All of my reviews contain spoilers for the reviewed material. This is your only warning. In the best way possible: nothing about In My Next Life As A Villainess also known semiofficially as Bakarina for reasons that well shortly get into feels like it quite makes sense. The otome genre has its following but its never been a truly huge force in the TV anime mainstream especially not over here in the Anglosphere. Similarly it feels like were in the waning days of the dieandreincarnate narouhttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ShsetsukaniNar isekai wave. A story that is both of these things seems taken all this like it should be both unremarkable and unpopular. Yet by a twist of fate and strength of writing Villainess stands strong as one of the most purely enjoyable shows of the Spring 2020 anime season. The question remains though why is it able to hit so well above its weight class? The series source material is something of a cult favorite at best and while its production values are solid they lack the flashiness of many of its contemporaries. So whats the secret ingredient? 880https://i.ur.com/PLerUPR.png Heres a hint: It has something to do with this picture. There is firstly the obvious: that Villainess protagonist is a woman as opposed to one of the many Protagonistkun archetypes that permeate the genre. This dynamic inversion alone does wonders. Indeed if you can praiseslashaccuse Villainess of one thing and be right on the money its that it is in part a wish fulfillment fantasy for women. Our lead Catarina Claes has an astounding seven wouldbe suitors boys and girls alike so take your pick vying for her affections chows down on sweets with no obvious effects on her figure is kind but sees her kindness rewarded in turn and gets to be amusingly dumb without anyone ever trying to insist she should be wiser just because shes a woman. It really does seem lasertailored to the bisexual disaster otaku girl demographic. Something that is by no means a negative. If anything the TV anime mainstream could use more of this general energy. It helps that the original novels were written by a woman so theres not even the faintest trace of projection that there might be from a male author here. 880https://i.ur.com/aKJCE8z.png Villainess isnt entirely an innovator here but its doing this setup better than many others right now. Even as stuck in an otome game as the evil one the game is called Fortune Lover here if youre curious has become a viable subsubgenre of isekai all its own. As well get to there is actually more going on here than just this power fantasy but its the groundwork on which the series more impressive achievements are built and is its core appeal. Much of the shows forward momentum especially in its forehalf comes from the simple joy of just watching its characters play off of each other. Catarina denser than a neutron star is the grounding rod and out from her you have several other flavors of otomegenre personality. Geordo is the shameless playboy. Keith is cute and demure but has a hidden manipulative side. Alan is a bad boy with a sensitive core. Nicol is so comically stoic that thats the entire joke on its own and it works. 880https://i.ur.com/VeIEwd5.png For the girls Marias gentle warmth tempers Catarinas own more bombastic variety. Sophia is Catarinas fellow nerd and has a brain that tends to wander into fantasyland. Mary lastly shares Catarinas love of gardening and seems outwardly friendly like Maria but this is in many ways a facade that hides the shockingly cunning mind of a certified chessmaster. 880https://i.ur.com/fUO2EP0.png Much of the characterization has a subtle touch despite dealing in broad archetypes that feels like it may come from the original light novel. It makes all of these characters even occasionally Nicol feel layered and three dimensional. Although as an aside the occasionallybroughtup siscon aspect of Keiths characterization couldve been written out of the show with little impact. It feels like the one place where the series panders to its audience in a bad way. 880https://i.ur.com/R8WraPT.png You stop that. On top of all this comedy the series dips into more serious territory several times especially toward the end of its run. Some of the shows strongest turns are when it reckons with the implications of its premise. Two episodes devote screentime to Catarinas past life and that of her best friend Atsuko AKA Acchan. Who was also we learn reborn in Fortune Lover as Sophia. These moments which briefly explore Acchans grief at her friends passing as well as her strong desire to one day see her again are just wonderful. Im unashamed to say I found them tearjerking. 880https://i.ur.com/FWVO3Yi.png 880https://i.ur.com/wA9ffEk.png But none of this would matter if we didnt care about these people. The shows great strength is that Catarinas personality her deep genuine kindness is the sole tool in her arsenal. What starts out as simple selfpreservation instinct as she strives to avoid her own demise eventually turns into her befriending each and every one of the games love options. Sophias case is the most remarkable as the link between her own past life as Atsuko and how she feels now is the most explicit. But its true of the entire main cast. What Catarina provides in these relationships is love. The kind of love thats easy to underwrite and overlook. The kind of love that inspires people to be their best selves and love themselves for who they are. In anime without strong dramatic plots emotional hits that resonate well and feel meaningful are everything. Villainess put simply excels at this. And that is what pushes Villainess over the edge from merely pleasant to being among the best shows of the first half of 2020. 880https://i.ur.com/eD5J3bE.png If the series does have a pair of fairly noticeable writing flaws its that it doesnt actually spend enough time on this aspect. More episodes dealing with Catarinas past life directly or with final arc character Sirius Dieke who goodness what a name wouldve helped. The other is that it does have a tendency to explain itself a little too much. Often spelling out things that are obvious incontext. Still while you can certainly see these flaws while watching they feel more mildly annoying than catastrophic. Room for improvement at worst. It feels as though this review should conclude with some acknowledgement that Villainess is a hidden gem or overlooked seasonal highlight that more people should check out. But it isnt those things. Perhaps surprisingly My Next Life As A Villainess has stood up in popularity alongside peers with far higherprofile source material bigger budgets and flashier adaptations. A second season is on the way and why shouldnt it be? Simply by being herself Catarina Claes has taken the anime industry and snapped it over her knee. If we get more of this all the better. 880https://i.ur.com/BzNFP3D.png If you enjoy my work you may wish to follow me on Twitterhttps://twitter.com/planetJane to get updates about my work and learn how you can support me. And if you liked this review why not check out some of my others here on Anilist?https://anilist.co/user/planetJane/reviews
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