The Spring 2023 Anime Preview Guide
Why Raeliana Ended Up at the Duke's Mansion
How would you rate episode 1 of
Why Raeliana Ended Up at the Duke's Mansion ?
Community score: 4.2
What is this?
Eunha Park was just a regular girl desperate to get into college, but when she finally does, her elation is cut short as she's pushed off a roof—only to wake up as Raeliana McMillan, a character from a novel whose death serves as the catalyst for the story's events. But Raeliana refuses to die a second time and is determined to change her fate, no matter what!
Why Raeliana Ended Up at the Duke's Mansion is based on Milcha and Whale's Why Raeliana Ended Up at the Duke's Mansion (Kanojo ga Kōshaku-Tei ni Itta Riyū in Japanese) manhwa and streams on Crunchyroll on Mondays.
How was the first episode?
I'm probably coming at this one from a different angle than most. I have read (and reread) the entire Why Raeliana Ended Up at the Duke's Mansion manhwa. I absolutely love it. This, of course, means that I know every twist and turn in the story. However, while the surprise is gone, that means I can comment on it as an adaptation—and on that level, the first episode is great.
That doesn't mean that this is a frame-for-frame adaptation. While there are more than a few shots taken directly from the manhwa—namely the incredibly detailed still shots of Raeliana—a lot of what we see is presented in its own way. For example, every shot we get of Raeliana and her original body in the same frame is a new one, used to visually tell us she is using her previous world knowledge.
But the thing I'm most pleased about when it comes to this anime is that Raeliana's character shines through. We can see from the start that she is a woman of action determined to fight for her life while constrained by the rules of noble society. She has to make her fiancé break up with her rather than her simply dumping him—or risk serious consequences to not only herself but her family as well. At the start, she's a bit naive in assuming that simply treating him poorly will do the trick. Once they're married, he'll be able to kill her off and get her family's fortune. Watching her come to terms with this and seize the moment to escape her doom makes her incredibly likable. She isn't a passive person waiting for her prince to come—she'll force his hand through bold actions and clever trickery.
The episode also does a good job of introducing the setting. The rise of capitalism and more modern technology has caused the nobility's power to wane. With the merchant class getting rich enough to buy noble titles, the old nobility is desperate to keep the number of new nobles in the minority. With the king being on the side of the new nobles and the king's brother on the side of the old, Raeliana is putting herself in the middle of a power struggle—one that's primed to turn violent at any moment. The question is, can she prevent her own death by getting involved? Or is she just trading one dangerous life for an equally dangerous one?
As a reader of the original, this anime is exactly what I wanted. It's the same story with little directorial flourishes that make it more interesting in animated form. Sure, I can see the creators of this anime are working on a budget, but honestly, I couldn't care less. Consider me satisfied with this episode and in it for the long haul.
Ah, the curse of an interesting premise trapped inside a collapsing production. While this premiere isn't the worst-looking one of the season, it's probably the one most obviously falling apart at the seams. Multiple extended shots in this episode look unfinished, as if somebody had zoomed in on a low-res storyboard instead of a finished keyframe. There's a moment where we see Raeliana's family at the dining table, and they look like jagged, aliased sprites from a Nintendo 64 game. Any time something has to move, it does so off-screen. I caught at least one scene where somebody was supposed to be talking, but their lips were not moving. It's a mess.
That sucks because the premise here is solid and begging for a competent enough adaptation to capture the courtly drama of it all. Rather than the now-standard villainess reincarnation, Raeliana is a minor character in a novel whose death kicks off the story's main plot. So, to keep herself from dying (again), she's got to use all her knowledge of the book's characters and their secrets to embroil herself in their schemes and survive. Rather than going through the motions of the novel's plot, she needs to throw the whole story into turmoil if she wants to stay alive. It's a great pitch, and the last few minutes of this premiere had me genuinely hooked.
Unfortunately, everything before that was an awkwardly edited, poorly paced mess of non-existent animation and exposition. Raeliana is in an intriguing place in the narrative, but she's not terribly interesting as a personality. Her shenanigans trying to break up with her would-be murderous fiancé are mildly entertaining but held back by the production woes. The drama of the nobility is juicy on paper but explained to us entirely through narration. There's no sense of atmosphere when the show is animated like cardboard, and that sucks out a lot of the fun of the scheming, leaving us with rooms full of fancily-dressed people talking and smiling in ballrooms.
It's a real shame. There's obviously something here, and even a marginally competent delivery could make for a fun time. Sadly, this looks like a situation where it's better to stick to the novels or webtoon version.
I vacillated between a 3.5 and a 4 for this episode but ultimately went with the higher rating because of Raeliana herself. This lady is no one's damsel in distress. It would have been easy enough to confront her wicked fiancé Francis Brooks more directly and tell him she knows he has ulterior motives for the marriage. It would also have been a viable option to go to her loving father and lay out her concerns – from what we've seen in this episode, it doesn't look as if he'd force her to go through with a marriage that would make her unhappy. But instead, Raeliana relies on her power, coming up with strategies and plans to thwart her death via arsenic poisoning, and she's not above pulling out all the stops to ensure her survival. After all, she's already died once. There's no way she's doing that again.
Part of what's striking here is how the episode makes good use of late 19th century culture. True, the gown silhouettes aren't consistent, even with Raeli's red ballgown (the width and length of the skirt vary from scene to scene), but it's clear that the original author was working with an understanding of the various noble ranks, social customs, and even the nickname of arsenic as “inheritance powder,” because it looks very much like Francis is attempting to trade his name and title for the McMillan family fortunes. As Raeliana's husband, her money would all be his, and judging by how he bulldozes right past her many hints and the quiet commentary from Jake Langston, that's not something he's in a position to give up on.
This series is based on a Korean novel (the manhwa of which is available in English; there's also a visual novel version on Steam, though not in English translation), and I've seen many more Korean works take the approach of a character being reincarnated into a novel than a game. That's the case here, and it works with the pseudo-Victorian setting better than an otome game would have. Raeliana can still use knowledge from her past life as an aspiring university student in Japan (South Korea in the original), but a book is far more likely to have behind-the-scenes action, which will likely change things in ways she's not aware of. She is, however, clearly a smart woman and one who is willing to do what it takes to survive, which has captured the interest of the eponymous duke, Noah Voltaire Wynknight. He doesn't know why she wants to trade her secrecy for a way out of her engagement, but it intrigues him, leaning into the norms of romance fiction. Obviously, getting involved with Noah brings its own risks, but I have no doubt that Raeliana will navigate them as well, and I'm looking forward to watching her do so.
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