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This Week in Anime
The Sweet Life of Villainess Catarina Claes

by Steve Jones & Nicholas Dupree,

Catarina Claes didn't realize she was dropped into the world of her favorite romance sim until a sudden bonk on the head causes her to recover all her past memories...including the secrets to win each prospective bachelor's route. The only problem is she isn't the game's protagonist, she's the villain! Catarina's self-awareness, along with her sunny disposition, might just upend the entire world for the better.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network.
Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.

@Lossthief @Liuwdere @A_Tasty_Sub @vestenet

Nick, you know how a lot of isekai is traditional masculine wish fulfillment wrapped up in fantasy dressings with at-best questionable politics sprinkled on top? Well, what if I told you it didn't have to be like that. What if the isekai ideal instead was simply embracing yourself as a horrible little gremlin who amasses a gigantic bisexual harem by doing literally nothing but gorging yourself on snacks?

Well, My Next Life As A Villainess is here to show us the way of the future.
We are truly living in unprecedented times, Steve. Between Villainess and the 2nd half of Ascendance of a Bookworm we're somehow witnessing a season with TWO (2) good isekai airing at once. I don't think that's happened since the 90's!
We are just spoiled for choice! At least something is going right this year.
I've been hotly anticipating the anime for Bakarina since I first tried out the manga adaptation last year, and I'm so glad it's managed to take anime twitter by storm. Finally everyone can enjoy the adventures of The Dumbest Girl Alive with me.
I honestly didn't know much about it besides you and other friends hyping it up, so credit to all y'all for being absolutely correct. It's a lot of fun, and It very wisely fuses the modern isekai hotness with the too-common otome game tragedy of not being able to romance the side characters. The solution proposed here is truly revolutionary: what if they ALL wanted to smooch you.
Bakarina is a work of alchemy. It takes Isekai Light Novel Bullshit and Harem Anime Bullshit, mixes them together, and somehow comes out with solid gold on the other side.
With, of course, the monkey's paw twist that our protagonist has all of five brain cells and couldn't detect flirtation if it fell out of a tree and gave her a concussion.
The Laws of Harem Physics state that the the denser a protagonist, the more powerful their gravity well will become so as to suck as many suitors into their orbit as possible. And considering Catarina (or Katarina if you read the novels/manga) is already up to 7 you KNOW the girl's gotta be next-level dumb.
I'm not exaggerating about the "five brain cells" thing. Here they are:

And a lot of the fun stems from the fact that Catarina is not even trying to romance anyone. She's just trying not to die.
Catarina's got it rough compared to most of her isekai peers. Most of those guys are as powerful as God by the third episode and have 18 different girls ready to play tonsil hockey by mid-season. Meanwhile this girl's faced with the existential terror of the universe literally being written against her. It's a hard life for people with RVF.
She does at least have somewhat of a head start once she gets her memories back, and this is pretty much the ONLY place where I'll allow that an insufferable nerd would be uniquely equipped to handle the situation. Finally, a place to put that encyclopedic knowledge of visual novels to good use.
What I appreciate even more is that part of the reason she's so dense towards her harem members' affection is that it turns out being a teenager in a kid's body makes it difficult to consider a relationship with any of the literal children she hangs out with to start.

Looking at you, ostensibly adult men romancing 15-year-old anime girls in another world.
She might be dumb as bricks but at least she's got moral fiber to spare. Tho in other situations, those extra 17 years don't seem to do her much good.

Spoiler: she gets angry at a child.
To be fair, Alan is kind of a little shit at first. Though weirdly the most perceptive of the bunch pre-timeskip.

Poor boy, the only one to see the storm coming but helpless to prevent it.
The show eventually becomes more in line with otome conventions, but I was really sucked in by the way these early episodes handled the character introductions. The VN, and specifically the Bad Ends, are constantly on Catarina's mind, so she does everything she can to course-correct everyone's backstories and write a future where she doesn't have to get stabbed or the like. It's self-preservation, naturally, but she also ends up doing a lot out of nothing but genuine concern for her new friends, and it's all super heartwarming.
I wouldn't go as far as calling it commentary, but there's definitely some fun poking at otome games with how each of the "capture targets" are supposed to grow up into broken assholes for the pure heroine to "fix" to win their love. And Catarina ends up trampling on all of that by just...being kind and supportive to the people around her. And it's that quality that also turns her into Ms. Steal Your Girl.

