My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom!
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 7 of
My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom! ?
I expected My Next Life as a Villainess to play coy with some of the story morsels its was dropping last week for a while longer, but the show thankfully seems willing to pick up the pace now that we're halfway through the season. The first segment of this episode basically confirms something that was heavily foreshadowed the last time we saw Sophia: She harbors the memories of Atsuko Sasaki, aka Acchan, the best-friend that Catarina shared her otaku obsession with in her previous life. How and when Atsuko died and was herself reincarnated is unclear, but the glimpse of her life with the girl that would become Catarina is exceptionally sweet and sad. These two truly loved each other, and it seems like Atsuko's desire to be reunited with her dearest friend is what brought her to the world of Fortune Lover. I ask you: How can your heart not melt when you learn that? I wish the show wouldn't have been so insistent on hiding Catarina's real name and face, though — I get that it's a classic trope of the genre, but I always think specificity trumps vagueness, even with self-insert dating sim characters.
The rest of the episode is perfectly fine, though it definitely feels a bit disconnected from the major revelation we got at the top. It involves a classic RPG dungeon crawl…er, I mean, a classic magical academy exam scenario: Our heroes must split off into groups to investigate an old ruin that was once home to a powerful magician. The objective is to obtain a magical crystal while avoiding all of the traps scattered throughout, which means the number one rule for everyone to follow is “Do Not Touch Anything”. You can guess what Catarina starts doing literally seconds after entering the ruins.
My Next Life as a Villainess has never made any bones about indulging in classic dating-sim and light fantasy clichés, but this may very well be the most well-trodden ground the show has walked yet. Most of the gang is relegated to the background while Catarina teams up with Geordo, Keith, and Sophia, and each of the boys naturally gets to show off their magic skills against the ruins' obstacles, while poor Catarina has to wring praise out of using her Earth Bump to fill in a hole in the floor, which I guess might have caused someone to trip or something. It's a cute gag, but I honestly struggled to get invested in most of the dungeon crawling, since it all just felt so paint-by-numbers. For Pete's sake, Catarina gets lost because she happens to lean up against a fake wall and takes a tumble down into a mushroom filled pit.
My lack of patience for the show's shtick has a lot to do with its visuals and direction, which are only ever functional even on the best of days. This normally doesn't matter much, since much of My Next Life's charm comes from its cute and comfy writing, but one can only look at stiff character animations and dreary, copy-and-paste looking dungeon hallways for so long before it starts to become an eyesore. I don't expect the show to step up its artwork game anytime soon, but I do wish it would stick to smaller, simpler settings that play better with its sitcom sensibilities.
When Catarina gets lost, there's a token effort to link the whole group's concern with Sophia's lingering sense of loss over Catarina's death in her past life, but it makes for an awkward fit, mostly because the stakes feel so low. Catarina wanders around for a bit, finds a bunch of gnarly looking mushrooms that she doesn't think twice about preparing for a meal, and she's rescued from another fall off a cliff by a mysterious whirlwind. All of the other friends arrive, dunk on Catarina for not even realizing that her mushroom hunting rock was the Magical MacGuffin all along, roll credits. The identity of the person who rescued Catarina is supposed to be some kind of mystery, but it hardly bears dwelling on. Besides, I'm calling it now: The rescuer was definitely Sirius Dieke.
All in all, this was a mixed bag of an episode for My Next Life as a Villainess. The real-world flashback was the best part of it by far, while the dungeon crawl felt much more like filler, to me. Future episodes of the show would do well to keep the action above ground and the group together (and Catarina should probably get some basic lessons in how to tell whether or not the mushrooms she finds in a spooky cavern are incredibly poisonous and deadly).
Odds and Ends
• Shipping Wars: Being a devoted fan of both Xenogears and the TV series LOST has made me oddly vulnerable to the very specific trope of reincarnated loved ones reuniting and remembering each other in their next lives, which is to say that Sophia just jumped up a whole bunch of ranks on the series' Best Girl list. Mary remains close behind, though, since she was the first and most willing to foolishly throw her life away for Catarina's mushroom picnic.
• Interestingly, while the title card for Episode 7 reads “I Entered a Dangerous Dungeon…”, Crunchyroll and VRV have it as “Will he come at me as well?”. I'd say the former makes much more sense than the latter.
• I'm happy to know that falling out of trees and almost killing friends with her butt is something Catarina has excelled in across multiple lifetimes.
My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom! is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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