These Violent Delights Are Usually Inspired By Food
Let’s get it out there to begin with: they need a character count on anime titles. Seriously, even the Japanese title is massive. Also, the English title, My Next Life as a Villainess, isn’t really a translation of the Japanese given it doesn’t mention otome games at all or destruction flags.
Perhaps they thought the more niche vocabulary would limit the audience in the English speaking world. Or maybe it is just that whether you go with the Japanese, the directly translated Japanese, or the actual English title, this one is a mouthful. By the time you finish giving the title of what you’ve watched to someone you’re too worn out to even describe what it is about.
Oh, I guess the title did that part for me.
One of the things I spent 2020 doing was kind of mass consuming online manga as a means of shutting out more or less everything else, and one thing that occurred to me was that the stock standard isekai story about the non-descript man getting hit by a truck and waking up in a light-medieval fantasy setting is still pretty prolific.
That said, female isekai stories about girls ending up in novels or games they were playing, and being placed into the role of a ‘villain’ or rival within the story seem to be gaining some real momentum in terms of oversaturating the market. And there are some decidedly average offerings in this particularly niche market.
Largely the problem comes from the fact that otome games are pretty formulaic with trope type characters and overly familiar situations so having a self-aware character navigating their way through them gets old pretty fast. There’s also a general issue of the absolute wish-fulfilment of assuming that having prior knowledge of an event somehow allows you to know what the correct option is and that everything will end up rosy just because it is different from the original.
That isn’t to say that some of these stories haven’t managed to be entertaining (and clearly there is a market for them given they continue to appear) but in an already fairly narrow genre this seems a particularly narrow field to mine for new material.
So how was My Next Life as a Villainess?
Which is why I was kind of pleasantly surprised by my first taste of My Next Life as a Villainess. Really, I picked it up because while someone had recommended it to me it was more that I was looking for an anime that would be significantly lighter viewing after the fairly sombre Noblesse and the more mentally involving Gleipnir where simply switching off and watching the pretty characters go about their business wasn’t really an option.
I was even more surprised when not only did My Next Life as a Villainess deliver the brain break I was after, it was also ridiculously charming in its delivery.
Catarina Claes is the kind of non-descript self-insert character you would expect from this type of story. She loved playing otome games and reading romances, had a tragic death at a young age, and after receiving a bump on the head as a child regains her memories of her previous life, realising she was facing doom if things continued on the path of the game.
Where My Next Life as a Villainess managed to ooze charm though was in the depiction of the young cast members. Nearly all of the first three episodes depict Catarina and her cohort of soon to be love interests getting to know each other and getting into various hijinks, lead by the irrepressible reincarnated girl who has no intention of being a lady. She’s energetic, motivated, really not that bright, but kind hearted in a somewhat calculating way. Her internal council convenes fairly regularly to comment on the current developments and determine her next course of action, and we realise that one Catarina was never going to be enough when we could have 5.
Seriously though, I was actually a little miffed when toward the end of episode 3 we transition to Catarina being old enough to go off to school, beginning the game properly. Not that the characters don’t retain their charm, but those younger versions really did win me over. Any episode with a flashback to when they were children was definitely a smile inducing moment.
The plot, such as it is, progresses as you would expect with Catarina going out of her way to befriend anyone who might potentially lead to a doom ending, and going out of her way to eat every sweet at every party. Honestly, she stuffs her face so often full of the most delicious cakes and cookies. Not to mention she gets literal sparkly stars in her eyes at the thought of eating something sweet. You could almost write a whole spin-off to this story that just had Catarina finding new and delicious things to stuff into her mouth.
They do manage to actually raise the stakes in the final few episodes as an unexpected twist occurs that even Catarina didn’t see coming due to her lack of knowledge about a hidden route in the game and this leaves the whole anime with a sense that there was some purpose and climax to the story. Not sure how that works with a sequel announced given the basic premise of Catarina knowing what is coming is now over but I can’t say I’m not a little curious about what these characters will get up to next.
My Next Life as a Villainess is a brightly coloured affair, and despite the existence of magic in the story there’s actually only a handful of moments where that actually seems to matter. The focus is entirely on the core group of characters and their interactions, and for all that they fit the basic tropes you would expect there’s a real chemistry and connection.
The shared frustration of Catarina’s fiancé and his rivals for Catarina’s affections (including his brother, his best friend, her adopted brother, and a trio of girls including his brother’s fiancé, the would-be heroine of the story if Catarina had left things alone, and his best friend’s little sister) really causes the group to bond in a way that doesn’t seem like it should be possible and yet really just kind of works.
From the boppy and smile inspiring OP to the couple of interesting reveals the anime brings out toward the end, My Next Life as a Villainess did its job of letting me just sit back and let the episodes roll by me. After a long work day 3 or 4 episodes in a row was the perfect wind-down and a much appreciated break from reality. While this one isn’t going to be considered a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, for those just in the market for a bit of fun, you will certainly find it here.
Images used for review from: My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom. Dir. K Inoue. Silver Link. 2020.
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