She's so worried about becoming the villain that she over-corrects and becomes the Most Thoughtful Person Ever. A total heartthrob molded by pure dramatic irony. It's a beautiful thing to behold.
She's living the dream of every frustrated dating sim player who's ever wanted to romance the best friend character. Finally, justice for the Tomoda-lovers of the world.
And she doesn't stop there! Catarina, avatar of the game's cackling villain, ends up capturing the heart of the heroine herself. And she does so the only way she knows how: by eating food off the floor.

It cannot be overstated how powerful Catarina's unique mix of pure of heard, dumb of ass is. Like this is what she did in just 5 episodes to the AniTrends Best Couple poll.

That's some Barry Bonds Steroid Era dominance. That there are even 3 spaces left unclaimed by her is purely a function of splitting the vote 7 ways. Catarina Claes broke the harem genre over her knee like a cheap glow stick. Hell she's run out of viable options in her own show so now she's branching out to OTHER anime's heroines. Nobody can stop her.
And please remember, THIS is Catarina

THIS is how starved people are for an actually good harem protagonist who has discernible personality traits.
But of course even a great lead won't save a show if the harem candidates aren't worth following too. Which brings us to perhaps the most important and controversial poll of all of 2020. Steve, name your Best Girl and Best Boy.
Oof. Well, I gotta shout out the trashy BL fan. On the otaku compatibility index (i.e. the most important one), Sophia is the only one for Bakarina.
Well there IS kind of a reason for that...
What, this is just a totally different girl hanging out with a totally different friend who happened to love the otome game Catarina and Sophia happen to currently live inside. Nothing suspicious there.
For real though, I love me some stories about relationships and bonds linking across lifetimes. It's one of the reason I tell everyone I speak with to read Spirit Circle. And by god if they reveal about Sophia and Catarina's past life together didn't make me cry.
If getting isekai'd together into the same video game isn't true love, then I don't know what is.
That backstory certainly gives Sophia an edge in some regards, but she's got some very tenacious rivals. Never, ever count out Mary Hunt.
I love Mary, and I wish her the best after being forced to read inflation porn in this week's episode.
Mary's a girl who knows what she wants, and she's brought a gun to the knife fight for Catarina's attention. She's spent 7 years making sure her own fiance, Alan, is too stupid to realize he's in love with Catarina just so she doesn't have to deal with another competitor. She's the Bill Belichick of Bakarina.
And yet even she couldn't foresee getting NTR'd by a library book.
Incidentally, I gotta go with Keith for my favorite boy, because his fantasy was the only one that really understood what's locked deep inside of Catarina's heart.

Ehh, Keith's a little TOO possessive for my liking. Fun as it is to see him constantly third-wheel Catarina and her fiance, one does have to wonder how far he's willing to go.
"Don't worry sister, I'll be happy to chaperone you on your wedding night!"
Still better than Tuxedo Mask over here.
Not that it'd stop Geordo "Horny On Main" Stuart.
Really though, the Best Boy discussion is easy. While all these other shmucks are having imaginary dates with Catarina, the one true Chad among them actually gets one of the most romantic scenes in the whole show.

Don't let Mary catch you talking like that
Mary I'm sorry but he's the dumbest of the 7 of you, he's naturally closest to her wavelength.
But really, Alan is TOO good. You're telling me he climbs trees AND plays piano? That just tugs at my suspension of disbelief too much, I'm sorry.
He's just that talented. Why do you think he's the only one to get Catarina to post feet?
But really this is all just playing analytics. In terms of sheer potential, the one best in position to win the Bakarinabowl is Maria, the only one powerful enough to break through even Catarina's dense outer crust.

Oh undoubtedly. Maria has Bakarina's stomach (and, consequently, her heart) on lock, and Bakarina even got parental approval for the inevitable marriage. It's set in stone.
Also she's voiced by Saori Hayami, which already wins her a first-round buy in the playoffs.
God help us all if she ever goes full Yumeko Jabami here.
But maybe "winning" is kind of an outdated idea anyway. The fun of a harem comedy is never in the conclusion, but in all the side roads you take to get there. The appeal of otome games and dating sims in general is the chance to explore different forms and expressions of romance, and that's where Villainess shines true.
Yeah, in the end, I love all of these dorks, and I love Catarina the most, so I'm more than happy to watch all of these dumbasses stumble, fumble, and grow closer together. It's just a thoroughly warm, good-natured anime, and a balm in these trying times.
I don't think I need to tell too many people to check it out, since they're likely watching already. But if you at all need a pick-me-up (and who doesn't right now?) Bakarina is a great choice. So pull up a chair, get nice and cozy, and let's all watch to see if Catarina can get some serious di- er, Sirius Dieke.
Buddy, you've got a snake coming your way for that truly horrific pun.

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