, is when there's some incorporeal lack of something to an anime that I just can't put my finger on. I can't say exactly why it isn't connecting because I don't know myself. That's the situation I've found myself in with In the Land of Leadale.
It's a nice little show, honestly. Completely inoffensive in every way. Everyone Cayna encounters is very kind and friendly, except for the robbers who try to sneak into her room. I liked the sense of history in the world—even if she missed the last 200 years, she made her mark as a high-level player, and people speak in whispers of a terrifying witch who was really just her in her edgelord PvP days. There's even some gentle humor about how some of the highfalutin ritual is really just an annoying password system for her. Her voice actor, Eri Yukimura, has only had a few major roles but does have a lovely voice.
Cayna never really lived much other than through her Leadale account, so it's also nice to see her enjoy little physical pleasures, like walking around on her own two feet and eating good food. I even appreciated how the script avoided over-explaining things, dropping clear hints and indicators about her situation but never jumping fully into exposition.
It's all just very… muted. She's a little sad about her physical body apparently dying and never getting to see her family again, but doesn't seem to feel the need to really grieve. Nor is she jumping for joy over being able to, well, jump. She's mostly interested in figuring out the best way to pick up where she left off, since she missed the last 200 years of Leadale's history. It's the kind of occasion where characters can express big feelings without it necessarily coming across as overwrought, because it's a huge deal! So when they just kind of roll with it, it feels strange.
If you're into it, that's fine. I can see the appeal. I just get a little disappointed when there's room for pathos and it just gets left abandoned.
I've really been making an effort to try and find the positive in these incredibly bland “Reincarnated into a Generic Fantasy MMO Isekai" light novel adaptations, so let me say this about In the Land of Leadale: Cayna seems pretty nice. The poor girl had a rough go of things in the real world, and now she gets the chance to escape that hospital bed she was confined to in her new life, and she's making the most of it. She'd probably be fun to hang out with, if she were real.
Phew, okay, with that out of the way, I can, in good conscience, commence with what I am sure will be a shocking revelation: I did not enjoy In the Land of Leadale. There's nothing offensive or especially poor about its writing or production valued, mind you. I simply have absolutely no patience for the stale clichés and tired pandering that this kind of anime specializes in.
Outside of its decently endearing protagonist, In the Land of Leadale does absolutely nothing to appeal to anyone that wasn't already going to enjoy the show, since it's little more than a remix of every generic VRMMO isekai that has ever come before it. Fans of the genre that aren't looking for anything new or surprising might find a lot of comforting entertainment in watching Cayna the Elf's Not-Really-All-That-Excellent-Adventure, but the only emotion it inspired in me was a dull, throbbing pang of irritation, because it reminded me of how much I'd rather be playing Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker. Goddamn those infinite login queues…
In this era of isekai oversaturation, you really need a good hook. When there's a half dozen new shows about some anime Melvin getting tossed into a video game fantasy world every three months, if you can't do something to stand out then all you'll accomplish is instantly slipping into the collective memory hole of anime fandom. Sadly In the Land of Leadale doesn't accomplish that feat, and by the end of the episode I was barely able to recall much of what I'd just watched.
Though to be fair, Leadale almost has an enticing hook. It just never focuses on it. Cayna's origin is actually pretty interesting, at least compared to her peers in the subgenre—she was apparently dependent on life support for most of her life on Earth, and playing the VR video game of the titular Leadale was her only real means of interacting with other people. Combine with her apparent death leading to this otherworldly rebirth, and you have a potent and emotionally arresting setup that could make for really interesting television. How does Cayna feel now that she has a fully independent body? Or the fact that she's by all accounts dead and now living in a world where she'll never see her family again? These are really strong questions to build your main character on, but this premiere does everything it can to sidestep them entirely. Any introspection is passed off by a punchline or two, and the rest of the episode is either pure comedy or exposition about this rather uninspired fantasy world.
To a point that's understandable—Leadale is trying to be a silly, light-hearted comedy, so getting into weighty topics like that isn't really conducive to its goals. But unfortunately the wacky hijinks and fantasy adventures that comprise 90% of this premiere just...aren't good. The comedy is occasionally goofy enough to get a chuckle, but also pretty one-note. Cayna herself has comedic potential—I like how embarrassed she gets over her character's in-universe reputation being so edgelordy – but she doesn't have any personalities to bounce off here. And the actual fantasy world seems dreadfully uninteresting even to the writers—it's well past the half way point of the episode before Cayna even leaves the inn she's staying at.
The animation and art design also help this whole experience slough off your brain. Nothing looks terrible here, but backgrounds, character designs, and animation all scream “generic” without anything to make them stand apart. So all told there are a few pieces of interesting concepts here, but the show itself seems largely disinterested in them. Meaning we're stuck with an inoffensive but totally unmemorable diversion, and there's just not much reason to keep watching for me.
If you asked me why I'm less than enamored of In the Land of Leadale when so many other people seem to love it, I'm not sure I could give you a clear answer. Despite its very familiar trappings, this variation on “reincarnated into a video game” predates the isekai craze by a few years in novel form, so technically speaking it can't be said to be rehashing the tropes and any feelings of familiarity are because they've become so ubiquitous in recent years. But there's just something about this story that feels unutterably dull to me, and now I can say that that's true of both anime and light novel versions.
That makes me sad, because there's a lot that's potentially interesting here. Cayna's entry into the world of Leadale happens with her death in the real world – a power outage turns off her life support system in a hospital. (Why didn't the hospital have a generator?) When she next opens her eyes, she's in the body of her high elf avatar with all of her game powers and stuff…but there's a catch: it's been two hundred years since she was last in Leadale. That seems to suggest that her soul was a long time in transition between worlds, or possibly that the VRMMO Leadale was based on a past version of what is a real fantasy world. When Cayna moves into Leadale as a real world, it means that she's in the Leadale of the present, assuming that that's what's going on. This also begs the question of whether or not such a transmigration would have been possible if she'd had a human avatar, since it's established that humans don't live nearly as long as elves.
Maybe all of this will be explored later, but as of this episode, what we've got is Cayna realizing that everything still mostly functions like the game world and that she really, really enjoys eating. It's hard to blame her – she's clearly been hospitalized for a long time – but it's hardly thrilling, nor is the obligatory “she can't handle her alcohol” scene at the end of the episode. There are plenty of indications that this is meant to be funny – faces made, the whole horn bear situation – but I can't say as I even chuckled once, because it just all felt so rote. It does look nice, with the notable exception of her talking nightmare-fuel metal face thing, but ultimately Leadale left me cold, and feeling a little sad that I couldn't actually like it.
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